COLOGNE IN A NUTSHELL
If you read one of my last posts, you'll know that I've been in Cologne for a couple of days to get some down time. My grandparents - on my Dads side - live in a little town called Erftstadt on the outskirts of Cologne so I've spent a lot of my life travelling to and from there to visit them.
If I'm honest, when growing up, Germany didn't fascinate me at all and I actually dreaded going to visit. Don't get me wrong, I love my grandparents but Erftstadt is definitely an old peoples little town and there's only so much backgammon or Uno you can play. It wasn't till I reached my late teens that I started to appreciate the city more and more. I was able to explore more parts of the city and discover areas that I now absolutely love.
After University I decided that I wanted an adventure. I had a decision on my hands; either to go travelling somewhere exotic or to go and work abroad for a year. I bet you can imagine which option my parents were more favourable of. Working abroad - ding, ding. Then came the decision of where and it soon became apparent that Cologne would be the most suitable place. I spoke the language, I had family nearby and Cologne is very big on all things media and creative. So yeah, I packed my suitcase(s) and moved to Cologne for almost a year.
I know a lot of people tend to gravitate toward Berlin or Munich but I truly think Cologne has a lot to offer. Some even say it's very similar to London which I'd agree with. Cologne is charming at any time of year, the river banks come alive in Spring / Summer but the city is also bustling in the Winter thanks to the famous Christmas markets.
With a flight time of just an hour from the UK, get ready to book your flight and to help you along the way, here's some insiders knowledge for ya...
WHAT TO SEE IN COLOGNE?
Without a doubt, the main pull and it's main 'attraction' is the Kolner Dom. Even after years and years of seeing it, it still wows me, the Gothic architecture and stature of it is just so incredible. Not that you'll miss it, but it's definitely worth spending some time taking in and it's also just as beautiful inside with the most intricate of stained glass windows so make sure to take a few moments to have a look inside. If you're feeling adventurous, you can even climb the 509 steps to the top of one of the towers to check out the spectacular views of the city.
For any chocolate lovers, take a trip to the Imhoff-Schokoladenmuseum. Yes, that's right, a chocolate museum and yes, it is as good as it sounds. You can explore the factory, have an insight into the history of chocolate making and you can even take chocolate making lessons there too!
The Altstadt (Old Town) by the river is one of my favourite areas to explore. It's so quaint and typically 'German' in it's feel and character and among the cobbled streets you'll find traditional beer halls and restaurants galore.
If you have time, take a trip to Phantasialand, which in my opinion is the BEST theme park ever!!! I've been going since I was a little girl and still get excited at the prospect of going!
Art lovers will want to visit both the Wallraf-Richartz Museum and the Ludwig Museum when in Cologne. Both are housed in one of the city's newer architectural structures, these two excellent galleries cover a wide range of European paintings.
LOVE LOCK BRIDGE
For any of you soppy romantics out there, join the hundreds of thousands and leave a lock at the Hohenzollern Bridge where you can express your love for either your partner, friend or even for Cologne itself.
Note: Cologne is quite a compact city and most sightseeing can be done by foot. Even just mooching around, you'll stumble across new parts and interesting things to see...
WHERE TO SHOP IN COLOGNE?
There are four main shopping streets in Cologne. For the standard clothing and fashion stores like H&M, Mango and Zara, Hohestrasse and Schildergasse serve as the busiest and most traditional of a 'high street'. You'll also find Galeria Kaufhof nearby which is basically their own version of Selfridges, it's absolutely massive and a bit of a maze so you will no doubt get lost. Worth checking out for sure.
However, if you're after something a bit different, Breite Strasse and Ehrenstrasse provide a more alternative style for a more individual and eclectic taste. There's loads of boutiques and also quite a few vintage stores for you to rummage around in.
WHERE TO EAT IN COLOGNE?
There's plenty of hearty rustic fair (and oompah music) on offer in Cologne's many beer halls, especially along the river, but if bratwurst, creamed spinach and fried potatoes aren't your style, you'll be pleased to hear Cologne has a very cool restaurant and café scene too.
Similarly to London, there's a massive mix of cultures and types of cuisine so you'll definitely be spoilt for choice.
For European flare, head to Cafe Noa.
For French haute cuisine, head to Le Moissonnier.
For the best schnitzel ever, head to Bei Oma Kleinmenn.
For easy, reasonable but seriously tasty japanese, head to Kitti Chai.
So there you go, just a handful of options for you. Cologne is full of sooooooo many restaurants, cafes and bakeries that you'll be spoilt for choice.
One thing I do ask is that you stop off at one of the bakeries and buy a Berliner (a jam filled donut)... they are unlike any other I've tasted. Seriously outstanding!
Have any of you been to Cologne before? If you haven't, I hope this serves as a good insight for you and who knows, I may bump into you there!