1 - The Dom
Don’t come to Cologne with preconceptions about German cities – there’s a liberal, free-and-easy atmosphere that stands at odds with other more Teutonic destinations, which any sensitive traveller will note as soon as they set foot in the square outside Cologne cathedral, the Dom. Pavement artists, buskers and living statues are busy here when the weather’s fine, and in winter it’s home to one of Germany’s most famous Christmas markets.
Whatever the season, most people will be craning their necks to look up at the Dom’s 157-metre spires – you can climb the southern one for a sensational view. The real miracle of this iconic building, aside from its size and the waterfall of carvings that decorates its exterior, is that it somehow managed to survive the Second World War.
2 - The riverside
From the Dom, slip down past the Museum Ludwig – a sprawling, innovative modern art gallery with a strong collection of pop art – to the banks of the Rhine. To your left you’ll see the massive Hohenzollern iron railway bridge that leads straight into Cologne hauptbahnhof, one of the busiest stations in Germany. One-hour river cruises are available, and the water can be busy with chuntering barges. The riverside promenade is a mellow place to be – in the evenings it is busy with rollerbladers, strolling families and strumming guitarists.
3 - Chocolate museum
At the bottom of the promenade there’s a swing bridge across to the hugely successful and imaginatively designed Imhoff Chocolate Museum, at the top end of a little peninsular jutting out into the river. The museum was created in 1993 by Hans Imhoff and former partner Stollwerck, a chocolate-making company based in the city, and there’s plenty of daily production (and tasting) going on. The most interesting sections of the exhibition are to do with the history of chocolate, and how the Aztecs preferred their xocolatl to be spicy, mixed with chilli or pepper. If you’re looking for a souvenir to bring home, the museum shop has an enormous range, including a solid chocolate Cologne cathedral. Entry is €7.50. Visit schokoladenmuseum.de
4 - Kolsch bars
Other famous local products are Eau de Cologne, which can be bought at 4,711 on Glockengasse, where it was originally invented (visit 4711.com), and Kolsch, the local beer, which is served in almost as delicate quantities. Kolsch bars are dotted all over town, and are a cultural experience in themselves. A couple of noteworthy ones are in the Altstadt, right by the cathedral – Fruh am Dom, at Am Hof 12-18, is one of the oldest, best and liveliest in town.
Kolsch is usually brewed on the premises and served in 200ml stangen, refreshed automatically (until you say no by putting a beer mat on your glass) by cheeky waiters holding “crowns”, trays each holding 17 glasses. Around the corner from Fruh is the more cavernous Brauhaus Sion (Unter Taschenmacher 5-7), slightly more sedate and a good place to sample pig’s trotters.
5 - Hip hotels
There are two interesting, quirky places to stay in the city. The Hotel im Wasserturm, on Kaygasse, is a hotel in what was once the tallest water tower in Europe. In 1990 it was transformed into a hotel by French designer Andrée Putman, who made a feature of the curved brickwork and installed custom-built circular furniture. It’s smart, hip and not outrageously expensive.
Hotel Chelsea (1 Julicher Strasse) bulges at the seams with contemporary art, its owner having pursued a policy of allowing visiting artists to pay for their accommodation with a still-life or two. Don’t think you’ll be able to negotiate a discount with a doodle, however. The rooms and corridors simply can’t take any more, but it’s still a hip hangout for the artistically inclined.