Germany feels a bit like a second home to me now. After getting a degree in the language and living, studying and working there for a year, I guess that’s bound to happen.
I always feel this itch to go back. I’m not sure if I would move back, I wouldn’t rule it out, but I love to go and visit. Like had never visited Germany so I was really keen to show him another part of my life and when we realised we had a few days off together, I promptly booked flights (the classic Skyscanner, cheapest destination flights) to Cologne. I'd been to Cologne before but for only a few a hours and I thought it'd be good to explore the city a bit more. And also just experience German culture again.
We got an early flight out on Tuesday and a late flight back on Thursday so 3 days and 2 nights. I always go for those unsociable-hour flight times thinking we'll get more out of our time there, but maaaan it's tiring. Getting up at 3am, travelling, and having a full on day takes it out of ya. And do not underestimate how tired you will be on the journey back, especially if your flight gets delayed...
We stayed in an AirBnB - it was exactly what we needed, a little studio apartment with a kitchenette and balcony, and cost less than £15 a night each. Here's a link to the apartment and if you use my referral link for AirBnB you can get £25 off any trip.
The weather was beautiful while we were there, perhaps even a bit too hot - I hate saying that being British where on average there's two sunny days a year*. (*obviously excluding this year...) It was about 32 degrees and sunny apart from a cracking thunderstorm in the afternoon of the day we arrived. But as quick as the thunder and torrential rain came, it dried up and the sun came back out just as quickly.
I'm not always a fan of super-touristy attractions in cities, but sometimes there are just things you can't miss. Think of the Eiffel Tower in Paris, you can't go there and not snap a picture.
We spent the first day in Cologne making sure we saw those unmissable sights. The magnificent cathedral is definitely unmissable, in all senses. The moment you walk out of the Hauptbahnhof (main train station) you come face-to-face with it. Make sure you check out the inside too as it's breathtakingly beautiful. But don't worry about climbing it - if you're up for the challenge, sure go ahead, but be warned it's not the easiest and there are definitely sites for better views elsewhere, views with the cathedral in the skyline! Köln Triangle, top floor, at sunset can't be beaten.
It would be difficult to miss the iconic Hohenzollern Bridge but it's definitely something you need to see when in Cologne. It's an impressive structure that was partly destroyed during WWII but was rebuilt, and now has hundreds of trains thundering across it daily and thousands upon thousands of love locks attached. It's definitely worth having a wander on the bridge, and maybe attach a lock of your own if so inclined.
The Altstadt is a really pretty part of the city. Definitely don't go home without strolling the cobble stone alleys here. There's loads of charming, old buildings and a bunch of cafes, pubs and restaurants. Walk along the Rhine (from Hohenzollern bridge towards the chocolate museum) to spot the pretty, pastel coloured buildings.
The aforementioned chocolate museum located on the river is a popular attraction for tourists because, well, chocolate. You can see how cocoa is grown and chocolate is made and you get a free taster of the chocolate too. If you're a big chocolate fan, you will want to visit here. I didn't go this time as I've been round before and once is enough, but I would recommend visiting. especially on a rainy or cold day.
One of my favourite things we did while in Cologne was go to Ehrenfeld. It's a little bit out of the city centre (still easily reachable with the U-Bahn) but it was very much worth it. The best way for me to describe this district is probably by likening it to Shoreditch in London. Think: lots of quirky street art, plenty of indie cafes, and an artsy vibe. We went for an afternoon to have a wander, grab some coffee and spot the street art.
I'd recommend Café Rotkehlchen, it had a really nice atmosphere and great food!
alternative things to do
There's so much you can do in Cologne to really soak up the city and culture:
drink by the river
So one of the defining characteristics about Germany for me is always going to be their attitude to drinking... it's very contrasted to the British drinking culture. There was a bank holiday while we were there and on the night before, a lot of the city's population could be found along the river Rhine, whether sitting outside a restaurant or on the wall, steps or grass with a beer, cocktail or glass of wine. Despite the number of people out drinking until late, there was no rowdiness or 'lads, lads, lads'. It was the most pleasant summer evening: warm, chilled and everyone in good spirits.
Drinking in public in Germany is legal most everywhere, so if you're there, grab a few beers and go sit by the river in the evenings for a chilled drink.
There's a few lakes/'beaches' dotted around the outskirts of Cologne where you could go swimming in summer. Probably not in winter...
get a train to Bonn or Düsseldorf
If you're staying in Cologne for more than a couple of days, I'd recommend exploring another nearby city. I've actually never been to Düsseldorf, but it's less than an hour train journey away and a lot of people I know really recommend it. Bonn is also a really pretty city to explore that's close enough for a day trip.
Have you ever visited Cologne or Germany? Is it somewhere you'd like to go? Let me know!