After years of travelling around Europe and seeing my fair share of around 15 countries, I finally got the chance to go to GERMANY… hello Cologne!
Yes, Germany has been on my list for so long, and it’s so weird that it’s not even that far away from England (where I was living when I first started travelling), or France (where I’m currently living). So why did I never go??
Still, my visit to Germany only lasted on day – a one-day trip to Cologne in the west of Germany.
I actually took a coach from France (it only takes 4 hours) and when starting out early you get to the city at a pretty good time, ready to spend the whole day there.
If there’s one thing I know about Germany, it’s that there are so many amazing cities there that I would need a year to travel around them all…
I’m not joking, there’s so much to do and see! From the capital of Berlin (famous for the Berlin wall, and countless art and music events), to Munich (where you can enjoy countless pints of beer at Oktoberfest), to Hamburg (where you can find one of the biggest harbours in the world)… Cologne really is just the tip of the iceberg for this amazing country!
But a girl gotta start somewhere…. so, HALLO COLOGNE (or in German, Köln)!
1. Cologne Cathedral
Cologne Cathedral is impressive enough; with it’s statuesque Gothic architecture, it looms over you as you come into the main centre of the city like it owns the place.
However, once you’ve had a good walk around and really taken in the grandness of the interior (and how long it takes you to walk around the whole of the outside perimeter) you really start to believe that this cathedral was built to be ‘the biggest church in the world‘…
What’s interesting is that the people of Cologne started work on the cathedral in 1248, however, with such an ambitious project it was actually only finished in the 19th century… after a 300-year break (longest tea break ever).
One of the most exciting parts of the cathedral is it’s South Tower.
157 metres high, with 533 steps, and costing 4€ (all money goes back into restoring the tower), I have to admit I did have to stop a few times on the way up to catch my breath (all the cheese I’ve been eating in France is clearly doing me no favours).
Totally worth it once you get to the top though, where you can see an amazing panoramic view all the way over and around Cologne and the Rhine river, a view you wouldn’t be able to see anywhere else.
Sorry but there’s no lift… hope you’re wearing comfy shoes!
2. Hohenzollern Bridge (Love Lock Bridge)
Hohenzollern Bridge (or Love Lock Bridge) is completely covered in ‘love locks’ – something you can find in many major European cities (Paris, London, Bristol etc) – but there’s something super special about this bridge, because not only is it really old (it was opened in 1911 so it’s over 100 years old), but it also merges with the Cologne Central Station (Köln Hauptbahnhof) so every now and then a train passes by, throwing a mass of fast, blurred colour behind an already pretty colourful display.
I spotted some locks on there that, if the date was to be believed, had been there for almost 20 years, which is kind of cute. I wonder if those couples are still together…
3. Perfume Museum
Because creating a good perfume is both an art and a science… and the name Cologne kinda speaks for itself!
In fact, ‘eau de Cologne’ actually originates from the city of Cologne; italian dude Giovanni Maria Farina (also known as Johan in Germany and Jean in France) originally mixed it in 1709 and named it after the city that gave him citizenship at at a time when it was particularly hard for foreigners to settle in different countries.
As the fragrance became a sensation throughout royal and aristocratic circles, Cologne became famous for being the ‘birthplace’ of the fragrance, and to this day it is still created and sold (with a secret recipe, nonetheless).
Tickets for the museum cost 5-10€ and they get booked up pretty quickly, so get them quick! (Get tickets).
Honestly, the whole history and everything just reminds me of the film Perfume. If you haven’t seen it you really should!
If you want to read more about the history of the eau de Cologne, read this.
4. Skulpterenpark (Sculpture Park)
Skulpterenpark: a place where art and nature sit happily side-by-side!
My favourite things to do include walking and checking out arty stuff, so a park full of sculptures is kind of the best of both worlds. This is a place where many artists have been commissioned, or have a fixed residency, to create work amongst the nature, using the space as creatively as they can.
It’s a cool concept; instead of seeing art in a gallery, why not go see art amongst natural art (nature)?
Now the exhibitions change every two years so you may not see the same sculptures as someone else, but that kind of adds to the fun of it I think! You never know what to expect.
5. Walk along the Rhine River
Whether you want to take a boat or walk, both are good options because the River Rhine is so peaceful, and even more so when there is so much to see on the way. Old buildings, street art, towers, the cathedral, bridges, houses, boats moving slowly along the water… it’s a peaceful walk… but a long one!
6. Check out the street art
When I first came into Cologne on the coach, the first thing I noticed – besides the way all the architecture suddenly becoming a mix of different styles; super colourful, Gothic, modern all standing alongside each other – were some huge murals on the sides of buildings.
Unfortunately I couldn’t get good pics through the window of the coach 🙁 , but Germany is particularly famous for it’s creative culture, and the street art there is known to be amongst some of the most interesting and unique in the world, so it’s definitely worth checking out.
When it comes to graffiti, I have never seen such brightly-coloured, bold and stand-out tagging and throw-ups, and I’ve been to a lot of places and seen a lot of graffiti!
It’s like the creativity in the graffiti world in Cologne is something else… it’s hard to explain, but the work is so bright and modern, it’s something quite amazing to see.
Especially on the highway heading over the border; as soon as you hit Germany keep an eye out for all the graff along the roadside… it makes the road so colourful and fun to look at (unfortunately I couldn’t get any good photos from a coach zooming along the highway :P).
Also, I discovered a new artist I super love: Frank Zappel. He incorporates cool, creative typography within his work… check this out:
If you click through to his Insta you’ll see that he consistently creates awesome pieces <3
So (as always) my advice is walk around back streets, side streets and all the roads in between the main ones because that’s where the best art is… and keep an eye out as you get in to Cologne – the big murals are really cool.
7. Free walking tour
Being a traveller on a (pretty tight) budget, I’m always looking for cheap ways to travel and enjoy new places.
Honestly, sometimes the best things to do really are free. And a walking tour is always a good place to start.
If you want to learn about the history of a city, or you just want to know more about how the locals live, search for a free walking tour on Facebook or Trip Advisor- you can nearly always find something.
If you want to take a free walking tour of Cologne, there is an official website for it: Click here to book your place!
8. Party at Crystal
If you’re in the mood to party, Crystal is your place!
If you’re a fan of House music, electro and R’n’B you’ll find a good night for you (you can see what they have coming up on their Facebook page).
Crystal is cool because it’s set over two floors; one room is even called ‘The Bedroom’ and has a bed in the middle of the dancefloor where partygoers can have professional photos taken on it!
And besides this, they also get in guest DJs and special acts… Sunday mornings from around 5-6am you can even chill at Crystal for the ‘Breakfast Beats’ – pretty much the perfect way to start a Sunday morning (well, besides being in bed).
Only thing is the drinks are super expensive… but if you fancy a treat or just a couple of drinks and a dance, Crystal’s the place.
NOTE: Sometimes you can get free entry before a certain time if you respond to the event on their Facebook page.
9. Eat some damn frites
Being English, I declare myself the Queen of Frites (or chips, as we call them in England – fries to you Americans). As I travel through Europe and further I try every type of fried potato I can get my greasy hands on.
Why? Well, I just love potato. Especially fried.
I’ve eaten fried twizzly potato on a stick in Prague, salty frites in Belgium, Ch’ti-style frites in northern France, and of course, my favourite thick-cut chips in England… and that’s just a small sample of all the different types I’ve eaten.
As an expert in potato-based product I can therefore declare that out of all the thin-style fries I’ve tasted, Cologne frites come #2, just behind Belgium’s frites, who are the long-reigning king…. And actually, the ones in Cologne are Belgian-style!! So really, Belgium is winning again.
So my advice? Eat some frites!! They’re delicious!
The BEST frites in Cologne: Frites Belgique
Address: Hohe Str. 96, 50667 Köln, Allemagne