The Cologne experience

I’ve been thinking of writing this post for quite some weeks now, and finally decided to give it a go. Why did I do it? Because Cologne is such a tasteful place, where I enjoy spending time. Why was I in doubt? Because most of my interactions with the city are related to work. My usual travel routine does not apply in this case. I’ve been in Cologne several times, in the past two years. One time it was only for a few hours, while waiting for a train connection, while another for almost a week. Full-time working week, that is.

Kölner Dom and Hohenzollern Bridge at dusk

Founded two millenniums ago, as a Roman settlement, Cologne is one of the oldest German cities. It held an important role throughout the years, despite being part of several empires and states. The city had to endure a tumultuous last century, as the second World War had a huge impact: Cologne was heavily bombed by the Western Allies, most of its inhabitants had to flee, in order to save themselves, and the city center was 95% destroyed. It took Cologne until 1959 to reach again the pre-war population, while the reconstruction of the city center wasn’t finished until the 90s. Some locals will say that it was made in a hurry, but I like the new look of the city.

Nowadays, Cologne is Germany’s forth largest city, after Berlin, Hamburg and Munich, with just over one million people. It’s situated in one of Europe’s most important demographic and industrial regions: the Rhine-Ruhr region. It impresses with its diversity and atmosphere, and if I had to describe it in a few words, then I would use free spirit. Cologne’s inhabitants (kölsche) are always friendly and joyful, and give the city a unique, distinctive flavor.

Köln skyline at dusk


Cologne is an expo city, hosting a lot of different fairs, exhibitions and concerts all year round. That’s why prices for hotels are not cheap, and can vary a lot from one week to another. My tip, if you’re flexible, is to check in advance for several periods, because you might find a bargain. One hotel I’ve used is Flandrischer Hof (Flandrische Str. 3), situated in the Belgian quarter, right next to Rudolfplatz (great area for the November-December period, it hosts a huge Christmas market). The area is quiet in the morning, but very lively in the afternoon and evening, and has a lot of bars, clubs and restaurants. A 15 minutes walk separates it from the Kölner Dom and Altstadt.

Guide to Köln

If you come by train, the first interaction with the city will be spectacular. Right next to the central station (Hauptbahnhof in German) you will see the imposing silhouette of the Kölner Dom. The Gothic cathedral is Germany’s most visited landmark and was the tallest building in the world for some years, after completion, at the end of the 19th century.

Kölner Dom

If you enjoy seeing a city from above as much as I do, then you need to know that Cologne offers multiple options. Here are some: top of the Kölner Dom (costs €4, there is no elevator), rooftop of the Köln Triangle building in Deutz neighborhood (costs €3, offers an elevator), or Osman30 restaurant, situated on the last floor of the Kölnturm. I didn’t choose any, because I was able to enjoy the panorama from the 20th floor of the office building, where I worked during the business trip.

Köln panoramic view

Time for art. A few meters away from the Dom, the modern art Ludwig Museum awaits for its visitors with one of the largest Picasso collections you can find in Europe, plus works of Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein and Salvador Dalí. Pretty impressive names, even for me – I’m definitely not an art enthusiast. Admission costs €12, but there are some discounts offered throughout the month. Have a look at the full price list here.

Museum Ludwig, Köln

Museum Ludwig main hall, Köln

Heinrich-Böll-Platz, Köln

Looking for more “fine art”? Go to the Imhoff-Schokoladenmuseum, learn about the history and the process of obtaining chocolate. At the end of the tour, your taste buds will be grateful. The museum shop has quite a large selection of chocolates, most of it produced by Lindt & Sprüngli, the main partner, for more than ten years now.

Köln Chocolate Museum

→ Hohenzollern Bridge has been used, after WWII, only for rail and pedestrian traffic, and it’s one of those places from where you can enjoy a pleasant sunset. The bridge is covered on both sides with love locks, which create a powerful contrast and a colorful sigh. That’s why this landmark is also knows as the Locking Bridge.

Hohenzollern Bridge and the Rhein, Köln

Love padlocks on Hohenzollern Bridge, Köln

Up for a walk in the afternoon or in the evening? The Altstadt, the Rheinpromenade and the Deutz neighbourhood are all colourful areas, filled with both traditional and modern, trendy restaurants, bars and cafes. Cologne is a multicultural city, with people from all parts of the world living here, so during my stays I’ve tried a lot of different cuisines, from German to Italian and from Asian to Mexican.

Köln Altstadt, with Kölner Dom and Groß St. Martin

Rheinpromenade, Köln

Köln Messe/Deutz trainstation

I saved the best for last. Don’t forget that you’re in Germany, so drinking beer in a local brewery is almost mandatory. Cologne is the home of the Kölsch, a light ale served in traditional 0.2 litre tall and cylindrical glasses. I’ve visited a few breweries myself, like Sion, Früh, Gaffel, Peters. But there are many other around the old city (Altstadt). My tip: reserve an evening for bar-hopping, it’s fun and you’ll love the German spirit.

Shopping? Say no more. Schildergasse is the most-visited shopping street in Germany, and one of the busiest in Europe. It’s directly connected to Hohe Straße, another busy shopping street, which starts right in front of the Dom. Basically, all the area between the Dom and Rudolfplatz can be considered a big shopping mall.

Hohe Straße, Köln

Cologne has definitely become one of my favourite places, thanks to its soul, history and people. I like coming back, because each time the experience is different. I will probably never get bored of seeing the Dom or the Altstadt. My last tip: if you plan a trip to Cologne, try to catch the Carnival season, at least for a few days – the peak is always in February. It is said to be a great experience.

Kölle Alaaf!

Author: Marian Bulacu

Live. Love. Travel. Make a difference.

The Cologne experience
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