The fourth largest city in Germany and Rhineland's largest, Cologne mixes history and modernity in a pretty riverside setting. Traditionally known as a dynamic business centre, visitors may be surprised to learn that Cologne is also a creative place boasting a mature arts and cultural scene. Affectionately known as "the cathedral city," its highlight is obviously the great Gothic cathedral however there are many other sights and sounds to take in should you be interested in immersing yourself in the city's 2000 year history. With a young and relaxed feel, Cologne is a great short break destination, whether for families with young children, or those interested in fashion and design, or the local "kolsch culture." From the tiny, pretty streets of the Old Town, to the trendy setting of the Belgian Quarter or the colourful scenes around the cathedral, Cologne has something for all tastes.
Cologne is a city where tradition meets innovation so while the historical sites are many, the city is also known for its dynamic art and cultural scene. To experience this, make sure you visit the Ludwig Museum, the Romano-Germanic Museum, the Chocolate Museum or enjoy an evening out at the Opera or the Philharmonie. In warmer weather, head to Rheinpark, take a boat cruise along the River Rhine or get to know the birthplace of 'eau de cologne' via the House of Farina Fragrance Museum. In December don't miss the famed Christmas markets and in February, join in the festivities at the annual Cologne Carnival.
Visitors come from all over the world to admire the gothic masterpiece that is the Kolner Dom, the Cologne cathedral. It is the second tallest structure in the city and took over 600 years to complete but is also the most visited attraction in all of Germany. Climb to the south tower for great views, or simply admire the stained glass windows inside. Look around the charming neighbourhood of Altstadt, the Old Town on the river banks, or the funky Belgian Quarter for cool shopping.
If you can be there in late November/December you will surely enjoy the annual Christmas markets that lure visitors from all corners of the world. Seven markets are spread over the city selling toys, arts and crafts and Christmas decorations while there are also various huts tempting market-goers with mulled wine or rasted chetnuts. Otherwise, in February, join in the merriment of the Cologne Carnival, with tens of thousands of participants from the bands, to the floats and over one million spectators. One of the biggest street festivals in Europe, this colourful party is a good time guaranteed!
The commercial shopping streets of Hohe and Schildergasse are filled with brands that you can find in any UK high street and not only that, they are crowded with tourists. Instead, head to the Belgian Quarter for local designer one-offs. Besides the lovely Rheinpark, there is not much to see and do on the other side of the river which is referred to locally as Schal Sick (the "wrong side").
Of course you can find the standard German fare such as bratwurst und sauerkraut or schnitzel but if you are really keen to sample a local dish opt for the sauerbraten un knodel, known locally as soorbrode, marinated beef with potato dumplings, often served with apfelmus a kind of thick apple sauce to create delicious sweet and savoury flavours! The strong, traditional brewery culture is something the locals are very proud of so in any brauhaus you'll be able to enjoy hearty cuisine, washed down with some kolsch, the beer that is only brewed in Cologne and that is available in 24 varieties, no less!
Cologne is, funnily enough, the home of 'Eau de Cologne' and the cologne from Farina Haus is the first and therefore oldest perfume recipe in the world. Make a trip to the the Farina House Fragrance Museum to buy your very own 'Eau de Cologne.'
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