Cologne, like many of its national counterparts, is a multi-faceted city. Lovers of both the past and present will have more than enough to keep them busy. There’s a pattern here: Cologne is really old and really charming.
Deep ties to Christianity are apparent all over the city. The 11th-century St. Maria im Kapitol is modeled after Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity with original wooden doors dating to 1046 and an expressive replica of Christ on the cross in the apse. See the UNESCO-listed Cologne Cathedral and its distinctive twin spires; climb up the hundreds of stairs for a fantastic view from above. The Catholic place of worship houses the golden shrine containing the relics of the Three Wise Men brought to Cologne in 1164. The heavenly vibe inside is balanced by frightening gargoyles adorning its exterior.
The city was partially destroyed during the Second World War, leaving it with blank pockets where newer buildings have sprung up. Old and new, the buildings throughout the city are a visual feast of detail and craftsmanship. Gawk at the collection of medieval and Gothic Christian wood sculptures, stained glass, textiles, and manuscripts in the Schnutgen Museum, a church dating to 1160. See the 15th-century city hall, the oldest in Germany, that is decorated with serious-looking statues. If you look closely a cheeky figure baring its bottom may catch your eye.
For a taste of the old, wander about the cobblestone alleys lined with traditional houses, breweries, pubs, and restaurants in the historic center. The old world plazas like Heumarkt and Altermarkt will take you back to another time. The Romans arrived in Cologne way back in 50CE, and history buffs will love prowling the Roman-Germanic Museum’s treasure trove of statues, mosaics, jewels from the Roman to Medieval times.
Find moments of whimsy at the Chocolate Museum, and the city fountain dedicated to the beloved Heinzelmannchen, more commonly known as gnomes. Local tales say the little men did all of the city’s work until a tailor’s wife insulted them and they ran away from town forever.
Spend an evening in one of the beer halls to really soak up some Kolsch, the city’s native beer, and the happy spirit. There’s wine, too: the Rhine river, which runs through Cologne, is one of Europe’s growing regions.