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Things to Do in Cologne

Located in the heart of Rhineland in western Germany, the city of Cologne (Köln in German) is a testament to the rebuilding of a nation after World War II. Today, this busy urban center bustles with museums and art galleries. It’s also home to Germany’s most visited attraction, the Cologne Cathedral (Kölner Dom), an imposing Gothic structure with twin spires that dates from the mid-13th century. Cologne was among Germany’s most heavily bombed cities during the war, and several bombs struck the cathedral. Fortunately, it remained standing. Cologne straddles the mighty Rhine River, and cruising down this famed waterway is a great way to take in the modern and historic buildings that dot the city skyline. Sip a local Kölsch beer as you float by the cathedral, Old Town, and the Hohenzollern Bridge on a sightseeing cruise. Or book a dinner cruise to savor local fare with a backdrop of twinkling city lights. Longer cruising options take you beyond Cologne for views of castles, churches, and vineyards. Back on dry land, guided tours—such as a bike tour of the local landmarks—help you delve deeper into Cologne. Or make friends from around the world on a pub crawl—you’ll hit up haunts that only locals know about, and skip long lines at popular spots.
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Cologne Cathedral (Kölner Dom)
50 Tours and Activities

With its imposing Gothic façade and dramatic twin towers, the Cologne Cathedral (Kölner Dom) is the city’s most recognized landmark. Protected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the magnificent cathedral is one of the most important in Germany and dominates the city skyline.

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Hohenzollern Bridge (Hohenzollernbrücke)
12 Tours and Activities

The waters of the mighty Rhine split Cologne in half, and the city is united across a series of seven bridges, with none more splendid than the spans of the Hohenzollernbrücke, which stretch 1,342 feet (410 meters) across the river in three great steel arches.

This spectacular city landmark is almost as famous as Cologne’s twin-spired Gothic cathedral – the largest in Europe – and was completed in 1911, with four railway lines joining Cologne to cities across Europe. German troops destroyed the bridge at the end of World War II in the face of advancing Allied soldiers but it rose phoenix-like once more in 1948. Today it is both a pedestrian and rail bridge with around 1,200 trains passing over it daily and pairs of equestrian bronzes punctuating both ends.

A curious tradition has recently grown up around the Hohenzollernbrücke; lovers affix padlocks to its sides and throw the key into the Rhine in exchange for eternal love. So far the city fathers believe over two tonnes of extra metal is now attached to the bridge.

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Cologne Chocolate Museum (Schokoladenmuseum)
13 Tours and Activities

Opened by local chocolatier Hans Imhoff in 1993, theCologne Chocolate Museum (Schokoladenmuseum) is devoted to Cologne’s chocolate-making history. This fun family attractions lets visitors peek behind the scenes of a working chocolate factory, learn about the farming of cacao beans, and sample delicious Lindt chocolate.

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Cologne Old Town (Altstadt)
10 Tours and Activities

Stretching along the west bank of the Rhine River and presided over by the UNESCO-listed Cologne Cathedral, the Old Town (Altstadt) is both the navigational and historical heart of Cologne. With its colorful old buildings, beautiful Romanesque churches, and scenic riverside promenades, it’s an obvious starting point for any exploration of the city.

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Museum Ludwig
6 Tours and Activities

The Museum Ludwig, opened in 1976 with a gift of some 350 pieces from the Wallraf-Richartz Museum, which is housed in the same building. While the Wallraf-Richartz exhibited some modern art, the Ludwig was the first museum in Cologne dedicated to contemporary art. Its collection includes pieces by Warhol, Lichtenstein and the largest collection of works by Picasso in the world, many of which were donated or given on personal loan from Pop-Art collectors Peter and Irene Ludwig.

The museum's unique architecture is a series of rounded roofs, giving one the impression of a series of steel waves. It is situated in between the Gothic bombast of the Cathedral of Cologne and the Rhine River, and its elegant, modern design is a stunning contrast to the looming imposition of the Cathedral, even more so given the purposes of both institutions.

Also emerging from the Wallraf-Richartz museum is the Romano-Germanic Museum. now housed in a building east of the Ludwig. This collection of antiquities leads visitors on a journey into the city's Roman heritage, displaying stone, clay and bronze statuary, mosaic fragments and even remnants of architecture.

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Roman-Germanic Museum (Römisch-Germanische Museum)
8 Tours and Activities

Part antiquities collection, part archeological dig, the Roman-Germanic Museum (or Römisch-Germanische Museum) sits atop the last vestiges of the Roman town villa. In the museum's basement is a well-known Dionysus mosaic, undisturbed from its original installation.

Remnants of Roman architecture, inscriptions, portraits of Caesar Augustus and his ceramics and more piece together the story of Cologne's development from a Germanic tribal settlement (the Ubii), to the Roman Cologne, to the capital of the Lower Germania.

Other highlights of the museum are the 15 meters (50 foot) high sarcophagus of Poblicius, a legionnaire from the first century AD. Like the mosaic and the Roman road outside, this funereal monument was uncovered during excavations in the city. The collection also contains the largest collection of Roman glass, more mosaics and ceramics, as well as the stone, clay and bronze idols specific to various Roman cults.

Tours are available, but the museum is fairly easy to negotiate by oneself. Given the wealth of archeological finds in the surrounding area, the Roman-Germanic Museum is one of the most important museums in the world, and is one of the most popular museums in all of Germany.

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Farina Fragrance Museum
6 Tours and Activities

Step into the sensory world of Giovanni Maria Farina, the legendary Italian perfumer who created the original eau de cologne in 1709. The Farina Fragrance Museum chronicles the rise of the family’s perfume dynasty in Cologne and offers a fascinating insight into perfume-making throughout the centuries.

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Hard Rock Cafe Cologne
1 Tour and Activity

Since the 1980s young travelers have been collecting iconic Hard Rock Café t-shirts from far reaches of the globe. In April of 2003, another opportunity to secure serious Hard Rock swag opened in historic Cologne. Tucked into the landscape of one of the oldest cities in Germany—near the Gothic spires of St Peter and Mary’s cathedral—this American staple serves up traditional comfort food and some pretty incredible live music, too.

Travelers can pop in for one of the Hard Rock Café’s famous live performances, or tuck into a juicy burger with an ice cold beer while taking in a truly spectacular collection of music memorabilia. From Eric Clapton’s hallow body electric guitar to Sting’s autographed Fender and Bob Dylan’s black leather Harley vest, Hard Rock Café Cologne showcases some of the best of American food and international music, too.

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EL-DE Haus

In 1934, a jeweler by the name of Leonard Dahlen rented his shop to the National Socialist Party, better known as the Nazis. Officially, the building was repurposed as the Nazi Documentation Center, but the Nazis soon set up the shop as the headquarters of the Gestapo, the party’s secret police. Its basement made room for cells and torture stations, where a parade of the regime’s victims - Jews, Roma, homosexuals and other political enemies - were imprisoned and treated savagely for the better part of a decade. Miraculously, when most of Cologne was destroyed during the Allies’ bombardment, the EL-DE Haus remained completely intact.

Today, the building is a memorial to the victims of the Nazi’s fascist regime.

In 1981, the government opened the basement to the public and in 1987, the Nazi Documentation Center was also opened, permanently featuring an exhibit detailing life in Cologne under the National Socialist government. Part of the exhibit features the testimony of a Communist sympathizer and resistance fighter named Martha Mense, who was held for five months and interrogated there for the crime of printing anti-Hitler literature.

While the subject matter is certainly grim, the museum is one of two German museums to have won the European Heritage Association’s prestigious Best in Heritage award, a prize given only to select museums.

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Part science museum, part adventure park, Cologne’s Odysseum is the perfect place to get kids excited about science. The hands-on exhibits, interactive displays, and puzzle-solving activities are designed to engage all ages, while adventure playgrounds and a high ropes course inject a hefty dose of fun.

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