Cologne, Germany’s fourth most populous city, is particularly attractive to the budget-aware visitor as the centre can be explored on foot and the whole city is easily accessible by bike.
An extensive network of cycle paths and an all-round bike-friendly mentality mean that this really is an enjoyable place to cycle. So, if you feel like going green and saving on public transport costs while you’re at it, get on yer bike.
There are various hire options available, including Cologne’s answer to the Boris Bike: Callabike. These silver bicycles with the red DB logo emblazoned on them are scattered around the city, and you can either register online beforehand (callabike-interaktiv.de) or call up on the spot to get a unique customer code to unlock the bike. There is a charge per minute (€0.08), but you will not be charged more than €15 in a 24-hour period.
If you are intending on staying in the city for a while, you could always do as the locals do and head to one of the many flea markets (Flohmarkt) to bag yourself a bargain bike. I picked one up for €40 at the Kölner Stadt Flohmarkt just off Universitätstraβe (every Saturday).
Once you have got your hands on a bike one way or another, here are the top ten places to visit in Cologne if you want to see the best of the city without spending a fortune.
The Aldstadt is a very quaint and, as its name suggests, old area in central Cologne. Bump and bounce down the sloping cobbled alleyways, but be aware that some streets are signposted as pedestrian only zones so you could get a stern ticking off if you barge through on a bike.
Cute, colourful townhouses and narrow streets form a picturesque route that leads towards the Rhine where you could even hop on a river tour boat and contemplate the city from the water.
No trip to Cologne would be complete without a visit to the imposing Dom (cathedral) with its gothic towers and intricate exterior.
Climbing the towers (€3/€1.50 concessions) promises to burn a calorie or fifty and offers great views of the city from the top, plus a closer look at the gruesome gargoyles crouching in amonsgt the detailed stonework.
The square in front of the cathedral is often buzzing with weird and wonderful street artists working hard for your loose change. Entrance to the cathedral itself is free of charge and it is a spectacular building.
For a tasty twist on the traditional museum pay a visit to the Lindt Schokoladen Museum. It’s no Willy Wonka’s Factory, but you do get to see chocolate machines in action, have a picture with Godzilla-sized golden Lindt bunnies, and – my personal favourite – elbow the groups of school children out of the way to get your hands on a sample from the heavenly chocolate fountain (admission €8.50/€6 concessions).
The Museum Ludwig houses a great variety of collections of art through the ages, from Russian avant-garde, through to Surrealism and Pop Art with plenty of temporary exhibitions passing through as well. It is a bit pricey at €10/€7 concessions, but you can grab the discount deal on the first Thursday of the month from 5pm, and there really is a lot to see here so you can get your money’s worth.
If you have a bit of cash spare and fancy a spot of retail therapy then Ehrenstraße is the place to be, with a good selection of upper-end high street brands and a few second-hand boutiques at a safe distance from the tourist crush.
The sales roll around quite often in Cologne, and you can bag some serious discounts if you pick your time accordingly – look out for Rabatt or Ausverkauf signs.
Fleamarkets are a big hit in Cologne, from large-scale vintage affairs to standard trinkets and student-run sales. See the koeln.de site for more information on upcoming markets.
Eating and Drinking
The inhabitants of Cologne are extremely proud of their local beer, Kölsch, and numerous bars selling different varieties of the light, refreshing beer are dotted all over the city. For a real taste of the traditional try the Päffgen Brewery in the Friesenviertel area.
Don’t bother asking for a drinks menu, it’s pretty much Kölsch or nichts, and don’t be alarmed at the abrupt manner of the waiters – this is all part of the traditional brewery experience!
Whilst locals will rolls their eyes as enamoured tourists set off to the Hohenzollern Bridge, padlock in hand, to ‘seal their love’ and throw the keys into the river as a sign of eternal commitment, this cheesy romantic tradition has actually turned into a pretty impressive spectacle.
The railway bridge glistens from one end to the other with hundreds of thousands of padlocks with initials scratched into them, and provides a perfect holiday snap opportunity with the cathedral in the background and Rhine down below.
One great thing about Cologne is the ease with which you can feel as if you have escaped the urban city centre.
Lots of green
Even within the structure of the city there is a curve, clearly visible on a map, called the Innere Grüngürtel (inner green belt), which comprises several parks that link together to form a continuous green route, perfect for cycling through.
Part of this ‘belt’ is made up of the Aachener Weiher park, near the university, which is a large park with a small lake and is very popular with students. Most of the parks have play areas for children, table-tennis tables, and often a basketball court or tennis courts for public use.
The Aussere Grüngürtel (outer green belt) is, as you might imagine, further out of town still. The parks are even larger and include a wider selection of walking trails and cycle paths, and canoeing and mini golf are available in the summer.
If you don’t want to stray too far from familiar landmarks but still want to get out of town, just follow the Rhine. A cycle path runs all the way along the river and, on a dry day, this can be a lovely route. Head in the direction of Rodenkirchen for a leisurely 5km cycle, and when you get there check out the restaurant boat Alte Liebe.
It’s time to let your hair down, so cycle into town and lock your bike up near the Belgische Viertel (Belgian Quarter) – a great place for evening drinks.
Grab a bottle or two at a Kiosk (they can open your bottles for you) and make your way to Brüsseler Platz to join the crowds of people enjoying an open-air tipple. You can even leave your bottles behind (it is seen as positively rude to bin them) because unemployed people will sweep in the next morning to collect them and pick up the cash deposits that are part of the government’s recycling initiatives.
Walk along Brüsseler Straβe to Aachener Straβe, where you will find plenty of places to have a drink, from traditional pubs (Kneipen) to more modern bars. For those in the party mood you will find some larger late-night bars and nightclubs as you approach Rudolfplatz and head along the main road (Hohenzollernring). The night is young!
Prices correct as at September 2013