Kölnheads: Ten Highlights of Cologne, Germany
That smells good. The scent of adventure that is. Cologne is the fourth most populated city in Germany and it’s the third German city that I’ve made it to. Also, Cologne is the biggest German city that I’ve been to. That was something that struck me about the place. Here I was naively envisaging being in some sleepy town.. and then bam – folks and tourists everywhere. It goes without saying that Cologne Cathedral is the most unmistakeable part of the city. It’s huge, glorious and well worth being a starting (and ending) point for your time with Köln. Here are ten other experiences that I throughly enjoyed.
Going Wild at Cologne Zoo
One of the key reasons I ventured out to Cologne was to check out the zoo. Yes. A hippo featured on Google and it’s one of the creatures I have a weakness for. At just under €20 for adult entry Kölner Zoo isn’t the cheapest, but you see quite a bit and the park is nicely laid out, so it’s not too much trouble to tick everything off. The cost of entry includes the aquarium next door, which is quite good in itself and a pleasant bonus.
It’s one of the oldest zoos in the world, first opening in 1860 and surviving a few world wars in between.Theres over 7,000 animals from 700 species here. Primates are one of the key features, but they do with a good job of most exhibits with glass featuring mostly with iron bars few and far between.
I don’t think I had too much advice for the zoo itself, it’s largely one route so walking clockwise or anti-clockwise will suit. There didn’t seem to be a lot of eating choice when it came to the kiosks, so I’d suggest packing along some snacks. By the way, like lots of other parts of Europe, everything retail is closed on a Sunday. Including supermarkets. So make sure to do all your shopping beforehand, even for simple supplies like food and bottled water.
Park life at the Botanical Gardens
Right next door to the zoo is the Flora und Botanischer Garten Köln. Since the zoo doesn’t open ’til 9am, for an early bird like me spending some time in the park was awesome. There’s lots here. A running track that seems popular with the other Sunday morning risers.
Covering an area of 11 and a half hectares, the park was established in the 19th century and gets more than a million visitors every year. There’s over 10,000 species of plants to admire, and like other gardens it features a tropical greenhouse so you can stroll from the garden to the forest to the rain forest. The Flora itself refers to the historic building that sits at the heart of the symmetrically-designed complex.
Strike a Pose at the Sculpture Park
And away from the zoo and towards the city we have the Skulpturen Park Köln. This park is completely free and it littered with provocative, wacky and inspiring art pieces. First established in 1997, the 25,000 square feet park features exhibits from international and German artists over two year cycles. There’s some cool stuff. And some weird stuff.
Cologne has a chocolate museum! It’s called the Imhoff-Schokoladenmuseum or Chocolate Museum will do. It was one of the more crowded places I went to and it doesn’t break the bank at 11,50€ for an adult entry. It ended up being more of a three-quarter museum, one-quarter chocolate factory and the latter was the most enjoyed part of the experience universally.
You get a few samples here and there, not heaps, it’s sponsored by Lindt so that’s what you’re getting. If you haven’t been to a factory before it’s quite interesting and jaw-dropping to see the machines all doing their thing. I wasn’t so into the more educational aspects of the trip, sorry. The displays were well researched and comprehensive on everything you could ever want to know about chocolate. If you’re wanting to make a custom Lindt block on the second floor it might be good to do this early on as there is a 45 or so minute wait.
Cracking on with a Pork Knuckle
“Crunch”. Can you hear that pork crackling snap with the force of the knife, and your teeth as it gets pulverised? I was thrilled to finally check out a pork knuckle. Also known as Schweinshaxe, it’s a German speciality. It consists of a slow-roasted ham hock and is served with cabbage and potatoes. And a slathering of the most crunchy crackling I’ve ever experienced. And without any salty aftertaste.
Mine was from Weinhaus Brungs but I’m sure it’s readily available and of excellent quality everywhere. Warning: it is huge so get a crowd to disperse of the portion properly.
My second food recommendation is some schnitzel. Schnitzel is more of an Austrian thing, but I had a really good one here that was worth mentioning. Bei Oma Kleinmann was a vote from my brother but it’s also super popular for sure – averaging 4.6 on Google reviews. This is a tiny, packed traditional-styled pub with few seats and a huge queue. The atmosphere is a few degrees above enjoyable and the decibels are just the same. But what arrived on my table was the best schnitzel I’ve experienced to date. Lovely crumb, tender meat, perfection.
Keeping my Love Locked Down
I haven’t seen a huge display of metallic declarations of love for some time now, but there’s tens of thousands on show on Hohenzollern Bridge. German engineering means all love can stay, unlike back in Melbourne when they had to be cut periodically (for stability reasons). There’s a rumoured two tonnes worth of romance on this bridge, with couples throwing the keys to their padlock love into the Rhine underneath. Some of these locks be fancy, most engraved, so perhaps get your one ready if you’re joining the chain.
And once you’ve walked through Hohenzollern Bridge, head up KölnTriangle for the first-equal view you’ll get of the city. The tower is 103m tall, and whilst most of it is corporate offices, you can get up to the top observation deck which gives you a 360 panorama of Cologne. It’s one of the cheaper thrills you can get into the city too, it’s only €3 to get up.
When you find yourself in a city with everything closed on a Sunday there’s two options. For Cologne it’s venturing elsewhere, or enjoying what you already have. I was tossing up taking a train to Bonn, but it was likely to be even more sleepy. So instead I made the most of my location and walked along the Rhein in Rheinauhafen. It’s a perfect remedy. It’s a super modern area with the likes of the Kranhäuser – a trio of crane towers that makes for some lovely urban sightseeing. There’s buskers, ice-cream parlours, families and an abundance of sunshine – ideal for helping me get cosy in the sun to finish off my book.
Climbing the Cologne Cathedral
And my final recommendation for Cologne is the cathedral. Yes, I said I wasn’t going to but it’s not quite what you think. Definitely go inside, see stained glass, statues, and enjoy all that. But then walk out, take a left and get those feet ready. Because we’re gonna walk! Like the KölnTriangle it costs €3 to head up and the number of stairs isn’ too offputting. The circular stone corridors are painfully narrow though. Rather dizzying. But the uninterrupted views of the city are fantastic. Combined with what you saw at the triangle, you get both sides of the Hohenzollern Bridge.
It’s 500 or so steps to the top, but it’s not as difficult as same people make it out to be (just have an average level of fitness?). Bring water. And regardless, it’s totally worth it for the view. What better way to finish (or start) your time off in this grand part of Germany. I had a lovely time discovering what a big Germany city would be like, and it was easy to walk from hotspot to hotspot. The only real bummer was the everything-is-closed-on-Sunday thing but that just gives you some motivation for enjoying all the simpler things in life.