Cologne is a perfect “walking city,” meaning that the best advice I have for you is to just get an old fashioned map and cruise the city. The architecture and window shopping are divine, and in my opinion, are the highlight of this city. Plus, those things are free! I stayed at the youth hostel right by the Cathedral and the main train station (Hauptbahnhof), which just a few steps from the historical district.
The main church in Cologne, ie the seat of the archdiocese, is the Cologne Cathedral. Although there are loads of beautiful churches in Cologne, this one stands, quite literally, above the rest, defining the city skyline with it’s intricate lace-like silhouette, exemplifying classic gothic architecture. The church foundation was laid in 1248 on the anniversary of the assumption of Mary, but due to lacking public interest, resulting in lacking public funds, it was not completed until 1880.
It was badly damaged throughout the course of WWII but has since been restored and now is under constant restorative efforts by a team of 80 who work to protect and preserve the church from “the elements” ie nature. While I was there, the Church was hosting a nightly light show featuring significant dates, numbers, and cities in commemoration of the end of WWII.
I love churches, so bear with me while I fan-girl for a moment here. Unbeknownst to me, I showed up on the perfect weekend with regards to this particular cathedral. It was the weekend of the pilgrimage, the one weekend a year that the entire church is open and you’re able to walk behind the altar to view the relics of the Three Kings, I lit a candle for my family here.
They were also hosting a mass in honor of women and world peace, two topics quite dear to be heart, and a fortuitous day for me to happen into the church. I don’t typically attend mass while I’m traveling, but this seemed too…specific…to pass on. Though I didn’t understand literally a single word, I’m still glad I went. As a side note, one of the things I love about the Catholic church, despite all the drama, is that you can attend mass literally anywhere in the world and still know when to sit, when to stand, and when to say the Our Father.
My two other favorite churches were St. Gereon and GroB St. Martin:
St. Gereon is centrally located close to the shopping district and the Cologne City Museum (which was closed while I was there). It was originally constructed in the 4th century, later becoming a collegiate church and then finally a parish church. It features a very distinct decagon shape and sits off a tiny but beautiful courtyard.
GroB St. Martin sits along the waterfront, peaking up behind the colorful antique businesses lining the Rhine River, marking Old Town in Cologne. Architecturally it demonstrates classic Romanesque features. It too sits off a beautiful courtyard and is the perfect place to stroll after picking up an ice cream in Old Town.
Another example of Romanesque architecture are the old city walls and gates. When Cologne was originally established it was bordered by a wall 4km long with 9 gates and 19 towers. Although most of the wall has since collapsed or beed destroyed as the city grew, there are areas where the original wall and towers still stand.
Even if you’re not interested in architecture, Cologne has lots of modern interests, most notably shopping! I’m more of a window shopper myself, but the beautiful boutiques in this stylish city were certainly alluring.
I did make a couple of purchases while here: chocolate from the Chocolate Museum and the original Cologne, created in Cologne, for which all other Cologne is named (available in several shops but I bought mine at the Fragrance Museum.)
After a day of shopping, I can’t recommend anything other than grabbing a Kolsch beer (because you’re allowed to drink on the streets in Germany) and walking across the Hohenzollern Bridge to watch the sun set over the city, casting the bridge itself as well as the Cathedral and GroB St. Martin, into sharp relief. At this time, rock climbers could be seen practicing their sport on the stone pillars at the end of the bridge.
Like many famous bridges, the Hohenzollern Bridge is home to a wall of love locks, one of the largest collections I’ve seen. Being single, I didn’t add a lock to the bridge, but I wish I had. After all, who is going to love me more than me, and who am I going to love more than traveling? And who’s to say those loves aren’t as great as the love between “Trice and Harold” or “F+K” ❤