It strikes you the minute you exit the Köln Hauptbahnhof (train station). There it is, Cologne Cathedral, standing majestically at 160 meters high, its spires soaring into the blue sky. The most amazing spectacle in the city, towering above everything else, it acts as a kind of orientation point for visitors. It certainly makes a very good first impression, and it was my main reason for visiting Cologne.
This Gothic masterpiece and UNESCO World heritage Site was started in 1248, and not completely finished until 1880. Both inside and outside Cologne Cathedral enthralls. Whatever your faith or lack of it, you will be intrigued by this place, by its size, its beauty, and be mesmerized by its intricate design and the difficulties inherent in building it in an age when the smallest of building tasks were onerous. Then to know that it was bombed 14 times during World War 11, and reduced to rubble, rebuilt to its former glory, albeit not fully restored until 1956, is to be awed by it all over again. Its breathtakingly beautiful and deserves time to be explored properly.
The concourse area outside the cathedral was a hive of activity, filled with enthusiastic tourists taking photographs, or sipping coffee in the sunshine and just admiring the cathedral from the distance. There is a real vibrancy and energy about this area.
Starting a day trip to Cologne at the cathedral, could leave you wondering if the rest of the city will deliver, but it does. It’s the fourth largest city in Germany, yet it feels small. I’ts a walkable city, easy to navigate, and you can pack a lot into a day visit.
A quick wander round the historic center of the city, right next to the cathedral, revealed all of the beautiful old colorful houses, and the marvelous old town hall and tower. A flying visit to Roman German Museum beside the cathedral revealed a wealth of material about Cologne’s Roman past. You could spend a whole day in here, if you had the time.
Next to the waterfront. This area of the city is vibrant and chic. A walk along the banks of the magnificent Rhine is a must. All along people were sitting at cafes and bars people watching, or relaxing on the grass. Magnificent river boats are moored all along the river, with tourists basking in the sunshine on their decks. River cruising is big business along the great rivers in Europe, something I had never contemplated doing until I saw these fabulous boats.
Time was of the essence as we tried to pack as much of the city as possible into a one day visit. So after a very reasonably priced steak lunch we made our way to the cable cars down river. It was a long enough walk especially in the soaring heat, and especially when the thoughts of getting into a cable car, scared the hell out of me. But I had promised to do it, so I had to deliver!
The cable car in Cologne was the first one in the world to cross a river, and once in mid air, the view was spectacular. Viewing the city from this vantage point, high above the river was amazing. The city fans out beneath you, with the cathedral still dominating all around it. As we approached the far side, on the banks of the river, (to our surprise!) we saw lots of naked bodies enjoying the sunshine in a nudist spa hotel. Fifteen minutes later, after a quick look around the Rhinepark, we were back on board, and crossing over the river again for more spectacular views. It’s only a six minute ride, but it delivers a lot in that short time, and was certainly very worth while, once I got over my fear. We would have loved to visit the Zoo, which is just beside the Cable Cars, but we didn’t have enough time.
We made our way back along the riverside and went to stroll along the Hohenzollern Bridge to see the inscribed “Love Locks” on display. I believe there are over 40,000 locks on display there now, testament to the love of thousands and thousands of couples from all over the world!
Shopping did not feature much in our visit, but we did take time to stroll in the prestigious Hohe Straße and Schildergasse area, which is essentially the fifth avenue of shopping in Cologne. One shop we did buy in however was Haus 4711 which was the house where the famous perfume was first invented, and is now a shop. No visit to this city is complete without bringing back a small bottle of 4711!
We had booked a late train back to Trier, which turned out to be delayed for a couple of hours, which didn’t really bother me. The Hauptbahnhof is a central rail hub in Europe, and it is huge, and extremely busy, and since I am a mad train and train station fan I was quite happy to sit an observe trains coming and going to many destinations around Europe.