Last week myself and Brian jetted off to Köln (Cologne), in the west of Germany, for a couple of days. The main reason we chose there was because the flights were really good value for last minute, €100 return, and I do love Germany so it was win win. I like to think I’m familiar with the country, I’ve been visiting on and off since I was 16, so I was expecting lots of post war architecture, industrial vibes and the general punkness of cities like Berlin. But what welcomed us could not have been further from that! I felt like we’d accidentally flown into central Spain and that Ryanair had some explaining to do!
(Pssst….. Click on any of the images below to make them bigger)
We flew to Köln Bonn Airport, the flight time from Dublin was just under two hours. Getting to the city was no trouble at all, we took the next train from the station inside the airport (€2.80 for a ticket to Köln HBF, travel time 15-20 minutes).
When we stepped out of the station, the first thing that greeted us was the gigantic gothic Cathedral in all its glory. Kölner Dom is one of the largest of its kind in the world and towers over the streets surrounding it, it’s dark and has a powerful gothic presence. After a while, standing there with our mouths open in awe, we went in search of our accommodation for the night, and we didn’t have to go very far. We split this trip between two locations, which was convenient in one way because the city seems to be split into two main areas and we got to stay in the heart of both. But it was a bit annoying having to check out after one night and drag bags from one side of the city to the other. But you live and you learn.
Our first destination was Hotel Sandmanns am Dom, a gorgeous boutique hotel that is a two-minute walk from the cathedral. All my solo trips this year have been spent in hostels, and myself and B have stayed in dorms together too, but it was a nice change this time to stay in a hotel and it didn’t cost much more. A lovely guy called Carson checked us in and gave us a street map of the city. He marked the best areas to visit and gave us tips on where to eat and drink during our stay. We dropped our bags and went straight back out, following Carson’s advice to check out Altstadt.
The weather was fantastic all weekend, between 25 – 30 degrees, I don’t think we ate indoors once during the whole trip. Our first meal was in a place called Gaffel Haus – and we went for the most German thing on the menu – sausages!! Before the waitress had even taken our order she had brought us two tiny glasses of German beer – something that lots of restaurants seemed to do in the city. The food was exceptional, in fact, this whole trip has completely changed my view on German food.
As the evening crept in we decided to take a walk across the impressive Hohenzollern Bridge. The bridge connects the two sides of the city which are divided by the River Rhine. Thousands of love locks are attached to the metal frame on both sides, it really is a spectacular sight, especially at night time. It’s quite romantic just to stroll along looking at all the locks and the river.
There’s a huge building on the opposite bank called the KölnTriangle where you can go to the rooftop and see a panoramic view of the city, so while we were there we decided to go up. It costs €3 and you take a lift all the way to the 28th floor. There’s no roof over you, but there are large panes of thick glass that go the whole way around so there is no danger of falling off!! Seeing any city from that height is an amazing experience, and Köln was no different. I’m really glad we got to do it at night time, the cathedral and bridge all lit up were striking. We liked it so much that we walked around twice, just taking in the views and chatting.
Our first night in the city was so much fun. We started off in a Thai place called Karibik – cocktail for me, beer for B. And then we moved on to what I can only describe as one of the best bars I have ever visited. Papa Joes, a jazz club in Altstadt, is like stepping back in time to the 1930s, you almost feel underground. There was a live band playing when we arrived, trumpets, double-bass, Saxophone – the works! The bar has a gallery style area upstairs and downstairs there’s a seating area that’s almost like a jurors box. A really cool building with lots of jazz memorabilia, trumpets on the ceiling, photos of musicians and quirky bottles behind the bar. We stayed there until the band were finished, and I was in my element.
While we were in Papa Joes we met a group of lovely guys from Dublin, (of course – go all the way to Germany and hang out with Irish!) They were on their way to an area called Rudolfplatz and invited us along, so we hopped in a taxi and joined the party! (A taxi from the Altstadt to Rudolfplatz is about €10, or else a 25 minute walk) We went to a really flashy looking place called The Luxx Bar first and then later on to a little German pub called Grön Eck. The group were hilarious and we ended up spending the rest of the night with them, they just welcomed us into their banter without a second thought which was lovley. The best thing I heard all night was apparently they told their wives they were going on a golfing trip for the weekend. But what they didn’t say was that it was actually crazy golf!!
On our way back to the hotel, myself and B stopped by the cathedral, and it was even more breathtaking after dark! We sat for a while just looking up at it. At that hour, there was hardly anyone around, so we had the whole thing to ourselves. It was a sweet way to finish our first night in Köln.
The next day we checked out bright and early. We walked through the huge shopping district looking for somewhere to eat and ended up at a delicious little bakery stand out the front of Backerei Merzenich. The shopping area is perfect for anyone looking to do a weekend shopping trip, it has every store you can think of, and then some!
The hostel I had picked for our second night was right beside Rudolfplaz, or the Belgian quarter as its also known as. The area is one long party street, with lots of lanes that only lead to more places to visit. The chic old buildings are full of bars, restaurants and clubs – there really is no shortage of places to go in this area. It’s the ideal part of the city to stay if you are away for a fun weekend of food and dancing.
Our hostel was called Die Wohngemeinschaft, from the outside, it looks like a dodgy designed building from the 70s but inside it is fabulous! I booked us a private room, the dorms were actually sold out by the time I went to book but we were delighted with the room they gave us. It was a funny experience because it was designed to feel like you’re in someone’s bedroom. We were staying in Jimmy’s room, a guy from the 60s who owned a Vespa and loved nights out in the city (there was a card in the room explaining about the character). They had a jacket hanging on the back of the door, a bike helmet, there were posters of pinups and tickets from gigs on the walls. There were even photo frames of ‘Jimmy’ and his friends on the locker beside the bed. It was really well done, I honestly felt like I had just crashed into somebody’s bedroom from the 1960s. On the way out the next day, the door of another room was open, and I could see it was done up like a room from the 1800’s, called Emilia’s room. So each one must have its own character.
Once we had checked in we headed back out and decided to make our way towards the Köln cable cars which take you from one side of the city to the other, over the river. We walked past the really pretty area of the Great St. Martin Church and crossed the Hohenzollern bridge for the second time. We stopped for lunch in Mongo’s, a funky Mongolian BBQ restaurant, where the portions were huge and the food was so fresh. I would recommend if you were visiting and wanted to try something different, it’s right beside the KölnTriangle building.
After lunch, we walked along the Rhine, again slowly making our way to the cable cars. We passed the cities man-made beach club, Beach Club KM 689, Köln could not be more land locked but you wouldn’t think it at this place. Gorgeous white sand, beach beds and umbrellas, it looked like a really cool place to relax in the sun or party at night. It was closed when we passed through so we didn’t get a chance to stay. The cable cars are at the back of the Rhein Park, a huge 40-hectare park overlooking the river. There’s a big playground for kids, lots of little ponds and places to stop and sit, and a flock of geese have made it their home, you can walk right along side them while you’re there.
When we reached the Cable cars there was no queue, we were able to get straight in. You don’t have to share with strangers either which is nice. I wasn’t nervous leading up to it, it was MY idea to go, I loved the idea of crossing high over the river and getting to see the city from that angle. But when we got up there it was a different story – I haven’t been that scared in a long time! I would never have said I dislike heights, but this was not for me. I was counting the minutes until we reached the other side, and Brian standing up to take photos as we crossed didn’t help my nerves either! By the time we got off I was actually sweating out of pure fear. I won’t be doing that again anytime soon, BUT if you don’t mind heights then I 100% recommend it as the views are unbelievable!! I was just too scared to enjoy them.
The walk back on the other side was gorgeous, there was a market running the whole length of the bank from the cable cars back to the bridge, almost 2km of market stalls and food vendors. I’m not sure if it’s there every Saturday, and it’s mainly antiques but it was lovely to stroll along and look at all the weird and wonderful stuff for sale.
When we reached the city centre again we decided to stop for a drink in a cool place called Servus Colonia Alpine – a gorgeous Alpine themed pub where the staff wear traditional German outfits, but not in a gaudy way, they actually looked really authentic. They serve beer from German beer mugs – the largest one on the menu was 1 Litre!!! We had walked ourselves into the ground that day, almost 17KM, and I’d had a mini heart attack in the cable car – so a pit stop was well deserved at that stage!
Later that night, after we’d had a rest in the hostel and I put on my face, we strolled down the street to The ASH steak house. They gave us the best table in the house, outside on the balcony overlooking the street. We had beautiful black angus steak, honestly the best steak meal I’ve ever had in my life – my mouth is water now just thinking about it. If I could only recommend one place to eat in the whole city this would be it. It has a real cozy feeling and the food is fantastic.
After our meal, we went to Mango Am Ring, a funky cocktail place in the heart of Rudolfplatz. We finished our night off with some dancing in a night club on the same street, there are so many clubs to choose from that I actually couldn’t find the name when I looked on google maps. Some places charge a hefty cover fee and others are free, so if you shop around you’ll find the right place for you. One thing that was unexpected was it was all hip hop and pop music in every club, there wasn’t a hint of techno to be found anywhere, again a big surprise for this German city.
The next day we had an early flight on Sunday so we didn’t squeeze much in that morning. We had one last look at the cathedral before jumping on the train to the airport.
I did a little bit of research this week because I couldn’t understand how parts of the city are so quaint and historical looking. I was convinced it must have been spared during World War II, so was amazed to discover that 90% of the city was wiped out by 1945 from bomb strikes. Most of the buildings and streets we explored last weekend had been reconstructed since then.
Köln has swooped in and found itself as one of the top cities I would recommend if you are looking for a cheap European city break – history, shopping, fantastic choices of places for eating, and a hopping night life. Perfect for a couples break, a solo trip or a stag/hen party even! The architecture, winding cobbled streets, along with the scorching sunshine (lovely summers being something we forget are very normal for the Germans) made for the perfect city to discover and spend time in.
Written with love,