Cologne was a city I never imagined returning to. I first went for a short city break to the Cologne Christmas markets one December which I really enjoyed, but thought I’d seen the city. More recently, I’ve been on a summer city break to Cologne and had a completely different, but just as enjoyable experience. There are certain sites which will be enjoyable regardless of the time of year, but this guide will also focus on the two different seasons as they have a completely different atmosphere.
Cologne in the Winter
Like many German towns and cities, Cologne really comes alive in the winter time thanks to the wonderful Christmas Markets. When I came to Cologne in the winter, the main reason was to see the markets and therefore this is where I would aim to spend most of your time. Whether you enjoy ice-skating, browsing the stalls for unique gifts, or just want to warm up by drinking some mulled wine then you’ll enjoy the festive atmosphere and pretty lights.
Lindt Chocolate Museum
I know, I know, chocolate is good any time of year! But don’t you find yourself craving it more when it is cold and dark outside? Plus a museum is a great place to take shelter if the weather isn’t looking so great outside. If you are a chocolate fan like me then the chocolate museum is a must-see attraction! In fact, we ended up going twice! On the Saturday we went for a hot chocolate in the cafe (the cakes also looked incredible!) and a nosey round the shop, and then on the Sunday we returned to go round the actual museum.
The museum takes you through a range of exhibition areas, including a tropical house, and explores the cultural history and development of chocolate. There’s some really interesting bits about the sustainability of chocolate and the Fairtrade movement. I particularly enjoyed seeing the production of the chocolate – and getting to try some of the chocolate fountain! There is also a chocolate studio where you can have your own chocolate bar created from a choice of three types of chocolate and 40 toppings. This made a fantastic souvenir for family back at home!
Cologne in the Summer
The best thing about Cologne in the summer, like many European cities, is that it is warm, it is sunny, and there are plenty of areas to sit outside and watch the world go by. Cafe Reichard is opposite the Cathedral and has a lovely large terrace. Whilst it is a little pricey, it had some incredible looking ice cream sundaes and cakes.
I know you can walk around in Winter, but it’s a little bit more pleasant when you aren’t bundled up in hundreds of layers and don’t have to worry about whether or not it might rain. I would suggest walking through the old town and along the banks of the Rhine in particular.
The Volksgarten is a public park towards the south of the city centre and is a lovely green space to pass some time on a lazy Sunday morning. There’s a play park, rose garden, fountain and you can even hire pedalo boats to go around the small lake. There were lots of groups meeting for parties and barbecues whilst I was there and it had a really friendly vibe. The bustling Hellers Volksgarten is the perfect place to enjoy some Schnitzel or a cold beer.
Cologne at any time of year
The twin spires of Cologne Cathedral are an iconic site which are recognised internationally (the Cathedral is a UNESCO world heritage site). Started in 1248, the Cathedral was not completed until 1880, yet the later work follows the medieval plans and techniques faithfully. The Cathedral is Cologne’s second-tallest structure and can hold more than 20,000 people. It’s a really remarkable building and the gothic architecture is incredible.
In addition to walking around the inside of the Cathedral, you can climb up the South Tower for the small price of 4 euros which I would really recommend. In order to reach the viewing platform for panoramic views of the city, you must first climb 533 steps – so you’d better be feeling fit! However, if it is a clear day the climb is worth it and on the way up you will go past the bell chamber which is quite interesting. I’d recommend avoiding going on a Saturday morning, as this is when a lot of the cruise trip passengers arrive and want to climb up the tower, so it can be pretty busy!
The Hohenzollern bridge is the most heavily used rail bridge in Germany and is important as it connects Cologne’s central station with major European cities on the other side of the Rhine. It is also well known as it is covered in “love locks” which have been left by residents and tourists. It is estimated that the padlocks weigh over two tonnes (unsurprising when you see just how many there actually are)! Whilst it’s not the most exciting attraction in itself, it provides a good opportunity for photos and is an easy way to get across the Rhine.
Go to a Brauhaus
Whether you are escaping the cold weather outside, or trying to cool down with a cold beer, you can’t really come on a weekend to Cologne and not visit a traditional beer hall. I don’t even drink beer but I still enjoyed the atmosphere! The Kölsch beer is a special beer only brewed in Cologne so should be your drink of choice. There are plenty of different beer halls to choose from, but we headed to Früh – a brewery near the Cathedral which is more than a hundred years old.
When should you visit Cologne?
Even though I have now been twice, I still haven’t done a lot of the main attractions in Cologne. There a multiple museums, a botanical garden and it looks to be quite a good city for shopping too. Whilst I didn’t really imagine returning to Cologne after my first visit, it was interesting to experience the city at a completely different time of year. When you should go really depends on what you most want to do and see but I’d most recommend going in the winter when the Christmas markets are on. Whilst I thoroughly enjoyed my second stay in Cologne, I’m not sure I’d hurry back during the summer. Instead I’d choose to head to a smaller and more picturesque German city, like Heidelberg.