Cologne cathedral and all the major museums are found in the Altstadt. After a day of sightseeing, round off your visit with a stroll along the Rhine promenade in Deutz. Note: Museums in Cologne are generally closed on Monday.
Boat Trips on the Rhine
Cologne is a major embarkation point for Rhine cruises. Even if you don’t have time for a long Rhine cruise, you can enjoy a trip on the river aboard one of the many local boats. From late March through October, KD (Köln-Düsseldorfer Deutsche Rheinschiffahrt), Frankenwerft 15 (tel. 0221/208-8318; www.k-d.com), offers several boat tours of the Rhine from Cologne. The KD ticket booth and boarding point is right on the river, a short walk south from the cathedral. The 1-hour Panorama Rundfahrt tour is a pleasant way to see the stretch of Rhine immediately around Cologne—don’t particularly scenic, since the river hereabouts is pretty industrialized, but you will get a view of the Cologne skyline with its cathedral and church spires. The tour departs daily at 10:30am., noon, 1.30pm, 3pm, 5pm and 6pm. Prerecorded commentary in English plays on both of these sightseeing cruises.
Cologne’s romanesque Churches
Cologne has a dozen important Romanesque churches, all within the medieval city walls. During the Middle Ages, these churches were important destinations for the pilgrims who flocked to “Holy Cologne” to venerate relics of the Three Kings and various Christian martyrs. Devastated during World War II, all 12 of the churches were later restored, often with interior changes, and together they represent the rich architectural legacy of early medieval Cologne. If you have the time, and an interest in architectural history, Cologne’s Romanesque churches are worth seeking out. Keep in mind, however, that not all of them are open daily, or open only for a limited period.
The 12th-century church of St. Ursula, Ursulaplatz (U-Bahn: Hauptbahnhof), the patron saint of Cologne, is on the site of a Roman graveyard. Legend has it that St. Ursula was martyred here with her 11,000 virgin companions in about 451. The story inspired countless medieval paintings and sculptures, and drew pilgrims in droves. The shrine room of St. Ursula (2€ admission) is a rather remarkable combination of medieval sculpted wooden busts in niches with upper walls and ceiling decorated with bones.
St. Panteleon, Am Pantaleonsberg 2 (U-Bahn: Poststrasse), built in 980, has the oldest cloister arcades remaining in Germany. Elliptically shaped and twin-towered St. Gereon, Gereonsdriesch 2–4 (U-Bahn: Christophstrasse), contains the tomb of St. Gereon and other martyrs, with 11th-century mosaics in the crypt. St. Severin, Severinstrasse 1 (U-Bahn: Severinstrasse), originated as a 4th-century memorial chapel; the present church dates from the 13th to the 15th centuries. St. Maria im Kapitol, Kasinostrasse 6 (U-Bahn: Heumarkt), on the site where Plectrudis, the wife of Pippin, built a church in the early 8th century, has a cloverleaf choir modeled on that of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. St. Aposteln, Neumarkt 30 (U-Bahn: Neumarkt), and Gross St. Martin, on the Rhine in the Altstadt (U-Bahn: Heumarkt), also have the cloverleaf choir design. St. Georg, Am Waidmarkt (U-Bahn: Poststrasse), the only remaining Romanesque pillared basilica in the Rhineland, contains an impressive forked crucifix from the early 14th century. Cäcilienkirche (St. Cecilia’s Church), Cäcilienstrasse 29 (U-Bahn: Neumarkt), is the site of the Schnütgen Museum. St. Andreas, near the cathedral (U-Bahn: Hauptbahnhof), contains a wealth of late-Romanesque architectural sculpture. The remaining two Romanesque churches are on the Rhine: St. Kunibert, Kunibertskloster 2 (U-Bahn: Hauptbahnhof), and St. Maria Lyskirchen, Am Lyskirchen 12 (U-Bahn: Heumarkt), both of 13th-century origin.
Carnival in Cologne
Many cities throughout Germany have Christmas markets, but only the traditionally Catholic cities celebrate carnival—a time when the weather may be gray, but spirits are high. Cologne’s Carnival, the city’s “fifth season,” is one of the most eagerly anticipated events in Germany. The season officially lasts from New Year’s Eve to Ash Wednesday. During this period, Cologne buzzes with masked balls, parades, and general delirium. Natives call this celebration Fasteleer or Fastelovend. We highly recommend visiting at this time---just make sure to book a room in advance. For a full listing of events, go to www.koelnerkarneval.de.
Day Trips From Cologne
Cologne is ideally situated for exploring western Germany, an area that includes the famous wine-growing regions along the Rhine and Mosel valleys, the ancient city of Aachen, and the Mittelrhein, the most scenic stretch of the river.
The Middle Rhine
Germany has many important rivers, but for 2,000 years the Rhine has served as the principle artery between southern and northern Europe. The mighty, myth-laden Rhine (spelled Rhein in German) originates in southeastern Switzerland, flows through the Bodensee (Lake Constance), and forms Germany’s southwestern boundary as it continues its 1,320km (820-mile) journey west, north, and northwest to the North Sea.
The most scenic section of the Rhine, with the legendary Loreley rock and many hilltop castles, is the Middle Rhine (Mittelrhein) between Koblenz and Rüdesheim. This stretch of the Rhinetal, or Rhine Gorge, with its vineyards, forests, and castle-topped crags, has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. You can enjoy the sights along the Middle Rhine by taking a river cruise departing from Koblenz. Note: There are many ways to explore the Rhine by boat besides the itinerary listed here. If you want a longer Rhine cruise, you can travel from Cologne south to Bonn and all the way to Mainz. You’ll find seasonal timetables and itineraries at www.k-d.de.
Getting There -- By Train & Boat -- To make the itinerary work as a day-trip from Cologne, you first need to take a train to Koblenz, about 85km (53 miles) southeast of Cologne (1 hr. by train). From Koblenz, a boat operated by KD (tel. 0221/20881; www.k-d.de) departs at 9am (Apr–Oct) and travels down the Rhine to Rüdesheim, one of the main Rhineside wine towns, arriving at 1:15pm. From Rüdesheim you can retirn to Koblemz by boat (departing 2:15pm or 4:15pm), or take a train all the way back to Cologne (about 2 1/2 hr.). B sure to check current train (www.bahn.com) and boat schedules before you depart.
Sights Along the Middle Rhine
For over 2,000 years the Rhine has played a huge role in the history of Germany and Europe, serving as a means of transportation, communication and cultural exchange between the south and the north.From Koblenz south to Alsace, the Rhine Valley’s sheltered sunny slopes covered with vineyards almost makes it look like a northern extension of Italy. This part of the Rhineland but has been fundamentally formed by the culture of wine, as reflected in its economy, traditions, and festivals.
The excursion boat from Koblenz sails down this famous stretch of the Rhine, known as the Rheintal, or Rhine Gorge, passing the Rheingau winegrowing region and stopping at riverside wine towns along the way. (You can also travel by boat up the Rhine, starting your trip in Mainz, Rüudesheim, or Bingen.) As you head south from Koblenz, highlights are:
The fortress of Marksburg, one of two surviving medieval fortifications on the Middle Rhine, towers above Braubach on the right (west) bank. Rhens, on the left (east) bank, is where the German Emperors were enthroned after being elected in Frankfurt and crowned in Aachen Cathedral. Oberspay and Niederspay, now incorporated into a single town, contain more timber-framed houses than anywhere on the Middle Rhine. Boppard, located below a horseshoe loop in the river, originated as a Roman way-station and was replaced in the 4th century by a military fort. Across the river on the right bank is St. Goarshausen, with its castle of Neu-Katzenelnbogen.
As you continue towards Oberwesel, the valley landscape begins to transition from soft clay-slate to hard sandstone, creating a series of narrows, the most famous of which is the Loreley, the most over-rated rock formation in the world. This stretch of river was once hazardous for shipping and inspired legends of the Lorelei, a golden-haired beauty who sat on the rocks combing her hair and was so entrancing that she lured sailors to their deaths. This area is also reputed to be the place where the fabulous treasure of the Niebelungs lies hidden. Looking at the Loreley today, you may scratch your head and wonder what all the fuss was about.
Oberwesel, on the river’s left bank, has preserved a number of fine early houses, as well as two Gothic churches, the medieval Schönburg castle, and its medieval town wall. Kaub and its environs contain a number of monuments, among them the Pfalzgrafenstein castle, the town wall of Kaub itself, and the terraced vineyards, created in the Middle Ages. Bacharach, at the entrance of the Steeger valley, contains many timber-framed houses and retains its medieval appearance.
Just before the 5km (3-mile) long Bingen Pforte (Bingen Gate), a section of the river widened in the 19th and 20th centuries, there are two small wine towns. Bingen on the left bank and Rüdesheim on the right (the excursion boat stops at both). Rüdesheim is dominated by the 12th-century Brömserberg fortress. The vineyards of the Rüdesheimer Berg (mountain) are among the best in the Rheingau.
Although the excursion boat continues on to Mainz, Rüdesheim is a good place to disembark and have a stroll before heading back to Cologne. With its old courtyards and winding alleyways lined with half-timbered houses, Rüdesheim is the quintessential Rheingau wine town. The vineyards around the village date back to the Roman times and produce a full-bodied Riesling and Sekt (sparkling wine). Rüdesheim is also the scene of the annual August wine festival, when the old taverns on narrow Drosselgasse (Thrush Lane) are crowded with visitors from all over the world. Drosselgasse has been called “the smallest but the happiest street in the world.”
The Rheingauer Weinmuseum, Rheinstrasse 2 (tel. 06722/2348; www.rheingauer-weinmuseum.de), in Bromserburg Castle, traces the history of the grape and has an exhibition of wine presses, glasses, goblets, and drinking utensils from Roman times to the present. Admission is 5€ for adults, 3€ for children, with an extra charge for wine tastings. The museum is open mid-March to October daily 10am to 6pm.
Located next to their own vineyards, Gasthof Krancher, Eibinger-Oberstrasse 4 (tel. 06722/2762; www.gasthof-krancher.de), is a homey guesthouse that serves regional German food, mostly Rhinelander specialties.
The beautifully carved 17th-century facade of Hotel und Weinhaus Felsenkeller, Oberstrasse 39–41 (tel. 06722/94250; www.felsenkeller-ruedesheim.de), suggest the traditional ambience you’ll find within. Sample Rhine wine in a room with vaulted ceilings and murals or, if the weather is nice, enjoy regional Rhineland cuisine on the terrace. The hotel-restaurant is closed from November to Easter.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.