Cologne has been at the intersection of culture and commerce from the time Romans found it in 30 BC. It was busy in the medieval period because of the trade routes that met along the banks of the Rhine River. Today it thrives as an artistic brain center hosting the continent's largest art fair, over 40 museums, Ford Motor's European headquarters, and hundreds of art galleries showcasing Germany's emerging art scene (on a scale only rivaled by Berlin). The city's diversity is apparent in its architecture as well, from its UNESCO World Heritage-cited cathedral, to its 1920's era skyscrapers, to its cobblestone streets, to the areas carefully reconstructed after World War II.
For discounts on shopping and restaurants while visiting Cologne, the Köln WelcomeCard (www.koeln.de) offers savings across 87 tourist attractions, sites and restaurants. Use of the card guarantees you reduced admissions to most of Cologne's museums and the town's music and theater scene. The guidebook, available upon purchase of the card, also gives you a rundown of the sites, their addresses and the detailed offerings included with the card. Costs for the card begin at $11 for a single person or $23 for a family of two adults and up to three children for 24 hours, and rise to $22 for a single person to $44 for a family for 72 hours.
For places to stay in Cologne, you could start with the majestic Excelsior Hotel Ernst (tel. +49 (0) 221-2701; www.excelsiorhotelernst.de). Built in 1863, the hotel is a grand statement of century-old Weimar elegance. Its lobby houses paintings by Anthony Van Dyck and the breakfast room is adorned with a medieval tapestry. The hotel is currently running a two-night special starting at $421 for a single room or $320 per person for double room that includes two nights, accommodations, a full breakfast in the breakfast room, complimentary mini-bar drinks, free use of the sauna and fitness room and a three-course dinner in one of the hotel's two restaurants (upgrades to a junior suite cost $123 per person).
Expedia is offering a less expensive hotel option with an $88 deal to the Flandrischer Hof (tel. +49 (0) 2212-0360; www.flandrischerhof.de), a three-star spot located in the Belgisches Viertel (Belgian quarter) of Cologne, one mile from the Cathedral and the main shopping street. The boutique hotel's sleek interior makes this an ideal spot to stay for artsy types looking for a more modern spin on their time in Cologne.
Cologne takes great pride in its "City of Museums" nickname. A website dedicated solely to the Museums of Cologne (www.museenkoeln.de) takes visitors through the current exhibitions at individual museums as well as describes in detail Cologne's historical relationship to art. Two of Cologne's more popular museums are the Ludwig Museum and the Wallraf-Richartz-Museum & Fondation Corboud. The Ludwig focuses on modern art featuring works finished in the 20th century. The more traditional Wallraf has a world-renowned collection of works from the thirteenth to sixteenth centuries.
Even more promising for international art lovers is this year's Art Cologne (tel. +49 (0) 221 821 3091; www.artcologne.com), the 41st International Fair for Modern and Contemporary Art. This year it moves from the fall to its new spring dates, and takes place from April 18 to 22, 2007. Known as one of the leading art fairs in the world, Art Cologne features the latest in painting, instillation art, sculpture, photography and emerging artists. In addition to gallery owners manning booths in hopes of selling the works from their latest finds, the hallways of Art Cologne are full of artworks from the post-war period. Admission for day-ticket costs $25 with student tickets going for $18. Over 300 exhibitors are expected at this year's show, placing Cologne at the center of the art world once again in its long and varied history.
Talk with fellow Frommer's travelers on our Germany Message Boards.