It’s difficult not to like Cologne. Visitors to this lively metropolis on the Rhine, Germany’s fourth-largest and oldest city, are immediately struck by Cologne’s cheek-by-jowl juxtaposition of the very old with the very new. You can see Roman ruins in an underground parking garage, a dizzyingly ornate Gothic cathedral beside a modern museum complex, and a humble Romanesque church wedged in among luxury shops. On a 10-minute walk in Cologne, you can traverse 2,000 years of history.

Cologne—spelled Köln in Germany and pronounced koeln—offers far more than Germany’s largest cathedral, although that is spectacular and reason enough to visit. The range of Cologne’s museums and the quality of their collections make Cologne one of the outstanding museum cities of Germany. Music, whether it’s a symphony concert in the modern philharmonic hall, an opera at the highly regarded opera house, or a boisterous outdoor concert in the Rheinpark, is likewise a vital component of life here. The city also is famous as the birthplace of eau de Cologne.

Cologne traces its beginnings to 38 b.c., when Roman legions set up camp here. As early as a.d. 50, the emperor Claudius gave the city municipal rights as capital of a Roman province. In addition to its substantial Roman legacy, the city boasts 12 major Romanesque churches. Older than the cathedral, the churches drew medieval pilgrims from all across Europe to “Holy Cologne,” one of the most important pilgrimage cities in medieval Christendom.

Like Munich, Cologne is a city that likes to have fun, and a huge student population keeps it buzzing and vital. The Kölner themselves are refreshingly relaxed and down-to-earth in how they enjoy their city. Ancient traditions are annually renewed in the city’s raucous pre-Lenten Carnival (called Fasching), a time of masked balls, parades, and general delirium. When the weather turns warm, visitors and citizens alike stroll along the Rhine promenades and flock to outdoor taverns and restaurants to enjoy the pleasures of a Kölsch, Cologne’s unique and delicious beer, and a substantial meal of hearty Rhineland cuisine.