Weighing in as the fourth largest city in Germany, Cologne is home to over ten million people. It is situated on the Rhine River and is located less than 100 kilometers from Belgium. Visitors to Cologne come for its array of beautiful churches and its internationally renowned cathedral. Even I couldn’t resist the urge to wander amongst the historic streets and stroll around the fascinating museums.
I arrived in Cologne from Vienna, Austria and was met by my lovely host from Couchsurfing, John. After meeting me in the central station, we went back to his house where he not only offered a place to stay, but with my own bed room instead of the couch that I was expecting. My three-day plan turned into five as I fell in love with the city and my time spent drinking beer and wine with local expats.
Here are my suggestions of the things to do for a first time traveler in Cologne.
First day: Spend eating hearty German meals of sausages and potatoes, drink wine or beer and visit the famous Cologne Dom.
The Dom is very accessible as it is near the central station and there is no admission fee. I found this towering, gothic cathedral to be captivating and I made sure to get a tour of the inside. The architecture is stunning and symbolic. The cathedral is really amazing masterpiece. Follow the crowd and it will lead you to a famous bridge, the Hohenzollern Bridge. This pedestrian crossing is the best place for train-spotting while crossing the Rhine River. Be surprised by the thousands and thousands of locks that extends across the Rhine. They call it the Bridge of Love, even if you are traveling alone you can still put a padlock, write your name on it, the date, and add it to the collection. In my case, I took the lock off my suitcase and padlocked it to the bridge for eternity.
Second day: Visit churches and old towns.
Ask your host (if available) to guide you around the old town to see the Roman and gothic churches and even detour into the Museum. Never miss to visit Ludwig Museum right next to the Dom. I am not a museum guy but this place finds me more interesting. It is nice to see masterpieces of famous artists in one place. Visit Basilika St. Aposteln, one of the best romanesque churches in Cologne. It is located near Neumarkt Station. The church looks very pleasant inside and out. Also you should visit Church of St. Johann Baptist, Gross St. Martin and St. Ursula.
Third day: Dive into downtown area for shopping and party.
Shop around at the 4711 store, the shop is where the first “eau de cologne” or Water of Cologne was sold. Eat more delicious food and soak in the culture of the people and the place. Stroll around Heumarkt, it is located just 3 minutes from the promenade to the river rhine. Enjoy many cafés, restaurants and shops. During the night, experience Cologne’s nightlife. Check out events in Couchsurfing and meet fellow travelers. You may also join Pub crawl, it´s fun to have people around when discovering city´s nightlife, the guides are friendly and outgoing that will try to make everybody have a good time. Cap the night with great pubs, drinks and great people!
Fourth day: Spa Day.
Treat yourself for a relaxation day. If you have been traveling a lot and haven’t slept well then a Spa treat is what you needed. I would highly suggest Sukon Thai Massage, located just opposite of the historic Town Hall. The place is nice and calm and the staff are really good. Try the traditional thai massage for those who’ve walked a lot. You can also spend half day in baths and saunas (just ignore nudity).
These travels will help you understand the importance of hard work for the German people as well as their love for wheat beers and sharing meals together. I traveled during spring time and for me the weather was perfect and the trip ended up being the same. I started getting the feeling that I could live there myself one day. I realized that the German way of life, including togetherness and high moral standards of living is something I could really dive into further on in my future.