Straddling the River Rhine, Cologne is the fourth-largest city in Germany and has a history stretching back to the Roman Empire. Much of Cologne was destroyed by bombing during the Second World War - but the city has since been rebuilt and is now a major cultural centre in the Rhineland and is home to a vibrant arts scene.
History of Cologne
After being founded by the Romans in 50AD, Cologne became home to imperial governors and grew to be one of the most important trading posts for the Roman Empire north of the Alps. Traces of this time can still be found in the city and are celebrated at the Roman-Germanic Museum.
During the Middle Ages Cologne became one of the most prosperous towns in the German-speaking region of Central Europe and in 1288 its citizens gained political power after military victory over the archbishop and town rulers. The city’s position as a leading member of the Hanseatic League and its location on the Rhine meant that it grew rich on trade and this era led to the construction of the grand cathedral which still towers over Cologne today.
In 1794 the city was occupied by the French as a result of the revolutionary wars, and over the next two decades the occupiers consolidated their position in Cologne. But they were driven from the city by Prussian and Russian troops before in 1815 Cologne and the Rhineland were made a part of Prussia.
During the Second World War around 90 per cent of the city was destroyed by Allied bombing and thousands of people fled, with the population not to reach pre-war levels again until 1959. The bombing left Cologne described as the ‘world's greatest heap of debris’ and a major rebuilding programme was needed to restore the city.
Five things to do in Cologne
So you are ready to start exploring the historic city of Cologne. But what are the ‘must see’ attractions that should be on every visitor’s itinerary? Here are five suggestions of things to do during your time in Cologne - and a map to help you find your way around the city.
The magnificent cathedral of Cologne towers over the city and is a great source of pride to its people - its unlikely survival of the wartime bombing having the same powerful symbolism for the people of Cologne as St Paul’s Cathedral does for Londoners. And although we now live in more peaceful times, the effort to keep the cathedral watching over the city endures. More than 80 stonemasons, glaziers, roofers and craftsmen work constantly to maintain the building.
One highlight of a visit to the cathedral is the view from the platform of the south tower. Visitors can climb the 533 steps to enjoy spectacular views of the city from 100 metres above the ground. The climb to the viewing platform takes you past the bell chamber, which houses the 24-tonnes St Peter's Bell, the largest free-swinging church bell in the world.
Domkloster 4, 50667 Cologne
Housing the largest pop art collection outside America, Museum Ludwig is a stunning celebration of modern art. It was founded in 1976 when Peter and Irene Ludwig agreed to donate 350 artworks in return for the city building a museum dedicated to 20th century artworks. Schools featured at the museum include surrealism, cubism and expressionism, and there are usually two or more temporary exhibitions on show.
Heinrich-Böll-Platz, 50667 Cologne
Love Locks on Hohenzollern Bridge
Want to secure everlasting love and be part of one of Cologne’s most famous traditions? Then bring a padlock with you and head to the Hohenzollern Bridge. For years now couples have sought to prove their love to each other by fixing ‘love locks’ to the bridge’s railings before throwing the key into the Rhine below. Thousands of locks now adorn the bridge - many elaborately decorated and engraved. It is thought the padlocks weigh more than two tonnes.
The Old Town
Strolling through the Old Town area of Cologne today you would have no idea this area was almost completely destoryed during the war. Instead views of the cathedral, the Roman church Great St Martin and the historical Town Hall from the cobble-stoned streets will transport you back in time. The Old Town also features lots of great places to stop off, take a rest and enjoy some traditional German beers and cuisine.
Founded in 1860, Cologne Zoo is one of the oldest zoological gardens in the world and the development of the zoo can be traced from the menagerie of the 19th century to the wildlife reserve of the 21st century. The zoo is home to around 500 different species of animal from all four corners of the globe and the latest addition to the zoo - opened in 2004 - is a large elephant enclosure.
Riehler Straße 173, 50735 Cologne
Cologne is located on the River Rhine and is located within the Rhine-Ruhr metropolitan area of Germany, around 260 miles from the port at Calais. Getting there is easy if you book one of the frequent cross-Channel ferries to France, with Cologne being little more than four hours away by car if you travel on one of the Dover ferries to Calais.
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MyFerryLink offers up to 16 sailing between Dover and Calais every day and you can book your crossing from £19 one way by visiting our booking page on the website
or by calling 0844 2482 100.