Saturday, September 7, 2013

Cologne...or Kö a super fun weekend destination

Since we are living in Germany, we've been perusing various travel books and websites, and found out that the Cologne Cathedral (the Dom) is actually the most visited landmark in Germany, with apparently an average of 20,000 visitors per day.  We decided to go to Cologne for a weekend and see what all the fuss is about.

How to get there?
We took the super fast ICE train from Frankfurt Hauptbanhof.  It gets you to Cologne in an hour!  That's really fast!  However, the ICE route is not particularly scenic.  The slower regional train is VERY scenic, takes a few hours and snakes along the Rhine so you can check out all the castles.  Our ICE train tracks were broken (??) on our journey to Cologne so we actually got to see both ways, and a partial refund for our train ticket.  The train station has very high tech luggage lockers, so you can stash your bags for the day if you are just passing through or have checked out of your hotel.

Cologne is a huge history lesson!
Cologne is one of Germany's major cities, and it's roots go to Roman times.  There is so much to do in Cologne!  There are tons of museums, ancient ruins, shopping, the 4711 cologne stuff, a gondola, parks, restaurants, the Rhine...the list goes on and on.  Most of Cologne was leveled during World War II, and most stores sell posters and post cards showing the leveled city, so we briefly discussed this with the kids.  However, despite the lack of amazing architecture, Cologne has great shopping areas, pedestrian squares, and lively bars and restaurants and is a great city to visit.   As always, there are great tourist information offices in the train station.  This is what we chose to do in Cologne with young kids!

So, the highlight of Cologne is the DOM.  It's right next to the train station and is in the middle of the shopping and pedestrian area.  The Dom is really amazing and our entire family was completely wow-ed by it.  My reaction upon seeing it was that it is the most incredible man-made thing I've ever seen, it literally looks like it is created by a Pixar team of artists and is not "real."

The Dom is huge and impressive in all respects.  It was designed in 1248 to house the remains of the 3 Kings.  In 1473 work was stopped on it, and then it was eventually completed in 1880.  It's the largest Gothic church in Northern Europe and is the second highest church in the world!  It's location has a history that dates back to Roman times.  There are many ancient crucifixes and tombs, and it houses the remnants of the 3 kings who visited baby Jesus.  During World War II the allies chose not to bomb the Dom because it was a good landmark for them when flying - the kids liked this tidbit.  The Dom is gorgeous, both inside and out.  It is huge and awe-inspiring.
We visited the Dom at 10:00am on a Saturday morning in August, and it was not too crowded.  It did look quite crowded in the afternoons however, especially due to the numerous river boat cruises that stop in Cologne.  We walked around inside, and then made our way downstairs to check out the Roman ruins below the cathedral, and then climbed to the top of the south tower.  I highly recommend this climb, it was breathtaking and very satisfying.  But do it early in the morning!!!  I could not imagine it during a more crowded time of day, so if you go, do it first thing in the morning as the winding staircases are very narrow and steep!

We also popped into the Dom on a Sunday morning as the 10:00am mass was beginning, and stayed for about 10 minutes to hear the organ music and watch the procession to the altar.  It gave us all goosebumps!!!

 The Cologne Chocolate Museum
A highlight of the visit for our kids was the Chocolate Museum, which is an easy walk from the Dom.  It's basically a run down of history of chocolate and how it is made.  However, the coolest part is that you actually get to explore an actual portion of the chocolate factory, all of the machines are encased in plexiglass, and the kids were fascinated.  There is also a chocolate fountain with an attendant who gives free tastes on little wafers.  At the end of the chocolate factory there is a counter where you can design your own chocolate bar and watch the factory workers make it.  We really wanted to do this, but it is a 40 minute wait (for the bar to cool properly).  If we go again, we will dash to the "end" of the factory tour (near the chocolate fountain) and order a custom made bar, and THEN go through the museum.  I would advise doing this as it's really cool to get to pick all the ingredients that go into the custom made chocolate bars.  There is also a restaurant and Lindt gift shop (where we bought chocolate Dom lollipops).

Cologne Cable Car
Another great activity in Cologne is the Cable Car.  It leaves from right across from the Cologne Zoo (which we skipped).  We got there by taking the subway from the main train station.  The cable car is very scenic and goes over the Rhine to a park on the other side of the river.  We were in Cologne in August, and the children found it quite hysterical that the cable car goes over an outdoor pool complex with a nude bathing area.  The park is pretty, with lots of green grass and flowers.  We walked around a bit and walked to the edge of the Rhine and discussed the history of this amazing river, and skipped stones.

Deutsches Sport and Olympic Museum
A must-see for any family with sport enthusiasts is the Sport and Olympic Museum, which is next door to the Chocolate Museum.  It is quite a large museum and teaches about the history of sports and olympic games in Germany.  It's really fun and interactive, you can borrow boxing gloves and get into the ring, play soccer (football) on the roof, and try out various other sports.  We had a blast here, especially Andrew!

Ancient Ruins
When you wander around Cologne you can really feel the passage of time due to the beautiful juxtaposition of the Dom with post World War II architecture, and ancient ruins located sporadically around the city.  There is a museum dedicated to the ruins - the Praetorium - which we intended to visit, but we happened upon some recently discovered ruins while exploring the city and got to watch an architectural dig in progress on the land of the new Jewish museum.

Lodging, Food and Drink
There are a ton of bakeries and cafes in Cologne.  It's easy to find delicious food!  Cologne is famous for Koelsch beer, which we had to try.  Mike liked it more than I did.  There are also tons of hotels - just check out  We decided to stay at the Hotel Novotel Cologne City because we visited in August and it was the only hotel I could find that was air conditioned and not ridiculously expensive.  We liked it, although it was a 20 minute walk to the Dom and everything else, a bit farther than we would have liked.

Overall, Cologne was really fun and interesting, and definitely worth a visit!

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