This is the cultural hub of Germany's north-west. Known for its towering Gothic cathedral, the Koln Dom, the city was established 2,000 years ago while in the hands of the Romans. The Old Town was destroyed during the Second World War, but was rebuilt with meticulous detail. Just 45 kilometres from Dusseldorf, Cologne is on the River Rhine and is rich in architecture, attractions and culture – there are 36 museums across the city. Its Roman heritage is noticeable throughout, from old fortifications and towers to Roman sewers, and a subterranean governors' palace. That being said, it has a youthful vibe too with a great café culture and areas like Ehrenfeld that illustrate modern graffiti and street art.
A comfortable bed
The classic Excelsior Ernst (www.excelsiorhotelernst.com) in the inner city is a good option. It is right beside the railway station and within walking distance of many attractions.
The hotel, which has plenty of marble columns, dark wood and gold fittings, has an old world charm. There are two dining options here, including a restaurant with a Michelin star. Doubles start from about Dh1,090 per night, including breakfast.
The Art’otel by Park Plaza (www.artotels.com) in the redeveloped port area is another option worth considering. You’ll be surrounded by bright paintings and clean white interiors and rooms are fresh and airy.
The restaurant has a patio overlooking the Rhine River and serves Pan-Asian cuisine. Doubles start from Dh1,000 per night, including breakfast.
For the more budget conscious traveller, the Stadthotel am Romerturm (www.stadthotel-roemerturm.de/en) is a good one. It is situated near one of the Roman towers and is within walking distance of the Cologne cathedral. Double rooms start from about Dh345 per night, including breakfast.
Find your feet
Those who enjoy walking will find it easy to discover this city on foot. Start at the epicentre – the gargantuan Gothic cathedral the Koln Dom (www.colognecathedral.net) and then make your way south from there to the Old Town, where cobbled alleys will take you back to times long ago. Walk through the Lintgasse, which is lined with half-timbered traditional houses, to Great St Martin Church and the Fischmarkt, where a seafood lunch is a must.
It's worth stopping by the Ludwig Museum of Art (www.ludwigmuseum.de/en), and the Romano German Museum (www.roemisch-germanisches-museum.de) too, the latter illustrates the rich archaeological heritage of the city. From there, stroll to Rheinauhafen, where you'll discover old warehouses and buildings shaped like harbour cranes. Then skip across to the Hohenzollernbrucke railway bridge for a look at its impressive collection of "love-locks". For a different perspective, take a Rhine River boat cruise, which will sail you past the Old Town, the Chocolate Museum and Rheinhaufaen.
Meet the locals
Take a tram to the bohemian Belgian quarter, where the locals gather. Its centre is the Brusseler Platz with the church of St Michael. It’s dotted with clubs and exclusive boutiques full of local designer goods.
Book a table
For some great Italian food, head to German restaurant chain Vapiano (www.vapiano.com/en), which is packed with pasta, pizza and salad offerings. The average cost for a meal here is €30 (Dh130). Another place worth seeking out is the Ludwig im Museum Restaurant & Cafe (www.ludwig-im-museum.de), a certified organic restaurant with river views. The menu features pastas, salads and organic juices. A three-course meal will cost about €28.90 (Dh126) per person.
Hohe Strasse is one of the oldest and busiest streets in Cologne and the main shopping precinct. Along with many of its adjacent streets, this area is a pedestrian zone that is lined with upmarket stores and designer label outlets as well as souvenir shops. It's retail heaven. Cologne is the home of the legendary fragrance, Eau de Cologne, first made by an Italian chemist about 1710. Don't miss the opportunity to check out the House of Farina museum (farina.org). It's there you can gain some insight into the history of the renowned fragrance and buy a bottle, too. For those with a sweet tooth, there's a specialty shop in the Chocolate Museum (www.schokoladenmuseum.de/en) that is packed with unusual offerings.
The Kolumba Museum (www.kolumba.com) displays religious art and fuses the old with the new. Think exhibits in dimly lit rooms and Roman ruins in the basement, entrance costs €5 (Dh20). For a local experience, catch a traditional puppet show at the Hanneschen-Theatre (www.haenneschen.de). The performances are delivered in the Koelsch dialect, and embody the typical traits of the Cologne people. Tickets start at about €15 (Dh65).
What to avoid
Avoid the area around the cathedral and secure your belongings there. Once you have seen the Dom, head out to the other parts of the city, there are nine districts in total to discover.