I’ll be honest, Cologne and I almost had a big falling out right at the beginning of our relationship. My first solo travel destination on my Germany rail trip after having spent time in Frankfurt and Heidelberg with a friend, I arrived with the classic giant backpack and unwashed hair look so often associated with tourists and headed for the subway. What then followed was 45 minutes of sweaty, confused and infuriating travel as I somehow kept getting on trains going in the wrong direction. By the time I turned up my hotel, I was almost ready to just move straight on to Hamburg.
But the 25 Hours Hotel The Circle turned that frown upside down. A beautiful concept hotel centred on the theme of outer space, my room had a dreamy turquoise, navy, mustard palette, a view over the whole city, and a waterfall shower that washed away the subway frazzle and set me back on the right path.
Find it at: Im Klapperhof 22-24, 50670, Cologne
The right path, it turns out, was the one that took just seven minutes from my hotel to the main train station, no subway needed at all. And right next to that station? The most famous building in Cologne, the imposing, looming Gothic architecture of the Cathedral*. I started my afternoon in the gradually dimming winter sunlight gawping up at the spears of this World Heritage site, before going inside to light candles for my dad and nan. I’m not religious in the slightest, but when travelling alone, it’s nice to imagine bringing them along with me for a small part of an adventure.
In fact, thousands of people have left a little marker of sentimentality in Cologne on the original love lock bridge, Hohenzollernbrücke, open for cyclists and pedestrians to walk across the Rhine and head towards the best view in the city, the top of KölnTriangle. It is an absolute steal at just €3 and at sunset, you can take in the most beautiful panoramic views including a jaw-dropping look at the Cathedral, lit up like a fairytale villain’s lair. Around the base of the Cathedral area is the pastel exteriors and dark wood interiors of so many traditional German restaurants serving up exactly the sort of carb-loaded meat-heavy that you would expect a 14th-century stonemason to eat after a hard day creating a big ol’ sandstone Jesus. I sat in the candlelight and velvet drapes of Haxenhaus and ate a feast of pork knuckle with black pudding, topped with cheese, mashed potato and sauerkraut, with a glass of Kölsch, the lovechild of a lager and Pilsner which originates from Cologne.
Find them at:
KölnTriangle, Ottopl. 1, 50679, Cologne
Haxenhaus, Frankenwerft 19, 50667, Cologne
Being a sensible solo traveller, I only had a couple of Kölsch and slept like a dream in prep for my full 24 hours in the city the next day. A stone’s throw from the 25Hours Hotel is Hommage, a teeny tiny cafe that serves coffee in a jam jar and huge buckwheat galettes. Caffeinated and with a full belly, I set out to see some of Cologne’s cultural gems, starting with House of 4711*, the place where eau de cologne originates from. The store is decadent and exquisite, of course, and you can buy tiny bottles as a memento too, if a 500ml bottle isn’t quite in your budget or luggage weight allowance.
Find them at:
Hommage, Friesenstraße 73, 50670, Cologne
House of 4711, Glockengasse 4, 50667, Cologne
Keeping a little more high brow, I sheltered from the rain in Museum Ludwig*, Cologne’s excellent modern art gallery, which, as well as works from some of the most famous artists ever including Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol, also exhibits pieces from queer, female and/or people of colour. It’s vast and stunning and the total opposite to the next place I went to, the home of Lindt chocolate, the Schokoladenmuseum*. It was packed to the rafters with school groups so I opted out of the learning bit and skipped to the cafe and gift shop. I loaded up on different flavours of Lindor and then sat with a view of the river to enjoy a big slab of cake and a super decadent hot chocolate which tasted as if it had been ladelled from the waterfall of Willy Wonka himself.
Find them at:
Museum Ludwig, Heinrich-Böll-Platz, 50667, Cologne
Schokoladenmuseum, Am Schokoladenmuseum 1A, 50678, Cologne
The afternoon saw me braving the very same subway system I had fallen out with the day before and heading out to the district of Ehrenfeld, an area where I was an obvious standout tourist. The masses don’t flock here, but if you love street art, it should not be missed. Murals by some of the best street artists in the world can be seen here, and I did a tour with Cityleaks*, a bi-annual street art festival to make sure I didn’t miss a thing. I’ve written about the street art of Ehrenfeld in more detail separately, but something that my tour guide gave me which is always appreciated, was a food recommendation. He insisted that I go to Kebapland, which looked like the sort of place I wouldn’t even give a second glance, honestly. It looks like the sort of place you’d stumble into at 2am, and in fact, I think many do. The menu is in Comic Sans and there’s very little space inside, but if you’re in Ehrenfeld, you must must must go to this seedy looking fast food joint. The lamb kebab was processed crap, it was real, delicious, deeply-marinaded and perfectly seasoned chunks of meat. It was wrapped up in a tortilla with salad and raita and garlic sauce, it dribbled everywhere and was a delicious as it was a total mess.
Find it at: Kebapland, Venloer Str. 385, 50825, Cologne
I ate it much earlier in the evening than the post-club crowd regulars, I walked the 40 minutes back instead of getting the rush hour train, and ended up detouring back to the behemoth of the Cathedral. It was felt like coming full circle from the day before when I’d arrived flustered and lost. Just 36 hours later, I felt calm and at home. I had no expectations for Cologne which made discovering how varied, creative and delicious is is even more sweeter.