With friendly people, cheap beer and the rushing river Rhine, don’t overlook Cologne when planning a German weekend away
Cologne, Germany’s fourth largest city, is a somewhat overlooked gem of a European holiday destination. Only a one hour flight from London, it is a perfect city for a weekend away. Combine a trip to Cologne with a day trip out to neighbouring Bonn (serviced by the same airport) and you have yourself an idyllic mini break where you feel miles away from the daily grind.
If your time is limited you will have to choose from the many galleries and museums which have much to offer around Cologne. Begin with the Museum Ludwig (Heinrich-Böll-Platz, 50667 Köln; 0221 22126165; www.museenkoeln.de/museum-ludwig/default.asp?lang=2). Home to a collection of modern, contemporary art, there is an extensive Picasso collection, and pieces from other artists such as Tanguy, Miro, Warhol and Dali. It costs €9 adult, €6 concession, and if you happen to be around on the first Thursday of the month admission is half-price after 5pm.
Refuel at Merzenich Bakery (various locations, city centre store: Bremerhavener Strasse 27, 50735 Köln; 0221 7152701; www.merzenich.net/60000%20Torten/60000%20Torten.htm) and enjoy a fresh baguette, a pretzel, or try a traditional Nougatbrezel – a mouth-watering concoction of a pretzel-like treat covered in chocolate, nougat and nuts. Don’t fill up too much though, leave room for the next stop – the Chocolate Museum!
What better way to spend an afternoon than slipping into the world of Willy Wonka and exploring a museum and factory devoted to all things chocolate? Imhoff-Schokoladenmuseum (Lindt-Imhoff Chocolate Museum) (Am Schokoladenmuseum 1a, 50678 Köln; 0221 9318880; www.schokoladenmuseum.de) is a pleasant mix of the old and new – an old historic building combined with the very modern, and the history of the cocoa bean combined with a modern-day working factory line. While the history of the chocolate is interesting, try not to rush this part too much to get to the good part – the Lindt chocolate factory! Here you get to see the assembly line from start to finish, and sample a few treats along the way. If it’s a quiet day, you can line up for second and thirds, the staff don’t seem to mind. The experience is made all the more beautiful by the views out the ceiling-high glass windows out to the River Rhine. The experience is well worth the €7.50 entrance fee, and don’t forget to visit the gift shop on the way out – warning: you will not leave empty-handed.
Where to eat and drink
For a hearty German meal, get yourself to Peters Brauhaus (Mühlengasse 1, 50667 Köln; 0221 2573950; www.peters-brauhaus.de), which opened and started brewing in 1554, and is rumoured to have the best Kolsch in town. Main meals range from €5 to €15.
If you’re after a change from German food, visit Sumo Japanese Restaurant & Sushi Bar (Aachener Strasse 17–19, 50674 Köln; 0221 222 15 90; www.sumo-restaurant.de/sumo_download/speisekarte_koeln_en.pdf). Offering usual Japanese fare like sushi and tempura, prices start from €3,50 for soups and starters, and mains range from €14,50 to €22.
Failing those, wandering around Rudolfplatz will present you with a selection of culinary delights for all tastes.
How to spend a lazy Sunday
If you have taken the opportunity for a long weekend away and have a Sunday in Cologne, there is nothing better to recommend than a long, lazy brunch – what the Germans do best. While you can still take in a museum or gallery, in typical European style many of the shops will be shut and the town will be quiet. Take a trip to the world of many cafés in Cologne. Café Sehnsucht (Körnerstraße 67, 50823 Köln; 0221 528347; www.sehnsucht-koeln.de) won’t let you down, as you open the door into what feels like a friend’s large living room, with books around the shelves and comfy couches. Settle in for the afternoon with a set brunch for just €15, or pick and choose your favourites from the menu. If you end up wiling away too many hours, just stick around – it turns into a bar in the evening, with happy hour cocktails and a selection of beer and wines, starting from €1,60.
Just next door - Bonn
Take a train just 25 minutes out of Cologne Hauptbahnhof (Central Station) and you reach the hub of politics and administration in Germany – Bonn. Still named the ‘Federal City’ this former capital of West Germany, like Cologne, still reflects a Roman influence and offers picturesque walks along the Rhine. Exploring amongst the Baroque architecture one can find a many points of interest amongst the cobbled streets, including the local university, Ludwig van Beethoven’s place of birth and many museums.
If just in Bonn for the day, the Brauhaus Bonnsch (Sterntorbrücke 4, 53111 Bonn; 0228 650610; www.boennsch.de) will service your eating and drinking needs. Save yourself lots of room for a massive meal at this traditional brauhaus. Start by nibbling on one of the taster plates for around €9, sampling the cheeses they have on offer. Then prepare yourself for the main event – Kutscherschnitzel: pork schnitzel draped in roast onion, tomato and bacon, with an enormous side of fried potatoes. If that doesn’t grab your fancy, there are many other schnitzels, ribs and other dishes that will tickle your taste buds. Schnitzels are around €15, and other main dishes range from €8 to €18. The Bonn-brewed beer Bönnsch comes in unique beerglasses (you can purchase these if you would like a souvenir), and with beer at only €1,60 a pop, this place can keep you occupied for hours.
Don’t forget – in typically German tradition the beer just keeps coming until you place your coaster over your glass to indicate you are done!
If you would like to do something other than eat, you may pay a visit to the Beethoven-Haus (Bonngasse 20–26, 53111 Bonn; 0228 981750; www.beethoven-haus-bonn.de) where for €5 you can explore the largest collection in the world of all things Beethoven, including Beethhoven’s last pianoforte. The German Museum of Contemporary History (Willy-Brandt-Allee 14, 53113 Bonn, North Rhine-Westphalia; 0228 91650; www.hdg.de) is worth a visit (it is free!) but be warned all the exhibition labels are in German, so it can be a somewhat arduous task matching up the English guidebook to the exhibition. It is still worth a look though, exhibiting parts of the Berlin Wall and some kitsch pieces from modern history.
Where to stay
On a budget, check out the Meininger City Hostel & Hotel Cologne (Engelbertstrasse 33-35, 50674 Köln; prices start at €18pppn). Located in a campus area near Rudolfplatz, for €4,50 you can fill up at their all-you-can-eat buffet breakfast.
For a mid-way hotel, try Hotel Esplanade (Hohenstaufenring 56, 50674 Köln; doubles start at around €120 pn), or for pure luxury in the heart of the city, Excelsior Hotel Ernst (Trankgasse 5, 50667 Köln; doubles start at around €200pn), where you can enjoy remarkable views of Cologne Cathedral.