Tuesday, 3 April 2012

On yer bike: Cologne

Cologne, Germany’s fourth most populous city, is particularly attractive to the budget-aware visitor as the centre can be explored on foot and the whole city is easily accessible by bike. An extensive network of cycle paths and an all-round bike-friendly mentality mean that this really is an enjoyable place to cycle. I have always felt far too unsecure to cycle on the roads in the UK, but in Cologne I found myself happily whizzing from one place to another feeling like superwoman on two wheels. Actually, make that environmentally-friendly-Superwoman on two wheels.

Happy punters on our cycle around Cologne!

So, if you feel like going green and saving on public transport costs while you're at it, get on yer bike. It may be a case of beg, borrow or steal (although that last option is not advised - you probably won't be able to out-cycle the Polizei...), or there are various hire options available including Cologne's answer to the Boris Bike: Callabike. These silver bicycles with the red DB logo emblazoned on them are dotted around the city, and if you register online ( then you can enter your unique customer code into any of their bikes to use it straight away. There is a charge per minute (€0.08), but you will not be charged more than €15 in a 24-hour period. If you are intending on staying in the city for a while then you could always do as the locals do and head to one of the many flea markets (Flohmarkt) to bag yourself a bargain bike. I picked one up for €40 at the Kölner Stadt Flohmarkt just off Universitätstraβe (every Saturday).

Anyway, once you have got your hands on a bike one way or another, read on for a few places well worth a visit if you want to see the best of the city without spending a fortune...

City cycle

The Aldstadt is a very quaint and, as its name suggests, old area in central Cologne. Bump and bounce down the sloping cobbled alleyways, but be aware that some streets are signposted as pedestrian only zones so you could get a stern ticking off if you barge through on a bike. Cute, colourful townhouses and narrow streets form a picturesque route that leads towards the Rhine where you could even hop on a river tour boat and contemplate the city from the water.

This cathedral means business

No trip to Cologne would be complete without a visit to the imposing Dom (cathedral) with its gothic towers and intricate exterior. Climbing the towers (€2.50/€1 concessions) promises to burn a calorie or fifty and offers great views of the city from the top, plus a closer look at the gruesome gargoyles dotted all over the stonework. The square in front of the cathedral is always buzzing with weird and wonderful street artists working hard for your loose change. Entrance to the cathedral itself is free of charge and it is a spectacular building.


For a tasty twist on the traditional museum pay a visit to the Lindt Schokoladen Museum. It’s no Willy Wonka’s Factory, but you do get to see chocolate machines in action, have a picture with Godzilla-sized golden Lindt bunnies, and, my personal favourite, elbow the groups of school children out of the way to get your hands on a sample from the heavenly chocolate fountain (admission €8.50/€6 concessions).

The Museum Ludwig houses a great variety of collections of art through the ages, from Russian avant-garde, through to Surrealism and Pop Art with plenty of temporary exhibitions passing through as well. It is a bit pricey at €10/€7 concessions, but you can grab the half-price deal on the first Thursday of the month from 5pm, and there really is a lot to see here so you can get your money's worth.


The inhabitants of Cologne are extremely proud of their local beer, Kölsch, and numerous bars selling different varieties of the light, refreshing beer are dotted all over the city. For a real taste of the traditional try the Päffgen Brewery in the Friesenviertel area. Don’t bother asking for a drinks menu, it’s kölsch or nichts, and as I have mentioned before don’t be alarmed at the abrupt manner of the waiters - this is all part of the traditional brewery experience!

Hohenzollernbrücke leading to the Dom


Whilst locals will roll their eyes as enamoured tourists set off to the Hohenzollern Bridge, padlock in hand, to ‘seal their love’ and throw the keys into the river as a sign of eternal commitment, this cheesy romantic tradition has actually turned into a pretty impressive spectacle. The railway bridge glistens from one end to the other with hundreds of thousands of padlocks with initials scratched into them, and provides a perfect holiday snap opportunity with the cathedral in the background and Rhine down below.


If you have a bit of cash spare and fancy a spot of retail therapy then Ehrenstraße is the place to be, with a good selection of upper-end high street brands and a few second-hand boutiques at a safe distance from the tourist crush. The sales do roll around quite often in Cologne, and you can bag some serious discounts if you pick your time accordingly - look out for Rabatt or Ausverkauf signs.

Out-of-town cycle

One great aspect about Cologne is the ease with which you can feel as if you have escaped the urban city centre. Even within the structure of the city there is a curve, clearly visible on a map, called the Innere Grüngürtel (inner green belt), which comprises several parks that link together to form a continuous green route, perfect for cycling through. Part of this 'belt' is made up of the Aachener Weiher park, near the university, which is a large park with central pond and is very popular with students. Most of the parks have play areas for children, table-tennis tables, and often a basketball court or tennis courts for public use.

Aachener Weiher via Flickr

The Aussere Grüngürtel (outer green belt) is, as you might imagine, further out of town still. The parks are even larger and include a wider selection of walking trails and cycle paths, and canoeing and mini golf are available in the summer. I spent a great day riding through these parks last year perched on the back of my boyfriend's tiny old collapsible bike, stopping off half way for a snack of roasted chestnuts from a park vendor.

If you are less keen to stray away from familiar landmarks but still want to get out of town, just follow the Rhine. A cycle path runs all the way along the river and on a dry day this can be a lovely route. Head in the direction of Rodenkirchen for a leisurely 5km cycle, and when you get there check out the restaurant boat Alte Liebe.


It's time to let your hair down, so cycle into town and lock your bike up near the Belgian Quarter (Belgische Viertel), which is a great place for evening drinks. Start off in Zum goldenen Schuss, an attractive new bar with great décor and bubbly bar staff, then grab a bottle or two at the Kiosk across the road (they will open your bottles for you too) and make your way to Brüsseler Platz. This relatively compact square has become ‘the’ place to hang out of an evening, where visitors can mingle with locals and make the most of the fact that you are allowed to drink on the street in Germany. You can even leave your glass bottles behind, as the neighbourhood homeless people sweep in the next morning to collect as many as they can and pick up the cash deposits that are part of the government’s recycling initiatives.

For dedicated party-goers there is no shortage of clubs to choose from in Cologne (the locals like to boast its reputation as Germany’s party capital), with all sorts of music and venues available, such as ARTheater (an alternative club in Ehrenfeld) , The Odonian (a club in Nippes that looks like a building site with strange metal sculptures and make-shift rooms; it hosts various nights but favours techno/electronic) or Triple A (for after-hours parties in the centre of town, just past Rudolfplatz). Most U-Bahn lines run until around 1.30am and start up again around 4.45am.

TG xx

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