Germany’s fourth-largest city, home to more than one million inhabitants, spans both banks of the Rhine River, although the eastern side is the more important one for visitors. The city's medieval center and its most famous attraction, twin-spired Cologne Cathedral, are easily reached on foot, either independently or with a tour group. Most of Cologne was destroyed during World War II, and its subsequent revival — with many buildings meticulously reconstructed in the original style — was quite miraculous.
What We Love
It's a Walker's City: Cologne is a delight to explore on your own since much of what visitors want to see is within close proximity — and with the Rhine as a landmark, it's hard to get lost. Head out along the river and pick a return route a few streets inland.
The University of Cologne: Founded in 1388, this is Europe’s oldest university, and its current enrollment of almost 50,000 students means there's a powerful dose of youthful energy here.
Best Known For
Cologne Cathedral: This Gothic masterpiece dominates the entire city in the most majestic way, with its 516-foot twin spires, the second tallest in Europe. Constructed from the 13th to 15th centuries, but not ultimately completed until 1880, the cathedral was badly damaged by Allied bombers during WWII. Thankfully, it did not collapse and was gradually returned to its formerly splendid state during a reconstruction that included the replacement of many of its stained-glass windows.
Museum Ludwig: Founded in 1976, this modern art museum is home to both the third-largest Picasso collection in Europe and the largest collection of pop art outside the United States.
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Who It's Best For
Fans of Historic Churches: Cologne is one of the great cathedral cities of Europe, and in addition to its namesake cathedral, another dozen rebuilt Romanesque churches make it a must-see city for anyone who's into religious architecture.
Don't Say We Didn't Warn You
You Can't See It All in One Day: Cologne has much to offer, so choose what you want to concentrate on: the churches, the civic buildings, or a museum or two. Or mix and match by picking three or four top sights, max.
Theodore W. Scull is a New York-based contributor to ShermansCruise who has written several books on crossings.