Cologne is the largest city of the North Rhine-Westphalia region and the fourth largest city in Germany. Thanks to its rich history it’s one of the most popular city trip destinations in the country. Köln, as Cologne is called in German, is mostly known for its stunningly beautiful Gothic cathedral and the Eau de Cologne fragrance. Our plan was to spend 4 days in Cologne, from which we would stay three days in the city itself and one day in Düsseldorf. We quickly noticed that three days in Cologne was actually a bit much. You can easily explore the city in two days and that’s why I have decided to present you with a two day itinerary. Our third and last day, we mostly hung out at our hotel anyways, so rest assured, you will be able to visit all the points of interest in two days.
Check in at Motel One Cologne Neumarkt
Travelling from Brussels, it took us little over two hours to get to Cologne. From thereout we took the metro towards our hotel. Motel One Cologne Neumarkt is as the name predicts, located at Neumarkt, the city’s former cattle market. This turned out to be an amazing location. Not only is the hotel in the middle of the shopping district, both the Altstadt and Belgisches Viertel were only 10 minutes walking distance away. We arrived at Motel One around 11am and did not expect our room to be ready, but luckily for us, it was. The receptionist was very friendly and made sure the check-in went smoothly.
Our room was located on the sixth floor and offered a view upon the Dom. There were some buildings in between, but we could see it clearly, so that counts right?! The room itself wasn’t super large, but very comfortable with a modern twist. Complimentary Wi-Fi is available throughout the hotel. The only thing I missed during our stay was a mini fridge in the room. The bathroom was spotless and equipped with everything we needed (hairdryer, make-up mirror and plenty of space to put our stuff). Shampoo and shower gel were available in big bottles, instead of small ones, which is very environmental friendly.
Before heading out, we had a quick look around in the public areas downstairs. There’s a big restaurant, where breakfast is served and a cozy lobby bar. Outside we found a beautiful private courtyard, which was going to be our favorite hangout spot during our trip. Needless to say that the interior designer did an amazing job with this hotel. I mean look at the pictures you guys!
Shop at Schildergasse
The Schildergasse, Cologne’s most popular shopping street, was just around the corner of our hotel, so we decided to do a little shopping before lunch. We mostly found the big chains in this street, but now and then we came across some stores we don’t have in Belgium (like Reserved!), so that was fun!
Lunch at Balthasar
According to many blogs the Belgisches Viertel is the place to be for trendy restaurants, so obviously we had to go there! In the lively Aachener Strasse, Balthasar immediately caught my eye. Well it’s mint green interior did to be honest, but the menu looked promising too. You can start the day at Balthasar with an elaborate breakfast, enjoy the daily lunch or indulge with a fancy dinner. On the menu you mostly find fusion dishes. I decided to go for the ‘Tris de Balthasar’, which was a combination of Carpaccio Di Manzo, Vitello Tonato and Salmon Tataki on a Wakame Algae Salad. This dish turned out to be perfect for me. Not only because it was totally delicious, but the three things were also separately available on the menu and I couldn’t choose! Jill had the Asia Bowl and also seemed to like it. Service was friendly, but not always efficient. I ordered the homemade Elderflower lemonade, and was brought the Rhubarb one. Also we were asked if we wanted bread, which we agreed too. Little did we know that it would appear on the bill later. I am aware of ‘cover charges’ in France and Italy, but never experienced that in Germany before. So I feel that they should have mentioned that. Overall a nice experience though.
Visit the Fragrance Houses of 4711 & Farina
We felt that is was time to learn some more about the fragrances Cologne is so famous for. The first one up was The House of 4711, where they have been creating 4711 colognes since 1792. For me this was a trip down memory lane… As I child I was always eager to get my hands on my grandmother’s 4711 perfume bottles. At the flagship store you learn a lot about the rich history. But my favorite part of our visit, was the original Eau De Cologne fragrance fountain. So cool!
I always assumed that 4711 was the only ‘Eau de Cologne’, but while doing my city trip research I found out that Johann Maria Farina already started making perfume in 1709. At the Farina Duftmuseum they organize guided tours, but we weren’t able to do that, as you have to book the tickets in advance online.
Coffee break at Löwen Kaffee
Our plan was to go on a Rheine cruise and enjoy the views from the water, but once there we changed our minds. The boats were super large and that isn’t exactly our thing. In case you would like to go on a river cruise: boat trips leave from the Konrad-Adenauer-Ufer on the bank of the Rhine. We decided to have a coffee and a piece of Apfelstrudel at Löwen Kaffee, a typical German café of which you will find many around the Rheingarten and Fischmarkt. This was the cutest in our opinion though.
Dinner at Henne Weinbar
Unlike Joey from Friends, I’m a huge fan of sharing concepts. Combine that with an impressive wine menu and you’ve earned yourself a spot on my list. When arriving at Henne Weinbar I was immediately impressed by the luxurious feel of the restaurant. The hostess was very welcoming and asked if we wanted to dine inside or in the courtyard. The weather was nice, so we definitely preferred outside. For dinner you can choose from four categories: sharing is caring / cold / warm / sweet or cheese. We selected two cold dishes; the Shrimp Brioche and Tuna and two warm ones; the Katsu Sandu (Japenese sandwich with Tofu and Sojamayo) and the Catch of the Day. Everything was so good!
I had a little craving for something sweet, so I ordered the Peach, fried in salted Butter with Basil Sorbet and Oat crisp. At first it made quite an interesting combination, but I was so happy with my choice. The flavors went perfectly together. Oh and it’s a wine bar, so clearly the wine selection was exquisite right?!
Sunset views and beer culture at Rhine Garden
We still wanted to go for a little walk before bed, so we figured, why not enjoy golden hour at the Rhine? The views were pretty great. While there we passed by the Dom and Hohenzollernbrücke too to take some photos.
For most people one of the greatest joys of visiting the North Rhine Westphalia region is the beer culture. At night this comes very much alive at the Biergarten. Personally I’m not a beer drinker (bad Belgian, I know), but if you are, head to one of the many nearby bars to crab a ‘Kölsch’ and enjoy the sunset views upon the Rhine river. We went back to the hotel, and had a little nightcap at the hotel bar instead.
Breakfast at Coffee Fellows
In the street behind the hotel we found Coffee Fellows, a cozy coffee place. Besides quality coffee, you will also find homemade lemonades, fresh juices and delicious bagels on the menu. Exactly what we needed for breakfast.
Explore the Altstadt
The first day already offered a taste of the Altstadt, but the second day’s itinerary is for deeper exploration. Our first stop was the Instafamous Fischmarkt. If you’ve ever seen a photo of Cologne on Instagram, then you’ll have probably seen the photo of the candy colored houses standing tall and proud in front of the Romanesque Great Saint Martin church. As you can imagine from the name, back in the 13th century this used to be the location for the city’s fish market. Köln was almost entirely destroyed by World War II bombings, and so a lot of the old town was rebuilt to its original design. The Stacking House is one of the only original buildings left.
One of the most renowned museums of Cologne is the Museum Ludwig, with the largest exhibition of pop art outside the United States. Archeology enthusiasts need to visit the Romano-Germanic Museum, as the museum houses archaeological artefacts from 100,000 years of settlement history in the Rhineland area. The weather was great, so we didn’t visit any museums during this trip. However these are the ones that I would have picked out on a rainy day.
The next landmark we came across, is for sure the most famous building in the city. The Kölner Dom, is quite the sight, with its two spires towering over the city. The entire cathedral is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Construction began in 1248, but it took over 600 years for the building to be completed.
After taking in the Dom, make way towards the Rhine River. You’ll immediately see the Hohenzollern Bridge, the busiest railway and pedestrian bridge in Germany. These days, the bridge is very popular because of the thousands of love locks attached to it.
We walked across the bridge to the other side of the Rhine. From the Rheinpromenade you have the most wonderful view upon the Dom and Hohenzollernbrücke. Here you will also find plenty of hip cafe’s and the KM689 Cologne Beach Club. We taught it would be fun to spend some time at the beach, but unfortunately it’s only open from Thursday till Sunday from 3PM.
Off to the Kölntriangle then I figured to take in the 360° city views. Imagine my disappointment, that due to the Corona monster, the platform is now only open on Saturday and Sunday. Bummer! At that moment it became pretty clear, that Cologne is a city to visit during the weekend. Otherwise you will be missing out on a lot of fun things to do. Like we did…
Lunch at Café De Paris
By then we knew that the good foodie spots were located in the Belgian Quartier, so we already headed in that direction, as we wanted to explore the area some more in the afternoon. We passed by the Breite Strasse and Ehrenstrasse, (the Walhalla for shopping queens) and stumbled upon Café De Paris. The lovely café immediately caught our attention thanks to its French bistro style. We kind of expected the prices to be high, but after taken a glimpse on the menu, it really wasn’t, so we decided to have lunch there. The cuisine at Café De Paris is obviously mostly French, but with a hint of German & Italian flavors. Both Jill and I picked the Tagliatelle with Gambas and Garlic. And honestly looking back on our trip… this was the best meal we’ve had in Cologne, so nothing but appraisals for this place.
Explore the Belgisches Viertel
From Café De Paris it took a 10 minute walk to get to the Brüsseler Platz, the heart of the Belgian Quarter. The Belgian Quarter is one of the trendiest neighborhoods in Cologne. The inner city features art galleries, boutiques, restaurants and a booming nightlife scene. The district thanks its name to the fact that all streets are named after Belgian cities and provinces, such as Genter Straße. Don’t expect mayor landmarks or must see’s in this part of town, but it’s worth visiting thanks to the cool and laidback vibe there.
Oh and make sure to stop by Salon Schmitz on Aachener Strasse for a delicious strawberry ice cream. Of course they have more flavors, but this was the best strawberry ice cream I’ve had in years. Just saying…
Dinner at Beef Brothers
I read on several blogs that the best burgers in Cologne were to be found at Beef Brothers. I love burgers, so clearly I had to try them! The Cologne venture is located upon Aachener Strasse, the most popular foodie street in the Belgisches Viertel. On the menu you will find 7 different beef burgers and 1 veggie, which Jill obviously had to try! I chose the Don Vito Burger with tomatoes, red onion, mozzarella, rocket salad, pesto and balsamic cream. So good! What I also really liked, was the fact that you can choose between a small burger (100gr beef) or a larger one (180gr beef). I prefer to have some fries and a coleslaw too, so in any other burger joints, I end up with way to much food. Thanks to the small burger option that wasn’t the case here!
Nightcap at Motel One Cologne Neumarkt
Like I said before; the private courtyard from Motel One was one of my favorite spots in the city. In Cologne many terraces are located upon busy streets or very touristy squares. Personally I’m not much of a fan of that, so we rather had a drink in the peace and quiet of our hotel!
- From Brussels-Midi station it takes about two hours to Cologne HBF by ICE train.
- Covid-19 measures: in Germany it’s mandatory to wear a face mask upon public transportation, in shops and when you are moving around in restaurants (so while taking your seat and going to the bathroom). Restaurants will also take your contact information in case you need to be reached for contact tracing reasons.
- Currency: € – Oh and bring cash, I was surprised with the amount of places that don’t accept credit or maestro cards. So make sure you carry cash!