Popular Cologne Shore Excursions
The Kolner Dom, Cologne's imposing cathedral, dates back to the 13th century and, as recognized by its UNESCO world heritage site status, is one of the world's finest examples of Gothic architecture. The biggest cathedral in Germany, the Kolner Dom is home to the Three Magi shrine, which holds the reliquaries of the Three Magi, brought to Cologne from Milan in 1164. It's also home to the Gero Cross (Northern Europe's earliest monumental cross, dating to 1000) and a 300-ton modern organ. The Dom's intricate towers became a haunting symbol of Cologne's survival of the Allied bombing raids during World War II, being one of the very few structures to survive. It is possible (and worth the effort) to climb the 509 stairs to the top of the south tower for stupendous views across the city and the Rhine. (Entry costs 3 euros.) If you're lucky, your visit might coincide with Night Fever, when the Dom is open to the public from 6 p.m. until midnight on the third Saturday of each month. Every visitor is given a candle to light, creating a sea of tiny flames at the base of the altar, and invited to enjoy the peace.
Enjoy a "Stangen" (0.2-liter glass) of local Kolsch beer at the authentic Paffgen Kolsch brewery, bar and restaurant. Kolsch has been brewed on these premises since 1884, and the same family still brews and serves its beers in this atmospheric spot, located on Friesenstrasse, just off the Heumarkt square. Not only can you sample the beer, but you can also enjoy a tour of the brewery itself.
There are no fewer than 12 beautifully preserved Romanesque churches to be found within Cologne's ancient city walls, more than any other German city. If you don't have time to see all of them, be sure to visit St. Gereon's Basilica -- a beautiful and unusual Roman Catholic church built on the remains of (still visible) Roman walls -- which boasts the largest dome built in the West between the erection of Istanbul's Hagia Sophia in the 6th century and the Duomo of Florence in the 15th century.
Shopaholics should head directly for the pedestrianized Hohe Strasse, which is lined with boutiques, international high street stores and cafes. Be sure to visit the celebrated Cologne chocolatier Stollwerck and Leonhard Tietz, the flagship store of the upmarket German department store Galeria Kaufhof.
Visit the NS -- Dokumentationszentrum (Museum of the History of National Socialism); located in the former Gestapo (secret police) prison, which operated in Cologne from December 1935 to March 1945. The permanent exhibition deals with political and social life in Cologne during Nazi rule and makes for a deeply moving experience. (Tel. 0221/2212-6332. Appellhofplatz 23-25. Open Tuesday to Friday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.)
Take a ride on the Kolner Seilbahn (Cologne's gondola) for unbeatable views of the city, including the cathedral and the Rhine snaking its way through. The gondola operates from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. from mid-March to early November, with special nighttime rides offered on select nights. The gondola is located at 180 Riehler Strasse, by the zoo -- it's a 30-minute walk along the left bank of the Rhine from the cathedral, and you can walk back on the opposite bank, through the attractive Rhine Park. Alternatively, take the number 18 tram or 140 bus to the Zoo/Flora stop.