Port of Cologne
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Cologne's location on the river Rhine placed it at the intersection of the major trade routes between east and west, which was the basis for its continued growth through the Middle Ages. Construction of the famous Kolner Dom, the city's Gothic cathedral, started in 1248, consolidating its position as a place of great religious significance, as well as a trade hub (despite the fact that work stopped on the cathedral in 1473, leaving it unfinished until the 19th century).
Today, Cologne is the cultural heart of the Rhineland, with a vibrant arts scene, celebrated opera house, more than 30 museums and hundreds of galleries. The city has spread to both sides of the Rhine River, with the cathedral and Altstadt (Old Town) both located on the left bank. The cathedral is the largest Gothic church in Northern Europe and became a poignant symbol of the city's survival of the Allied aerial bombing during World War II. While some 95 percent of the city center was destroyed during the war, much of its medieval heart and churches were rebuilt according to original plans. Because of this, Cologne retains an authentic feel, with attractive open squares, pretty beer gardens and cozy wine taverns lining narrow, cobbled streets and the attractive riverfront.
Cologne is celebrated for its locally brewed beer, called Kolsch, with about 30 traditional brewing houses creating their own versions and selling them on-site in lively beer gardens and cellars. (Kolsch is also the name for the local dialect, resulting in the joke that Kolsch is the only language one can drink.) Considerable quantities of Kolsch are consumed each November, when carnival season transforms the city into one of Europe's biggest street festivals, with the numerous bars and pubs on Neumarkt square, Heumarkt and Zulpicher Strasse packed with people in costumes, dancing and drinking.
Whether you visit Cologne during the summer to make the most of the beer gardens and pretty landscaped riverbanks or during winter for the raucous Carnival or magical Christmas markets, you'll discover an intriguing, cosmopolitan city with bags of character. Furthermore, Cologne has a compact heart, which is easily navigated on foot, making it the perfect destination to explore from a cruise ship.
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Where You're Docked
The precise mooring point given to river cruise ships arriving in Cologne is determined by the local port authorities upon arrival, but the locations basically stretch about a mile along the embankment between the Chocolate Factory and the city's central railway station. This location ensures the cathedral will be about 5 to 10 minutes' walk from your ship's berth and places you in the heart of the Old Town, perfect for popping out for a pre-dinner drink or post-prandial stroll.
The Old Town's strip of lively bars and restaurants along the Rhinegarten embankment makes for a perfect place to enjoy a drink or meal. Follow the steps and footpath that lead from the north end of the strip, just before the Hohenzollern railway bridge crosses the river, to the cathedral and Cologne's pedestrianized shopping street, Hohe Strasse.
Good to Know
The tradition of Love Locks is said to have originated on the Ponte Milivio in Italy. Sweethearts stroll across a bridge together, afix a lock inscribed with their names to the structure and then toss the key into the river. Indeed, the Hohenzollern Bridge is so covered with padlocks that the bridge's operator threatened to saw them off until public outcry forced a change of heart. Local lads will often tug on the padlocks as they cross the bridge, so if you and your sweetheart do fix a Love Lock to Hohenzollern, make sure it's well attached, or your heart will be broken!
On Foot: Virtually all of Cologne's tourist attractions are within an easy 15-minute walk of the river cruise moorings.
By Tram: Cologne has an efficient, safe underground tram and bus network. Short journeys (up to four stops) only require a "Kurzstrecke" (short trip ticket), but if you're planning to explore farther afield, one- and three-day passes are available for use across the system.
By Bike: If your cruise ship doesn't have bicycles you can use, you can hire one for the day very easily from the "Radstation" (bike station) in the city's main railway station from 5 euros for three hours.
By Taxi: Taxis are fairly easy to find near the Cathedral square. They run on meters.
Transport from / to the airport: Dusseldorf Airport is the best international hub for Cologne, located a 40-minute train ride from Cologne central station. Direct train services run frequently between the airport and central station and cost approximately 30 euros. Visit www.bahn.com for train times and costs and to pre-book your tickets.
Currency & Best Way to Get Money
Germany's currency is the euro. Visit XE.com for current rates. ATMs and banks are plentiful, particularly around the cathedral, which is within walking distance of most river cruise mooring points, and credit cards are widely accepted in restaurants, bars and shops.
German is the local language, but English and French are widely understood and spoken in this multicultural city. A few handy phrases in German will always enamor you to the locals though, so try these:
Food and Drink
German food has a reputation for being hearty and somewhat stodgy, with an emphasis on meat ("Wurst" or sausages, in particular), potatoes (Germany is one of the world's top potato-consuming countries) and bread. There is considerable regional variation, with the culinary influences of the country's international neighbors reflected in local dishes. Thus, in the Rhineland region, you'll pick up hints of Belgium and the Netherlands in dishes like Halver Hahn (a giant slab of Dutch gouda with a Roggelchen or rye roll) and Dicke Bunne mit Speck (boiled white beans with hefty boiled bacon slices on top).
Cologne boasts a decent selection of international restaurants in addition to traditional ones, but you shouldn't miss enjoying at least one locally brewed Kolsch (beer) and some nibbles in one of the city's old brewery taps in the Old Town, preferably sitting in the sunshine on the Rhinegarten embankment.
The brewery taps in the Old Town and along the Rhinegarten embankment are all atmospheric, if touristy, and serve traditional Rhineland dishes. They are more expensive than similar establishments located deeper in the city, such as the excellent Paffgen (see Don't Miss). The pick of the bunch there is Fruh am Dom, located just behind the cathedral for more than 100 years. The property now comprises the traditional brewery, a cozy Keller (bar in the cellar), attractive beer garden and the contemporary HOF 18 Restaurant. Classic local cuisine -- such as "Himmel und Ad mit Flonz" (fried black pudding with mashed potatoes, apple sauce and fried onions) and "Reibekuchen" (flat fried potato cakes served with a variety of sweet or savory toppings) -- is served. (Am Hof 12-18. Tel. 0221/2613-215. The brewery and bar are open Monday to Sunday, 8 a.m. to midnight; HOF 18 Restaurant is open Monday to Saturday, noon to midnight; and Sundays, noon to 10 p.m.)
Brauhaus im Walfisch is a charming restaurant located in the Old Town near the Heumarkt in an atmospheric gabled brewery, which dates back to 1626. The food is consistently good, with a wide selection of brewery classics, succulent steaks and an entire section of the menu dedicated to Schnitzels (breaded cutlets). Portions are generous and prices very reasonable. (Salzgasse 13. Tel. 0221/2577-879. Open Monday to Thursday, 5 p.m. to midnight; Fridays from 3 p.m. to midnight; weekends from 11 a.m. to midnight.)
The charming Stapelhauschen (the little pile house), located on the Rhinegarten embankment, is one of the few medieval houses in Cologne to have survived World War II, and it dates back to 1100. Today, the popular wine tavern and restaurant serves imaginative local dishes, such as poached trout with parsley potatoes, Pfifferling (mushroom) risotto and Rheinischer Sauerbraten (marinated and roasted meat) with almonds, raisins and potato dumplings. (Fischmarkt 1-3. Tel. 0221/272-7777. Open Wednesday to Sunday, 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 6 p.m. to 11 p.m.)
The Hanse Stube, located in the family-owned Excelsior Hotel Ernst, is consistently rated amongst Cologne's best restaurants for good reason. The tasteful decor (mahogany paneling and furniture, cream soft furnishings and pieces of original art) provides the perfect backdrop for faultless service and exquisite modern French cuisine. Signature dishes include quail filled with chanterelles on truffled summer vegetables and port wine jus and fried scallops and jelly of saffron and sepia. (Trankgasse 1-5 / Domplatz. Tel. 0221-2701. Open Monday to Sunday, 12 p.m. to 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. to midnight.)
Le Moissonier has been Cologne's favorite French brasserie for 25 years, serving classic stalwarts (moules and steak frites), as well as innovative dishes like octopus fritters, braised rabbit and calf sweetbreads, and an unbeatable cheeseboard. The French owners are as passionate about wine as they are about food, so prepare for a feast. (Krefelder Strasse 25. Tel. 0221/729-479. Open Tuesday to Thursday, 12 p.m. to 3 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. to midnight; Friday and Saturday, 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. to midnight.)
Buy a bottle of the original Eau de Cologne, the citrusy perfume first launched in the city in 1709 by the Italian perfumer, Giovanni Maria Farina. Today, Farina's eponymous shop on Julich's Square is the world's oldest fragrance factory and still sells bottles of what used to be called its aqua mirabilis (Latin: miracle water). Fortunately, while vials of Farina cost half the annual salary of a civil servant back in 1709, you can pick up little sample bottles today for a just few euros.