Köln (commonly known as Cologne) is a 25 minute train ride down the river Rhein from Düsseldorf. It was our first time using the Deutsche-Bahn train system and we were nothing short of baffled. We stared blankly at the train numbers, destinations and platforms looking anywhere for the train we had bought a ticket for at the kiosk. Nothing. We finally gave in and went to ask the information desk attendant who muttered a platform number and train that left in 3 minutes. I’m still not sure how we successfully made it there and back! Apparently even seasoned Germans are still confused by the train system, which barely gives us newbies a chance.
Kölner Dom (Cologne Cathedral) was our first stop because it was quite literally a few steps from where the train station let out. It is Germany’s most visited landmark with an average of 20k people a day! The architecture is stunning with two spires rising into the sky, so tall that for a time it was considered the tallest building in the world. Inside the cathedral was even more amazing, with impossibly tall Gothic arches and intricate stained glass windows. The cathedral was built to house the reliquary (bones) of the 3 Kings (yes, the gold, frankincense and myrrh 3 Kings) within a gilded shrine that remains behind the altar today. We were also awed by the 10th century Gero Crucifix, which has been affixed in its own chapel since the cathedral was built. It’s not hard to believe the cathedral is listed as a World Heritage Site. We couldn’t even get the whole thing in one picture!
Similar to Düsseldorf, Köln has its own promenade along the Rhein that’s considered their historical ‘Old Town’. Along the picturesque walk, we found a bierhaus to taste the beer brewed only in Köln, appropriately named Kölsch. We also visited the Imhoff -Schokoladenmuseum, which gave a detailed history of chocolate as well as a few samples and a store at the end to buy some truffles. As the day went on, the 20k visitors flocking to visit the cathedral seemed more like 50k or 75k as that night there was going to be a large firework display. All the Viking cruise ships were lining up along the docks to watch the fireworks explode over the bridge. Unfortunately, that exact bridge was the train route and it was going to be closed so we left beforehand so we didn’t get stuck! There’s always next year to check out Kölner Lichter 🙂 Since it’s such a quick ride away we might be returning anyway to see more of the city (and get more chocolate!)