The Kölner Dom, also known as the Cologne Cathedral, is the largest Gothic church in Northern Europe. In the 19th century, it was the tallest building in the world. Amazingly, it would take 632 years to complete.
Begun in 1248, the Kölner Dom was commissioned as a suitable place to house the relics of the Three Kings, acquired and delivered by Holy Roman Emperor Frederick Barbarossa. Construction was predictably slow, beginning with the east wing. At some point in 1473, construction came to a stop and it remained at rest for four centuries, marked by a crane that loomed over the south tower; until 1842, when a civic organization raised the bulk of the money to finish construction. In today’s dollars, the cost for finishing Kölner Dom would be over a billion dollars. Finally, in 1880, Germany’s largest cathedral was completed.
Old Town is in many ways, the heart and soul of the city. It's near the Köln Dom, surrounded by "the Ring," a ring of streets, botanical space, and promenades following the path of the old city's walls. Inside the ring and along the Rhine is a vibrant scene of bars, pubs, and restaurants. While it can get crowded, Old Town is known for its hustle and overall friendly vibe.
Tours of Old Town include tours of the Cathedral, a brewpub tour (expect to drink a lot of Kölsch), or a cruise on the Rhine. However, the best way to experience Old Town is on foot. Confident travelers may want to practice their German in this area; if you do, pay attention to speakers - Kölsch is a beer, but it's also an accent, both of which being native to Cologne. In Alter Markt Square, you'll find plenty of both, as brew pubs and bars are plentiful.
Beyond the rhythm of the bars and shops are seemingly innumerable small streets and alleys that wind through the old buildings.
Hans Imhoff, a chocolatier and businessman from Cologne, opened the Schokoladenmuseum in 1993, after retiring from the confectionary business in 1992. The museum that bears the late industrialist's name is a paen to the product of the cacao bean, from its development and primitive processing in the New World by the Olmecs, Mayans and Aztecs, to modern production methods and innovations. The program discusses the role of chocolate in later South American societies and among European elite. The museum sits inside a glass-and-steel structure shaped like a ship. Inside, the tour takes visitors through the process of chocolate production from the farm to the candy store, continuing through a greenhouse where two species of cacao trees are grown and then on through the industrialization of chocolate production, including vintage advertising campaigns. Miniature machinery allow guests a closer look at the production process, and the chocolate produced by these machines can be sampled.
The traditional heart of the city and one of Germany’s most famous nightlife districts, Dusseldorf’s Old Town (Altstadt) is where visitors spend the majority of their time, home to many of the city’s top attractions. As well as the scenic Rheinuferpromenade running along the waterfront and the famous Königsallee shopping boulevard just a couple of blocks east, highlights of the Old Town include the Burgplatz, with its landmark castle tower and unique City Monument; the Neander-church and Old City Hall (Rathaus), two of the only buildings still standing after WWII; and a number of museums, including the Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen and the Filmmuseum. The historic district is at its most atmospheric in the evening hours when locals and tourists gather to drink and dance at “the longest bar in the world” – the nickname given to the almost 300 bars, bier-halles and pubs built so close together that the bar counters are said to run from one venue to the next.
The waters of the mighty Rhine split Cologne in half, and the city is united across a series of seven bridges, with none more splendid than the spans of the Hohenzollernbrücke, which stretch 1,342 feet (410 meters) across the river in three great steel arches.
This spectacular city landmark is almost as famous as Cologne’s twin-spired Gothic cathedral – the largest in Europe – and was completed in 1911, with four railway lines joining Cologne to cities across Europe. German troops destroyed the bridge at the end of World War II in the face of advancing Allied soldiers but it rose phoenix-like once more in 1948. Today it is both a pedestrian and rail bridge with around 1,200 trains passing over it daily and pairs of equestrian bronzes punctuating both ends.
A curious tradition has recently grown up around the Hohenzollernbrücke; lovers affix padlocks to its sides and throw the key into the Rhine in exchange for eternal love.
With its rows of designer boutiques and luxury department stores bordering a serene tree-lined canal, Konigsallee (King's Alley) is surely one of Germany’s prettiest boulevards, as well as being Dusseldorf’s busiest shopping street. First laid out back in 1802, Konigsallee was originally named Kastanienallee (Chestnut Avenue), but was renamed in honor of King Friedrich Wilhelm IV in 1848, as an apology for the notorious incident in which Dusseldorfers bombarded his carriage with horse manure.
Today, the famous shopping street is best known by its nickname ‘Kö’ and is a popular hangout for both locals and tourists, offering a huge range of shops, restaurants and cafes to suit all tastes. Along with an impressive number of flagship designer outlets and jewelry boutiques, the Kö is home to the Sevens mall, the Kaufhof Kö department store and a number of 5-star hotels, while many shoppers can be found escaping the crowds for a stroll beneath the chestnut trees.
Dusseldorf’s historic harbor was given an impressive facelift during the 1990s, transforming the bleak silos and shipping warehouses, into a lively cultural hub and one of the city’s most stylish districts. Taking its name from the abundance of media and communications company headquarters that sprung up in the area, the new Media Harbor is characterized by its ultra-modern architecture, and the glass-fronted office blocks, looming Rheinturm TV Tower and wave-inspired Gehry buildings form a sleek silhouette along the waterfront.
As well as being the postcard image of modern-day Dusseldorf, the Media Harbor is also home to a selection of upmarket restaurants, bistros and bars and offers a glamorous setting for the city’s most exclusive nightclubs.
Towering 234 meters over the modern Media Harbor, the futuristic Rheinturm telecommunications tower is Dusseldorf’s tallest building and most distinctive landmark. Built in 1982, the tower quickly became one of the city’s top tourist attractions, with its 172-meter high observation platform offering dramatic panoramic views along the Rhine riverfront, the nearby Old Town (Altstadt) and the sea of high-rises that form Dusseldorf’s commercial district.
High-speed elevators take visitors to the top of the tower, where there is also a glass-fronted revolving restaurant, but the views are equally mesmerizing from the outside, with the illuminated tower also serving as the world’s largest digital clock.
With its grand Renaissance style façade and clock tower crawling with ivy, the Rathaus, or City Hall, is among Dusseldorf’s most attractive buildings, as well as being one of its oldest. Dating back to the 16th century, the Rathaus is one of a handful of buildings that remained intact after the WWII bombings, and forms an eye-catching backdrop to the city’s annual Christmas markets.
The most memorable landmark of the Rathaus is the bronze equestrian statue of Elector Jan Wellem, an iconic sculpture designed by Gabriel de Grupello in 1711, which now takes center stage at the front of the building. Inside, visitors can explore the ornately decorated council hall, the Jan-Wellem hall and the Lord Mayor’s reception hall, renowned for its beautiful ceiling paintings by artists Domenico Zanetti and Johannes Spilberg.
Part antiquities collection, part archeological dig, the Roman-Germanic museum (or Römisch-Germanische Museum) sits atop the last vestiges of the Roman town villa. In the museum's basement is a well-known Dionysus mosaic, undisturbed from its original installation.
Remnants of Roman architecture, inscriptions, portraits of Caesar Augustus and his ceramics and more piece together the story of Cologne's development from a Germanic tribal settlement (the Ubii), to the Roman Cologne, to the capital of the Lower Germania.
Other highlights of the museum are the 15 meters (50 foot) high sarcophagus of Poblicius, a legionnaire from the first century AD. Like the mosaic and the Roman road outside, this funereal monument was uncovered during excavations in the city. The collection also contains the largest collection of Roman glass, more mosaics and ceramics, as well as the stone, clay and bronze idols specific to various Roman cults.
The Koblenz Cable Car glides over the Rhine River between Konrad-Adenauer-Ufer on the west side of the river to Greiffenklaustraße on the east side of the river. It provides visitors with a spectacular view of the city, the river, and the surrounding areas of the Moselle and Rhine River valleys. It's at the point where the Rhine River meets the Moselle River, and the Ehrenbreitstein Fortress is located at the upper station. With a combination ticket, visitors can also explore the fortress and the exhibitions inside it. You can also see the Basilica of St. Kastor, located near the fortress, from the cable car.
The cable car was built for the Federal Horticulture Show in 2011 as a tourist attraction as well as an environmentally friendly form of transportation. It has 18 cabins and can carry 7,600 people per hour, the highest performing cable car in the world. It is also the biggest aerial tramway in Germany.
Sitting on the banks of the Rhine River, the Museum Kunstpalast first opened in 1913 but was given a facelift by architect Oswald Matthias Ungers at the backend of the last century and reopened in 2001. Its five permanent collections embrace European sculpture from medieval times, stellar Renaissance and Baroque paintings such as the acclaimed Assumption of the Virgin by Rubens, and contemporary art from Expressionism to modern times. The museum also holds more than 70,000 pieces of graphic art and drawings, including sketches by Raphael and Kirchner.
One of the biggest draws of the Kunstpalast is the exquisite Hentrich Glass Collection, which traces the story of European glassware from the early Roman period right up to hand-blown pieces by the likes of Art Nouveau supremo Emile Gallé and Czech glassblower Stanislav Libenský. It also home to major league temporary exhibitions including Dalí, Warhol and Miró.
With its two-tier walkways tracing the scenic Rhine waterfront and dotted with benches, grassy picnic areas and food vendors, walking the Rheinuferpromenade (Rhine River promenade) not only offers a tranquil retreat from the busy city center, but it also links many of Dusseldorf’s top attractions.
Start your walk beneath the Burgplatz castle tower, then follow the riverside paths through Dusseldorf Old Town, passing the Old Harbor (Alter Hafen); the Marketplatz, home to the historic City Hall (Rathaus) and the City Museum (Stadt Museum), before reaching the grassy Rheinpark, where you can look out over the striking waterfront of the nearby Media Harbor. As well as being popular with joggers, cyclists and roller-bladers, the promenade also hosts a number of seasonal events, including an open-air cinema, exhibitions and markets.
North Rhine-Westphalia came into being after Germany was restructured following WWII, and with more than 18 million people it is Germany’s most populous state. The state’s parliament building is the first completely new parliament building to be built in the history of the German Federal Republic. The parliament building (Landtag), which opened in 1988, represents the first time a German parliament designed its future home itself.
The building was designed to be comparatively modest and is more noted for its interesting shape than its size. Right angles were consciously avoided. The circular meeting chamber is located in the center of the building. Four rooms for the parliamentary parties form a circle off the chamber, with a lobby that both connects and separates the spaces. A great way to see the interesting architecture of the Landtag is from above. The Rheinturm provides sweeping views from its deck, and there are various cafes, bars, and a revolving restaurant.
In 1934, a jeweler by the name of Leonard Dahlen rented his shop to the National Socialist Party, better known as the Nazis. Officially, the building was repurposed as the Nazi Documentation Center, but the Nazis soon set up the shop as the headquarters of the Gestapo, the party’s secret police. Its basement made room for cells and torture stations, where a parade of the regime’s victims - Jews, Roma, homosexuals and other political enemies - were imprisoned and treated savagely for the better part of a decade. Miraculously, when most of Cologne was destroyed during the Allies’ bombardment, the EL-DE Haus remained completely intact.
Today, the building is a memorial to the victims of the Nazi’s fascist regime.
In 1981, the government opened the basement to the public and in 1987, the Nazi Documentation Center was also opened, permanently featuring an exhibit detailing life in Cologne under the National Socialist government.