Chris Mayhew, one of our copy writers working in head office, recently spent 5 nights in Cologne. Here are a few reasons why he would recommend it to anyone else looking for a European city break…
On a rather dull and overcast Monday morning, we made our way to Woodbridge train station to start our mammoth journey. A journey which would involve taking six different trains through four different countries before arriving to enjoy one eagerly anticipated Cologne city break.
As it happened, the 8-hour trip from door to hotel door seemed to fly by as our excitement and the thrill of embarking on an adventure spurred us on; making the endless dragging of suitcases on and off trains all the more bearable. We had decided to take the Eurostar rather than fly into Germany, which is a great option for those that are not too keen on flying (yes that's me) or just want to enjoy the changing scenery out of the window rather than a permanent plane wing.
Check-in at London St Pancras was fast and smooth and we soon found that the strict passport checks involved with exiting and entering the UK are starkly contrasted by a more relaxed European attitude which allowed us to pass through countries such a France, Belgium and into Germany without so much as the briefest of glances at our little red books.
We arrived in Brussels-Midi station to connect with our onward train to Cologne (a connection that was made all the more easy by the helpful information sent out by Eurostar prior to our trip) and, after a temporary free-for-all on the Deutsche Bahn operated Inter-city Express train, during which people scrambled to find any free seat that hadn't already been booked, we arrived at Koln Hbf.
A short trip on the local metro system (our sixth and final train of the day) ensured we reached our city centre hotel exhausted but pleased to have arrived.
Zoo For Two
The next day we sprang from our beds, eager to explore everything that Germany's fourth largest city had to offer. And with both of us being great lovers of wildlife, there was only one place we were heading first - the zoo.
After a few moments trying to work out the ticket system on the metro - a network which runs both above and below ground, over 18 different lines and with typical German efficiency - we arrived directly outside the zoo gates via one of the main lines which travels through the heart of the city.
Having been to many zoos and wildlife parks in the UK and thoroughly enjoy the vast majority of them we were slightly apprehensive about whether Cologne zoo could offer something of the same. However, we needn't of worried as the park was large enough to keep us occupied nearly all day, had a wide range of different animals, and even had an adjacent aquarium which was included in the entry price.
We left the zoo in the late afternoon and headed directly across the road to the Seilbahn. This is a cable car that takes you across the river Rhine and lands you in the Rhine Park on the opposite bank. Although the ride was far from smooth and left us with our hearts in our mouths at times, the views were amazing.
We finished the day by walking down to the Hohenzollern Bridge, which is adorned with hundreds and hundreds of engraved padlocks that represent different couples who have left their mark, and added our own lock to the railings. You could easily spend a good few hours just reading the various inscriptions of love that date back many years.
A Bruhl-iant Day Out
In the morning, there was a welcome change in the weather from the drizzle we had experienced the day before and so we decided to hop on a train and take the short journey to the local town of Bruhl. This is where you will find Phantasialand; a family fun theme park with rides for people of all ages.
Again, we had a great day and enjoyed rides such as Chaipas - a log flume which you ride backwards for some of the way - (pictured below) and Maus au Chocolat - an interactive 3D adventure during which you have to rid a virtual kitchen of as many mice as possible.
The park is very easy to get to as the Cologne metro system extends this far outside the city. You can simply get off at Bruhl Mitte station and take the shuttle bus which picks thrill-seekers up directly from the platform.
After returning to Cologne we made our way into the old town for dinner. This is where we tended to eat most nights as there is a great range of restaurants which offer a mix of local and international food, and this part of the city also provides an interesting and beautiful backdrop to any meal.
Cathedrals, Chocolate and Currywurst
After a busy day the day before, we decided to take things a little bit easier the following morning. However, this was soon thrown out of the window as we made our way up the 500-odd stairs to the top of the stunning gothic cathedral which lies in the centre of the city. This UNESCO World Heritage site is the third-tallest cathedral in the world and Germany's most visited landmark, and it's easy to see why.
The narrow staircase, which is used as both your route up the tower and back down again, may seem a little daunting at first but the views from the top are definitely worth the struggle. On your way up there is a chance to see the large bell which chimes on the hour before you reach the viewing area which provides a unique perspective of Cologne and the river Rhine in tandem.
Following all that climbing it was time to treat ourselves and so we made our way to the Lindt chocolate museum. Having stopped along the way for a quick currywurst (sausage in curry sauce) - something that became our regular food of choice when wanting to refuel on the go - we were both ready for something sweet.
The smell of chocolate hits you as soon as you enter the building, but you have to immerse yourself in the background and production methods of this widely recognised confection before you get the chance to indulge in the real thing. We paid our dues and wondered through the various exhibits; knowing all the time that we were getting closer and closer to the real reason that we both knew we were there. When the time came, our delayed gratification soon turned into a splurge of chocolaty antics as we enjoyed a free sample from the chocolate fountain on the top floor, shared the biggest slice of triple chocolate gateau you have ever seen in the café outside, before running amok in the gift shop and leaving with cheeky grins and chocolate smudges on our faces.
Schwepped Off Our Feet
On the last full day of our trip, we made the decision to explore another one of the towns and cities surrounding Cologne. So we got on yet another train (we were beginning to know the German rail network quite well by now) and headed for Wuppertal. This city, situated about 35 miles north of our base, is largely industrial but it had two things that we were interested in checking out.
The first of these was something that you won't find anywhere else in the world - the Schwebebahn. This suspension railway is the oldest electrically operated elevated railway anywhere on the planet and runs from one side of the city to the other above the river and the road. It was a strange experience at first, but as the carriages gently swayed around each corner and metronomically rocked whilst we waited in each station, we felt surprisingly safe.
The second reason for our visit to Wuppertal was to enjoy the second zoo of our trip to Germany. Far from being a repeat of what we had already seen in Cologne zoo, this expansive park set on a picturesque hillside had many different animals and one which we were extremely excited to see. We couldn't turn down the chance to see a real life polar bear up close and, as we spent a good half an hour watching one of them sit silently relieving an itch on a branch, we knew it was most definitely worth our journey outside the city limits of Cologne.
Home - Via Belgium's Chocolate Shops
The next day it was time to check out and start our extended journey home. We had time for some last minute souvenir shopping in the morning before getting back on the high-speed ICE train and heading for Brussels.
During our hour and a half stopover in the station, we couldn't help but experience a quick taste of Belgium before continuing on to London. Any Euros that we had remaining soon leapt out of our pockets in return for a variety of different chocolate creations, including a waffle each that definitely provided the highlight of the journey home for me.
It had happened again.
We wiped the chocolaty grins from our faces once more, stored what we had bought for loved ones back home in our hand-luggage and made our way home via the ever-reliable Eurostar.
Must Do: Climb the cathedral and visit Phantasialand
Must See: The polar bears in Wuppertal zoo
Must Try: Currywurst
If you would like to embark on a similar trip to Chris, or an equally exciting city break to somewhere else in Europe, the Fred.\ Holidays team can help you plan your trip. Simply call us today or fill in a contact form online.