Cologne is a commercial centre and river port in western Germany on the Rhine River. It’s Germany’s oldest city dating back over two millennia. Dominated by the soaring towers of its rustic cathedral, Kölner Dom, the city is a little heralded corner of Germany that hides numerous photogenic medieval and Roman features among its many charms. It’s a refined city, a place where Belgian-style chocolate shops integrate the epic beer halls, and the angular pastel houses along the banks of the Rhine give the centre an almost fairy tale vibe.

Cologne Cathedral || Kölner Dom
Cologne is rammed full of churches with twelve ornate Romanic examples tucked within the Medieval city walls alone. However, it’s the city’s monumental cathedral that easily steals the show, and for good reason – it’s the largest Gothic church in northern Europe, boasting the second-tallest spires and biggest façade of any church in the world.

The interior of Cologne Cathedral (Köln Dom), Cologne, Germany. February 16th 2005.

It’s hard to miss the 157-metre high twin towers of Cologne’s Roman Catholic cathedral, or Dom; they are visible from anywhere in the city. The Gothic masterpiece, Germany’s most visited landmark, was constructed in several phases between 1248 and 1880 by successive builders who were inspired by the same faith and a spirit of absolute fidelity to the original plans. Apart from its exceptional intrinsic value and the artistic masterpieces it contains, Cologne Cathedral testifies to the enduring strength of European Christianity. The cathedral was damaged during World War II air raids but while it wasn’t completely destroyed no fewer than fourteen heavy bombs reduced it to a pitiful state – the story goes that the towering spires are said to have aided the navigation of Allied bombers during the latter part of the war and as such were spared. Restoration and reconstruction work started after the war but it wasn’t fully complete until 1956. The cathedral, a UNESCO-listed World Heritage Site since 1996, is an impressive sight both outside and in – this picture of the main altar area doesn’t quite manage to show the massive expanse of the area. Cologne (map-pointer-icon), Germany. February 16, 2005.

A masterpiece of exceptional intrinsic value… and … a powerful testimony to the strength and persistence of Christian belief in medieval and modern Europe

– UNESCO commenting on Cologne Cathedral

Cologne as seen from the south tower of Cologne Cathedral, Cologne, Germany. February 16th 2005.

The city of Cologne, Germany’s oldest, as seen from the south tower of Cologne Cathedral, Cologne, Germany. February 16, 2005.

There’s more to Cologne than its impressive cathedral. The Fish Market, the City Gates, the City Hall, the Praetorium and the Roman Tower all offer outstanding examples of the Cologne of old, while you can pick up a thorough explanation of it all at the impressive Römisch-Germanisches Museum, which gives a full account of the Romans along the Rhine, as well as housing its own mosaics.

But the city’s not all about history. There’s plenty in the way of off-the-wall modern architecture here & while it may be Germany’s oldest city, Cologne is far from stuffy and goes out of its way to run with the times. None of that ancient charm’s been lost, though, and you can spend hours exploring the side streets eyeing ornate buildings and snacking on spectacular chocolate. Alternatively, bring a strong painkiller and dive into the tumultuous nightlife. And if you’re here for Christmas you can stroll at three different authentic Christmas markets: one at the cathedral, one in town centre and one at Alter Markt near the river.

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