Cologne: attractions and events in the largest city in North Rhine-Westphalia

Cathedral, zoo and carnival – there is a lot that Cologne is famous for. Behind it, however, lies a modern metropolis with a lot of history.

Cologne – being the fourth largest city in the country, the Rhine metropolis is sometimes overshadowed by Berlin, Munich and Hamburg. But with its historic center, vibrant food scene, and vibrant exhibition center, Cologne remains an attraction for tourists, visitors, and business travelers far beyond the region.

population 1,083,498 (as of 2020)
Surface 405.01 km²
Federal state North Rhine-Westphalia
foundation of the city 38 BC Cr.

The history of the city dates back to 38 BC when the Romans established a new colony on the Rhine River, which marked the frontier of the empire. Over the centuries, trade on the river and later the influence of the resident archbishop allowed Cologne to develop into an important hub in the region. Since 2010, the population of the urban area has officially surpassed one million, making the cathedral city the largest city in North Rhine-Westphalia and the fourth largest city in Germany.

Cologne landmarks: the cathedral and zoo are very popular

Cologne Cathedral is considered the landmark of the city and can hardly be avoided on a visit. With its central location, just to the side of Cologne Central Station, and with a remarkable height of 157 meters, the cathedral is visible from many parts of the city. You can also see it scattered around the city on countless illustrations, from advertising posters to Kölsch glasses. But besides the cathedral, the city has a whole host of other attractions to offer.

Cologne Zoo, like the cathedral, is a regionally known and popular destination. The heart of the zoo is the two-hectare elephant park, which is home to more than a dozen Asian elephants, including some young animals. In addition, the zoo offers a historic aviary, a rock monkey with around 50 baboons and an aquarium, which can also be visited separately.

Cologne’s cityscape is also characterized by a large number of historic buildings. In addition to the famous cathedral, Cologne is also home to twelve important Romanesque churches, as well as numerous Gothic and Baroque churches. In the middle of the densely built city center there are also remains of Roman architecture, about which the centrally located Romano-Germanic Museum also provides information.

Cologne city center on the Rhine, with the cathedral in the background.

© Jochen Tack / Imago

The lively center of Cologne

The city center of Cologne extends around the historic center, a colorful network of shopping streets, gastronomic offers and traffic arteries. With over 77,000 pedestrians per day, Schildergasse in the heart of the city center is one of the busiest shopping streets in Europe. In addition to a large variety of shops and restaurants, there are also some of Cologne’s most famous breweries, where typical Kölsch and regional specialties are served.

Trade fair city Cologne – Gamescom and more

On the eastern side of the Rhine, the so-called “Schäl Sick”, is the Cologne exhibition center, where around 80 trade fairs, exhibitions and events are held annually in 11 halls. The most important events at the Cologne fair include the international motorcycle and scooter fair Intermot and Anuga, one of the world’s largest trade fairs for the food industry.

However, the annual Gamescom, which often attracts more than 300,000 people interested in games, draws the most visitors. The international computer games fair is one of the largest of its kind and brings all the major publishers of the gaming scene to Cologne. In addition to big names like Riot Games and EA, the hundreds of exhibitors now also include a number of independent studios showcasing their latest games and offering them for you to try.

Visitors to the Cologne fair in August 2019 are waiting to be admitted in front of a Gamescom exhibition hall.

© Oliver Berg / dpa

Music and events in Cologne

In addition to trade fairs and tourism, Cologne is also a metropolis with a diverse cultural life. From the Philharmonie directly on Domplatz to the Lanxess Arena, which has already been used by greats such as Metallica and Phil Collins, the city usually offers a wide range of cultural events. In the Belgian quarter, the student “Kwartier Latäng” and the former alternative Ehrenfeld there is also a wide range of clubs, bars and beer gardens, where live music and other events can often be found.

Cologne hosts the largest LGBT pride parade in the country every year on the first weekend of July, often attracting more than a million visitors. With the Summerjam, Cologne is also home to the largest reggae festival in Europe. The festival takes place every July in Fühlinger See in the north of the city.

Cologne and the carnival

One date that is marked on every Cologne resident’s calendar is carnival week. In the week before Ash Wednesday, the 52nd day before Easter Sunday, almost the whole city turns upside down and celebrates the street carnival. With grand parades throwing sweets and bouquets of flowers to spectators and lavish parties, both on the streets and in bars and pubs, the Cologne Carnival attracts up to 1.5 million visitors a year.

In addition to the carnival week, the so-called fifth season is also taken seriously in Cologne. In the period from 11 November until the start of the street carnival on the Weiberfastnacht, carnival associations regularly meet in closed-door carnival sessions. So it’s not uncommon to run into costumed people on the tram or in the city center outside of carnival week.

Arrival in Cologne

With the bustling main train station and Messe / Deutz train station, Cologne is particularly easy to reach for travelers by train. In addition, the Cologne / Bonn airport is located just a few kilometers from the city limits for long-distance travelers. From the airport, you can take the train directly to the exhibition center or to the city center.

List of sections: © IMAGO / Malte Ossowski / Sven Simon

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