Served by a new British Airways direct flight from November, Cologne is the perfect suggestion for a Christmas market break or a summer stay and its position on one of Europe’s greatest rivers makes it a great jumping off point for longer trips into the rolling Rhineland.

Dreaming spires

Cologne Cathedral – or 'the Dom' – could be straight from the pages of a Grimms' fairytale or the fires of Mordor. Rising from the street, its blackened stone is almost sinister, it's intricate carving mesmerising – hundreds of columns, arches and turrets soar skywards; pious robed statues and glaring gargoyles gaze down on shoppers unconcerned by the sooted villain's lair looming over them.

The cathedral is the third-tallest church building in the world and even those not religiously inclined will be impressed by the architecture. And taking the 533-step spiral starcase up to the cathedral’s south tower brings its own enlightment.

Cologne was bombed in 262 separate air raids in the Second World War and it's not a pretty city. But its mix of Gothic, small pockets of romantic Rhine architecture and gritty urban landscape is intriguing.

 

Atmospheric Altstadt

The Old Town's narrow cobbled streets and brightly-painted, steeply-gabled houses are full of tourists for a reason. The scene couldn’t be more 'chocolate box-ey' and appropriately a rich smell of chocolate scents the air, coming from the city's many confectionary shops and the Chocolate Museum, which explores the 300-year history of cocoa and the secrets of Lindt.

This area is also home to Germany’s oldest city hall, as much a Gothic masterpiece as the cathedral, and lots of atmospheric beer halls.

Haxenhaus offers a people-watching perch in summer and cosy wooden benches and beamed ceilings in winter. Try pork knuckle and bratwurst with some foaming steins and Rhine wines.

 

The Belgium Quarter

This part of the city escaped the bombs and its streets are lined with lovely Art Nouveau apartment buildings. The heart of the district is Brüsseler Platz, a lively, leafy square with communal ping pong tables which often transforms into a biergarten. The area is famous for its quirky boutiques and designer fashion.

Hipster Ehrenfeld

Gritty and graffiti-covered, this is one of the more modern parts of the city, an arts-driven area filled with warehouse clubs, galleries, theatres, dive bars, Turkish kebab shops and coffee houses.

The West Bank of the Rhine

The newly-designed Rheinauhafen waterfront complex is the 'youngest' district of Cologne. The waterfront promenade is dominated by a trio of buildings called the Kranhäuser – modern glass and steel buildings shaped like hoisting cranes – along with cafés, restaurants and galleries.

Museums galore

If your clients like their culture neatly laid out Cologne has lots of museums. The city became a Roman outpost in 50AD but the Roman-Germanic Museum displays mosaics and jewellery spanning prehistoric, Roman and medieval times. Fans of contemporary and pop art should head to Museum Ludwig, which has Picassos and Andy Warhols on its walls.

The 4711 Cologne House is the birthplace and flagship store for the world's most famous brand of eau de cologne (meaning 'water from Cologne') which has been made since 1792. There's a shop and museum.

Cologne Carnival

One of the biggest in Europe, Carnival starts on the Thursday before Ash Wednesday, lasts for a week and is celebrated with street parades and parties in pubs across the city. The monday procession parades three symbolic figures – prince, virgin and peasant – but the partying crowds in their flamboyant costumes are as much an attraction.

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