Mini guide to medieval Cologne
Cologne is like a three-dimensional textbook on medieval history and architecture. A walk around the town will reveal buildings and artwork from the Middle Ages, not to mention scores of traditional beer halls.
Churches and cathedrals
Cologne’s geographical, medieval and spiritual heart is the Kölner Dom – the city’s magnificent cathedral, built over seven centuries and completed in 1880. With its soaring twin spires, this is an Everest of a building, packed with art and treasures including a bejewelled reliquary said to hold the remains of the three Magi (Domkloster 4; tours £5.60).
Winning top honours for Cologne’s most handsome exterior is the Great St Martin Church, built between 1150 and 1250. Its ensemble of four slender turrets grouped around a central spire towers above Fischmarkt in the Altstadt (Cologne’s Old Town). Although the church was badly damaged in WWII, restoration work was completed in 1985 (00 49 221 1642 5650; Am Gross-St- Martin 9; admission free).
The 12th-century Basilica of St Ursula has a grim back-story: it stands atop the ruins of a Roman cemetery where 11,000 virgins were said to have been buried after a massacre by the Huns. In the 17th century, the richly ornamented baroque Golden Chamber was built to house their relics. Its walls are covered in bones arranged to spell out Latin words among decorative patterns (00 49 221 133 400; Ursulaplatz 24; closed Sun; admission free).
Art and museums
Housing a famous collection of fine art from the medieval period to the early 20th century, the Wallraf-Richartz-Museum occupies a postmodern cube designed by the late OM Ungers. The highlight is the beautiful Madonna and the Rose Bower created by Stefan Lochner in the 15th century (wallraf. museum; Obenmarspforten; closed Mon; from £9).
East of the Neumarkt is Museum Schnütgen, a repository devoted to mostly medieval, Christian art, though parts of the collection extend to the modern period. The museum is built around the Romanesque church of St Cecilia, and displays works including carved ivory objects, illustrated manuscripts and stained glass (Cäcilienstrasse 29; closed Mon; admission £2.60).
Kölnisches Stadtmuseum, housed in a former medieval armoury, explores all facets of the city – from its history to its inhabitants and everyday life – from the Middle Ages to the present day. Highlights include a large-scale town model and the magnificent silver of the city council along with exhibits on Cologne Carnival and eau de cologne (closed Mon; admission £4).
Drinking and eating
Früh am Dom, established in 1904 near the Kölner Dom, was once home to the Früh brewery and Central- Theatre. Its dark wood panelling, walls lined with pewter tankards and leaded interior windows in the main room conjure up the image of a medieval dining hall. It’s a comfortable place to enjoy a pint of the local kölsch (Am Hof 12; pint of Früh kölsch £2).
One of Cologne’s better beer halls is Bierhaus en d’r Salzgass, a traditional building that once housed the Zur Täsch brewery. It’s full of cosy corners, with barrels on the bar, religious décor throughout and a vast medieval light fixture made of iron on the ceiling. Its kitchen serves Cologne specialities including minced pork with black bread and onions (Salzgasse 5–7; mains from £5.50).
Haxenhaus zum Rheingarten, an ancient house close to the banks of the Rhine in the pretty Eisenmarkt area, specialises in medieval food. They do haxen (a ham on the bone), cook up wild boar from the Bavarian forest and serve black beer. The place itself is a single square room kitted out in typical Brauhaus-style, with long pine-topped tables and panelled walls (Frankenwerft 19; mains £9.60).
Around 11 miles southeast of the city centre, Cologne/Bonn airport is served by Germanwings and easyJet from Heathrow, Stansted and Manchester (Stansted from £60; Gatwick from £85). The airport’s railway station allows for easy access to Cologne (singles £1.90). Taxis are available from Terminal 1, the 15-minute journey costing around £20. Cologne’s buses, trams, U-Bahn and S-Bahn services are operated by VRS – short trips cost £1.30 and day-passes are also available (£5.60).
Where to stay
Original art works exchanged for lodging grace the walls of the Hotel Chelsea’s public areas, and its 38 guestrooms and suites – the most impressive is a penthouse on its eyecatching rooftop extension (Jülicher Strasse 1; from £70).
The location is somewhat drab, but Hotel Santo is an island of sophistication. The design flaunts an edgy, urban feel tempered by playful lights effects, soothing colours and natural materials (from £100; Dagobertstrasse 22–26).
History and high-tech mix beautifully at the Hopper Hotel St Antonius, a retreat close to the Rhine built in 1904. Its romantic courtyard and small wellness centre are perfect when you want a break from sightseeing (£140; Dagobertstrasse 32).