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Cologne, Germany’s fourth largest city with one million inhabitants, has both the river Rhine and a truly majestic Cathedral as its core attractions.
This proud, confident and fun loving city has a thriving cultural scene, and is a major hub for media, business and tourism, attracting regular hordes of tourists to the many festivals and events this most liberal of German cities hosts every year.
All this makes Cologne a great gay city destination, with much to experience and discover – of the city’s extensive gay scene and beyond.
Cologne in the West of the country is second only to Berlin in the East in the rankings of German gay city hotspots, and takes the title of Germany’s gay dance party capital.
The city has a large and well established gay scene with many bars, clubs and saunas, concentrated in the city centre. It is also justly famous for its annual gay pride, and Christopher Street Day (CSD) parade, which is one the biggest and most high profile in all of Europe.
Cologne Bonn airport (CGN) is just 15 minutes by train (S Bahn lines S13 and S19 costing €2.80) from the city centre, and is a hub for the budget airlines.
If you are travelling from outside Europe you can fly directly to either Dusseldorf or Frankfurt airports which both have easy access to the city.
Düsseldorf International Airport (DUS) has a train connection to Cologne Central Station (HBF) with a journey time of 40 minutes and train tickets starting from €5 (depending on time an date).
Frankfurt Rhein Main International Airport is Germany’s busiest, with a high speed ICE (InterCity Express) train connection to Cologne in one hour, with the cheapest fares available online and in advance. If you are not in a rush, a good alternative is the Rhine Valley train via Koblenz which takes 2 hours to reach Cologne with beautiful scenery en-route, and is 30% cheaper than the ICE train.
Cologne is well served by Europe’s high speed rail network, with direct connections from Amsterdam, Brussels and Paris by Thalys and ICE trains, as well as the ICE train connection to Frankfurt Airport.
There are two main city train stations – Köln Hauptbahnhof (HBF – the Central Station) and Köln-Deutz.
High speed trains are a great way to travel around Europe, though can be expensive, so always book online as far in advance of your travel dates as you can to obtain the best value fares.
The centre of Cologne is best explored on foot. The landscape is flat and most of the important visitor sites are within a short of walk of each other.
For travel beyond the city center use the KVB public transport network. This consists of a subway network underground, which transforms seamlessly into a tram network above ground, and buses, and will get you everywhere efficiently and cheaply.
The one and three day passes are also valid on the local VRS-network trains. Tickets can be bought from vending machines in stations and on board with prices varying depending on the distance you need to travel. There is also a network of regional trains to get you around the wider city area.
The city also has a “Call a Bike” bicycle rental scheme – just register online for billing per minute using a credit card.
Cologne City Center is relatively compact so any hotel in the center area stretching from Rudolfplatz to the central train station is going to be reasonably convenient.
Hotels close to Rudolfplatz (the ‘Bermuda Triangle’ gay district) are better for those hitting the scene every night. Hotels closer to Dom (main cathedral), central train station are better located for the major sights.
For a list of recommended hotels, visit our Gay Cologne Hotels page.
Cologne Cathedral (Dom) – the biggest and most complete example of classic Gothic architecture in Europe. Spared from destruction during World War II, the awe-inspiring Cathedral dominates the city centre and is well worth looking inside, though not necessarily the long steep climb up to the top of the tallest tower with the best city views being those of the Dom, rather than from it.
For the best view of the Dom, head over the river to the Köln Triangle building – a modern office skyscraper with its own Panorama Observatory (€3 access charge).
Cologne is a city famous for its churches, and others of note include the Gross St Martin, in contrasting Romanesque style to the Gothic Dom, and Saint Gereon’s Basilica, dating back to the 11th century.
Veedel – look out for these traditional neighbourhoods located around the city. One in particular, Agnesviertel (U-Bahn Ebertplatz) has a really interesting mix of independent shops, galleries and bars to browse in.
Rheinauhafen – is the city’s rebuilt harbour on the Rhine (1 km south of Heumarkt) for pleasant riverside walks and a good selection of bars and restaurants.
Cologne is a city of culture and has many highly regarded museums and galleries. The highlight is the Museum Ludwig, located next to the Dom, which features a stunning collection of contemporary and pop art and one the world’s largest Picasso collections.
Another feature of Cologne worth discovering are its many green spaces and parks. Just within the inner Grüngürtel are the Volksgarten, Rheinpark, Aachener-Weiher and Stadtgarten parks, each with their own beer garden.
And for something completely different, head to Claudius Therme on Sachsenbergstraße. A genuine roman bath house experience complete with indoor and outdoor pools, saunas and plunge pools, complete with several naturist areas. Located outside of the city centre, take the Kölner Seilbahn to the Therme and return by bus to Köln Deutz Station to then take the U-Bahn back to the city centre.
The usual variable Northern European weather rules apply to Cologne, from occasional hot summer days to equally cold winter ones, with plenty of rain sprinkled throughout.
Cologne Gay Pride in huge and takes place every summer from late June to early July, with the Christopher Street Day (CSD) Parade and Street Festival being the closing highlights.
Cologne also hosts an annual city Carnival which takes place early in the year (February-March). This world famous spectacle is another great time to be in Cologne as seemingly the entire city joins in the celebrations. It kicks off with a Womens Carnival Day, followed by masked balls and parties, then a street Carnival on the Sunday and official Parade on Rose Monday with a million spectators in fancy dress.
Other big city attractions include the Christmas markets around the Cathedral which open in late November through to late December, which are guaranteed to get you in the festive spirit.
Germany is within the European Schengen visa area. If travelling from outside Europe, check to see if you require a Schengen visa.
Germany is a member of the Eurozone. Cash dispensers are widely available. You may be asked for photo ID if paying with a credit or debit card in a shop.
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