Boasting no fewer than twelve Romanesque churches, Cologne is a Western German city famed for its iconic Christmas Markets and staggering Gothic cathedral, which took no fewer than seven centuries to build. But after the tourist attractions, scratch beneath the surface of Köln and you’ll soon discover a vibrant city with plenty of hidden gems and unusual things to do that few visitors venture off the beaten path to experience. Here’s your ultimate guide to secret spots in Cologne you should know about.
Follow in the footsteps of the Romans
Cologne was founded during the Roman era (in the 1st century CE to be precise) as the settlement of Colonia Claudia Ara Agrippinensium, which is typically shortened to be referred to simply as ‘Colonia’. Today, vestiges of Köln’s Roman past can be found across the city, notably at the Romano-Germanic museum, which is found in the archaeological zone of the city.
It’s also in this area where you can find an open air partially uncovered Roman road. Elsewhere in Cologne, one of the most beautiful surviving examples of the Roman city is to be found in the form of Römerturm on Zeughausstrasse. If you’re interested in learning more about the city’s history rich history, you can even book a guided tour like this one to help you get a more in-depth look at the impact of the Romans in Cologne and the surrounding area.
Hahnentorburg (Hahnen Gate)
In the wintertime, one of the largest Christmas Markets in Cologne is held in the square where the Hahnentorburg (Hahnen gate) is to be found. This medieval gate dates was once one of twelve which marked the entryway into the historic city and is often thought to have been the most important of all the gates.
After all, it’s through here where Kings would likely have ventured following their coronation in the nearby city of Aachen. Over time, the Hahnen Gate has served many purposes, including as a prison, and in more recent times, as an art gallery.
Tomb of Saint Albertus Magnus, Church of Saint Andrew
Cologne is famed for its dozen Romanesque churches which are to be found in the Altstadt (old town) part of the city and largely date from between the 9th to 11th-centuries, though it’s important to note that, when it comes to the Romanesque style, there is no agreement on the exact date when the Romanesque began.
The church of Saint Andrew finds its roots in the 10th-century and is characterised by its semi-circular arches and high nave. Head to the crypt of the church and you’ll soon discover a smaller chapel holding the tomb of 13th-century philosopher St Abertus Magnus within a 3rd century Roman sarcophagus.
On the fringes of the Belgian Quarter of the city, there’s one boutique which is particularly unusual, in that it’s dedicated entirely to Scottish wares, goods, and tipples! Scotia Spirit serves as both a tea room offering hearty Scottish recipes (Haggis and scones to name but a few of the menu offerings), as well as a store selling whisky, spirits and non-consumable items.
Finial replica, Cologne Cathedral Square
Of course, aside from the twelve Romanesque churches, the most famous of the ecclesiastical buildings in Cologne is that of the great Dom. Presiding over the rest of the city, Cologne Cathedral is easily one of the most beautiful examples of Gothic Cathedrals in Europe.
And each of the two towers (North and South) of the cathedral are crowned with finials, i.e decorative carvings. Though they look small from the ground, the finials are actually a staggering 9.5 metres high and were the final touch to the cathedral, when it was completed in 1880. Since 1991, a concrete replica of one of the finials has stood in the square in the front of the Dom.
Church of St Ursula Ossuary
Hands down, one of the most unusual things to see in Cologne is the Ossuary chapel, which is located in the church of St Ursula. Alleged to be the final resting place of 11,000 martyred virgins, today the chapel is known as the ‘Golden Chamber’.
If you wish to see the bone chapel for yourself, then know that it costs €2 to enter. There was little information on how to visit online and, when I called the tourism information office, I gleaned little more. Instead, we headed to the church and asked a lady working in the office to see the chapel for ourselves. We were promptly led to a small room away from the main body of the church, where the Golden Chamber was located.
If you’re looking for a quirky coffee shop with plenty of plants and a whole range of vegan and vegetarian food, then you need to look no further than Hommage Café, which is to be found within the Belgian quarter of the city. Open every day of the week (though please note that the establishment is cash only), upon entering the shop you’re given a small plastic animal toy, which will be used to identify your order when you pay up to go.
Senfmuseum (Mustard Museum)
When it comes to cultural institutions in Europe, there’s no shortage of unusual, unique, and downright museums to visit. One of the most unique in Cologne is that of the Mustard Museum, which is located on the site of a factory which has been producing the piquant sauce since 1810. Today, the museum and shop can be visited and guided tours of the mustard making location take place every day of the week, with free mustard tasting opportunities also available.
Drachenfels Day Trip
Though many visitors to Cologne are sure to visit Charlemagne’s city of Aachen or the beautiful cherry blossom in Bonn during the springtime, one of the more lesser-known and off the beaten path day trips to be taken from Cologne is that of the Drachenfels, a striking set of castles perched on a hilltop high above the fairytale town of Königswinter. Though not necessarily one of the most secret spots in Cologne, a Drachenfels day trip is a wonderful idea nonetheless.