Independent, informative and, despite having over 40 years under its belt, still very much in tune with the times: Cologne’s Stadtrevue (stadtrevue.de) magazine has stood out on the city’s monopolised press landscape since 1976. A highlight is the daily events calendar that can also be viewed online and covers pretty much all club nights, readings, plays and concerts taking place in the region that day. Visit.koeln, on the other hand, will keep you updated on Cologne’s culinary offer and has detailed tips for shopping and arts and culture. And there’s also a good overview of the city’s museums and current exhibitions on museenkoeln.de. If you prefer your information as listicles, then “Mit Vergnügen“ (koeln.mitvergnuegen.com) has you covered. “Rausgegangen”, (rausgegangen.de) on the other hand, prides itself on making an informed selection for their audience every day. During the peak of the coronavirus crisis in spring 2020, the site also established itself as a streaming portal for Cologne’s music scene. And if you accidentally leave your copy of this hidden cologne guide at home, we’re also on the internet: hiddencologne.de
We also speak English
The English-speaking expat community in Cologne may be smaller than that of Berlin, but it still has a decent choice of activities. Starting with the offer of the city’s cinemas: Metropolis at Ebertplatz (metropolis-koeln.de) only shows films in English (some with subtitles), and Off-Broadway on Zülpicher Strasse makes a big effort to screen films in their original language. Find out which films are showing in which language on the Stadtrevue’s cinema calendar (stadtrevue.de/kino). You’ll find the best selection of English books at the Mayersche bookstore at Neumarkt. But there’s a better choice of magazines and newspapers at the English Shop (english-shop.de), which also stocks a wide selection of English and American food items, located at An St. Agatha, a side street of the busy Schildergasse. Check out the English-language website of the Cologne tourism board (cologne-tourism.com) for general information, including some very useful tips in case of a medical emergency. Generally, you’ll easily get by speaking English here — in German schools the subject is compulsory so most people speak it pretty well.
Book tickets in advance
In the past, booking your tickets in advance was only a recommendation, but the corona pandemic has made it mandatory. Access to most venues is restricted to people who have purchased their tickets in advance in order to comply with hygiene and vaccination regulations. These are subject to change, so make sure to check the respective websites before you book your ticket. But whether you want to see a sporting event at the Lanxess Arena or take in a classical concert at the Philharmonie, you’re pretty much guaranteed to find the best seats with the city’s regional ticket provider, Kölnticket. All of its approx. 100 booking offices in Cologne and the surrounding area are listed on the internet under koelnticket.de/vorverkaufsstellen, and of course you can also order online. The central ticket collection point is the somewhat modest-looking box office in the underground tram station at Neumarkt. Concert tickets can also often be purchased directly from the organiser. For example, together with KölnMusik, the Philharmonie has its own booking office at Kurt-Hackenberg-Platz. Directly opposite Cologne Cathedral, the Cologne tourist information service is your one-stop-shop for all bookings. Plus, they also have a small selection of Cologne-themed gifts.
Admission to museums
Most of the big museums in Cologne are run by the city. With the Museumscard (18 euros for one person, 30 euros for two adults and two children), you can enjoy two successive days of free admission. Students, trainees and handicapped visitor are entitled to the usual discounts, provided they can prove their eligibility. On the “Langer Donnerstag” (Late-Night Thursday), the first Thursday in the month, anyone whose primary place of residence is Cologne is entitled to free admission to the permanent collection of the municipal museums (with the exception of public holidays). And it’s also interesting for non-locals: from 5 pm, admission to the Museum Ludwig costs just 7 euros for the collection and the special exhibition(s). Extended opening times (until 10 pm), special lectures and guided tours round off the programme. You can also make additional savings if you buy your tickets online: in this case, tickets for the Museum Ludwig double up as a VRS ticket for public transport in and around the city.
Cologne’s different fare zones and tariffs are a minefield. But the most important rule is: if you want to use the city’s public transport network, you’ll need a ticket from the KVB, Cologne’s transport operator. These are available for buses and over and underground trams from the stationary ticket machines or during your journey on the tram itself. But we recommend you always have enough small change with you as the machines accept no notes. For shorter routes, you’ll just need the short-distance “Kurzstrecke” ticket (covering the stop you get on at plus another four), which is also available as a cheaper four-trip ticket that can be used by multiple passengers at the same time. The only cheaper way to get around the city is by renting bikes from the KVB (Nextbike) at a cost of 1 euro for 15 minutes. They require you to register in advance. But if all that sounds too complicated: at the Radstation bicycle rental on Breslauer Platz at the back of the train station, a City-Bike costs 12 euros/day and 10 euros/day from the second day. If you prefer to be driven around, taxis are your best bet. If the yellow sign on the roof is lit, the taxi isn’t occupied and you can flag it down. Or you can hop on one of the ubiquitous electric rental scooters, which don’t exactly have the best reputation among locals because of the fact that they take up so much valuable space on the city’s streets.
How to get to Cologne
If you’re arriving by plane, you can choose between two international airports within close proximity. Although Cologne/Bonn Airport, which is just 15 kilometres from the city centre, is a lot smaller than its rival in Düsseldorf, it does have a great claim to fame: it served as the original inspiration for Brian Eno’s “Music for Airports”. Feeling frustrated at being stuck there on a layover for several hours and forced to listen to its banal sounds, he was inspired to come up with something better. Whether the acoustic ambience at the airport has since improved remains to be seen. But at least the transport connections are nothing to grumble about. It takes just 15 minutes to get from Cologne/Bonn Airport to Cologne’s central train station by S-Bahn, the rapid transit railway. For trains, the Thalys is very popular among travellers from Paris or Brussels due to its frequent service. Cologne is also easy to reach from London thanks to the Eurostar connection via Brussels.
Cologne for vegans
Surviving in Cologne as a vegan isn’t particularly difficult. As well as the obligatory soy milk, most cafés and lots of ice cream parlours meanwhile have a vegan offer. We’ve also included some specialist vegan and vegetarian options in our food guide. The best places to stock up on everyday vegan essentials, from soya drinks to toothpaste, are the branches of organic supermarkets Denn’s, SuperBioMarkt or Alnatura, but you’ll also find a small range of vegan products at many branches of drugstore DM and supermarket Rewe.
COVID-19 in Cologne
Despite being a densely populated city with a strong preference for celebrating in public, Cologne has not been hit severely by the coronavirus pandemic so far. But since the virus is probably going to stay with us for a while, it’s useful to have some information on how COVID-related regulations might impact your stay. Unfortunately, these regulations are changing constantly. The best source for the most current information is the Robert Koch Institute (rki.de), which provides information in German and English and can tell you what rules apply for entering Germany. But since Germany is a federal republic, most regulations are decided individually by each federal state. But don’t despair, the Cologne Tourism Board is on hand to help. Their website (cologne-tourism.com) is always up to date on Cologne’s latest COVID-19 rules and regulations. We also recommend installing Germany’s “Corona-Warn-App” on your Apple or Android smartphone, which is designed to help with testing and tracing and will warn you if you’ve been exposed to infectious people. It also stores your digital vaccine certificate. Please stay healthy and safe!
(by Katja Peglow and Christian Werthschulte)