Get a Culture Lesson through the Gems of the North Rhine
The German state of North Rhine-Westphalia is full of culture, history and amazing experiences. The most populous state in Germany is one of the largest metropolitan areas in Europe. With so many options it’s easy to get overwhelmed with decisions. For first-time visitors, I suggest visiting the largest city in the state, Cologne and the historic city of Aachen.
While Berlin and Munich are popular destinations, don’t overlook the bustling city of Cologne. It is amazing to see how far this city has come after nearly being destroyed by air raids in World War II. Cologne features an extensive nightlife, unique cuisine, picturesque riverside walkways, and museums.
Today, the center of Cologne is a pedestrian-friendly cluster of museums, shops, and restaurants sitting at the shores of the Rhine River. The skyline of Cologne features an iconic staple the Kölner Dom, The Cologne Cathedral. It is one of the tallest architectural buildings in Europe and the most visited site in Germany. The square surrounding the cathedral has numerous bars and restaurants. For an authentic Cologne experience go to the Früh am Dom brewery. Sit in the beer garden on a nice day or experience the brewery and cellar atmospheres inside. Order an iconic German Kölsch beer served in a small glass called a Stange. It’s good to keep in mind that if you have had enough beer you should place your coaster on top of the glass otherwise the servers will keep them coming.
Take a stroll down Hohe Straße or Schildergasse street to experience the hustle and bustle of Cologne’s shopping district. For a more relaxed approach, take a walk on the Hohenzollern Bridge and watch the boats sail down the Rhine River. Continue walking south in the Rhine Garden to find restaurants, cafés, and numerous museums such as the Roman-Germanic Museum and Ludwig Museum. Further south is the Deutsches Sport and Olympia Museum and the delightful Cologne Chocolate Museum.
Once the museums close and the sun goes down, make your way to the cobblestoned Salzgasse Street. For all of you, Harry Potter fans this area will make you feel like you are strolling through Diagon Alley. The traditional architecture lines the street as locals and travelers alike enjoy an evening under the stars.
While Cologne is a lively urban European center, only sixty kilometers away, the city of Aachen will bring you back to a peaceful and simple way of life. The small city has been attracting visitors to its hot springs for thousands of years. From Celtic tribes to the present day, people have sought the healing powers of the hot springs that are below the city.
Aachen is known for its hot springs and spa centers. However, if you are only there for a day and don’t have time to go to the spa visit the Elisenbrunnen Pavilion. The pavilion houses two thermal water fountains and it’s located next to an ancient archeological site. A short walk away is Café Dom a small European style coffee shop where you can enjoy pastries and a hot cup of coffee.
Aachen became a political powerhouse in the Middle Ages when Charlemagne, the first Roman Emperor since the fall of the Western Roman Empire used it as his center of influence. The remains of this golden era can be seen throughout the city.
The Aachener Dom was constructed under Charlemagne’s orders. The Emperor was laid to rest inside of the Aachener Dom. Visit his gold and silver casket called the Karlsschrein inside of the cathedral. The Aachen Cathedral is known as the sacred coronation location of German royalty for almost six hundred years.
Finally, complete your tour around the city by visiting the Cathedral Treasury. It is the first German location to be entered into the UNESCO World Heritage Site Registry. The treasury is home to a number of religious relics as well as artworks such as the Ottonian Cross of Lothair and the golden Bust of Charlemagne.
Cologne and Aachen sure have a lot to offer a traveler. So if you are just driving through or are looking for a unique destination you should make it a priority to visit.
Know Before You Go
- The historic Olympiastadion Berlin is where Jesse Owens won four gold medals during the Nazi Germany era.
- The East Side Gallery was originally an area of Berlin Wall for amateur art symbolizing oppression; now, it is an art exhibit.
- The Aachener Dom is an icon of German history. It features the Aachen Cathedral, where German royalty used it as a coronation area for over 600 years.