Explore the gothic center of Cologne
Cologne has a population of just over a million residents, and its huge Gothic Dome is the country's most visited monument. Try and coincide your visit with the annual carnival in early spring - Cologne boasts the largest street parties in Germany and the entire city does little but celebrate for a full six days.
In a similar vein, the city ranks high as a beer centre, with some two dozen breweries, all of which produce the distinctive Kolsch. Another good time to visit is during the Christmas market, which attracts visitors from all over the world.
Found by the Romans in 33 BC, Cologne acquired the relics of the Three Magi from Milan in the twelfth century, increasing its standing as one of the greatest centers of pilgrimage in northern Europe. Situated on the intersection of the Rhine and several major trade routes, medieval Cologne became immensely rich - and the largest city in Germany. Later decline was partially reversed in the eighteenth century with the exploitation of an Italian recipe for distilling flower blossoms into almost pure alcohol. Originally created as an aphrodisiac, it was marketed here as a toilet water, achieving worldwide fame as buses and trams, the latter becoming the U-Bahn around the centre.
Cologne crams over three thousand pubs, bars and nightclubs into a relatively small area. Their ever-present feature is the city's unique beer, Kolsch. Light and aromatically bitter, it's served in a rather small, thin glass, which holds only 200ml - hence its rather effete image among other German beer drinkers. Nightlife is concentrated in several distinct quarters. Gross St Martin in the Altstadt catches the tourist and businessmen, with the student area focusing on Zulpicher Str, lined with cheap restaurants and lively bars, while the area south of Heumarkt has a handful of popular gay and lesbian bars.