I recently went on a trip to Cologne in Germany. Before travelling there I was a little apprehensive due to the recent negative events that have happened there in relation to immigrants and Muslims. However as is usually the case with media reports these stories seem to have been exaggerated. I was very pleasantly surprised with my experience as a Muslim traveller there… carry on reading to see why…
Getting There: Cologne is one of the largest cities in Western Germany. The city sits along the Rhine river and is very easy and affordable to get to from the UK. The flight from London to Cologne-Bonn airport only takes an hour and if you are able to travel off peak you can get flights for around £20 on Ryan Air.
Cologne Bonn Airport is relatively small but has some great facilities. The first sight we were greeted with when we arrived at Cologne-Bonn airport was an incredible multi-faith prayer room, which a lovely surprise.
Flying to Cologne is the quickest and cheapest option but you can also drive there using the Channel Tunnel or get a train through Europe if you are looking to go on a longer trip through Europe.
Visa: For now British visitors do not need a visa to travel to Germany, which is one less thing to include in your budget 😀
Accommodation: As with most popular cities Cologne has a range of different accommodation options depending on your budget including hostels, hotels and Air BnB.
We decided to go for a mid range hotel and stayed in the Holiday Inn Express Cologne (City Centre). We booked through booking.com for a double room which cost about £50 per night. This price included breakfast and WiFi and the hotel was very clean and conveniently located.
Weather: July is the hottest month in Cologne with temperatures of around 25 degrees. January is the coldest month with the temperatures of around 2 degrees.
We actually visited in January and although it was cold and at times raining we were still able to explore the sitting by ensuring we were dressed appropriately in thermal and water proof clothing. As we visited in January we were able to visit some of the lovely winter markets in Cologne.
Language: German is the official language in Cologne but almost everyone we met spoke English and were able to help us out with directions and suggestions.
Currency and Price: The currency in Cologne is the Euro. I personally found prices in Cologne to be very similar to prices in London. For example a single train ticket in Cologne was the same price as a single trip on London Underground.
Safety: I personally felt very safe in Cologne. I was comfortable walking around the city both during the day and in the night without any concerns. I personally found the people to be really friendly and helpful and did not feel at all in any danger as a Muslim traveller wearing Hijab. Just as always is the case with busy cities be careful of pick pockets.
Transport: I personally feel Cologne is best explored on foot. All the key sites are within walking distance of each other. However if you are looking to travel to further distances in the city or even to other nearby cities in Germany then Cologne has lots of great transport links and is very well connected. You can travel to near by cities in Germany including Düsseldorf or Bonn, or to other popular European cities including Brussels, Paris or Amsterdam.
The U-Bahn is the underground railway, while the S-Bahn is the city rapid railway that runs underground in the city center and above ground in the suburbs. You can get a single, day or group ticket from the ticket machines in the train stations and can be used on the subway, tram and regional trains. You don’t have to scan your ticket to enter the train but ticket inspectors may ask to see your ticket and you can be fined if you are travelling without a ticket.
There are also public buses that travel locally or to other major cities in Germany and Europe.
We just used the train to travel to and from the airport otherwise we walked everywhere else. The S-13 S-Bahn train from the airport to the city center costs €2.80 and took around 15 minutes.
Food: Traditionally German dishes have a lot of pork and alcohol, which can be tricky for Muslim travellers who are looking for Halal food. Cologne is home to a lot of Muslim people particularly those from Turkey and so there are lots of great Turkish Halal food options around the city.
German Doner has become very popular in the UK in recent years and you can find places in Cologne selling Halal meat. One place that we went to and that I would recommend is Mangal Döner near the Ubierring, Köln station. It is a very small store with only 2 seats but the doner is very good and very affordable. It is a very popular place with queues of people outside.
We also heard there is a Halal burger bar called 3H’s but didn’t manage to get there.
We really looked for Halal German food but found it really hard to find. We did find a place in the shopping centre next to the Masjid that sold Halal Currywurst, which is a fast food German dish. We did find a Halal Hot Dog street food company called @halal_dog. They only sell on Thursdays at a street food market at Rudolfplatz. Unfortunately we were not there on a Thursday so couldn’t try it out but I would recommend checking it out if your there on a Thursday as it was the only place I found that seemed to have authentic German Halal food.
There are also lots of different restaurants with vegetarian options. There are also lots of different bakeries and coffee shops across the city.
Masjid: There are a few Masjid’s in Cologne but the most well known is the Cologne Central Mosque. I would highly recommend visiting the Masjid to meet the local Muslim community and also visit this truly beautiful Masjid. The Masjid was inaugurated by Turkish President Erdogan. The Masjid is so beautiful and has a very interesting design with concrete curved walls, light glass facades and elegant geometric patterns.
The Masjid also has a community centre with a library, offices and centre for training courses and seminars. There is also a small shopping centre next to the Masjid with shops and a restaurant. That is where we ate the Halal Currywurst dish.
Things to do and see: The most iconic place to see in Cologne in Cologne Cathedral. The cathedral is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is one Germany’s most visited attractions. The cathedral is the largest Gothic church in Northern Europe. The cathedral is free to enter and visit. You can pay for a guided tour or to walk the 533 steps to the top of the cathedral to have panoramic views of the city.
Another iconic site in Cologne is the Hohenzollern Bridge. The bridge is both a railway and pedestrian bridge and is the most used railway bridge in Germany with more than 1,200 trains daily. Crossing over the bridge offers great views of the River and city. The bridge is also a ‘Love Lock’ bridge with over 40,000 padlocks hanging on it to date.
A great place to visit in Cologne is the Cologne Chocolate Museum. The museum was opened in 1993 but was taken over by Lindt in 2006. The museum exhibits the history, science and production of chocolate. Adult tickets cost 11 euros and there are a few freebies along the way. The museum sits along the river and offers great views of the river and city. There is also a very indulgent chocolate grand cafe you can visit.
There are lots of great museums in Cologne including Museum Ludwig which has an extensive collection of the work of Picasso.
Cologne Old Town is the historical city centre with narrowing alley ways and traditional old houses.
There are a few other ways to view the city including a free walking tour, a river cruise on the Rhine or a cable cart ride over Cologne.
If you are visiting with children there is also the Cologne Zoo and theme park called Phantasialand.
Final Thoughts: Cologne is quite a small city and the main sites can be seen within a day. This is what makes Cologne great for a quick and affordable weekend break. The historical Cathedral and delicious chocolate museum offer great experiences whilst exploring the city on foot.