Long overshadowed by its southern neighbor, Bonn, the ancient Roman city of Cologne has recently emerged as the Rhineland's cosmopolitan star.
DESTINATION Cologne HOW TO GET THERE Continental Airlines recently began nonstop flights from Newark BEST TIMES TO VISIT Cologne is a mecca for artists (Gerhard Richter calls the city home), and the biggest event of the year is the fair Art Cologne (www.artcologne.com; November 1–5). Every winter, the whole town turns out to celebrate Karneval. And a big, bawdy parade takes place on Rosenmontag, the Monday before Ash Wednesday INSIDER TIP For a late-night dinner, try L'Imprimerie (58 Cäsarstrasse; 49-221/348-1301; dinner for two $90), where you'll rub elbows with local literati and off-duty chefs over a buttery skate wing with a killer caper sauce
SHOP Cologne's compact, pedestrian-friendly layout (thanks to its Roman founders) makes shopping a breeze. At Apropos Coeln (12 Mittelstrasse; 49-221/ 272-5190), fashionistas browse for Jil Sander, Prada, and Dolce & Gabbana pieces while expats pick up English-language magazines. The Friesen district teems with design studios doubling as storefronts: Lebanese-born Perla Zayek's namesake boutique (94 Friesenwall; 49-221/256-022; www.perlazayek.de) showcases her silk evening dresses. Atelier Ludvík (43 Palmstrasse; 49-221/277-4568; www.ludvik-cologne.de) brims with funky, feminine togs by designer Fenja Ludwig. The Walter Koenig bookstore (4 Ehrenstrasse; 49-221/205-960) is a one-stop shop for photography junkies.
SLEEP At centrally located Hotel im Wasserturm (2 Kaygasse; 49-221/20080; www.hotel-im-wasserturm.de; doubles from $295), a former 19th-century brick water tower, many of the sun-drenched rooms have 15-foot-high windows. The northern part of the Old City has become a haven for high-design hotels, such as the 54-room Hopper St. Antonius (32 Dagobertstrasse; 49-221/16600; www.hopper.de; doubles from $155). The austere rooms are hung with original photography; request one looking out on the interior courtyard with a view of Cologne's Gothic cathedral, which dominates the skyline. Just down the street, Hotel Santo (22–26 Dagobertstrasse; 49-221/913-9770; www.hotelsanto.de; doubles from $190) is an oasis of feng shui—all orchids and open spaces, with a beautiful teak bar in the front.
EAT Power-lunching professionals and creative twentysomethings congregate at newcomer Sterns (37 Hahnenstrasse; 49-221/923-6644; lunch for two $55), where a very un-German Szechuan pepper sauce enhances a fillet of beef. In the gallery district, Vintage (31–35 Pfeilstrasse; 49-221/920-710; dinner for two $100) pours Teutonic wines and inventive digestifs (hazelnut eau-de-vie from Franconia) to complement seasonal dishes. Across the Rhine, in Grandhotel Schloss Bensberg, chef Joachim Wissler has earned the restaurant Vendôme (Kadettenstrasse; 49-2204/421-941; dinner for two $270) three Michelin stars with his acrobatic tasting menu—think foie gras "snowflakes" or wild boar with lemon gnocchi. Brauhaus Früh am Dom (12–18 Am Hof; 49-221/261-3211; www.frueh.de; dinner for two $50) is the place to go for a classic bockwurst and a glass of kölsch, the light, sweet local lager.
SEE With an art scene to rival Berlin's, Cologne has galleries à go-go, the lion's share of which are in the Friesen district. Drop by the Kreishaus, a long indoor passageway that houses Sotheby's, as well as smaller spaces such as the Mojavari Gallery (17–21 Apernstrasse; 49-221/277-4882; www.mojavari.com); listen to Iranian sculptor and cartoonist S. A. Mojavari explain his Picassoesque pieces. Across the Neumarkt square, just above Sterns restaurant, is the main showroom of Jablonka Galerie (37 Hahnenstrasse; 49-221/240-3426). Showing this month: colorful encaustics (wax paintings) on wood by Berlin-based Martin Assig. Then head to the Schokoladenmuseum (1A Am Schokoladenmuseum; 49-221/ 931-8880; www.schokoladenmuseum.de), a futuristic shrine to the cocoa bean that juts out into the river; for a sweet treat, dip a waffle into a giant fountain filled with 440 pounds of milk chocolate.
A futuristic shrine to the cocoa bean; for a sweet treat, dip a waffle into a giant fountain filled with 440 pounds of milk chocolate
The gallery, located within the Kreishaus' passageway, displays the work of Iranian sculptor and cartoonist S. A. Mojavari.
Walter Koenig Bookstore
A one-stop shop for photography junkies.
This shop brims with funky, feminine togs by designer Fenja Ludwig.
Lebanese-born Perla Zayek's namesake boutique showcases her silk evening dresses.
Fashionistas browse for Jil Sander, Prada, and Dolce & Gabbana pieces while expats pick up English-language magazines.
Hopper St. Antonius
The 54-room hotel in the Old Town is decorated with striking black-and-white photography and offers rooms overlooking Cologne's Gothic cathedral.
Hotel im Wasserturm
It’s a German fairy tale with a modern twist: a centrally located 19th-century brick water tower now houses an enchanting designer hotel. With an elevated bridge in the lobby, 35-foot-high walls, and 15-foot-high windows, dramatic architecture is a focal point. And the sun-drenched rooms have an equally up-to-date aesthetic—evident in the furnishings and über-hip art. Behind a glass façade on the top floor, the Michelin-starred La Vision restaurant serves a creative French menu with such items as roasted saddle of venison served with caramelized mango in a peppery game sauce.