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.