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A thriving metropolis with world-class art galleries, fabulous shopping, cosy Christmas Markets, a fun-loving population, good beer and a vibrant alternative scene - Cologne is a surprisingly well-kept travel secret.

Insider Tip

During the summer Cologne is perfect for a picnic and its many bus parks can be inviting places for lunch on a sunny afternoon. Throughout December, Christmas markets fill the streets with festive spirit and are ideal for finding traditional German Christmas decorations

Cologne is bursting with great places to eat and as a result of its ethnic diversity, the city boasts many fine Turkish, Italian and Japanese restaurants. Many cafe style places line Cologne's streets, and are open early enough to serve a German breakfast of bread, meat and cheese, while the bakeries also open early for coffee and pastries. The Brauhauser (traditional brewery pub) are great places to sample local delicacies, although it is a good idea to book because of their popularity.

For a traditional dish try pork knuckle with pickled cabbage and mashed potato washed down with a chilled glass of Kolsch, a light and tasty top fermented beer.

The city has a maze of shopping streets reserved just for pedestrians and once you get started it will be a while before you will want to find your way out.

International and German designer names are well represented, as are stores packed with cheap up to the minute fashion and brightly lit shops loaded with top cosmetic brands.

Head to the city centre of Hoho Strasse and Schildergasse for the big names and wind your way out towards the ring road to find the trendy clothes and shoes stores on Ehrenstrasse and individually designed jewellery on Friensenstrasse.

Souvenir shops are confined to the cathedral square, so if you are looking for models of the cathedral, some pretty handmade Christmas decorations or other quirky souvenirs you'll find it here.

Must See

Spend time wandering around the awe-inspiring Gothic masterpiece - the Dom (Cathedral).

Spend time browsing the quirky boutiques for that special gift or trendy piece of clothing.

Admire the stunning views over the Rhine and the old town skyline from the Kolner Seibhan (cable car).

Must Do

Visit the Philharmonic Hall and listen to one of the daily performances, from modern classical to jazz, folk and pop music.

Visit the Chocolate Museum, learn all about your favourite food - and eat it!

Pamper yourself in the natural thermal waters of Claudius Therme with its numerous pools, saunas and steam baths.