COLOGNE (Reuters) - Famed for its yearly carnival celebrations, there is more to Cologne than silly costumes and soccer's Lukas Podolski.
Have a closer look at Cologne, or Köln, as it's called in German. It is a hub of European high-speed train travel. You can get there directly in less than two hours from Brussels, 3.5 hours from Paris, 4.5 hours from Berlin and on an overnight train from Copenhagen.
5:30 p.m. - Once you arrive at the central station on the banks of the river Rhine, take some time to take in all of its 19th century charm with its vaulted, curved structures stretched out above the tracks. Try the fish at Gosch bistro in the station - the fresh "Matjes Baguette" comes with special recommendation. (here)
6 p.m. - Stepping out of the station you will find yourself staring up the towering facade of Cologne Cathedral, a world heritage site. It is not only home to a stained-glass window designed by Gerhard Richter, but also harbors the large, intricate gold shrine believed to contain the relics of three holy men. The Cathedral - or Dom as the locals call it - was once used as horse stables by Napoleonic forces much to the dismay of the local Catholic population.
For those fit enough, the view of the Rhineland from the top of one of the two towers of the Cathedral is well worth climbing the 533 steps in the spiral staircase marked by countless etchings and graffiti from the present and centuries past.
7:00 p.m. - To get a taste of traditional Cologne "Gemütlichkeit" and the local beer "Kölsch", head to the Brauhaus Frueh am Dom. Situated in the shadow of the cathedral, this pub hasn't changed much in the last 100 years. Sit on dark wood furniture and enjoy one refreshing Kölsch after another, as the Köbesse - typically mustached Cologne waiters dressed in blue aprons - will swish around immediately replacing any empty glass with a new one unless you place a coaster on yours. (www.frueh.de/)
8:30 p.m. - Walk back to the station on the other side of the cathedral to have dinner at the restaurant Alter Wartesaal. You'll be served German and Italian cuisine surrounded by art-deco style. The Alter Wartesaal used to be the waiting hall for first-class travelers at the time of Emperor Wilhelm II, who himself is known to have sipped tea and champagne there. (www.wartesaal.de/09/)
9 a.m. - For treasure hunters, the Saturday flea market next to the Uni-Center skyscraper lures with the possibility of acquiring classic Ray Bans, furniture and luxurious, albeit very affordable, vintage furs. Hipsters from all around Cologne add a nice touch of day-time subculture. (www.stadt-flohmarkt.de/)
11 a.m. - Head back into town. The Museum Ludwig, right between the Cathedral and the river, offers a world class collection of 20th century art. Particularly famous for its pop art collection including works by Andy Warhol, Richard Hamilton and Roy Lichtenstein, it has an outstanding collection of German expressionists, Russian avant-garde, surrealist art and 900 works by Picasso. Watch the skilful skateboarders just outside the museum as you relax over a snack in the light-filled bistro of the museum. (www.museum-ludwig.de/)
2 p.m. - Time for shopping. Walk to the Mittel Strasse, Breite Strasse and Hohe Strasse (literally, Central street, Broad Street and High Street) for concept stores and designer ware.
4 p.m. - Those in need of a coffee should walk to the nearby Aachener Strasse and Brüsseler Platz. Choose one of the stylish cafes, strewn around among theatres, bars and restaurants. The Theater im Bauturm cafe is famous for its artful chandeliers, organic food and Chai Lattes. (www.cafe-bauturm.de/index.html)
7:30 p.m. - Take a river ferry across the Rhine for a more upmarket evening a stone's throw away from Cologne trade fair. The Rheinterrassen bar and restaurant offers a range of Champagne and multiple course meals with a stunning view of the Cathedral just across the Rhine. (www.rhein-terrassen.de/)
9 a.m. - Head to the Chocolate museum on an artificial island in the river for a little light-hearted amusement. Learn all about chocolate through the ages, have a stroll among the cocoa trees in the in-house jungle and dip a wafer or two into the huge chocolate fountain at the end of the galleries. (here) In the weeks before Christmas, make sure you don't miss out on the medieval Christmas market in front of the museum.
In fact, Cologne in December bursts with Christmas markets for all budgets and tastes, ranging from arts and crafts to a gay-lesbian market. (here)
10:30 a.m. - Walk along the river to the Old City with its cobbled alleyways and restored candy-colored buildings. It's a little touristy, but pretty nevertheless. This part of the city was badly damaged in World War Two, when the cathedral was one of the few buildings left standing in central Cologne. Those inclined for an early Kölsch will find countless ye-olde-style pubs in the area.
12:30 p.m. - Anyone from Cologne feels emotionally attached to at least one of the three following things: the local beer Kölsch, the annual carnival, and the local soccer club 1. FC Köln, home of the much loved local hero Lukas Podolski, now of Arsenal. To experience the good-natured intensity of German football, get a ticket for one of the early afternoon matches at the Rheinenergiestadion in the leafy suburb of Müngersdorf. (match schedule and tickets: www.fc-koeln.de/en/homepage/)
4 p.m. - Cologne cannot only boast a world-famous cathedral in terms of religious architecture. In Ehrenfeld, you find a futuristic, concrete mosque - the Zentralmoschee-Köln - a monument to Cologne's large Turkish community. (here)
From there, head to the Rathenau Platz, not just for a game of bowls, but also the 19th century synagogue which former Pope Benedict XVI visited in 2005 - the first pope to visit a synagogue in Germany. (www.sgk.de/)
Editing by Paul Casciato