Cologne's Architectural Landmarks Walking Tour, Cologne

Cologne's Architectural Landmarks Walking Tour (Self Guided), Cologne

Around 75% of Cologne was destroyed by Allied bombing during World War II. Following such devastation, it meant that most of what was built immediately after the war came from the so-called “As quickly and cheaply as possible” school of architecture. Eventually, as the things settled, the architects were given the chance to build something that would really stand out.

Decades later, the city has enough notable buildings to sparkle interest, including some truly impressive remnants of the old days – survivors of the war, as well as new glass-and-steel architectural splendors. Here are some of the notable landmarks of Gothic, Neo-Romanesque and modernist architecture worth checking out in Cologne:

Hohenzollernbrücke (Hohenzollern Bridge) – an early 20th-century tiered-arch bridge from which you can enjoy stunning views of one of Europe’s greatest rivers, as well as the towers of Groß St. Martin Church and Cologne Cathedral;

Kölner Dom (Cologne Cathedral) – eclipses in size and grandeur all the other historic buildings in the city; often referred to as “a masterpiece of exceptional intrinsic value” (UNESCO World Heritage Sites) and one of the most breathtaking examples of Gothic architecture in Europe;

WDR Arcades – one of the architectural icons of the popular German architect Gottfried Bohm, a notable piece of steel and glasswork from the late 1980s;

Peek & Cloppenburg Weltstadthaus (Global City Building) – a spectacular edifice constructed by the famous architect Renzo Piano, showcasing a range of new sensations and perspectives;

Basilika St. Aposteln (Basilica of the Holy Apostles) – a construction started circa 1000 AD, noted for its single tower, approximately 219 feet tall.

For a more detailed acquaintance with these and other architecturally significant buildings in Cologne, take this self-guided walking tour.
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Cologne's Architectural Landmarks Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: Cologne's Architectural Landmarks Walking Tour
Guide Location: Germany » Cologne (See other walking tours in Cologne)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 7
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.4 Km or 2.1 Miles
Author: audrey
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Hohenzollernbrücke (Hohenzollern Bridge)
  • Kölner Dom (Cologne Cathedral)
  • WDR Arcades
  • Peek & Cloppenburg Weltstadthaus (Global City Building)
  • Basilika St. Aposteln (Basilica of the Holy Apostles)
  • Hahnentorburg (Hahnen Gate)
  • Roonstrasse Synagogue
Hohenzollernbrücke (Hohenzollern Bridge)

1) Hohenzollernbrücke (Hohenzollern Bridge) (must see)

The Hohenzollern Bridge is a railway and pedestrian bridge crossing the Rhine River. It was built to replace the old Cathedral Bridge that couldn't handle Cologne's increasing traffic. The Hohenzollern Bridge was completed in 1911 and functioned as a rail, vehicle, and pedestrian bridge.

The bridge was named after the House of Hohenzollern, who were German Emperors and rulers of Prussia. When the bridge was built, Cologne was part of the Rhine Provence of Prussia. Kaiser Wilhelm II inaugurated the bridge in 1911.

Equestrian statues of German emperors and Prussian kings flank each ramp. Statues representing Friedrich Wilhelm IV and Wilhem I are located on the Rhine's right bank. On the left bank, visitors will find Friedrich III and Wilhelm II statues.

During World War II, the Hohenzollern Bridge was one of Germany's most important bridges. Even though the bridge was subject to constant airstrikes, it remained functional. However, German engineers blew up the bridge as Allied forces approached on March 6, 1945.

The bridge was reconstructed between 1945 and 1959 and renovated in the 1980s. The cobblestones and tram tracks were preserved. Today, the bridge has walkways and cycle paths on both sides and a six-track railway.

Residents and tourists began adding love padlocks to the bridge in 2008. Couples add a padlock to the bridge and throw the key into the river to signify their love and commitment. By 2015, there were about 500,000 love locks on the bridge.

Why You Should Visit:
One of the best walks in Cologne, with great views of the city and the Cathedral.

Visit in the evening, as you will see the whole city in lights and enjoy a completely different experience than daytime.
Kölner Dom (Cologne Cathedral)

2) Kölner Dom (Cologne Cathedral) (must see)

Cologne Cathedral is a World Heritage Site and Germany's most visited landmark. Twenty thousand people visit each day. Cologne Cathedral is 157 meters (515) tall and the world's tallest twin-spired church. It is Europe's second-tallest church and the world's third tallest church. In addition, it is Northern Europe's largest Gothic church.

Construction began in 1248 and stalled between 1560 and 1840. Finally, the tower was completed in 1880.

The site has hosted Christian buildings since the fourth century. A seventh-century baptistery was located at the Cathedral's east end. The "Old Cathedral" stood here from 818 to 1248.

Cologne Cathedral was originally built to house the relics of the Three Kings. The eastern arm of the cathedral was built first. Construction on the west front continued in the 14th century. When construction stalled in 1473, a massive crane stayed in place for 400 years.

In the 19th century, the original facade plans were discovered, and officials decided to complete the cathedral. In 1860, the cathedral was completed 632 years after construction began. World War II bombs damaged the church, and repairs were carried out.

The black marble High Altar was installed in 1322. The Shrine of the Three Kings is the cathedral's biggest draw. The shrine holds the remains of the Three Wise Men. Work on the gilded shrine began in 1190.

The Gero Crucifix was created in the 10th century and is one of the oldest examples of a large free-standing crucifix. The wooden Milan Madonna dates to around 1290. An interior wall features a pair of stone tablets from the 13th century, which legalized Cologne's Jewish residents. The choir has original carved stalls that date to the 14th century.

The cathedral features 11 bells. The oldest bell was cast in 1418. When St. Peter's Bell was cast in 1922, it was the world's largest free-swinging bell.

Why You Should Visit:
Simply jaw dropping in size. You may never see another church so detailed and so large.

Take a look at the beautiful mosaics on the floor in the Cathedral's rear part. You may also climb up to the top for a great view of Cologne, or go to underground parking to see the original foundations exposed there.
WDR Arcades

3) WDR Arcades

Gottfried and Elizabeth Bohm designed the modern WDR Arcades building. The building was completed during the 1990s. The building is owned by the area's largest broadcasting company, Westdeutscher Rundfunk. The design features an urban facade and an interior atrium with a glass dome.

The WDR Arcades houses a shopping center, WDR newsroom, and offices. The shopping center is located on the first floor, and the WDR spaces are located on the upper floors.

The building houses the WDR's central newsrooms, library, press archive, and historical archive. In addition, the Deutsche Post has offices in the WDR building.

The shops and restaurants are located in the first-floor atrium. Visitors can check out fashion boutiques, jewelry stores, and shop for souvenirs. Maus & Co. is a popular store that sells Captain Bluebear merchandise.
Peek & Cloppenburg Weltstadthaus (Global City Building)

4) Peek & Cloppenburg Weltstadthaus (Global City Building)

The Global City Building is a dramatic modern building that houses the Peek & Cloppenburg department store. To some viewers, it resembles a whale, and to others, it resembles a ship. Residents call it the Walfisch, which can be translated as the whale.

Italian architect Renzo Piano designed the Global City Building, which was completed in 2005. The building's atrium is 36 meters (118 feet) tall. The building bridges the gap between Cologne's modern and classic architecture. The modern wood and glass facade reflects the nearby Gothic church, while the stone facade faces the more recent concrete buildings.

The glass facade features 6800 individual glass panes and 66 enormous Siberian larch beams. The northern facade features natural stone. The glass dome is only supported in a few locations. It is supported by tension cables and attached to the fourth floor.

The Global City Building is a fabulous example of Cologne's modern architecture.

Weltstadthaus in Cologne is a modern, multi-story building that offers a range of high-end shops and boutiques catering to luxury shoppers. The building is spacious and well-designed, with a wide range of high-end fashion brands, including Hugo Boss, Armani, Calvin Klein, and Tommy Hilfiger, among others. Additionally, shoppers can find a range of luxury goods, such as jewelry and beauty products. Weltstadthaus also has several dining options, including a rooftop restaurant with stunning views of the city, as well as many cafes throughout the building.
Basilika St. Aposteln (Basilica of the Holy Apostles)

5) Basilika St. Aposteln (Basilica of the Holy Apostles)

Basilika St. Aposteln (Basilica of the Holy Apostles) is a magnificent Romanesque church. It was constructed during the 11th century and is one of the twelve Romanesque churches built in Cologne during that time. The church has a basilical plan of nave and aisles, and like Groß St. Martin and St. Maria im Kapitol, has three apses at the east end making a trefoil plan.

One of the main features of the church is the domed clover leaf chancel, which was built around 1200 and is a true gem of Romanesque architecture. The chancel is located at the east end of the church, and its shape is reminiscent of a clover leaf, with three semicircular apses arranged in a trefoil plan. The chancel is covered by a stunning dome that gives the church a monumental and almost Byzantine appearance.

The church was significantly enlarged in the 13th century, and an octagonal dome was added above the crossing. This new addition further enhanced the grandeur of the church, and it is now one of the most remarkable examples of Romanesque architecture in Germany. Despite the building modifications, the old structures were retained and copied, and integrated into the new construction project.
Hahnentorburg (Hahnen Gate)

6) Hahnentorburg (Hahnen Gate)

You can enter the city of Cologne through 12 gates and the Hahnen Gate, or 'Hahnentorburg' is the most popular among them. It was through this gate that the German Kings arrived in this city after their coronation in Aachen. They paid a visit to the Cologne Cathedral and prayed at the Three Magi shrine. Construction of this gate spanned five years between 1235 and 1240. The land surrounding the gate was owned by a citizen Hageno and the gate was probably named after him. Over a period of time, people started referring to the gate as Hahnentorburg.

This gate features two towers that are crenelated and semi-circular in shape. Before you enter, look up above the entrance where you will find a beautiful depiction of Cologne’s coat of arms. It was in 1890 that the tower was first renovated. Renovation work was carried out by Josef Stubben, one of the city's famous architects. You can find a memorial plaque here that commemorates his construction outside the city walls. During World War II, the tower was again damaged and reconstructed later.

Hahnentorburg has performed many functions through ages. It has been used as an exposition hall, museum and a prison. Today, this popular tourist spot is home to the carnival society, Ehrengarde der Stadt Köln 1902 e.V.

Why You Should Visit:
Massive gateway from medieval times and probably the best in Cologne.

Some great pubs, bars, and restaurants close-by, and worth the walk along parts of the old wall or to the Rhein...
Roonstrasse Synagogue

7) Roonstrasse Synagogue

Roonstrasse Synagogue is a historic site in Cologne, and the only surviving synagogue of the five that existed before the Nazi era. The Jewish community in Cologne has a long history, being first mentioned in 321, and its population grew significantly over time. The foundation stone of the Neo-Romanesque style building, designed by Cologne architects Schreiterer & Below, was laid in 1895 and inaugurated in 1899. However, on the night of November 9, 1938, known as Kristallnacht, the synagogue was attacked and set alight like all the other synagogues in the city.

During World War II, the synagogue suffered further damage, and only the burnt-out tower and central section were left. After the war, the surviving Jewish community of Cologne decided to completely rebuild the synagogue. The reconstruction was completed in 1959, under the direction of the architect Helmut Goldschmidt, with minor changes on the outside and a simplified interior. The new leadlight windows by Lammers & Warzager were added to the building.

The synagogue has been the center of the Jewish community in Cologne since its reopening. It consists of a community center, a small display of items associated with Cologne Jewry, and a kosher restaurant. The interior of the reconstructed synagogue features a vast blue dome.

On Christmas Eve 1959, the Synagogue was smeared with anti-Jewish slogans by members of the far-right Deutsche Reichspartei. West German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer, who had been mayor of Cologne from 1917 until removed by the Nazi government in 1933, made the desecration the subject of his New Year's speech.

On August 19, 2005, Pope Benedict XVI visited the Roonstrasse Synagogue, which was his second-ever visit to any synagogue. During his visit, he condemned Nazism and antisemitism, and expressed his support for the Jewish community in Germany.

Walking Tours in Cologne, Germany

Create Your Own Walk in Cologne

Create Your Own Walk in Cologne

Creating your own self-guided walk in Cologne is easy and fun. Choose the city attractions that you want to see and a walk route map will be created just for you. You can even set your hotel as the start point of the walk.
Cologne Shopping Tour

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Tour Duration: 1 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 1.5 Km or 0.9 Miles
Cologne's Historical Churches Walking Tour

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Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.9 Km or 2.4 Miles
Cologne Introduction Walking Tour

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Cologne is one of Germany's oldest cities. It was founded as a Roman settlement on the Rhine in the first century, then known as the Colonia Claudia Ara Agrippinensium.

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In Cologne they say, "Kölsch is the only language you can drink." Brewed only here and nowhere else, Kölsch – a light beer, slightly bitter, bright yellow in color, and made of top-fermented yeast – is forbidden for production in any other part of Germany.

Each licensed brewery in the city makes its own variation of Kölsch, served traditionally in a tall, thin, cylindrical...  view more

Tour Duration: 1 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 1.8 Km or 1.1 Miles