Cologne: a city bursting with life.

Every Cologne resident has more than their fair share of zest for life and partying spirit – it's in their DNA. After all, Cologne is more than just a city – it is a matter of the heart, an emotion and an unfalteringly positive state of mind. At the root of this outlook are carnival, kölsch beer and, of course, Cologne Cathedral.

When you hear cheers of "Kölle alaaf" across Cologne, it can mean only one thing: the mayhem of carnival has arrived (or Fastelovend as it's also known). 'Completely crazy' or 'out of its mind' don't even come close to describing the scenes in the cathedral city the week before Ash Wednesday. Carnival season begins in Cologne on 11 November at 11.11am and finishes on Ash Wednesday as it does everywhere else in Germany. But that's where the similarities end. As everyone can see, Cologne carnival is in a league of its own, especially in the final week when the street carnival has the city firmly in its grip. To experience Cologne's unique exuberance at any other time of year, drop in to one of the traditional and welcoming bars in the area around Alter Markt and Heumarkt square or the large brewery taverns scattered throughout the old quarter. Kölsch – the city's signature beer – never stops flowing there, the kitchens dish up Rhineland specialities and there is so much friendly and light-hearted revelry you would think it were carnival all year round. Every type of kölsch has its own distinctive flavour – and, of course, its own brewery. The beer waiters, known as Köbes, remain immune to the general merriment: a certain gruffness is the hallmark of a genuine Köbes. The only thing that can dim the exuberance of Cologne's residents lies some 30 kilometres up the river Rhine in the form of Düsseldorf, whose reserved character couldn't be more different to Cologne's wild exuberance.

The scores of clubs, pubs, bars and restaurants in the city are heaving with locals and tourists, young people and students, particularly at the weekends. Popular haunts are the student district Kwartier Latäng, Friesenviertel, Belgisches Viertel, Südstadt and – increasingly – Ehrenfeld, traditionally an industrial quarter. Prices are surprisingly reasonable, especially for a city of this size. But it's not just carnival, bars and breweries. Cologne's vibrant arts and music scene also encapsulates the city's lust for life. The Cologne Musical Dome is the city's biggest theatre, with 1,700 seats, and is famed for its spectacular productions. Then there's Christopher Street Day, Germany's largest event for the gay and lesbian community. Alternatively, a home match for the city's Bundesliga football team never fails to entertain – even if the club's position in the league table doesn't always live up to the fans' high hopes.

Something guaranteed to surpass expectations, however, is the city's museum scene, in particular the magnificent Ludwig Museum which features works by Picasso, Warhol and Lichtenstein. There's also the Romano-Germanic Museum, where the exhibits span 2,000 years of history, the Wallraf Richartz Museum, with art from the Middle Ages through to the 19th century, and the chocolate museum for sweet-toothed visitors. If the culture and excitement of Cologne takes its toll and you need some time to relax, head to Rhine Park, one of the largest and prettiest in the city. Locals describe this park on the eastern bank of the Rhine as being on the 'wrong' side of the river. Nevertheless, you can get over there on the cable car. And if, after all that, you still have some time to spare, why not head to KölnTriangle? At a height of 100 metres, the observation deck offers probably the best view of Cologne old town and its . On a fine day, you might even see as far as Düsseldorf – just don't tell your friends in Cologne!

Highlights

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