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A visitor’s guide to Cologne Cathedral

Those who love architecture, the calm hush of cathedrals and exploring UNESCO World Heritage landmarks can easily spend hours in Cologne Cathedral, as there is a lot to see if you want an in-depth tour.

We include a trip to Cologne Cathedral in some of our river cruises and have created this visitor guide to help our guests enjoy a fascinating river cruise and get the most out of a visit to Cologne Cathedral.

Tower Climb

Climbing the tower is considered to be one of the essential things to do in Cologne, but the 533 stone steps make it a challenge for most. The view at the top makes the climb rewarding, offering views of the stunning River Rhine from the viewing platform. There is a small fee to climb the steps of around €3 per adult and the entrance to the tower is located outside of Cologne Cathedral, to the right of the main entrance.

The cathedral’s many bells are a point of interest for some and it is worth noting that the bell cage is shut for the entirety of Sunday and until 12.30PM on bank holidays. A special guided tour of the bells can be arranged on weekdays, with professional ear protection provided so that the ringing bells can be heard without damaging the ears. The Cathedral Administration, or ‘Dombauverwaltung’, can help with this.

Shrine of the Three Kings

The Shrine of the Three Kings is one of the most fascinating parts of this UNESCO World Heritage site and can be found behind the high altar. The shrine is large, gilded and said to contain the remains of the three Magi who brought baby Jesus gold, frankincense and myrrh.

The relics of the three kings were originally kept in Constantinople before being transported to Milan in 344AD. The Holy Roman Emperor Fredrick Barbarossa then took the remains and gave them to Rainald of Dassel, the Archbishop of Cologne, in 1164, after which Philipp of Heinsberg built the golden shrine to store them in.

Three sarcophagi make up the shrine and the entire outside of it is covered with a decorative overlay made of gold, silver and over 1,000 beads and jewels. The work that has gone into creating this and the history surrounding it make seeing the Shrine of the Three Kings one of the most interesting things to do in Cologne.

The Gero-Kreuz

The Crucifix of Bishop Gero is also worth exploring and is located in the sacristy. The large oak crucifix is over 1,000 years old and is the oldest large crucifix to be found north of the Alps; more impressive still is that traces of paint and gilding can still be seen on it.

Treasure Chamber

The Treasure Chamber is one of the most visited parts of the cathedral and houses some incredibly ancient artefacts in the equally ancient crypt. Treasures from as early as the 4th century are displayed in the crypt, many of which are made from materials such as gold, silver, bronze and ivory. Whilst the Shrine of the Three Kings is perhaps more impressive, there are still a number of things that are worth discovering in the Treasure Chamber.

Stained glass window

Whilst the majority of the stained glass windows in Cologne Cathedral are traditionally styled, one set of windows stands out in particular for its modern and colourful style. The window was installed in August 2007 and was designed by renowned German artist Gerhard Richter, who made the stained glass window out of 11,500 small pieces of coloured glass that are identical in size. Many now describe the glass window as resembling pixels.

The glass in the south transept window was destroyed during air raids in World War II and a plain glass window was put in its place for over 50 years. Reactions to the modern stained glass window have been mixed; even Joachim Cardinal Meisner, the archbishop of Cologne Cathedral, did not attend the unveiling because he didn’t like it!

Cologne Christmas Market

Although this is not part of Cologne Cathedral, it is certainly worth a special mention, as many visit both within the same trip. The lead up to Christmas is a great time to head off on a European river cruise to Germany as traditional Christmas markets spring up across the country, and one of the best is in Cologne.

There are plenty of stalls that visitors can stroll past, picking up the odd wooden nutcracker or glass Christmas bauble before tasting some traditional bratwurst and sipping on a glass of mulled wine, and, best of all, this can all be done with the beautiful UNESCO World Heritage site of Cologne Cathedral providing an impressive backdrop.

Image Credit: SeanPavonePhoto (Shutterstock)