With over one million people, Cologne, is the fourth largest city in Germany and spans the Rhine River. Quaint streets with an old town feel and High Gothic architectural skyline compete for the sweeping river views.
I took the almost three hour train journey from Amsterdam to Cologne Central Station via ICE International (NS International). Once you book your ticket with NS International, you need to contact them to arrange ramps and any other assistance for persons with reduced or limited mobility. Once booked and confirmed with them, assistance will be available as you board and disembark the train. I didn’t spend much time in Cologne Central Station, but I found the lifts and mobility for someone in a wheelchair to be relatively easy to navigate.
With the Koeln Card, you can get access to free public transportation throughout the city for the period of time specified when purchased plus a discount on museums and other attractions in the city. If you are visiting multiple locations, I found this to be the best option.
KVB, the public transportation system in Cologne is great about providing accessibility information for customers. Their website provides a variety of information, but unfortunately, only in German. One of the things that I found the most helpful was this map, that specifies in colors which stations and lines around the city are accessible in terms of people with reduced mobility. While in Cologne, I only traveled via tram lines 1, 7, 9 and 18 to only limited stops, which were all easy to roll on unassisted via the raised tram platform at one of the middle doors marked for people in wheelchairs. I did travel on the S7 train to the airport, which I could also roll on unassisted, although there was a small gap between the train and the platform. You can request assistance from the DB train operators in advance and they will meet you on the platform before your scheduled train.
If you are walking or wheeling around many of the smaller streets in Cologne, be aware that most of the central area is cobblestone on both sidewalks and roads which may be difficult for someone with reduced mobility.
I stayed at the Motel One Cologne Neumarkt hotel, which had a central location and about one block away from a tram stop. Although the website states that there are accessible rooms, they aren’t available to book on the website. You can call or email the hotel and they are more than willing to help you book an accessible room.
The room itself is very large, which offered so ample room to turn around in my power wheelchair and multiple outlets to plug it in. The safe and the hangers were also lowered, which offered options for wheelchair bound folks. The bathroom was large with a roll in shower and moveable glass doors that can allow for adjustment to get into the shower safely. The only issue with the bathroom is that the sink is a bit high for wheelchair bound folks, but great height for those with other mobility issues or ambulatory wheelchair users. I would highly recommend this hotel.
The Cologne Cathedral is Cologne’s second-tallest and most recognizable structure, surpassed only by the telecommunications tower. The cathedral covers almost 8,000 square meters of floor space and can hold more than 20,000 people. Due to the building’s impressive Gothic architecture, the shrine of the Three Wise Men, the outstanding stained-glass windows and the many other important works of art, UNESCO declared Cologne Cathedral a World Heritage Site in 1996. The cathedral itself and the cathedral treasury is accessible via the barrier-free external entrance on the north side of Cologne Cathedral. The towers are unfortunately not accessible or barrier free.
The only museum I visited while I was in Cologne was the Chocolate or Schokoladen Museum. This privately owned museum has information about the family who owns it, a chocolate cafe, a shop, glass areas where you can watch chocolatiers create beautiful chocolate creations, exhibits that help guests understand how chocolate is made from the bean to the bar, and a chocolate fountain. One of the coolest parts of this museum was the chocolate factory. This mini version of a chocolate factory takes guests through the process of making delicious chocolate from the cocoa beans to packaging through large glass windows. Around 400kg of chocolate are processed daily in this mini production, including samples that you can taste as you view them being made!
All of the museum’s exhibition rooms, including the CHOCOLAT Grand Café and the CHOCOLAT Shop, have barrier-free access. Step-free pathways to the building, ramps, and three elevators enable visitors with disabilities to experience (and taste) everything the museum has to offer. The downside to this museum is that some of the factory portions are only accessible via steps and some of the exhibit information is high, unreachable for someone in a wheelchair or someone of short stature.
To be honest, the main reason for my visit to Cologne was to visit the dreamy Christmas markets. These large, lavishly decorated markets are numerous around the city center. Each market has a different theme and it is well worth a visit to all of them. Here you can find arts and crafts from all over Europe, artisan makers, high quality goods and gifts, local culinary delights, entertainment, and Gluhwein or mulled wine, galore! All of the markets that I visited (Cathedral, Harbour, Neumarkt, Heumarkt, Rudolfpaz, and Altsadt) were all relatively accessible. The only issue tends to be the crowds, which sometimes makes it difficult to navigate. Some of the stalls also have steps to view which makes it difficult to purchase items. Most people and stall owners were more than willing to bring you items and offer assistance. Well worth a visit if you are in Cologne in November or December.