Cologne's origins can be traced back to the first century AD when it was founded by the Romans. It achieved city status thanks to a petition by Agrippina, wife of the Emperor Claudius, who was born in the settlement. Its early history saw many raids and invasions by the Franks and later the Vikings, who set fire to great swathes of the city in 881. Its rule passed through various hands until it became a free city in 1288, and began a period of expansion. It became a bustling centre of trade and industry, and flourished right up to the 1940s, when Allied bombings and warfare saw a huge exodus of its population. Post-war Cologne was rebuilt and enjoyed a boom throughout the later part of the 20th century. Today it's home to around 1 million inhabitants, making it the 4th largest city in Germany.
Cologne's most iconic attraction is the gothic cathedral, which began construction in 1248 and wasn't completed until 1880! It attracts upwards of 6 million visitors a year, many of whom come to see the Shrine of the Three Kings and its archaic relics. 533 steps lead visitors to the top of the gothic spire. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site in its own right. The city still retains several of its 13th century medieval gates, and a dozen Romanesque churches, some which date back nearly two thousand years!
The city of course has many modern attractions, including more than 40 museums and a hundred galleries to the quirky Palm Tree Alley. Many treasures are housed within these public spaces, and include artifacts and works of art in numerous styles and forms. Museum Ludwig has one of the finest Picasso collections in the world, while the Roman-Germanic Museum celebrates the city's origins and early period. An estimated 50,000 events take place each year, from concerts and exhibitions to street festivals and markets. The Cologne Carnival spans several months between November 11th and Ash Wednesday, and features daily parades, events and attractions.
As with most German cities, Cologne has a bustling nightlife, and can boast its own regional beer, known as Kolsch. This is renowed for its sweet, refreshing taste, but retains plenty of potency! Restaurants and bars abound, and the Schildergasse shopping area is Germany's busiest, with close to 15,000 people passing through it every hour. The city plays host to around 120 million visitors annually, making it one of the most popular destinations in Europe. The city has thousands of hotels and guesthouses, ranging from 5 star grandeur to quieter hostels and inns. The Rheinauhafen district is a popular stopping off point for the evening, with bars and restaurants dotted along its gentle waterfront.