Disability and travel: have you ever considered Cologne?

Disability and travel: have you ever considered Cologne?

Thinking of heading off for a city break this coming May bank holiday? Have you considered Cologne in Germany? We here from seasoned traveller Tom, who has Cerebral Palsy, about his frequent visits to Cologne – a compact city with many shopping opportunities, beautiful cathedrals and a chocolate museum.

I have been to Cologne four times, and every time I return I find something or somewhere new to explore. It is a beautiful city.

Before my first trip, I was nervous. I was about to travel to a city in a country that I had never been to before, having not travelled for quite a while. Because I have Cerebral Palsy, although I am not a wheelchair user, I wondered how disabled-friendly the German city would be.

As it turned out, I need not have worried – both the journey to Cologne (using Eurostar) and getting around was easy. The station has good connections to Berlin, the Netherlands, Belgium and beyond. It also houses an attractive shopping centre with cafes and restaurants.

It’s fairly accessible for me, although there are steps leading to the city centre, but there are also handrails on either side. There are also lifts up to all of the platforms and you can get assistance, although I have never used it.

Cologne city

Cologne is an underappreciated city. Berlin, the most visited city in Germany, has 24.9 million tourists visit it each year, and Munich 12.4 million. Cologne, on the other hand, has only 5 million visitors a year.

One of the first things I noticed when I arrived was exactly how compact Cologne is. If you get lost, you can simply follow one of the many cathedral spires and you’ll get back to the central station. Asking for directions as a first-time visitor is easy too as almost everyone speaks English.

I stayed in the Hyatt Regency hotel, which is about a 10-minute walk from the station, or about a 10-minute taxi ride from the airport. To reach the hotel on foot from the station you need to cross what is described as ‘the most travelled railroad bridge of the world.’ It contains two railroad bridges and one pedestrian bridge.

The hotel was extremely welcoming, with breath-taking views of the cathedral and a restaurant and beer garden overlooking the Rhine. It is situated in a perfect location, and anywhere in the city is just a short walk away. However, there are steps down to get to the hotel itself, although once you’re inside it’s very accessible. I have never used an adapted room though, so I don’t know what they are like.

Cologne a city of cathedrals

Cologne’s main cathedral is an awe-inspiring must-see for anyone visiting the city. Inside there is more than 6,000 square metres of space on the ground and it can hold 12,000 people. The height of the cathedral is immense – the central part is about 160 metres long and 43.5 metres high. It is a majestic landmark and can be seen from just about anywhere in the city.

It is also accessible as you can get in from the ground level. Some areas are cordoned off though and, unfortunately, there is no access to the Tower if you’re in a wheelchair.

In the main city square, apart from the cathedral, there is a vast array of shops to explore, together with cafes and restaurants for a most welcome post-architectural drink.

The Chocolate Museum

Cologne chocolate museumAbout 15 minutes’ walk from the hotel alongside the Rhine is Cologne’s ‘guilty pleasure’ – the Chocolate Museum, an indulgent and luxurious way to spend a couple of hours. The Chocolate Museum is accessible via a ramp and there are lifts to each of the floors.

Inside you can explore the history of chocolate through interactive displays and stroll through the greenhouse, which contains cocoa trees. You can also learn more about the process the beans go through to become a chocolate bar. After all this, the chocolate fountain awaits where wafers are distributed and dipped into the glorious confection.

Christmas markets

Germany is renowned for its Christmas markets, which are organised in all major German cities Around Christmas. For me, the best way to travel to and from the Christmas market in Cologne is on the Christmas Market Express, although I’m not sure what it’s like for wheelchair users. These magical mini-trains run every 15 minutes from specially marked stops.

Visiting a Christmas market is a lovely way to spend an afternoon – the mulled wine is fantastic! However, the markets are crowded and can be a bit overwhelming if you’re unsteady on your feet like I am!

Depending on how weary you are after markets and mulled wine, take the weight off your feet by sampling some of the fantastic restaurants Cologne has to offer – Indian, English, Chinese, you name it, they’ve got it.

The Cologne zoo

One of the main attractions in Cologne is its zoo, possibly the oldest, and most modern, in the world. It is home to more than 7,000 animals, including 700 species from all over the world. At over 20 hectares, it will easily take an afternoon to see everything, but it is well worth it. It’s also fully accessible by wheelchair, although it is a bit of a walk if you tire easily.

I simply love Cologne. With the delights of the Chocolate Museum, the splendour of the cathedral, the sheer magnitude of the zoo, the sights and smells of the Christmas markets, there is something for everyone, disabled or not. If you want a city break, you won’t regret going to Cologne!

By Tom Houseden

Get in touch by messaging us on Facebook, tweeting us @DHorizons, emailing us at editor@disabilityhorizons.com or leaving your comments below.

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