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Introducing Cologne & Northern Rhineland

With a population greater than that of Austria and Switzerland combined, North Rhine-Westphalia feels almost like a country unto itself. Cobbled together in 1946 by the Allies from two Prussian provinces and a little fiefdom called Lippe-Detmold, it harbours within its boundaries flat, windswept expanses and forested hills high enough to hold onto snow during winter. Villages sweetly lost in time contrast with frenzied metropolises habitually on fast-forward. There are places whose looks have remained largely unchanged since the Middle Ages and others fashioned completely from scratch in the wake of WWII. And through it all carves the muscular Rhine, fed by tributaries such as the Ruhr that gave an entire region its name.

The industrial age has shaped North Rhine-Westphalia more than any other German region. For about a hundred years, coal and steel fuelled the growth of Germany into one of Europe’s most powerful nations. But starting in the mid-1960s, lower demand forced the region to focus its energies elsewhere. And so it did, banking instead on hi-tech, media, retail and culture.

Must-sees include Cologne with its lofty Dom (cathedral), Bonn with its Beethoven legacy and fabulous museums, the Unesco-listed baroque palaces in Brühl, and Charlemagne’s imperial capital of Aachen. The lively Ruhrgebiet and placid Lower Rhine are best for off-beat experiences. There are historical cities like Münster, where the treaty that ended the Thirty Years’ War was signed, and elegant ones like Düsseldorf, the state capital. Paderborn and Soest are treasured for their churches and the Sauerland is the place to get your nature fix.

Getting Around

For getting around North Rhine-Westphalia by public transport several ticket deals are available. The SchönerTagTicket is valid for one day of travel anywhere within the state on local and regional public transport from 9am to 3am the following day (midnight to 3am the next day on weekends). You can only use RE, IRE, RB and S-Bahn trains as well as buses, U-Bahn and trams. The ticket costs €21 for single travellers and €27 for groups of up to five people (or one or both parents or grandparents plus all their children or grandchildren up to 14 years). There’s also the SchöneFahrtTicket (€13.20), which is good for any one-way trip within the state. Tickets are available at train station ticket offices and from vending machines.