This is my first attempt at an article that looks at how wheelchair friendly or not a city is. I’m looking almost exclusively at the tourist areas of Cologne for this and will be going into detail about any areas that really stand out to me in either a positive or negative way. If there’s anything I’m missing, or more information that you think might be helpful to others please let me know in the comments below. With all of that in mind, let’s go to Cologne!
Cologne has a lot of small hills right along the Rhine which is the heart of the historic and tourist parts of the city. These hills are particularly bad coming up from the river into the historic district where the hill combines with horrible cobblestone.
One of the biggest hills in this area leads from the park next to the river up to the beautiful Cologne Cathedral. Thankfully this hill has a fantastic, though quite long ramp that snakes up the hill next to the stairs.
All in all the hills in Cologne are quite manageable and shouldn’t be a problem for any wheelchair user.
The cobblestone is where Cologne really gets hit hard. The historic district is filled with some really bad cobblestone, some of which, as mentioned previously is on a hill. I would suggest avoiding going from the historic area to the river completely. This is particularly true of the trip from Heumarkt down to the waterfront, though there is a fantastic pizza place there. If you’re familiar with the Sage Traveling’s scale of cobblestones the historic area can range from a 3 Star to a 2 Star experience, pretty much the worst you can get in a city.
Along the river, there’s a lovely walking path that is actually a bit of a nightmare for wheelchairs. Some sections of it will be perfectly smooth then you’ll randomly have areas that are 4 star and 3 star. I don’t know what the laws are about being in the bicycle lanes (I imagine it’s frowned upon) but I found that to be a much smoother experience.
There’s also a small bit of 4 star cobblestone just outside the Chocolate Museum but it’s only a few steps wide as you cross the river walk path.
Modern buildings are fantastic when it comes to having elevators and ramps. Every platform at the main train station has a spacious elevator and there are ramps to help you get up to the platforms for the trams.
One hidden gem that I absolutely love is the elevator right next to the cathedral. They allow you to go up from the Hauptbahnhof (the main train station) up to the cathedral without having to cross a busy street. Unfortunately, with it being a public elevator it isn’t always the freshest smelling, so hold your breath when you go inside.
The chocolate museum has an elevator inside and a ramp outside to help you get in and out with ease.
Sadly, the older buildings tend to have single steps that make it difficult to get inside and even if it looks okay on the outside there may be a few steps inside which are impossible to pass.
Tram: There is a gap between the tram and the platform so while there are wheelchair sections on the trams they’re largely unused. Stations are also unmanned so there’s no ramp to come to the rescue. If you can stand and step out of the tram it’s a very small step.
Train: As I said before the main train station has elevators to help you get to platforms. They also have people who can help you onto the trains with what is basically a lift on wheels. You’ll just have to make sure to find them before your train arrives. Other train stations do have accessibility issues with broken and sometimes no elevator at all. The platforms of these stations are usually unmanned. Some trains will have someone who can help you on and off, but not all of them.
Bus: So far I’ve not used a bus in Cologne, they generally seem to be a less popular option for getting around the city.
Taxi: There are very few wheelchair friendly taxis in Cologne and as a result, if you need one expect to be waiting quite a while for one. But with some careful planning, you should be able to get a taxi.
Cologne, like many cities, has its fair share of ups and downs when it comes to wheelchair accessibility. I certainly wouldn’t discourage wheelchair users from visiting there but I do think it takes some careful planning and consideration before you go. Be sure to look at your hotel on Google Streetview to make sure the area around it is wheelchair friendly as that’s the area you will spend the most time passing through. Is Cologne wheelchair friendly? That’s not something that you can answer in just one word. In some ways yes, in some ways, no.