Cocktail mit Minze und Deko auf einem dunklen Tisch
A Cologne cycling tour that doubles up as a bar-hopping tour. Photo: The Grid Bar

Bar-hopping in Cologne by bike

A bike ride that takes you from one bar to the next or a spot of liquid motivation along the way? This 10km route offers exercise, lots of city flair and some of Cologne's best bars. Go for their innovative, non-alcoholic creations if you're planning lots of "pit stops".

Our evening cycling tour of Cologne begins with one of the city’s best roof-top views at Bar Botanik on the top floor of a water tower that has protected building status (take the lift from the hotel lobby to the 11th floor). Thanks to its vast, floor-to ceiling windows, guests can admire the cityscape whether they’re snuggled up in one of the comfy corners, enjoying a drink at the bar or seated at one of the tables arranged in semi-circular fashion.

But it gets even better – up on the roof terrace where you can choose between lounge corners, high-top tables and bar stools right next to the railing for a truly unobstructed view. It’s an excellent spot to count church spires, watch boats pass by on the Rhine, squint at the sunset or marvel at the sea of lights that emerge when darkness falls. The menu has more than just your standard cocktail: there’s a good range of spirits as well as wines and beers plus snacks and mains (locally sourced beef, king prawns and truffle pasta) if you’re feeling peckish.

A touch of 1920s flair at Grid Bar

Once you’ve satisfied your stomach and your eyes, it’s time for a leisurely ride, first towards Neumarkt, then to the west through Schaafenstraße, one of Cologne’s LGBTQ hot spots. Then briefly along Hohenzollernring, a bustling city street, especially in the summer. If this is when the hunger pangs hit, you can grab a doner kebab or fries here, pop in to Eatdoori for some Indian street food or, if you’re looking for vegan food, take a seat at the Vegan Junk Food Bar.

Barkeeper mit zwei Flaschen in der Hand mixt einen Cocktail an einer Bar.
Photo: The Grid Bar.

Our next bar stop awaits in the Friesenviertel district. To get into The Grid Bar, you have to ring the bell, speakeasy-style. The exterior is a little on the low-key side but that soon changes when you get inside. Gold, amber shades, a brick wall finish and a touch of 20s flair set the mood in this elegant bar. Well-mixed drinks such as “Tough Guys Don’t Dance”, “Windsor Punk” and “Ms Fat Booty” put a smile on your face – and your palate – and that includes the non-alcoholic ones! The smart feel of the place is rounded off by the Davidoff cigar lounge. This outdoor area has waiter service and is equipped with heaters and cushions so patrons can savour a cigar in comfort.

Rubinrot: a Cologne institution in Ehrenfeld

But the evening is young so it’s back onto your bike and down Venloer Straße. Passing Stadtgarten, where half of Cologne gathers on the wall to enjoy a beer from the kiosk on warm days, through the green belt – waving to the Colonius tower en route – past the imposing mosque, we arrive at a Cologne institution: Rubinrot in the city’s Ehrenfeld neighbourhood.

This bar has a slightly deceiving exterior too. You could be forgiven for thinking there was a traditional kölsch pub behind the tiled façade with its lead glass windows. And there are a lot of wood furnishings in the front part of this rambling place. But the cosy corner seats and the cute little tables opposite the well-stocked bar are filled with a very mixed crowd. Down-to-earth, unpretentious, hip – there wouldn’t be any funny looks if you decided to stick with kölsch but it’s definitely worthwhile investigating the cocktails and long drinks on the extensive menu in closer detail.

Drinks with a difference at Toddy Tapper

Admittedly, there’s a high chance you might not want to leave Rubinrot but there are more gems to be discovered on our bar-hopping bike ride through Cologne. Past a number of large murals (Ehrenfeld is one of the city’s most street-art-endowed neighbourhoods), we move on to Subbelrather Straße, back towards the green belt, passing gorgeous old buildings and Mediapark, into the Agnesviertel district where are destination is a real treat for those who like their beverages offbeat: Toddy Tapper.

They’ve got everything right here. The bar is cosy and compact, the staff incredibly friendly and the drinks more than imaginative. Not only do they look wonderful (#Zuckerwatte-Hut) and come served in creative ways (#GefäßInBirnenoptik), they also make inventive use of ingredients and flavours. One reason for this ingenuity is that owner Indika Silva is from Sri Lanka and likes to use Arrack in his creations – a spirit that’s not very common here in Germany. If you really want to try something new, this is the place to do it.

Straight on to Nippes

If you can resist the temptation to stay and order everything on the menu, jump back on your bike and straight on to Nippes. It does take a while to read the whole menu at Barfly (which changes with the seasons) but, luckily, the friendly staff are more than willing to answer questions – and they know what they’re talking about. If you’re looking for something non-alcoholic, it’s worth pointing out that their range goes far beyond the norm. Apart from the usual classics, they have some very creative drinks from all corners of the globe. With oodles of vintage charm and a laid-back atmosphere, this is an ideal spot to linger a while and rest your weary legs.

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