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When it comes to Cologne’s trendiest neighbourhoods, the Belgian Quarter immediately springs to mind. Food, fashion and art are the main focus of this creative hub. The essence of this beautiful district is best experienced over coffee or drinks, by browsing art galleries and boutiques, and by dancing the night away to funky DJ sets. Here’s an overview of the best things to do and see in Cologne’s Belgian Quarter.
Since it’s the Belgian Quarter, why not dive right in and get some Belgian food? Maria Eetcafé is a popular gathering place overlooking the plaza in front of the Köln West train station, and the cosy inside is decorated with a peculiar collection of Mary and baby Jesus figurines. On the menu are some of our all-time favourite Belgian and Dutch snacks: thick-cut fries with Fritessaus, Frikandel (minced-meat hot dogs), Kipcorn (crispy fried chicken), and Belgian waffles for dessert. The locale also has more than 10 Belgian beers on tap.
Cafés and restaurants aside, the Belgian Quarter is also the place to be after dark. Little Link is for upscale cocktails, Grünfeld for Kölsch foosball battles, and Sixpack for a last drink and dance when everything else is slowly closing up. But there is lots in between: electronic music and fantastic drinks at Zum Scheuen Reh, hip-hop club nights at Subway, or techno at Reineke Fuchs. If you’re looking to get a drink in a relatively chilled atmosphere, Barracuda Bar, Zum Goldenen Schuss and Wohngemeinschaft are a great choice.
Much of the appeal of the Belgian Quarter stems from its creative, almost bohemian vibe that comes with the large number of young creatives and artistic souls living and working here. Street corners, lamp posts and garage doors are decorated with murals and stencil art, but there are also a few galleries dedicated to the urban art form. KUNst&So is a small gallery in the heart of the quarter dedicated to local artists. Cologne street artist Thomas Baumgärtel, who is known for his banana stencil, and his peer xxxhibition showcase their own and other artists’ murals, stencils and paste-ups at the 30works gallery, while Ruttkowski68 exhibits contemporary and street art by top international names.
The Belgian Quarter cityscape is dotted with many trendy cafés that seam the streets. Artisan coffee aficionados should visit the Heilandt Kaffeemanufaktur, while those who fancy coffee, wine and gelato shouldn’t miss out on the glitzy Salon Schmitz. But that’s not all: Miss Päpki is an enchanting café right on Brüsseler Platz, which is known for its romantic interior and delicious cakes, the next-door souterrain Café Belgique lures with salads, quiches and slouchy sofas, Café Spatz is dedicated to health food, and the As/If Record Store Café serves coffee from the Ehrenfeld Van Dyck roastery and yummy lunches, and has shelves stacked with vinyl records for sale.
If you want to mingle with locals and you’re in town during the warmer months of the year, all you need to do is head over to Brüsseler Platz at the heart of the Belgian Quarter. Over the last few years, the square has become one of the most popular hangout spots, and on a sunny weekend, the 20- and 30-somethings pour into the corner shop to get drinks and snacks and spend all afternoon and night outside.
Throughout the year, several events celebrate the best things the Belgian Quarter has to offer: food, fashion, art and design. Every January, the Passagen Festival puts local designers in the spotlight. The Belgian Quarter shops, galleries and workshops open their doors to present the latest trends in design, ranging from home décor and ceramics to interior design and furniture. In April, Le Tour Belgique takes over the quarter for a weekend, with a day and night programme of DJ sets, live concerts, art exhibitions, lectures, theatre performances and a lot more, while Chic Belgique dazzles with late-night shopping and in-store events.
Speaking of shopping – if there’s one way of spending a day in the Belgian Quarter, it’s browsing the many hip boutiques that have popped up in recent years. Cologne fashion blogger Lena Terlutter hit a nerve when she opened Boutique Belgique in 2010, with select items from Vila, Selected, Maison Scotch and more. The shelves and clothes racks of Magasin Populaire are filled with lots of lesser-known designers and Scandi fashion from mbyM, Samsøe & Samsøe, and Sessùn, while men should check out Monsieur Courbet for stylish items from Dr Denim, Armedangels, Forvert and more.