16 things to do in Cologne, Germany
Updated: Jan 15, 2020
Located on the Rhine, Cologne (or Köln in German) is the fourth largest city in Germany and I must say, a relatively underrated and undiscovered gem in comparison with the more popular Berlin or Frankfurt. If the magnificent Cologne Cathedral didn't already make you want to visit this beautiful city, I'm some of these sure will!
How to get to Cologne, Germany?
We actually got into Cologne via train from Dusseldorf. It was a quick 35 minutes train ride into the city centre. Cologne is also well-connected to other countries like London, Amsterdam, Brussels and Paris via the ICE high speed rail; and you can even get from Innsbruck and Vienna to the city centre via the overnight train.
Should you be touring Europe by land, consider getting yourselves a Eurail Global Pass.
Another way to get into Cologne is by plane as the airport is located just 20 minutes away from the city centre via the S-bahn. Also, because Cologne-Bonn Airport is one of the Euro Wings hub airports, you'll have plenty choices for flights. We utilised the Cologne-Bonn Airport for our flight out of Germany and got cheap deals on RyanAir! :)
Another great way to visit the Rhine-Ruhr metropolitan region is via self-drive, especially if you intend to enter and exit via the same airport or city. This allows you to cover more ground and even stay outside the city centre to save on your accommodation. As we got into Germany through Dusseldorf and are exiting via Cologne, we didn't have a road trip this time. But if you are, consider booking your rental cars through DiscoverCars.
How to travel within Cologne, Germany?
If you are not already driving yourself around Cologne, public transportation is fairly fuss-free and efficient, getting you to almost all the sites within Cologne. Should you be interested to also visit the numerous museums in the city, it makes sense for you to also grab the Cologne Travel Card. The card covers all travel on buses and trains for 24 hours or 48 hours (of your choice). It also grants up to 50% off entrance fee to museums and discounts for various restaurants within the city.
Now that we've got everything sorted out, it is time to check out the various attractions in Cologne!
1. Marvel at the Cologne Cathedral
You simply can't miss the towering and majestic Cologne Cathedral when you arrive in Cologne as the 157-metre architecture dwarfs every other building in the city and dominates the skyline. You'll see it almost everywhere you go in Cologne. Also a UNESCO World Heritage site, the cathedral is the most-visited attraction in Germany while its 19th century twin towers still currently hold the position of the second tallest structure within the city.
As long as there is no service, the Cologne Cathedral is free to enter and there's a plethora of art, culture, and structures to see inside. From its glass-stained windows to the black marble high altar, and the Three Kings shrine. Should you want a good work out, you may also wish to climb up 509 steps to the top for panoramic views of the city. Besides costing you time and energy, you'll have to fork out an additional 3 euros!
We'd say, save that as the cathedral looks more amazing when seeing it from the outside than to take in the fews from the top of the tower!
Domkloster 4, 50667 Köln, Germany
2. Roam around the Cologne Old Town
No visit to Cologne can you miss strolling the cobblestone streets of the Old Town. Despite the fact that it was almost completely obliterated in the Second World War, the charming old town and its narrow alleys seem to hide its destruction with newer concrete constructions after the war.
There are three main squares in the Altstadt (old town): Alter Markt, Heumarkt, and Neumarkt. Cologne's historical heritage can be found in the Alter Markt, such as the Cologne Rathaus (City Hall). The second largest square is Heumarkt, where you’ll find an assortment of stalls during the Christmas season. Neumarkt is the site of the largest shopping centre in the city, Neumarkt Galerie.
When you saunter around from square to square, don't forget to find the Heinzelmännchenbrunnen, a fountain with structures of gnomes. They were said to have done all the city's work in the depth of the night so that Cologne's citizens could relax and rest. According to some legends, the gnomes did everything, from carrying bricks to building houses all until they were insulted and left the town.
3. Cruise on the Rhine
Since you‘re in a city next to the Rhine, you’ll have to take a cruise or boat trip to view the magnificent buildings on both banks. Be it a day cruise or an evening cruise, the views are equally breathtaking. In the day you’ll see the city’s skyline and impressive spires of the cathedrals and in the evening, the lights that are reflected on the waters is mesmerising!
4. Declare your love on the Hohenzollern Bridge
The famous Hohenzollern Bridge is the other site that you’ll often see photographed with the Cologne Cathedral. It is also known as the lock bridge as couples from all around the world would place their locks and throw the keys (hopefully not into the Rhine), to symbolise their undying love.
50679 Cologne, Germany
5. Stroll along the Rheinboulevard
As you walk on the Hohenzollern Bridge to the other side of the Rhine, you’ll arrive at the Rheinboulevard. This is the place where you can get all the nice photos of both the bridge and the cathedral.
The boulevard also acts as a park for Cologne citizens to have a stroll or jog as we saw so many joggers when we were there.
Hermann-Pünder-Straße 2, 50679 Köln, Germany
6. Head up the Köln Triangle
Since Cologne Cathedral is declared as a UNESCO World Heritage site, it means that no other edifice is allowed to disrupt the city’s skyline. As such, the Köln Triangle is only over 100 metres high with a panoramic observation deck that permits a beautiful view of the city.
It is worth going up the Köln Triangle as unlike the many overcrowded viewing decks, the panoramic deck is relatively quiet and even provides handy descriptions of the landmarks you see. Plus, it only costs a small fee of 3 euros!
KölnTriangle and KölnTriangle Cologne View Ottoplatz 1 50679 Cologne
7. Enjoy some chocolate at the Cologne Chocolate Museum (Imhoff-Schokoladenmuseum)
Head back onto the other side of the Rhine to this small little offshore island which is home to the Imhoff-Schokoladenmuseum. Though entrance is rather steep, you’ll get to enjoy a 25% discount with the Cologne Card, bringing prices down to 9.40 euros (from 12.50 euros) on weekdays and 10.10 euros (from 13.50 euros) on weekends for adults single-tickets.
The experience at the Lindt Cologne Chocolate Museum is quite different. Besides the usual display of the history of Lindt chocolates and all its sub-brands, there’s also a tour of the factory line where you’ll get to taste freshly made chocolate!
Because everyone loves chocolates, there is often a line for the entrance tickets! Skip the queue by purchasing the tickets online!
After you've toured the museum, don't forget to treat yourselves with some yummy desserts at the cafe. We got one each plus a cuppa to ensure we don't get a sugar crash!
Merianstraße 1, 50765 Köln, Germany
8. Visit the Rheinauhaufen
Before you head back into the old town, stop by the Rheinauhaufen right beside the Chocolate Museum. This area was previously a commercial port and has been revitalised to include interesting-looking modern architecture. One of which is the Kranhaus building. At 60 metres high, it resembles gigantic hoisting cranes as the upper floors are shaped 90 degrees over the water. Other historic buildings that were repurposed is the Siebengebirge granary.
Rheinauhafen, 50678 Köln, Germany
9. Take a whiff at the Perfume Museums
Get your own cologne in Cologne (get it, get it?)! While many people think of Eau de Cologne, they often first head to the 4711 brand located within the city’s Glockengasse. But it is said that the Farina family was the first to manufacture the product in Germany. Since you are already all the way in Cologne, why not head to both stores since they are located quite close to one another?
Both brands offer tours but 4711 only has one per week, on Saturdays and in German. Farina has a lot more sessions in a day and offers tours in multiple languages. At Farina, you could also attend a perfume-making workshop to create your very own scent!
Glockengasse 4, 50667 Köln, Germany
Obenmarspforten 21, 50667 Köln, Germany
10. Taste Kölsch Beer
The people in Cologne are extremely proud of their local brew, Kölsch. This fermented beer is made from Pilsener malt and is easily distinguishable with their golden straw colour. It usually comes chilled, in small glasses. The locals normally have more than one beer as servers in the beer houses will replace the empty glasses on the table with a new one each time.
There are several good beer houses (Brauhaus) in Cologne but one with a traditional decor is Peters Brauhaus. It would be good if you could make a reservation as they do get really full during meal times and especially dinner. Some typical food to order at Beer houses include the Pork Knuckle, Breaded Pork Chop, and Sauerkraut. Should you want to stand out from the rest of the tourists, you could get youself a Halve Hahn, Cologne’s rye bread with Gouda cheese, butter, tomatoes, and sliced onions.
You could also join a Kolsch Beer and Brewhouse Experience Tour where you go brewhouse hopping in the heart of the Cologne Old Town.
11. Go Museum-hopping!
There are a plethora of museums in Cologne and definitely far too many to jot down all down. If you are an art enthusiast, head to the Ludwig Museum that stores several Picasso’s paintings in its extensive galleries. Those who are interested in history could go to the Romano-Germanic Museum or the Kolumba Museum.
12. Window-shop at the Belgian Quarter
This part of Cologne has a unique blend of architectural styles and there are numerous quirky boutiques and stores to pop into. Many of the accessories and clothings found in these boutiques are one-of-a-kind. Especially those who enjoy vintage fashion, this is the area to be! Besides retail opportunities, there are also several little cafes and restaurants to discover, many of them hidden away from view in the alleys.
We particularly enjoyed Beef Brothers, a burger bar located within the Belgian Quarter. The piping hot burgers with soft crisp buns are a delight to have in the cold, frosty winter.
13. Go for a bath at Aqualand
When the weather’s not on your side and you want to stay indoors, Aqualand is a great place to relax and unwind. This place is great for the young and the old, with slides, saunas, and pools for all.
Merianstraße 1, 50765 Köln, Germany
14. Ride rollercoasters at Phantasialand
Technically it isn't exactly in Cologne but it is a good day trip to Bruhl. If you’re a theme park junkie like us, you shouldn’t miss Phantasialand, one of the most popular theme parks in Europe. What’s amazing is that they are opened in winter when most of the theme parks close for the season. Prices for this theme park is also extremely affordable if you book them online!
Phantasialand is also perfect for a day trip as it is located just a short train ride from Cologne to Bruhl, and then transferring to a shuttle bus. The rollercoasters are thrilling and exciting while there are also several rides for the little ones. If you have an additional day, you may just want to consider booking a stay at their themed hotels. There are two hotels in the resort, Hotel Matamba (an African themed hotel) and Hotel Ling Bao (a Chinese themed hotel).
As a Singaporean Chinese we definitely went for the African themed hotel. The stay was awesome as the room was huge, with sufficient room for four - an entire family. It also included an amazing buffet breakfast. Definitely recommended for travellers with children as the close distance to the park would also mean that you can head back for a little nap in the afternoon. Read more about our experience here: Hotel Matamba, an African-themed resort at Phantasialand, Bruhl, Germany.
15. Look out for the Romanic Churches in Cologne
There are several of them in Cologne and it may be difficult to fit them all into your schedule the city. Should you be wanting to just visit one, it would be the Church of Great St. Martin in the old town. The church is another important landmark that dots the skyline in the city.
With these 15 varied things to do in Cologne, it is definitely a worthy travel destination and because so few international travellers have visited it, the underrated city deserves much more mentions!
16. Feast on German Snacks
Although these snacks are not necessarily only native to Cologne, you have to try currywurst and german pretzels! The cafe and food stands that sell them are replete in Cologne but our all-time favourite German chain is Yorma's!
What's great is that these snacks are also extremely affordable, starting from 1.20euros. We love Yorma's so much that we actually had currywurst and pretzels with chives and butter EVERY SINGLE DAY. Yes, that's how much we love them! There's only one Yorma's in the city and it is located within the train station.
Trankgasse 11 Cologne 50667
Where to stay in Cologne, Germany?
Because we chose to stay at Hotel Matamba in Bruhl for a night, we had the opportunity to also hotel hop in Cologne.
On our first night, we decided to reside in a&o hotel koln. As we were there during a trade fair, all the accommodation options were either sold out or way too expensive. We decided on a relatively cheaper option that was still extremely expensive for the room we had. We paid about 235 euros (it’s crazy, I know!). On other days, this property should be much cheaper and within the budget accommodation range.
The last night in Cologne was spent in Classic Hotel Harmonie. This property was located close to the Cologne Train Station, which was extremely helpful because we had to take an early train out to the Cologne-Bonn Airport. As part of the Classic Hotel Chain, you can definitely expect much better services. We were fortunate to be given their new rooms, which was located in the next building of the reception. Though we had to make our way there, and there was still some construction happening on the ground floor, the room itself definitely made up for these little inconveniences. We had a walk-in-closet, a study table, separate shower, toilet, and open sink area, a lounge chair and a super duper huge king bed. We were so sad that we only had just one night in this property and secretly wished that we had booked it for our first night. This place is definitely worth your money!
After experiencing 25hourshotel in Vienna, Austria, where we really enjoyed our stay plus the amazing breakfast and facilities, we wanted to try out the 25hours Hotel Koeln Das Circle in Cologne, Germany. The one in Cologne is situated within a spectacular rotunda in the heart of the city. But because their rooms were full due to the trade fair, we had to give this a miss. Otherwise, this would have been the best luxurious stay in the city!
The 25HoursHotel Group is a chain hotel that has individual, personalised properties in each city. We love that they are, unlike your usual luxury property groups that feature almost similar furnishings, each hotel is unique and offers a brand-new experience!
All in all, Cologne was one of the best German cities we’ve been to. Although it is a little small as compared to the other cities, we love that there are fewer crowds and we could explore the city without squeezing with others. Have you been to Cologne? Share with us your experiences in the comments below!