The Best Things to Do in Cologne, Germany
A 2000-year-old city spanning the Rhine River in the West of Germany, just north of Frankfurt is the beauty that is Cologne. The reconstructed old town it the epitome of gothic architecture, and its art scene is second to none.
The quaint yet impressive city is actually the fourth largest in Germany, but you wouldn’t know it. A lot less touristy than its larger counterparts such as Berlin, Munich and Frankfurt, Cologne is known for its food, its architecture and art, and of course its mind-blowing cathedral. There are so many fascinating things to do in Cologne and you certainly won’t get bored.
Cologne is authentic and real, something which can be hard to find amidst the tourists these days, and it has something for everyone. Behind the huge attractions (Cologne Cathedral, I’m looking at you!), there is so much more. The charm of the old town, authentic bars, so much art and history, and a feel-good vibe. You won’t regret a visit to Cologne, so let’s get into the best things to do in Cologne!
The best things to do in Cologne.
Visit the Cologne Cathedral
Cologne Cathedral is by far its most popular landmark, and definitely one of the best things you can do in Cologne. Way back in 1248 the base was laid for the famous landmark, to form an impressive Gothic Cathedral for Three Wise Men, brought to Cologne from Milan by Archbishop Rainald von Dassel and quickly became one of the most important sites of Pilgrimage in Europe at the time.
The completed towers of Cologne Cathedral have dominated the city’s skyline since their competition in 1880, and have formed the face of tourism in the German city. Today, the impressive gothic Cathedral sits towering of the city of Cologne and remains one of Germany’s most impressive sites.
How to visit Cologne Cathedral: Located centrally in Cologne, it is likely that you will be able to walk from your accommodation (and you can’t get lost, just walk towards the towers!). The Cathedral often draws over 20,000 visitors per day, so it can get crowded. For undisturbed photos outside the Cathedral, wake up before the sun and get there early.
Explore the inside of the Cathedral daily from 6am-9pm in the summer and until 7pm in the winter. For incredible views of the city and a workout like no other, climb the 533 stairs to the top of the towers daily from 9am to 4pm. Allow 1-2 hours for a visit.
Cost: The Cathedral is free to enter; however, it costs 3 Euro to climb to the top of the tower.
My top tip: Want a secret photo spot? If you are visiting Museum Ludwig (see below) you can head to the upper floor to see the outdoor terrace to get a unique view of the cathedral and also an undisturbed photo opportunity, bonus!
Wander the Old Town
Located on the banks of the Rhine River, Cologne’s old town has an historical charm. It’s aged and coloured buildings along cobblestoned streets under which café’s, bars and ice-cream parlours set up shop is the perfect place to just take it in. It’s also the perfect spot to try that glass of Cologne’s draft beer, Kolsch, or you can opt to shop in the nearby markets and souvenir shops.
How to visit Old Town:The best way to visit the old town is by walking – it’s conveniently located close to Cologne Cathedral, Hohenzollern Bridge and many of the museums. Head down to the Old Town for a late lunch after a morning of site seeing to take in its charm, enjoy a meal and a drink (or 5!) and people watch.
Visit the NS Documentation Centre, EL-DE Haus Museum
EL-DE Haus, the official NS Documentation Centre of Cologne, is now a museum which documents the Third Reich. Most of the exhibits are in German, however you can purchase an audio guide in English to help guide you through the museum. It’s filled with history and worth a visit during your stay in Cologne.
How to visit EL-DE Haus Museum: The museum opens from Tuesday through Friday at 10am till 6pm, and opens at 11am on Saturdays and Sundays. It is closed on Mondays.
Cost: Tickets are 4.50 Euro.
See the love locks at Hohenzollern Bridge
Cologne’s very own love locks bridge, Hohenzollern bridge is an impressive bridge sitting over the famous Rhine River. What’s more impressive however, is the collection of over 40,000 ‘love lock’ padlocks hanging from the railings of the bridge.
A tradition that has become accustomed to many bridges around the world, one of which many places have had to ban due to the added weight and worries about the long-term effects of the practice. Although the locks on Hohenzollern bridge have been estimated to have added over 2 tonnes to the bridge, the sturdy structure is safe for now, and can likely withstand a bit more.
How to visit Hohenzollern Bridge: An activity not to be missed when visiting Cologne is a walk across Hohenzollern Bridge. Admire the views of the Rhine River and take in the incredible amount of love locks hanging from the bridge. Just a 2-minute walk from Cologne Cathedral, head downhill towards the river to get to the bridge.
Shop on the busiest shopping street in Germany
Whoever would have guessed that Cologne is actually a major shopping hub in Germany? Not me. Cologne’s Schildergasse is actually the most visited shopping street in the whole of Germany, and for good reason.
The pedestrian only street houses many large department stores and brands, and you can venture off the main street to find higher end or budget stores. It’s worth taking some to explore the area even if you aren’t one for shopping, see the many street performers and buskers while wandering the crazy street.
How to visit Schildergasse: Head South from the Cologne Cathedral to find the shopping hub of Cologne. A 5-10 minute walk will put you in the middle of Schildergasse.
Take a river cruise on the Rhine
The Rhine River is one of Europe’s major rivers. It begins in the Southwestern part of the Swiss Alps, and flows North through Germany and the Netherlands before the North Sea. Cologne is actually the biggest city that is located directly on the Rhine river, so, if you have a little bit of time, why not go on a cruise on the Rhine River?
How to cruise on the Rhine River: Many companies offer a variety of tours on the Rhine. The KD Rhine pass allows a full day of cruising of the Rhine, where you can hop on or off the boat at any of the stops.
Cost: Around 30 Euro for a full day KD Rhine pass.
Admire art at Museum Ludwig
One of many impressive museums in Cologne, Museum Ludwig takes the top spot for me and many others. Housing a huge collection of modern art, it boasts one of the largest collections of Picasso in all of Europe.
Other impressive collections include Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol and George Segal. The collection is both impressive and interesting, even if you aren’t that into art. Plus, the museum features some incredible views of Cologne Cathedral from its outdoor terrace, which allows for an undisturbed photo opportunity.
How to Visit Museum Ludwig: Conveniently located right next to the Cologne Cathedral, you can reach the museum by walking from any of the major attractions in the city. The Museum opens from 10am-6pm daily and is closed on Mondays.
Cost: 12 Euro for regular tickets and valid for all exhibitions.
Admire the views at Koln Triangle
Ever wanted to know how to see those panoramic views of the Cathedral and Hohenzollern bridge that you see everywhere? Koln Triangle is the place to be. What has got to be one of the best views of the city can be admired from the panoramic platform of Koln Triangle. Head to the 29thfloor to admire the view, which is even better at sunset!
How to see the view at Koln Triangle: Head across the Hohenzollern Bridge to the Northern banks of the Rhine and make your way to Koln Triangle. Open from 12pm till 8pm daily.
Cost: Just 3 Euros to admire the stunning views that Cologne has the offer.
Planning on spending a little extra time in Cologne? Why not check out one of the awesome day trips you can do from Cologne, such as hiking to Drachenburg Castle on Dragon Rock!
Need to know: Travelling to Cologne, Germany
The official currency in Germany is the Euro.
Getting to Cologne
Cologne-Bonn airport is the international airport which services both Cologne and Bonn. Direct flights are available from many major European cities, but if you are flying from overseas you can expect a stop in a major German or European city. Skyscanner scans everywhere on the web to find the best deals on flights!
From major cities in Germany the best way to get to Cologne is by train. The DB offers a huge range of services every day. From Frankfurt, Cologne is just one hour by train, and 5 hours from Berlin.
Never, and I repeat, NEVER travel without travel insurance. You honestly never know when you might need it. I recommend Travelex Travel Insurance.
Many people skip Cologne when travelling in Germany or Europe and have no idea what they are missing. It’s a truly fascinating town and you won’t be disappointed by the food, the beer, the architecture, the art and the vibe. Being only an hour north of Frankfurt, and on the route to Berlin, why not add it in to your itinerary? You won’t regret it!
Want to read more? Find my other Germany blogs below:
- The best things to do in Nuremberg
- Ultimate Berlin travel guide
Planning a trip? Recommended travel booking & research options to I use for every trip I book:
- Skyscanner: The best flight search on the internet, Skyscanner searches everywhere on the web to find the best deals on flights.
- Tripadvisor: My go to for booking hotels, Tripadvisor also offers comprehensive reviews on hotels, restaurants and places.
- Get your Guide: A wonderful site for booking day trips and tours, everywhere in the world!
- Tour Radar: The best place to book group tours and trips, with an easy booking system and the best prices!