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When it comes to German cities that are special and unique, you won’t find any more unique than the city of Cologne.
With a history spanning back more than 2,000 years, it’s full of incredible medieval and gothic architecture. As Germany’s fourth largest city, it also has a thriving nightlife scene and the people are so friendly and welcoming, you’ll find you never want to leave.
But if you’re not sure what to do in Cologne, then you needn’t worry, as we interviewed a resident of Cologne, Melvin Boecher, who has lived in the city for more than 8 years.
Melvin has shared with us his tips on things to do in Cologne, including the best places to see, eat, stay, drink, and explore.
Let’s take a look at what he says…
- Is Cologne Worth Visiting?
- What to do in Cologne
- 1. Visit the Cologne Cathedral (Kölner Dom)
- 2. Try the Local Breweries
- 3. Take a Day Trip to the Wine Regions in Cologne
- 4. Shop Till You Drop!
- 5. Go Wild at Cologne Carnival
- 6. Check Out Historic Art at Museum Ludwig
- 7. Visit the Romano-Germanic Museum
- 8. Ignite Your Sweet Tooth at the Chocolate Museum
- 9. Admire Medieval Art at the Wallraf-Richartz Museum
- 10. Check Out Cologne’s City Hall (Rathaus)
- 11. Have a Picnic at The Flora and Botanical Gardens (Botanischer Garten Köln)
- 12. Smell the Eau de Cologne at the Fragrance Museum
- 13. Ride the Cologne Cable Car
- 14. Take a Day Trip to Bergisches Land
- 15. Take a Rhine River Cruise
- 16. Be Awed By the Kolumba Museum
- Best time to visit Cologne
- Getting To and Around Cologne
- Where to Stay in Cologne
- Final Thoughts on Things to Do in Cologne
- More Germany Travel Tips
Is Cologne Worth Visiting?
Cologne is an open-minded city. It’s maybe not as beautiful at first look like other cities, but when you walk around, you’ll see that it’s one of the nicest cities in Germany.
The Altstadt (Cologne’s old town) has some very nice buildings, which lie right at the river Rhine. Just next to it is the Cologne cathedral, a UNESCO world heritage site. It’s worth the climb up into one of the two towers.
Cologne is about the atmosphere and its people. People in Cologne love their city and they have their own dialect and quite a few music bands who sing about the city in these dialects.
People from South or North Germany won’t be able to understand a word, which makes quite a unique music scene.
On the whole, there is nowhere quite as special and unique as Cologne, so it’s definitely worth visiting!
What to do in Cologne
Not sure what attractions in Cologne to add to your itinerary? Don’t worry, these are all the best things to do in Cologne!
1. Visit the Cologne Cathedral (Kölner Dom)
One of the biggest highlights in the city is of course the Cologne Cathedral. You should climb the 386 steps to the top. After that, walk across the Hohenzollern Bridge and from there, you’ll find the perfect picture of Cologne.
The bridge and the cathedral are worth a visit at sunset or even just after sunset when the cathedral and bridge are lit up. That would make a great photo.
The Hohenzollern Bridge is also home to thousands of love locks, so if you’re visiting Cologne with your loved one, be sure to seal it with your own lock on the bridge.
2. Try the Local Breweries
There is no way around it, you have to visit a brewery. You’ll sit down and get a Kölsch beer (Cologne beer) right away without asking for it. At the very moment it’s empty, you’ll get a new one without asking for it, until you put your beer mat on top of your glass.
That’s how they roll in Cologne!
Most tourists pretty much go to the old town, which is worth walking through and the breweries Malzmühle and Päffgen are at the “Ring”, about a 10 – 20 minutes walk from the old town.
Some other nice breweries in the old town, which are also quite popular with the locals are:
You should also walk through Zülpicher Strasse towards outer city from Zülpicher Platz. There are many bars. Get your drink on at 4 breweries and learn what makes a Kölsch worthy of the name! Click here for tickets.
My tip is Stiefel. It’s a real rock bar. Graffiti on the walls, pool billiard, kicker, cheap beer.
Cologne is also full of cafes & bars, but a few nice ones are:
3. Take a Day Trip to the Wine Regions in Cologne
For a day trip, if you have a car, I would recommend you drive to the River Mosel, which is about a 40 minutes drive.
It’s a little river, set in a very beautiful valley. There you’ll find one of the top wine regions of the world!
German wine might not be as well-known as Italian or French, but the quality is first class. Even if you don’t like drinking wine, you should consider heading there. There are many walking paths, and the scenery alone is worth it.
4. Shop Till You Drop!
If you enjoy shopping, you’ll find some nice shops in Ehrenstrasse, but in recent years more and more chains have opened there, which has destroyed the atmosphere a bit. But it’s still worth going there!
Friesenstrasse and Hohe Strasse are the main shopping streets. You’ll find pretty much everything there.
Small boutiques are pretty much everywhere around the inner city, surrounded by the ring with the rail tracks. Just wander through the side streets and you’ll find some good shops.
5. Go Wild at Cologne Carnival
If you want to experience one of the best carnivals of the world, Cologne is your spot. It might be cooler than in Rio, but the difference is that the whole city takes part. Everyone…absolutely everyone is dressed up!
We’ve told that many friends from abroad and nobody has really believed us, until they experienced it.
There are many street carnival parades of different sizes. The biggest one is on Carnival Monday & there will be huge trucks and thousands of people attending!
They throw candy as big as chocolate bars. You’ll have plenty of beer and you won’t have it alone. Travel solo and after 5 minutes you’ll get invited by the person next to you!
People sing carnival songs in the Cologne dialect and it’s just an amazing atmosphere! Forget carnival in Rio, Venice or anywhere else… Cologne shouldn’t be missed, if you like carnival.
6. Check Out Historic Art at Museum Ludwig
The Ludwig Museum is home to some of the world’s most stunning pieces of 20th-century art, including many pieces by Pablo Picasso, Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol.
You’ll find works of modern art including Surrealism, Abstract, and Pop Art.
It was named after Peter Ludwig, a chocolate tycoon, who donated 350 modern artworks to the museum in exchange it being named after him.
If you love modern art and you want to see more, I also recommend you get the train to Ehrenfeld which has some amazing pieces of street art.
7. Visit the Romano-Germanic Museum
Another top thing to do in Cologne is check out the Roman antiquities in the Romano Germanic Museum.
As well as containing important relics from the Roman period, the museum is also located on the site of a former Roman town villa, and you can see the remains of the Dionysus mosaic in the basement. It’s not just a museum, but an archeological site, too.
Visitors can gaze upon Roman glassware, coins, funeral and burial relics and much more.
8. Ignite Your Sweet Tooth at the Chocolate Museum
No trip to Cologne would be complete without tasting its fine chocolate. One of the best places to learn about the city’s chocolate history is at the Cologne Chocolate Museum, or Imhoff-Schokoladen museum.
The museum contains exhibits detailing the entire history of chocolate making across the world, from the Olmecs, Mayas and Aztecs, all the way up to today’s production methods.
And of course, you can sample some German chocolate from the gift shop on the way out.
9. Admire Medieval Art at the Wallraf-Richartz Museum
The Wallraf–Richartz Museum is one of top museums in Cologne and has an impressive collection of fine art from the medieval era to the 20th century.
Some notable pieces in the museum is the Madonna in the Rose Bower, by Stefan Lochner, which was painted in 1448, an altarpiece from the Great Saint Martin Church, and a painting called the Adoration of the Child which is thought to have been painted by Hieronymus Bosch though it has not been confirmed.
The museum also contains collections from Rambrandt, Giambattista Pittoni and Monet.
10. Check Out Cologne’s City Hall (Rathaus)
Another stunning building in Cologne worth checking out is the City Hall, which sits between the Rathausplatz and Alter Markt sqaures.
Here is where the city government resides and is full of council offices of the Lord Mayor.
It was built in the 11th century, making it Germany’s oldest city hall. Though it has been updated several times over the years, its facade has remnants of several different styles, from 15th century gothic styles, to 16th century Renaissance, and the 20th century modern atrium.
11. Have a Picnic at The Flora and Botanical Gardens (Botanischer Garten Köln)
If you’re looking for free things to do in Cologne, you can’t go wrong with a visit to The Flora and Botanic Garden, a large formal park and botanical garden.
It first opened its gates in 1863 as a replacement for the city’s older botanical garden by the cathedral, which was later destroyed to built the railway station.
This 5.5 hectare garden has many influences, from Gothic German, French Baroque, Italian Renaissance, and English manicured gardens.
It consists of 10,000 species of plant, which 5,000 can be seen in the four greenhouses; the main greenhouse which houses tropical rainforest plants, the small tropical house which contains tropical crops, the subtropical house and finally the cactus house.
12. Smell the Eau de Cologne at the Fragrance Museum
In the 18th century, perfume was created in the very city where the phrase “Eau de Cologne” was invented.
This is the oldest perfume factory in the world and belongs to the perfumer Johann Maria Farina, whose perfumes became world-famous in the Rococo period and gave the city its name as the capital of perfume.
There’s a short guided tour you can take where you can learn about centuries of perfume history and see the vaults where you can see replicas of the copper still and laboratory equipment that Farina used.
13. Ride the Cologne Cable Car
If you’re looking for things to do in Cologne with kids, then a ride on the Cologne Cable Car is a must.
This gondola rides across the river Rhine and connects the banks of the Rhine at the height of Cologne’s Zoo Bridge. It has been in operation since the 1950s and was the first cable car in Europe to cross a river.
It’s a unique way of getting across the river and offers amazing views of the Rhine below. It takes about 6 minutes to reach one side to the other.
14. Take a Day Trip to Bergisches Land
If you want to get out of the city and explore some nature, head East towards “Bergisches Land”. It’s a very scenic landscape with many hills and old town centres.
The landscape is made of dense woodland, meadows, and over 20 artificial lakes. It’s the perfect spot to do some hiking or meditating in the forests.
15. Take a Rhine River Cruise
Visitors to Cologne should not skip a cruise down the Rhine River. Not only is this a relaxing way of sightseeing, but it also allows you to learn about Cologne’s history from expert commentary as you sail past landmark after landmark.
You’ll sail past the Cologne Cathedral, under 5 bridges, and to the Rheinauhafen which is easily recognised by its crane houses.
You can even buy a local Kölsch beer or coffee and cake to enjoy while you take in the sites.
16. Be Awed By the Kolumba Museum
The Kolumba museum is housed over the ruins of the St. Kolumba Church, one of the many churches that were bombed during the second world war.
During World War II, this Late-Gothic church was destroyed but the outer shell was rebuilt by Pritzker Prizewinning architect, Peter Zumthor.
As you walk down the aisles, you will see the destruction in its enormity, before passing into the art galleries that tell the story of Christianity through different periods of history.
Notable pieces include the Rhenish Romanesque crucifix with an ivory Jesus, a gilded bronze Hermann Ida Cross and a Coptic Egyptian tunic dating to the 400s.
Best time to visit Cologne
The best time to visit Cologne is during Carnival, which is around February/March. It really is fab to experience. Otherwise I would suggest May – September to visit Cologne.
Cologne’s Christmas markets are also very special, so December might be of interest to visit Cologne as well.
Getting To and Around Cologne
It can be really easy to get to Cologne, but it really depends where you live. There is an international bus service stops in Cologne from other cities in Europe, which should be a very cheap option if you don’t want to fly.
However, you can find cheap flights from Europe to Cologne. Cologne airport is also a base for GermanWings, a good low cost carrier. You should check rates with them to see if you can find a deal.
Not that far away is Dusseldorf, which also has an international airport with a few low cost airlines.
When it comes to getting around Cologne, I love walking, and Cologne is easy to walk. But there is also a very good public transport system with many trams and busses.
People in Cologne also love to ride bicycles and I would recommend to do so as well. There are pretty much cycle paths everywhere, so it’s safe to ride.
The city life is pretty much on the Eastern side of the river Rhine. You’ll have the old town in the centre at the river and then you’ll see 2-3 rings around the city. That way it’s very easy to find your way around.
Where to Stay in Cologne
If you are looking for something special and have the budget, check out:
I personally haven’t stayed in these budget to mid-range properties myself, but they come recommended:
For more places to stay in Cologne choose from the largest range of hotels, apartments, and guesthouses with our partner Booking.com. You get free cancelation on most rooms, and in most cases you only pay when you stay.
Final Thoughts on Things to Do in Cologne
I love Cologne because I love the nature and the countryside. There are only a few cities in the world where I could imagine living for a while…and Cologne is one of them!
As you can see from this guide, there is a lot of great things to do in Cologne and places to visit. I hope this guide helped you plan your trip to Cologne and gave you some inspiration for what to do in this incredible German destination.
More Germany Travel Tips
Are you thinking of visiting other parts of Germany? Then the following guides may be useful to you!
Do you have tips on what to do in Cologne? Share in the comments below.