What to Do in Cologne, Germany

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Looking for tips on what to do in Cologne?

As part of our city guides series, we interviewed Melvin Boecher who has lived in Cologne for 8 years.

Melvin shares with us his tips on things to do in Cologne for those looking for the best places to see, eat, stay, drink, and explore.

Why visit Cologne?

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 (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. 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. It’s quite a unique music scene.

What to do in Cologne

There is no way around it, you have to visit a brewery.

You’ll sit down and get a Kölsch (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.

Another highlight is of course the Cologne Cathedral.

You should climb the 386 steps to the top. After that, walk across the railroad bridge and there you’ll find the perfect picture of Cologne.

I recommend this guided tour to the cathedral followed by a walking tour through the historical old town and riverfront.

The bridge and the cathedral. Maybe wait for sunset or even a bit more until the cathedral and bridge are lighted. That would make a great photo.

Where to Eat & drink in Cologne

Cologne is full of cafes & bars. A few nice ones are:

Breweries:

Most tourists pretty much go to the old town, which is worth walking through and my places mentioned above are at the “Ring”, which are about 10 – 20 minutes walk from the old town.

There are a few nice breweries in the old town, which are also quite popular with the locals:

You should also walk through Zülpicher Strasse towards outter 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.

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.

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!

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:

If you want a local and unique experience consider booking with Airbnb. Click here to view the wide variety of properties available in Cologne.

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.
Booking.com

Markets and Shopping

You’ll find some nice shops in Ehrenstrasse, but in recent years more and more chains have opened their, 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.

Festivals & Events

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.

Favorite side trip from Cologne

I’ve already mentioned the river Mosel above. That’s worth a trip. But you could also head East towards “Bergisches Land”. It’s a very scenic landscape with many hills and old town centres.

Get a nav-sat, but first get lost on the small streets, before using it.

Best time to visit Cologne

Carnival is around February/March, which is really fab to experience. Otherwise I would suggest May – September to visit Cologne.

The Christmas markets are also very special, so December might be of interest to visit Cologne as well.

Getting There and Away

It  really depends where you live. I know that an international bus service stops in Cologne, which should be a very cheap option.

The Cologne airport is also a base for GermanWings, a good low cost carrier. You should check rates with them.

Not that far away is Dusseldorf, which also has an international airport with a few low cost airlines.

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!

Planning a Trip to Cologne

Accommodation in Cologne

  • Booking.com has 380 properties in Cologne from hotels to apartments and hostels. You get free cancellation on most rooms and a best price guarantee.

Flights to Cologne

  • Skyscanner is a comparison website that searches millions of flights. Once you find your best deal, book directly through the airline (no extra fees)

Car Rental in Cologne

  • RentalCars.com is the world’s biggest car rental booking service that compares all the major brands like Hertz, Avis, Alamo, and Europcar.[/ybox]

BIO: Melvin Boecher is the man behind TravelDudes.org which is a community of travelers exchanging tips to help  other travelers. You can hang out with Melvin on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.

Do you have tips on what to do in Cologne? Share in the comments below.

48 thoughts on “What to Do in Cologne, Germany”

  1. I was coincidentally in Cologne during the Gay Games of 2010. That was a pretty fun atmosphere, sure the carnival would be similar.

  2. I had never really thought at visiting Koln, thus I like it a lot when I read articles that give me new inspiration for future travels.
    I recently visited Berlin, loved it and was thinking that I should explore a little more Germany. Now Melvin gave one more reason!

    1. And you have a couch to crash as well… 😉
      You know that you are welcome any time you like! I would also be your guide for Cologne! 🙂

  3. Cologne is definitely worth visiting – traditionally has had a very good jazz and music scene. AND there’s a Chocolate Museum along the river.

    1. Yes, there are two tiny jazz bars I know, which are really cool & have that very special jazz atmosphere. One is in the Altstadt & one at Barbarossaplatz.
      The lived just opposite of the chocolate museum for a few years. Nice spot! The museum is fine, too. They even have a huge chocolate fountain where you can eat from. 🙂

  4. Cologne got the biggest gay scene with Berlin of Germany. It pretty much describes the kind of folks you meet. They are easy going and open minded. I haven’t been to the Gay Games, but am sure that the Cologne carnival is even better! It’s truly one of the best in the world! Many international friends who visited us will back me up on this! 🙂

  5. I lived a few kilometres from Cologne for a few months 🙂 (No idea how I didn’t know Melvin was there!). Loved the live music scene, the beer, and the view from the top of the Dom. Also, the bridge full of love padlocks across the Rhine is worth looking at 😀 Finally, and totally randomly, if you’re into computer games at all, then Europe’s largest computer gaming festival is held in Cologne every year 😉

    1. I was at that gaming festival 2 years ago. Wow! That was fun… and loud! It was an amazing sunny day & we were inside in that noisy halls, which wasn’t that nice. They should have that event on rainy November days! 🙂

  6. I loved visiting Cologne last June. Melvin has some great tips here. Climbing the tower of the cathedral is definitely a must. I enjoyed the Kölsch, too! To add to places to stay — I stayed at the Hotel Cristall on Ursulaplatz not far from the railway station & the cathedral. Nice room, free wi-fi, great breakfast.

  7. Melvin, I’ve not been to Köln during Karneval; it’s one of the things I’ve missed out. But I’ve visited the place at all other times of the year. 😉

    If I may, my own recommendations for Köln include:

    * the tiny bars at Zülpi, and after all that drinking in the area, my go-to place is Oruç Kebap, Kyffhäuserstrasse at Heinsbergstrasse (between U Barbarossaplatz and U Dasselstrasse/Bf Süd).
    * more türkisches Essen (turkish food) is to be found in Neustadt-Nord, just northwest of the Hauptbahnhof. Had an excellent meal at Mangal Restaurant on Weidengasse.
    * summer lounging and drinking at the Aachener Weiher (U Universitätsstrasse).
    * a walk/stroll through the park in the Ring (that is, Innerer Grüngürtel, or the inner green ring)
    * Römisches-Germanisches Museum, next to the Dom. After all, there are good reasons why the place is called Colonia.
    * a short river cruise with K-D (Köln-Düsseldorfer Rheinschiffahrt) on the Rhein is a great way to spend a sunny afternoon, too.

  8. All the places seem to be very nice to pay a visit to. Your guide post will definitely help me find that wherever I want to go at the time of my visit to Cologne. Thanks Craig for the post.

  9. Loved Cologne, it was my hub during the 2006 World Cup and your post brought back some good memories. The Chocolate Museum is a must if you’re there for longer than 2 days, especially in the summer when you can enjoy your chocolate cocktail on the terrace along the river.

  10. What a great summary of Cologne! I love that you mentioned the Bergisches Land – it’s where I am from 🙂 I never noticed how pretty and idyllic it is before I moved away. Another good day drip from Cologne would be to one of the many Talsperre (lake/dam) in the region. One of my favorites in the Aggertalsperre which is superclose to where I am from.

  11. Love the blog! Just arrived in Köln this afternoon, it’s my second visit to this lovely city (only this time I’m staying on the more happening side of the Rhine!).

    I’m alone for two nights until my colleague joins me, any suggestions for a fun place to meet new people?

  12. Hang out by the skate park – I watched those kids for hours!

    I was 14 when I first climbed that cathedral and my legs were shaking my the time I got back down…

  13. SO excited to have the chance to visit Cologne next week as my son has an audition. Just hope I have time to see everything! Thanks for all the information…really can’t wait! X

  14. One word for this city amazing . My boyfriend treated me to going to this wonderful city for my birthday 29 Dec 2013 and didn’t want to come home the only shame was we wasn’t out there for new year. People were so friendly and would talk to you in any bar. Loved the cathedral and it is a must also the chocolate factory was good. Go on your birthday you get in free. But the most amazing bit was the love bridge which my boyfriend surprised me with a lock to put on the bridge. Can not wait to go again this time thinking about an apartment and not a hotel any good ones xxx ps also forgot to mention the amazing food and beer unbelievable country loved every second xxxx

  15. When you are in Cologne, you shouldn’t miss to visit also Cologne Zoo, EL-DE Haus (former headquarters of Gestapo), Church Groß Sankt Martin and museum Ludwig (if you like art). I really love this city! I hope next time I’ll have the chance to visit the Christmas markets in Cologne.

  16. Hi Melvin! Nice description about the city, we came with a friend of mine and we are currently staying in the city until tomorrow, Im heading to Hamburg after and my friend, she is coming back to Strasburg. We felt that we are missing something and weather doesnt seem to help today! Are you participating in CouchSurfing in Cologne? We still need a place where to stay tonight and you seem to know and love your city! Would be nice if you can host us and advice where to keep discovering the place!

    Thanks!
    Fer & Renata

  17. Have to disagree with you in that. Cologne IS beautiful at first look. At every look. Cologne with its dome is the most beautiful city in Germany. You wouldn’t find a nicer one.

  18. I live in Cologne for 5 year now and I have to say, the Carnival really is the best in the world! You can’t even compare it to the one in Rio (only nice on the TV in my opinion). I would totally recommend a visit!

  19. I live in Cologne and I always enjoy reading about my city 🙂 It is really beautiful and you are right, we from Cologne really love and are proud of our city. We even have a saying: “Home is where the Dom (the cathedral) is” 😀

  20. Elizabeth PRICE

    Hi,

    I will be visiting Cologne in July. I want to hire a car and spend a few days in the mosel valley. Where would you recommend staying/visiting in the wine region please? Also any recommendations on vineyards to visit please?

    Thanks!!

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