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:
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.
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]