We began our epic German road trip in Cologne. It was the place we kicked it off and spent out first few days before setting out to the forests, rivers, mountains, cities and highways of five countries. Cologne sightseeing was truly remarkable, and it was the perfect place to kick off our summer holiday!
As always, we did our research and put together a stellar plan. Our Cologne itinerary set the tone for this trip and we, of course, decided to share the details with a city guide here. This overview of Cologne is in our Countdown Format, meaning we give you:
- 5 Things to Do in Cologne
- 4 Food or Drinks to Try in Cologne
- 3 Places to Stay in Cologne
- 2 Cologne Instagram Spots
- 1 Insider Tip for Visiting Cologne
We cover all that in detail so that you can see the best places to visit in Cologne with our advice and experiences. Use it to assist your own planning and get an overview of the city.
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How To Get To Cologne
Pro tip – Germany is huge but well connected by a fabulous transportation network. This means that sometimes the obvious way of getting somewhere isn’t the cheapest or best way. That’s true of flying into Cologne because two airports service the regions: Dusseldorf (DUS) and Cologne-Bonn (CGN).
Search for your flights and factor flying into Dusseldorf and taking the train to Cologne. If you take the train from CGN into downtown Cologne the timing won’t be much different but you can save some money on the flights. We always use Skyscanner because they have the best flight comparison tools.
If you take the train into Cologne you’ll find that Cologne Central Station (Description Köln Hauptbahnhof) is busier than a Black Friday shopping mall. t’s a hub for local, national and international trains. If you arrive from ICE, Thalys or an Intercity trains you will find yourself in Cologne Central Station. The same is true if you arrive via regional Regional-Express, RegionalBahn or the local S-Bahn.
Once you arrive in the city of Cologne you’ll be impressed by the fantastic public transportation. That’s Germany for you! It’s super easy to get around.
Consider buying a transport pass, the Köln Card, for about $10 per day. It will save you money getting around and some travel deals and discounts in the city. Even the Hard Rock Cafe (just kidding – don’t go there). We used the discounts at the Chocolate Museum, Cable Car ride and a few other Cologne attractions. Each tram ticket costs €2-3, so over 24 hours you will easily save money just getting around the city.
5 Things To Do in Cologne
When it comes to Cologne sightseeing, you won’t be bored or let down. The city hosts some of the most interesting museums, natural landscapes and a vibrant feeling. From the moment you arrive you’ll be entertained in Cologne.
Here are five of the best things to do and places to visit in Cologne. Of course, you don’t have to stop at five!
1. Admire Cologne Cathedral and Old Town
You will notice the Cologne Cathedral as soon as you arrive in the city. It dominates the skyline from almost every location in the center of Cologne. This gorgeous building is a world heritage site, an incredible example of Gothic architecture and a monument of German Catholicism. It goes without saying that you should visit the cathedral.
Guided tours of the building are conducted daily in multiple languages. These can be arranged by the tourist office across from the entrance. Entering the cathedral is free, but there is a fee for climbing the tower to visit the observation deck.
The Cathedral is located in the Cologne’s historic Old Town or Altstadt. The historic charm of this enchanting river-front section of Cologne is palpable. It’s located directly on the Rhine River and has been an urban center since Roman times. Despite its centuries of development, Cologne’s Old Town is full of green space amidst the historic buildings.
Spend some time admiring the cathedral’s interior, exterior and climb it to see the city below. Then stroll around Old Town Cologne and admire the Altstadt. It’s the perfect way to get acquainted with the city and begin your Cologne sightseeing.
2. Set Sail on a Rhine River Cruise
The city of Cologne has one of the most distinctive skylines in Europe and the Rhine River offers panoramic views. Book a Rhine River cruise to learn more about the city, its layers of history and modern role in the world. The photo ops alone make it a must-do Cologne sightseeing experience.
While on the 90-minute cruise you enjoy views of the Old Town landmarks: Cologne Cathedral, City Hall Tower and the Romanesque Church Great St. Martin. Refreshments are served on the boat and there’s a recorded guide describing the sights in German and English.
There are several ships and ticket kiosks along the Rhine waterfront with tours running as often as every 30 minutes. Still, these cruises are extremely popular and it’s highly recommended to book a tour in advance. We booked through GetYourGuide with free cancelation up to 24 hours in advance and were blessed with perfect weather.
3. Visit the Cologne Chocolate Museum
One Cologne attractions we heard raving reviews for is the Chocolate Museum. We definitely recommend the museum but since we crammed a lot into our 48 hours in Cologne, we sped through. It’s a perfect attraction for anyone traveling with kids or for a rainy day activity.
The exhibits are expansive and take you on an information overload from the history of the cocoa bean to literally watching it be made. It honestly covers everything! There was so much information we could have spent another three hours inside and probably still missed something.
Inside the interactive museum you’ll also find a greenhouse with – you guessed it – cocoa beans used for chocolate-making. They don’t leave anything out, so come ready to dive into chocolatier life! Entry to the ticket is about €12.
4. Ride The Cable Cars in Cologne
One of the must-do Cologne sightseeing attractions is the cable car that runs over the Rhine River from the Cologne Zoo to the Riehler Straße car park. The views are phenomenal and the ride is super fun for visitors of any age.
The cars run from mid-May through early November between 10:00 AM and 6:00 PM. They often operate with special hours during periods of the summer and special events. More information is provided on their website.
The cost is €7 for a round trip cable car ride and you can save €1 by showing your Cologne Card at the ticket booth.
5. Visit the Wallraf Richartz, Roman Germanic or Museum Ludwig
Some of the best places to visit in Cologne are the brilliant museums in the city. There are three stand-out museums that are all located in the Alstadt. You should make time to visit all three, but depending on your itinerary and time in Cologne you will have to choose.
The Wallraf Richartz Art Museum is one of Europe’s best collections of art from the Medieval period through the 20th century. This exhibit is world-renowned and offers generous pricing for students and family discounts.
The Roman Germanic Museum is a famous exhibition of archaeological collections from the Roman settlement of Colonia Claudia Ara Agrippinensium. That’s the Roman settlement on which Cologne was built. It was the frontier city on which Rome built a society facing the Germanic tribes across the Rhine River. Inside the museum are fascinating remnants of a key era in German history.
The Ludwig Museum is a work of art itself an adds a fun, modern element to the city skyline if you check it out across the river. It’s also a perfect collection of modern art from Pop Art and Abstract to Surrealism. Check it out for works from Picasso, Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein.
The beauty of Cologne sightseeing is that all three of these museums are in close proximity and can be seen between other Cologne attractions.
Browse availability and rates of these great activities and others on GetYourGuide.
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4 Things To Eat and Drink in Cologne
Cologne is a destination full of things to do, and many of those cultural experiences involve the local cuisine. You may be familiar with German cuisine and know that it’s a lot of meat and potatoes. The good thing about Cologne is that the city is full of international foods, but here are four local food and beverages you just have to try in Cologne.
Schnitzel is a German culinary staple and you simple HAVE to try it in Cologne. It’s firmly pressed chicken, veal or pork that’s breaded and deep-friend. There’s nothing more delicious to be found in a typical German establishment.
There are several variations, we love the jägerschnitzel. It has a mushroom gravy poured overtop and is served with a portion of pommefrites (french fries). I mentioned there would be a lot of meat and potatoes!
2. Kolsch Beer
You simply cannot visit Cologne without trying Kölsch beer. It’s the famous local brewhouse with the straw-colored beer served all over town. In Cologne you’ll find servers walking through tables with circular holders filled with .20L glasses of Kölsch. Every time they pass, they will swap your empty glass with a full one and mark a dash on your coaster. They will keep dropping off new ones until you signal that you’re finished by placing your coaster overtop. It’s convenient, keeps your beer fresh and cold, but it can catch up to you quickly!
3. Schweinshaxe: Pork Knuckle
Neither Schweinshaxe nor Pork Knuckle sound desirable, but it’s the most delicious dish I’ve tried in Germany. The meaty favorite is usually served with potatoes and sometimes bread dumplings. The only way to serve the cut of meat is bone-in and with savoury fond or gravy poured overtop.
4. Schweizer Wurst Salad: Sausage Salad
A sausage salad may not seem appealing – but it’s Mike’s favorite. Served cold, it combines sausage, cheese and vinaigrette over a plate of vegetables. The slices of sausage are mild, but tasty and the unique style of serving sausage makes this German dish a must-try.
3 Places to Stay in Cologne, Germany
Where to stay in Cologne was top of mind when we booked this part of our trip. We had major plans for Cologne sightseeing and for enjoying the nightlife of Cologne. We followed our old standby philosophy when it comes to booking lodging: stay where you’ll end the day.
Therefore we decided to book a room near Rudolfplatz, a popular nightlife area with several of the best gay bars in Cologne. We also researched hotels in the Altstadt because there are so many attractions in Old Town Cologne. Once we were in Cologne, we found the Heumarkt area to be a third great option for lodging and when we return we will look for hotels there.
Here are our recommended hotels for each of those areas of the city with convenient buttons to compare online booking pricing.
2 Cologne Instagram Spots
Cologne hasn’t been visited until your friends and followers gawk at your stunning Instagram photos. Luckily there are plenty of fabulous Cologne Instagram spots worth visiting. Here are two stunning places to photograph, be photographed and selfie your way around Cologne.
1. Brunnen der Fischweiber
This gorgeous square has a view of the Rhine River, an enchanting stone fountain and several terraces serving food, coffee and drinks. It also serves up a perfect Instagram shot with five colorful medieval houses and a shot of the gorgeous Saint Martin’s Church behind you. Take a selfie with the Romanesque church peaking over the row of pastel facades for the perfect Cologne Instagram.
2. The Steps Beside Hohenzollern Bridge
The Rhine and the gorgeous cityscape has been described in detail, but you have to capture it for your social media. One of the best places to capture the beauty of Cologne is across the Rhine on the steps beneath the Hohenzollerne Bridge.
For just the right photo, arrive a little before sundown. You can even bring a bottle of wine and some take-away food for a sunset picnic on the steps. Enjoy the environment around you and when the lighting, sunset and photo settings are perfect – snap your Instagram pic.
1 Insider Cologne Travel Tip
Any time you visit a city, you want to know about the things you won’t find in the guidebooks. That’s why visiting a travel blog is even better than buying a Rick Steve’s book on Amazon. It’s also why we add this section to our city guide posts – so you get something extra.
Here’s our insider tip for visiting Cologne.
1. The Cologne Memorial for Gay and Lesbian Victims of Nazism
Cologne is one of Germany’s most progressive cities (although it’s hard to compete with Berlin). It makes no surprise that Cologne is a famous gay travel destination in Europe and is home to a large and visible LGBTQ+ community.
Gay Cologne is vibrant today, but the community has in existed in the margins of society and suffered immensely during the Nazi regime and the decades that followed. A solemn but simple memorial to LGBTQ+ victims of National Socialism (Nazism) can be found along the riverfront near the Hohenzollerne Bridge. The spot was once famous for gay men to meet in secrecy for romantic and sexual liaisons. Today it’s marked by a pink granite triangle (the symbol for homosexuals during the Holocaust) and a moving memorial. It’s just one of the powerful LGBTQ+ heritage sites to visit in Europe.
Now You're Ready For Cologne Sightseeing and More
Cologne is one of the best cities to visit in Germany. It’s beautiful to the eye, tickles the taste buds and you can’t help but smile as you walk around the city. From the Romans to the modern tourists, there’s no wonder why people have been coming back to Cologne for centuries.