Are you looking to explore the beautiful city of Cologne? This enchanting metropolis is the perfect fusion of old and new, embracing both tradition and modernity, and truly has something for everyone. With this complete guide, you'll have the opportunity to immerse yourself in the city's unique charm and discover its hidden gems in just two days! From exploring the iconic twelve Romanesque churches to strolling along the picturesque Rhine River, this article will walk you through an action-packed itinerary that will make your visit truly unforgettable.
A city that seamlessly blends its ancient roots with a modern twist, in Cologne you'll have the chance to explore captivating history, culinary delights, and a lively, welcoming atmosphere. Start your adventure by visiting the magnificent Cologne Cathedral, a UNESCO World Heritage site and one of Germany's most iconic landmarks. Marvel at its Gothic architecture and climb to the top for breath-taking views of the city. As you wander through the charming streets, you'll encounter a mix of medieval buildings, trendy boutiques, and cosy cafes. We’ll then pick out the top spots around the outer areas of the city and help you decide where you want to go! We promise to leave no stone unturned when it comes to making the most of your trip to Cologne.
Know Before You Go
To get to Cologne, there are several options depending on your starting point. If you're in Europe, you can take a train to Cologne Central Station, which is well-connected to major cities in the region. If you're coming from further away, you can fly into Cologne Bonn Airport, which has both domestic and international flights. Another option is to drive, as Cologne is easily accessible by road and has good highway connections.
The bus network in Cologne is extensive and covers the entire city. There’s also a convenient tram network which covers various parts of the city both overground and underground.
To use public transportation in Cologne, you can purchase tickets from ticket machines located at the stations or directly from the bus or tram drivers. There are different types of tickets available, including single tickets, day tickets, and weekly or monthly passes. It's important to validate your ticket before boarding the bus or tram.
You may also consider purchasing a Cologne Card for discounted entry and convenient access to public transport.
Enjoy the mild temperatures and longer days during the summer season in Cologne. Experience the famous Cologne Carnival, a lively street festival held in February or March. Explore the city during the Christmas season and visit the enchanting Christmas markets. Attend the Cologne Lights Festival in September, where the city is illuminated by stunning light installations. Cologne offers a vibrant and festive atmosphere throughout the year.
The best time to visit for pleasant temperatures is from May to September, with averages between 19.3°C to 24°C. Clear skies are frequent, with an average daily sunshine of nearly 5.9 hours.
The currency in Germany is the Euro. When travelling anywhere in the country, it’s important to carry cash because not everywhere accepts cards. You’ll find Euro banknotes in denominations of 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 200, and 500- although the latter two are seldom used.
Day 1: Old Town
Cologne's old town, also known as the Altstadt, is a historic district located on the banks of the Rhine River and is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the city. It’s known for its narrow cobblestone streets, traditional German architecture and vibrant atmosphere.
One of the main attractions in Cologne's old town is the Cologne Cathedral, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Another notable feature of this area is the Hohenzollern Bridge, which is a pedestrian and railway bridge that crosses the Rhine River. It offers stunning views of the city and is a popular spot for tourists and locals alike. The old town is also home to numerous museums, including the Romano-Germanic Museum, which houses a collection of Roman artefacts, and the Wallraf-Richartz Museum, which features a wide range of European art.
In addition to its historical and cultural attractions, the old town is also known for its nightlife. The area is filled with cosy pubs, trendy bars, and traditional beer gardens where you can enjoy a refreshing Kölsch, the local beer.
Cologne Cathedral, also known as Kölner Dom, is a magnificent Gothic-style cathedral located in the heart of Cologne's old town. This stunning Gothic cathedral is the most visited landmark in Germany and is known for its intricate architecture and beautiful stained glass windows. The construction of the cathedral began in 1248 and took over 600 years to complete. It’s the largest Gothic church in Northern Europe and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The cathedral's twin spires dominate the city's skyline, and its interior is equally impressive, with beautiful stained glass windows, intricate sculptures, and a stunning high altar.
The cathedral’s most famous feature is the reliquary of the Three Kings- a triple sarcophagus decorated with 12th century reliefs depicting episodes from the life of key religious figures such as Jesus Christ, prophets and apostles. Cologne Cathedral is the top must-see sight for visitors to the city and a significant place of worship for the local community.
The Museum Ludwig houses an extensive collection of modern and contemporary art, including works by artists such as Pablo Picasso, Andy Warhol, and Roy Lichtenstein. It’s especially famed for its impressive collection of Pop Art and is one of the most important museums of contemporary art in Europe. It also hosts temporary exhibitions, educational programs, and events throughout the year.
The museum opened in 1976 and is named after Peter and Irene Ludwig, two donors of a large collection of modern art to the city. The Ludwigs signed a donation contract with the City of Cologne, stipulating that in return for their donation of 350 works, Cologne would erect an independent ‘Museum Ludwig’ in their honour.
Situated conveniently right next to the Cologne Cathedral and housing a vast collection of artefacts, this museum was built on the site of a Roman villa discovered in 1941 during the construction of an air-raid shelter, and showcases various exhibits, including mosaics, statues, and other archaeological finds from the Roman era. The most valuable piece in the museum is the 4th century ‘Cologne cage cup’, which bears the Greek lettering for, ‘Drink, live well forever’.
The museum is open every day from 10:00 until 18:00, parking is available and there’s also offers for groups, families and even ‘bad weather’. It provides a fascinating insight into the history and culture of the Roman Empire in the region.
Cologne’s Old Market, or Alter Markt, is one of the oldest squares in the city and has been a central meeting place for centuries. The square is surrounded by beautiful old buildings, including the City Hall and several traditional German houses. The Old Market is also known for its lively atmosphere, with numerous cafes, restaurants, and shops just waiting to be sampled and explored. It’s a hotspot for both locals and tourists, especially during festivals and events.
The winding cobblestone alleys, courtyards, romantic squares, hustle and bustle offer a glimpse into how Cologne looked during the Middle Ages. Many structures have since been reconstructed however the medieval flair still remains.
TimeRide VR Experience
Set out on a thrilling journey with TimeRide and experience the undestroyed Cologne and the fascinating lifestyle of the legendary twenties! Together with the charming hatter, Tessa, and the Cologne streetcar driver, Pitter, you will discover the exciting time after the end of the First World War, the British occupation, and the Spanish flu.
There are three steps to your time travel adventure: Firstly, enjoy a trip to the movies, taking a seat together with the fine society. Watch an entertaining short film that will show you the historical development of Cologne in the 1920s. Then, visit the hatter’s store of the Riedschneider family, diving into the glamorous world of twenties’ fashion. In this lovingly decorated store, the art of wearing and making hats is illustrated using numerous originals from the Diefenthal family of hat makers in Cologne. Finally, on your virtual ride with the first electric Cologne streetcar, you will experience the beauty of the city before its destruction in World War II. With your VR goggles, you’ll enjoy a 360° panoramic view and discover iconic landmarks of old Cologne, many of which have disappeared or are barely recognizable today. At Neumarkt, your trip ends in the colourful carnival hustle and bustle with a “Grand Finale”.
Ready for a shopping spree? Schildergasse is one of the busiest shopping streets in the whole of Europe, and is known for its wide range of shops, boutiques, and department stores. It’s located in the city centre and stretches for about 500 metres, offering a variety of options including fashion, accessories, electronics and more.
Even if you don’t want to stock up on souvenirs just yet, there are several cafes and restaurants where you can stop for refreshments, and an abundance of street performers to see and marvel at for your entertainment. Overall, Schildergasse is a lively and vibrant area to enjoy for as long as you like.
Hohenzollern Bridge spans the Rhine River and connects the city centre with the neighbourhood of Deutz. The bridge is known for its iconic twin towers and is a popular spot for locals and tourists to take in the beautiful views of the river and the city skyline. It’s also a major transportation hub, with numerous trains and pedestrians crossing the bridge daily. Additionally, the Hohenzollern Bridge is famous for its love locks, where couples attach padlocks to the bridge as a symbol of their love.
Hohenzollern Bridge was constructed between 1907 and 1911 after the demolition of the Cathedral Bridge, which was unable to handle the increasing traffic in Cologne. The new structure was named after the House of Hohenzollern, the rulers of Prussia and German Emperors, as at this time Cologne formed part of the Prussian Rhine Province.
Great St. Martin
One of the twelve Romanesque churches built in the city during the medieval period, this church is known for its distinctive architecture, with its tall towers and rounded arches contributing to the iconic Cologne skyline since the Middle Ages. It’s a famous sight and is often visited for its historical significance and beautiful interior. Its foundations rest on remnants of a Roman chapel, built on what was then an island in the Rhine.
The cathedral takes second place behind only the Kölner Dom as Cologne's most prominent religious structure. Guests usually spend up to 2 hours here depending on whether they’re staying for a service or just having a quick look!
The Fragrance Museum, also known as Duftmuseum im Farina Haus, is housed in the historic Farina House, birthplace of Eau de Cologne. The museum showcases the history and production of perfumes, with a focus on the famous Eau de Cologne fragrance. Visitors can learn about the perfume-making process, explore the collection of antique perfume bottles, and even create their own personalised fragrance. The museum also offers guided tours and workshops for a more immersive experience.
Note that the museum can only be visited within a guided tour. Reservations are required for both groups and individuals.
The Wallraf-Richartz Museum is one of the oldest museums in Germany and houses a vast collection of European art from the medieval period to the early 20th century. It’s named after its founders, Ferdinand Franz Wallraf and Johann Heinrich Richartz and showcases works by renowned artists such as Rembrandt, Rubens, and Monet and others. Stefan Lochner’s Madonna of the Rose Bower is its most favoured attraction. The museum also hosts temporary exhibitions and offers educational programs for visitors of all ages. There’s a cafe and gift shop too.
Top Tip: The picture window on the 3rd floor gives the best vantage point of landmarks such as Cologne Cathedral and the city hall, as well as views of the surrounding area.
St. Maria im Kapitol
St. Maria im Kapitol is another of the twelve Romanesque churches in Cologne. Measuring 100 metres by 40 metres, and encompassing 4,000 square metres of internal space, it’s actually the largest of them all! The church dates back to the 11th century and is dedicated to the Virgin Mary, featuring stunning frescoes, intricate stone carvings, and a magnificent altar. It’s a must-visit for anyone interested in history and architecture.
The church was damaged heavily during the Second World War and, as a result, could only be used in the closed-off western part until 1956. In 1984, the eastern part was reopened and could also be used.
NS Documentation Center / EL-DE Haus
EL-DE Haus, officially the NS Documentation Center of the City of Cologne, is the former headquarters of the Gestapo and now a museum documenting the Third Reich. Dedicated to educating visitors about the history of the National Socialist regime in Germany, the museum provides extensive information about the Nazi era, including exhibits on propaganda, persecution, and resistance. It also houses a research library and offers educational programs and events. The NS Documentation Center is an important institution for understanding and reflecting on the darkest chapter of German history.
Students, all Cologne residents under 18 years of age and all holders of the KölnPass benefit from free admission!
Where to Stay
Budget - Tante ALMA's Hotel Lasthaus am Ring
This peaceful hotel located in central Cologne is a 2-minute walk from the Rudolfplatz square's U-Bahn (underground) station, connecting you to the world-famous cathedral in just 10 minutes. You can also walk to Cologne's old town with its vibrant Schildergasse shopping street in about 15 minutes. Relax in the Hotel Lasthaus's lovely decorated, en-suite rooms which offer free WiFi internet access, air-conditioning, flat screen TV, and comfortable beds. For an additional fee, you can leave your car in the hotel's private deck throughout your stay.
Mid-Range - Koncept Hotel International
Set in Cologne, less than 1 km from Neumarkt Square Cologne, Koncept Hotel International features express check-in and check-out and free WiFi throughout the property. At the hotel, all rooms come with a wardrobe. Featuring a private bathroom with a shower and free toiletries, rooms at Koncept Hotel International also boast a city view.
Located on the River Rhine in Cologne’s historic city centre and featuring modern design, free WiFi, and a large rooftop terrace, all rooms at the hotel contain a flat-screen TV, minibar and tea/ coffee facilities. Many feature ceiling-high windows, stylish wall art and a minimalist design. The bar/ lounge features a summer terrace, and serves a wide range of drinks and snacks. Other facilities include a sauna area and library. The hotel offers a free guided tour for guests wanting to learn more about the Korean artist, SEO. The famous Cologne Cathedral is just a 15 minute walk away.
Day 2: New Town and Beyond Central
On your second day in Cologne, immerse yourself in the city's cultural attractions and bustling unique districts. Begin by exploring the beautiful Botanical Gardens, where you can experience the tranquillity amidst stunning flora and fauna. Animal lovers are also in for a treat with a trip to Cologne Zoo, one of the oldest and most popular zoos across the country. We’ll then continue our exploration with stops at exquisite architectural and historical structures including St Gereon’s Basilica and the KölnTriangle, impressive structures which showcase the city's rich history. We’ll also highlight some fantastic tour opportunities, including a delightful trip to the Cologne chocolate museum, a tasty brewery tour and a peaceful glide along the Rhine via an unforgettable evening cruise.
The Cologne Botanical Gardens, also known as the Botanischer Garten Köln, is a beautiful green space home to a wide variety of plants and flowers, including rare and exotic species. The gardens are divided into different sections, each showcasing different types of flora, such as tropical plants, succulents, and medicinal plants. There are also several themed gardens, including a Japanese garden and a rose garden.
The Cologne Botanical Gardens are a great choice for nature lovers and those looking for a peaceful and relaxing environment. We’d especially recommend checking out the cedar of Lebanon tree, which is up to 1,000 years old, and taking a stroll past the ponds, springs, waterfalls and fountain.
Cologne Zoo is one of the oldest and most popular zoos in Germany, with a wide variety of animal species from all over the world. Home to over 10,000 animals including giraffes, lions, tigers, and many more, it also has a large aquarium and a tropical rainforest house. Its motto is, ‘Enthusiastic about animals’. Among the attractions is the elephant park, which opened in 2004. Equally exciting is the Hippodom, which was completed in 2010 to mark the zoo’s 150th anniversary.
Cologne Zoo is known for its conservation efforts and educational programs, making it the perfect place to learn about and appreciate wildlife.
Formerly known as LVR-Turm, the KölnTriangle is located in Deutz. You can reach this neighbourhood by crossing over the Hohenzollern Bridge.
Situated on the Rhine River and offering panoramic views of the city, this impressive skyscraper stands at a height of 103 metres and has 29 floors. It was completed in 2006 and is primarily used for office spaces. The observation deck on the top floor is a popular vantage point as it allows visitors to enjoy breathtaking views of Cologne's skyline.
Visitors to this tantalising museum are invited to discover the 5,000 year cultural history of cocoa and chocolate. Here you can find out how chocolate first arrived in Europe, and how it has changed and evolved over the decades.
Awaiting visitors is a walk-in tropical house, natural history information on cocoa, exhibits from the pre-Columbian cultures of Central America, an important porcelain and silver collection from the Baroque period, as well as numerous old machines from the time of industrialisation. In a glass chocolate factory and in the chocolate atelier, visitors can experience how chocolate products are made industrially, but also individually by hand. A highlight of the tour is the 3-metre-high fountain which features 200 kg of mouth-watering chocolate. Tasting is expressly encouraged! Reserve your entry here.
Melaten Cemetery is over two centuries old and is an oasis of peace and quiet amidst the buzz of Cologne city. Including around 55,000 graves, visitors can walk along the main paths reserved for the wealthy, known as the ‘Millionaires Alley’ and discover curious stories about the prominent Cologne citizens buried here. Marvel at its parklike design and find numerous impressive monuments and objects of traditional and contemporary art. Admire Classicist to Neo-Gothic and Neo-Baroque grave monuments, symbols and sculptures.
With this highly rated tour, your local guide will join you at the old main entrance and give you a short history of the area before encouraging you to explore. Learn about the cemetery’s history as a village for lepers and as a place of execution, before its transition into becoming a central cemetery. The tour will conclude with a stop at the tomb of the architect of the graveyard.
Why not experience Cologne’s renowned brewing culture up close with this beloved brewery tour? Learn about the city’s most interesting, hilarious, and kooky legends while enjoying Kölsch, the local beer. Learn about the breweries and the local brewing culture as well as taste hundreds of years worth of brewing experience.
The great thing about this tour is that your guide has the freedom to spontaneously choose which breweries to take you to! Allow these Kölsch connoisseurs to make decisions based on the group dynamic, ensuring that everyone is entertained and satisfied. Your thirst-quenching journey will include stops at 3 different breweries, where you will taste 3 local beers to find the one that best suits you. The list of traditional breweries in the area include the 700-year-old Brauhaus Sion, as well as younger upstarts like Früh am Dom- Cologne's largest.
2 Hour Evening Rhine Cruise
Discover Cologne with this 2-hour boat cruise along the Rhine. See the sights on a panoramic tour along the water and cruise the river as it’s bathed in the soft glow of the evening lights.
Get the best seats in town for viewing the romanesque churches of St. Kunibert, Groß St. Martin, St. Maria Lyskirchen, and the iconic Cologne Cathedral. In good weather, take a seat in a beach chair or deckchair on the spacious open deck. Head below for comfortable seats away from the wind and see the city from the large windows. Enjoy live lounge music throughout your journey for an extra dose of bliss. Passengers may also check out the bar for a selection of cocktails, beers, and tasty snacks.
Known for its unique architecture, due to its construction on the ruins of the Gothic Church of St. Kolumba, this museum houses a collection of art and artefacts from various periods including medieval, Renaissance, and contemporary art. There’s also a stunning chapel and a beautiful garden where visitors can take a leisurely stroll around.
Kolumba is a popular destination for art enthusiasts and history buffs, having won many awards including the title of Museum of the Year in 2013. It’s also one of the oldest museums in the city.
Museum of Applied Art Cologne
The Museum of Applied Art Cologne, also known as MAKK, focuses on applied art and design, showcasing a wide range of objects such as furniture, ceramics, textiles, and graphic design. Exhibitions draw mainly from the collections of the scholars Ferdinand Franz Wallraf and Matthias Joseph de Noël, which are continually supplemented by foundations- especially the Cologne Citizens’ Foundation. MAKK boasts a collection of over 100,000 objects, spanning from the Middle Ages to contemporary design and hosts temporary exhibitions and offers educational programs for visitors of all ages throughout the year.
The building may look plain and unassuming from the outside, but inside visitors are presented with a spectacular, cathedral-like space. Upon entrance, guests must cross the foyer with its low ceiling; this is how the museum visualises a conceptual bridge between tradition and modernity.
St Gereon’s Basilica
St. Gereon's Basilica is another of the twelve Romanesque churches of Cologne and is easily recognisable due to its distinctive octagonal shape. The basilica dates back to the 4th century and is dedicated to Saint Gereon, a Roman soldier who was martyred for his Christian faith. The church is a popular tourist attraction featuring beautiful stained glass windows and intricate mosaics. It’s also home to the Shrine of the Holy Martyrs of Cologne, which contains the relics of several saints.
St Gereon’s Basilica is open to the public Monday- Sunday from 10:00 to 18:00 and entry is free! The easiest way to get here is by walking for about 4 minutes from the Christophstraße/Mediapark tram stop (lines 12 and 15).
Cologne's Belgian Quarter, known locally as Belgisches Viertel, is a trendy neighbourhood and one of the hottest city districts. It’s named after the Belgian workers who settled in the area during the 19th century, and is known for its vibrant atmosphere, with numerous cafes, bars, and boutiques lining the streets. A popular destination for locals and tourists alike, the Belgian Quarter offers a mix of modern and traditional architecture. The neighbourhood also hosts various cultural events and festivals throughout the year.
‘Quality over quantity’ is the general maxim of the Belgian Quarter shops which offer high-quality fashion and designer labels. You can also find a collection of unique, handmade jewellery from local artists.
This modern district is situated along the banks of the Rhine River and is known for its contemporary architecture and vibrant atmosphere. Developed in the early 2000s and featuring a mix of residential, commercial, and cultural spaces, it’s home to several notable landmarks including the Kranhäuser buildings, which are three striking high-rise structures that resemble cranes.
The Rheinauhafen District is a young and attractive part of the city that is a great place for visitors to stroll along the river, take in the sights and stop for refreshments, with a variety of restaurants, cafes, shops and recreational areas to choose from. Get here with ease using tram lines 15 and 16 (stops Ubierring/ Schönhauser Straße), or aboard bus number 133 (stops Rheinauhafen/ Schokoladenmuseum).
Where to Stay
Budget - Maternushaus
Well located in the centre of Cologne, Maternushaus provides air-conditioned rooms, a garden, free WiFi, a bar and a terrace. The property is non-smoking and is located less than 1 km from Cologne Central Station. At the 3 star hotel, each room has a desk, a wardrobe, a flat-screen TV, a private bathroom, bed linen and towels. A continental breakfast is available daily.
Mid-Range - NH Collection Köln Mediapark
The 4-star NH Collection Köln Mediapark offers comfortable accommodation with elegant décor. Rooms include spacious bathrooms with rain showers, a Nespresso machine and tea and coffee making facilities. Open for lunch and dinner, the restaurant offers high-class international and regional dishes. Enjoy wonderful views of the Mediapark's lake and green surroundings as you dine. Work out in the fitness area, or relax in the sauna or steam room.
Luxury - Hotel Santo
This 4 star hotel is within a 10 minute walk from Cologne Cathedral, Cologne Main Station and the River Rhine. The modern and spacious rooms at Hotel Santo feature contemporary design, with free Wi-Fi, a flat-screen TV and Nespresso coffee maker. Each room also includes cable TV, a minibar and a bathroom with hairdryer. A full buffet is served each morning in the elegant breakfast room with its leather seats and stylish black-and-white photos. Guests are also welcome to relax in Santo’s bar.