Cologne in Winter | What to Get Up to in the City

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Winter in Cologne runs from the beginning of December through to the end of February. Winter is a magical time of year in this city as soft snow falls and the Christmas lights come on. It is a mild winter in comparison to that of surrounding cities and countries.

Prices of accommodation and activities tend to drop with the temperatures, allowing you to make the most of a discount or two over the holiday period.

If you need to know what to do in Cologne, Germany over the winter period, I’m here to help. But first, let’s take a look at the necessary information you’ll need to get there. 

Visiting Cologne, Germany in Winter

Visiting Cologne in winter is always a fantastic experience. Especially if you visit over the festive season when there’s a fair bit of magic in the air. Here’s what you need to know about the largest city of the North Rhine-Westphalia state in Germany.

Where is Cologne, Germany? 

As mentioned above, Cologne is located within the North Rhine-Westphalia state – Germany’s most populous state. The city is also located within the Cologne Lowlands, which is one of the country’s warmest regions. 

Cologne Winter Weather

Cologne’s winter weather is milder than most, but temperatures still drop below freezing during the night. The weather in December is chilly, but temperatures generally stay above freezing. In January the lows drop to just below freezing, warming slightly during the course of February. 

The wind blows quite frequently during the winter months, making the temperature feel a little colder than it is. But if you pack correctly (see below), you’ll be well prepared for the icy winds.

Snow falls quite often during the winter months, however, it’s a light and lovely snow. Which is perfect for those wanting to enjoy a white Christmas as you can still get out and about. It’s sure to snow quite a few times over winter, but your chances of experiencing a white Christmas are about 10%.

Because the snow is very light, it doesn’t tend to last on the ground very long, melting away quickly.

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What to Pack for Cologne in Winter

Your packing list may be rather extensive already. But there are a few things you’re sure to need when you visit Cologne in December, January, or February.

Waterproof Jacket

A waterproof jacket will keep you dry when it starts to rain, as well as protect you from the icy winds that sometimes sweep through Cologne during the wintertime. It’s one of those items you really can’t afford to leave at home during this time of year.

Umbrella 

Be sure to pack a compact travel umbrella as Cologne’s weather can change on a whim. You don’t want to be caught without an umbrella when the sky suddenly turns grey and it starts to rain.

Take an umbrella that folds up neatly so that it fits inside your travel bag comfortably, without taking up too much space.

Winter Accessories

It’s often the little things that make the biggest difference in the cold. When visiting Cologne, be sure to take a warm beanie, cashmere gloves, and thick socks. It’s also important to pack clothes that you can wear in layers as you’ll need to stay warm when you’re outdoors. But many places have central heating where it would be more comfortable to remove a layer or two.

Adding a scarf to your outfit will ensure your neck stays warm, and it’s easy to remove when heading indoors. 

How to Get to Cologne in Winter

The best way to get to Cologne in winter will depend on where you’re coming from. Shorter distances are easily covered by car. But when you’re coming from somewhere else in Europe, taking a high-speed train is far more efficient.

If you’re coming from somewhere else in the world, or want to get there the fastest way possible, travelling by air is your best option. 

How to Get Around Cologne in Winter

There are many forms of transport for making your way around this city. The public transport system is efficient, and the cheapest way to get around. Let’s take a look at your options. 

Train or Subway

Cologne is very well connected with its above-ground train (S-Bahn), and its subway (U-Bahn). This is a very popular form of transport in the city.

You can purchase a single ticket, which lasts for up to 90 minutes for €1.90 EUR (£1.71). Or you can opt for a ticket that lasts the whole day for €7.10 EUR (£6.38). What’s really incredible about these tickets is that you can use them across the train, subway, tram, and bus networks.

You can purchase these tickets at the station or using the KVB app. But do note that they cannot be bought onboard the train. Ticket checks are a regular occurrence so be sure to have your ticket on hand.

Tram

Trams also connect a decent amount of the city but they’re not nearly as fast as the subway and train systems. Tickets are the same price on the tram, but you can buy them on board.

Bus

Buses are great because they can get you within walking distance of where you need to go. The ticket prices are the same as the other forms of public transport in Cologne. 

Taxi

Taxies are a very expensive way to get around in Cologne. So it’s best to only make use of this service in case of an emergency. There’s a base rate of €3.50 EUR (£3.15), and you’ll pay an additional €1.70 EUR (£1.53) for every kilometre that you travel. 

Other

Bicycles are a very popular way of getting around the city, although it doesn’t come highly recommended in winter. If you happen to be out and about on a dry day though, it’s a great way to keep warm. 

Radstation and Nextbike are the most popular bicycle rental companies in the city. You’ll be looking at a price of about €12 EUR (£10.79) per day.

Walking is another wonderful way to get around within an area. Again, this may not be suitable for all winter days. One of the most walkable areas in the city is the Historic Old Town. There are plenty of Cologne attractions in the area to keep you occupied for an entire day. 

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Where to Stay in Cologne in Winter

While investigating all the best sites in Cologne during the wintertime, you’ll need to find the most suitable place to stay. Here are a few of the best options in the city. 

Radisson Blu Hotel Köln

The Radisson Blu Hotel Köln is a beautiful hotel located just a 5-minute walk from Lanxess Arena and KölnMesse Exhibition Centre. Its rooms are spacious and modern, with a stylish design. 

Each room offers a tea and coffee making facility, and en-suite bathroom, a flat-screen TV, and free WiFi. Guests can also make use of the sauna and gym, and enjoy a buffet breakfast at one of the two on-site restaurants.

Enjoy coffee, cocktails or beer on the terrace or at the lounge bar in the afternoons. The hotel is located a mere 100 metres from the nearest tram stop, making it easy for you to travel anywhere in the city. 

Click here for the latest rates | Bookings.com

Pullman Cologne

Pullman Hotel offers a quiet, convenient and elegant stay in the heart of Cologne’s shopping district. The rooms are spacious and flaunt a modern design, with stunning views of the city below. 

Relax in the luxury spa after a long day of exploring the city, and make use of their sauna, steam room, gym, and massage facilities. The hotel is just 400 metres from the nearest underground station, giving guests easy access to the rest of Cologne. 

Click here for the latest rates | Bookings.com

Motel One Köln-Neumarkt

Motel One Koln-Neumarkt is located just 600 metres from Neumarkt Square Cologne. It is situated perfectly for those who want to explore the best Cologne, Germany’s points of interest. 

There’s free WiFi throughout the property, and guest rooms are fitted with a flat-screen TV. Choose between indulging in a buffet breakfast or a continental breakfast each morning to fuel you for a day of exploring Cologne city centre in the winter.

Click here for the latest rates | Bookings.com

What to do in Cologne in December

Now that you know the technicalities of your trip, it’s time to learn about some of the best places to visit in Cologne in winter. 

Visit a Museum

Seek the comfort, warmth, and nostalgia that comes from visiting a museum in Cologne during the winter months. 

Schokoladen Museum

What could be more comforting than chocolate? There’s not much. Spend an afternoon learning about the history and culture of chocolate through the centuries. 

There are nine different exhibitions at the Schokoladen Museum. From the use of chocolate in the Maya and Aztec cultures as well as the industrialisation of the chocolate industry. 

After a tour of the museum, be sure to stop by the Chocolate Cafe where you’ll get the chance to taste everything and anything chocolate. It’s every chocoholic’s dream.

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House of 4711

The House of 4711 has been creating world-famous colognes and perfumes since 1792. It’s hard to deny their expertise. At this museum and flagship store, you can explore the variety of scents as well as exploring the history of the House of Fragrance. 

You’ll also get the chance to test out their original Eau de Cologne. If you’re a fan of great fragrances, this is an unmissable museum. 

Romano-Germanic Museum

If you’re into history and learning all there is to know about a place, the Romano-Germanic Museum will pique your interests. The museum contains artefacts from the past 100 000 years in the Rhineland area and speaks volumes about Cologne’s Roman heritage. 

Expect to find a whole variety of Roman artefacts. Including the world’s largest collection of Roman glass vessels, weapons from the Neolithic Age, and the reconstructed tomb of Lucius Poblicius – a veteran of the 5th legion.

EL-DE Haus

This former headquarters of the Gestapo (the secret police of Nazi Germany), is now the NS Documentation Centre. Here you can find every kind of documentation of Cologne during the Third Reich. Interviews, newspaper clippings, witness statements, historical films, and many other pieces of history. 

If you make your way down to the basement you’ll find prison cells as well as torture chambers left in their original state. You’re still able to read inscriptions of previous prisoners that were written on the walls. This is an eye-opening visit, to say the least. 

Stroll Around Old Town

Three-quarters of the original Cologne was wiped out during the war. While walking the streets of Old Town, keep in mind that it was turned almost completely to rubble 70 years ago. It’s maintained an old-timey feel because of the many buildings that did survive in this area. 

The cobblestone streets make you feel like you’re taking an amble through history. It’s a great place to take photos with the old buildings as a backdrop. Even though it may be chilly during the wintertime, it’s worth braving the cold to take in the beautiful sights of Old Town. 

Take a guided tour of Colognes Old Town if you’d like to learn about the history of the area while you walk around. 

Enjoy the Views From KölnTriangle

The KolnTriangle is the perfect place to take in views and learn about the history of many of the most beautiful buildings in Old Town. Its observation deck is open until 23:00 making it a wonderful place to watch the sunset behind Cologne Cathedral. What an epic setting for photographs.

If you do decide to venture to the observation deck in the evening, be sure to dress warmly as it’s understandably very chilly in the evenings during the winter months. 

Marvel at St Gereon’s Church

St George’s Church is one of Cologne’s twelve Romanesque churches and is more than likely the strangest of the bunch. Because it was built over the period of a few centuries, it incorporates many different styles. But that’s what makes it stand out from the rest.

You can visit this Basilica and explore the interior of the building as well as admire it from the outside. If you’re an architecture fan, try to guess when each area of the building was built. It’ll add to the excitement of the visit. 

Visit Cologne Cathedral

Easily the most magnificent portion of the Cologne skyline, the Cologne Cathedral is a real sight for sore eyes. It’s an international pilgrimage site that holds the holy relics of three different kings. 

This UNESCO World Heritage Site is the most visited site in Germany and is still the second-highest building in Cologne. The outside of the building with its gothic style is hauntingly beautiful. If that doesn’t impress you, venture inside to witness some of the magnificent art it contains.

Expect to find 1500s stained glass windows, a Gero-Kreuz crucifix from the 10th century, and a 1300s black marble high altar which contains images of the Coronation of the Virgin. But the real crowd-pleaser is the shrine of the Three Kings.

It’s a triple sarcophagus which is covered in relief paintings depicting the life of Christ. These were created by Nicholas of Verdun in the 12th century and are a must-see for any art lover.

Climb the South Tower

If you’d like to see some of the best panoramic views of the city, head to the base of the South Tower of the cathedral. From there you’ll need to climb 533 steps to reach the viewing platform, which is 100 metres above the ground. 

During the climb, you’ll pass the bell chamber which contains the largest free-swinging bell in the world. St Peters Bell weighs an impressive 24 tonnes!

The views from the top make the climb so worth it, but do note that you’ll need to have a certain level of fitness to reach the top. The spiral staircase is steep and narrow making it rather challenging, but very doable. 

What to See in Cologne, Germany Over Christmas

Now that winter as a whole has been covered, it’s time to dive into what to do in Cologne in December. Because it’s such a magical time of year, there’s plenty of top things to see in Cologne at Christmas. 

Get Festive at Cologne Christmas Markets

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Germany is famous for many things, but its Christmas Markets are at the top of that list. The main Christmas market in Cologne is located in front of the Cologne Cathedral. Visiting this market is one of the best Cologne things to do in December. 

This is by far the biggest Christmas market in the city, and stalls offer a variety of goods. From festive ornaments and souvenirs to traditional Christmas foods that will have you drooling for more.

The market is always open from the 23rd of November to the 23rd of December and hosts a variety of different events throughout the course of the month. So if you’re looking for things to do in Cologne, Germany in December, this is a must-visit.

Explore the Shopping District

What’s more Christmassy than a shop-til-you-drop experience in the heart of Cologne’s shopping district. The area becomes lit up with twinkling lights making you feel like you’ve entered a scene out of your favourite Christmas movie. 

If you’re looking for standard fashion and clothing stores, then Hohe Strasse and Schildergasse are the places to be. If you’re looking for designer clothes, alternative fashion labels or one of a kind items, head to Breite Strasse and Ehrenstrasse. 

Take a Boat Trip on the Rhine

No matter the weather, taking a boat trip on the Rhine River is a magical experience. The boats offer inside seating keeping you safe from the cold. But still provide you with magnificent views of the city, especially when it’s all lit up with Christmas lights.

Take an hour-long cruise to the south toward the Rodenkirchen fishing community. Along the way, you’ll pass the cathedral, old town, the Rheinauhafen district, and under four bridges. You’ll learn about the history of each area as you pass by. Making it an educational experience as well as a visually pleasing one. 

Declare Your Love on Love Lock Bridge

There’s nothing better than a little romance over the holiday period. Hohenzollern Bridge is located just a short walk from the Cologne Cathedral and has become famous as love lock bridge. 

Thousands of padlocks have been attached to the sides of this bridge by couples “locking in their love” before throwing the key into the flowing river below. Combine the weight of all these locks and it comes to an incredible 2 tonnes. 

Whether you’re in love or not, Hohenzollern Bridge is a great place to get a view of the Rhine River, as well as to leave your mark on the city. Your lock could represent leaving a piece of your heart in Cologne, which as you’ll soon find out, is more than likely. 

Celebrate the Cologne Carnival

While it’s not quite over Christmas time, this celebration does still take place in winter. February is home to this week-long celebration that brings together tourists and locals alike. It’s a lively occasion with plenty of beer, costumes and all things celebratory. 

The celebrations include parades, balls, and everything in excess – including alcohol. So if you’re keen for a party during your time in Cologne, February is the time to be there. 

Wrapping Up Top Things to Do in Cologne, Germany

Now that you’re familiar with some of the best things to do in this wonderful city, you can start planning a magical vacation to Cologne during the winter. Just because it’s cold doesn’t mean you should stay away. In fact, it’s arguably one of the best places to be in Europe over Christmas.

Whether you’re spending a weekend in Cologne or indulging in a month-long holiday, be sure to fit some of these great winter activities into your itinerary. 

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