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Cologne is a wonderful amalgamation of architectural treasure, historical landmarks, cathedrals, unique pubs, and strong beer, overshadowed by famous places are some unique Cologne attractions.
That’s I only discovered after visiting this quaint Germany city.
Read my travel guide for Cologne if you are planning your trip to visit Cologne Germany.
Visit the Cologne you never knew existed with the help of this guide. It is for explorers like you who love doing the more non-traditional, quirky things in Cologne Germany.
If you are looking for help with visiting Cologne read my weekend in Cologne guide.
Hidden Things to do in Cologne
Hahnentorburg or Hahnen Gate
Inconspicuous because of its grand 13-century facade, but little-noticed and overshadowed by the Cathedrals, Hahnen Gate is one of the hidden gems in Cologne. Constructed in 5 years, it boasts two strong crenellated and semi-circular towers.
On the front, you will notice the German coat of arms proudly carved into its chest.
It is through Hahnentorburg that the German Kings entered Cologne after the coronation in the nearby city of Aachen. Over time, this medieval gate has also been used as an exposition hall, museum, and a prison.
Church of Saint Andrew & Tomb of Saint Albertus Magnus
When in the city centre of Cologne, Germany sightseeing, make sure to visit the 10th-century Romanesque Church of Saint Andrew.
Although located in Altstadt, the church often goes rarely visited and overlooked due to the famous Cologne Cathedral. It is home to the 3rd-century Roman sarcophagus in which late Saint Albertus Magnus sleeps. Born in 1200, he was one of the 35 Doctors of the Church and was recently canonised in 1931.
The entrance to the crypt of the church, where the tomb is located, is on the left side of the altar. The church itself has been in the custody of the Dominican since 1947.
Quirky Belgian Quarter
Lined with boutique shops, charming cafés, and vibrant bars, the Belgian Quarter is the trendiest neighbourhood in Cologne.
Although not so much of a hidden gem in Cologne, it is great for jet setters out to have a hedonist day.
If the Belgian Quarter of Cologne had a modus operandi, it would be to serve quality and fun.
Serving scrummy Belgian waffles, offering an effervescent nightlife, and painted in many colours of street art, the quarter is also the city’s creative district.
The air during the day is filled with the aroma of cocoa and Scottish whiskey. By night, the neighbourhood starts buzzing with the echoes of live music and DJs.
Lined with shopping streets, it is a haven for the shopaholics too!
Go all Scottish about the spirit affair in Cologne by visiting the Scotia Spirit Shop. Located in the Belgian Quarters of the artsy Kreuzberg, the shop is not quite hidden. But it is one of the alternative things to do in Cologne.
Boasting the effervescent Scottish ambience, the shop brims with a variety of Scotch spirits including malt whiskey, rum, gin, and rye. From full independent bottles to miniatures, you will find it all here.
The shop also doubles as a tea room. Tasting tours are offered regularly for you to try every novelty that it has to offer. Tipple away!
The café is one of the non-touristy things to do in Cologne. It’s quirky with lots of plants in the interior and vegetarian and vegan options on the menu. Upon entering, you get an animal toy which will later be used to identify your order when you pay up.
Cathedral Square Finial Replica
Cologne teems with twelve Romanesque churches ornate with Gothic elements. Among them, the Cologne Cathedral lords over the city and is easily an exemplary Gothic Cathedral in all of Europe.
While it dates back to August 1248, the final touches were done in 1880 when its two towers were crowned with 9.5m high finials.
A replica of these decorative carvings took the square’s centre stage in 1991. It has stood proud ever since in the front of the Dom, becoming as quintessentially Cologne attraction as the Cathedral itself.
Ossuary in the Church of St. Ursula
If visiting a reliquary flooded with ribs and femurs of 11,000 virgins isn’t the weirdest thing to do in Cologne then what is!
St. Ursula is an antique church founded on a Roman graveyard. It is named after the Breton Princess who decided to go on a pan-European pilgrimage in the 300s with her 11,000 virgin friends (woow, that’s a lot of friends).
In a morbid turn of events, all women were beheaded in Cologne by the Huns.
The ossuary or Golden Chamber inside the church is believed to belong to them. Notice how some bones are patterned to spell “Holy Ursula, Pray For Us.”.
The Virgin Islands were named after this band of 11,001 friends.
Senfmuseum, the Mustard Museum
If you like condiments or museums, you will love the Senfmuseum. Pegged in the Old Town, the museum is one of those secret things to do in Cologne.
A 200-year-old mill, devoted to one of Germany’s favourite condiments, takes centre stage here.
The museum timelines the mustard history spanning from Julius Caesar to Pliny. You can even see a restored 19th-century mill in action.
The Chocolate Museum
Sitting next to Senfmuseum is the Chocolate Museum, yet another one of unusual places to visit in Cologne.
Sprawling across more than 4,000 m², the museum portrays 5000-year of history of chocolate.
Here you will also find a large collection of baroque silver and porcelain, historical machines, and a chocolate fountain.
The Farina Fragrance Museum
One of the quirky things to do in Cologne is to smell three centuries worth of perfumes, starting from the Rococo era, the time when the world’s first Eau de Cologne was created.
This extraordinary experience is possible at the Farina Fragrance Museum. Guided tours are available here for anyone who wants to indulge in interesting historical and cultural facts. Here is a virtual tour to give a glimpse.
The Ludwig Museum
The Ludwig Museum is one of the most interesting places to see in Cologne. The grand collection in its exhibition halls displays 20th-century and contemporary art.
It also is the proud owner of Europe’s largest Picasso collection. In addition to this, you will find art genres like Pop Art, Surrealism, and Abstract covered throughout the museum.
Swinging above the Cologne Cathedral is the world’s largest bell, St. Petersglocke. The Gothic design, mammoth size, and almost 100-year-old antiquity add a certain charm to the bell.
The titanic clarion is 50-foot in diameter and cast in iron. Despite its magnificence, the bell has lost majesty over the years. Nonetheless remains a treasure for the city that cannot be missed.
The Chandelier Hall is unlike anything you’d have seen so far – a gorgeous chandelier suspending from the ceiling of an ancient sewer chamber.
To behold a sight as such has got to be one of the most unusual things to in Cologne.
Although the chandelier in the hall is a replica of the rusted and disposed original, it shares the same charm.
Since the city has adapted to a modern sewer system, this antiquated one is now a venue for concerts and free public tours.
The entrance to this awe-inspiring site is in the north-central part of the city, along the Theodor-Heuss Ring Road.
Visit a Bunker
Bunkers in Cologne are like a time capsule that takes you into the post-WWII era. They reflected the tensions in Germany when it was a Cold War hotspot.
One particular tube bunker that will win your attention is in Reichenspergerplatz. It is intact, undestroyed, and a clean sight that enables you to witness the dark chapter of world history.
This is where the refugees hid as bombing raids claimed the city above them. Given the purpose of bunkers, it is apt to call them hidden gem attractions in Cologne.
Cross the Rhine in a Rickety Old Boat
Take a 10-minute ferry to cut through the Rhine and on your way, get a chance to see the whizzing cargo ships from up close.
It is not the boating, but the sight of thousands of cargo ships that makes the experience of riding in an old boat a must-do activity in Cologne.
If you have known and liked England’s Highgate Cemetery, then the enchanting Melaten Cemetery is your calling in Cologne.
The name of this 200-year-old cemetery comes from the French word malade, which means sick. It is because the graveyard was formerly a home for sick and lepers during the French occupation. It was also used as an execution site during the 18th century.
Dotted by around 55,000 graves, including the likes of the Farina family and Guido Westerwelle, it creates a spooky environment.
Add to the landscape, haunting neogothic and neo-baroque sepulchres, angelic sculptures, traditional art, and come modern art elements too.
Wet Your Whistle with A Kölsch
Tipple on Just to Wet The Whistle, a refreshing 0.5% Köln-style beer that takes its cues from Cologne’s Kölsch brewing tradition.
The beverage is a drinkable concoction of ale and lager – perfect if you just want to wet your whistle.
Celebrate Cologne Carnival!
We know, we know! Cologne Carnival is not a secret. But it is a mad festival that deserves a spot on any list that talks about quirky and unique Cologne attractions.
If you are going to be in Cologne on 11th November, make sure to pack an extravagant costume. Be ready to shout Kölle Alaaf!, the groove at the Kölsch songs, as you welcome the Dreigestirn, a trio of a prince, a peasant, and a maiden.
They are addressed as the Seine Tollheit (His madness), Seine Deftigkeit (His Heftiness) and Ihre Lieblichkeit (Her Loveliness).
The Flora and Botanical Garden
Exploring a garden might not sound like a unique thing to do in Cologne, but it is!
Teeming with colourful flowers, the Botanical Garden in Cologne offers a refreshing view that is very different from the usual cultural scene.
The green space offered here is a concoction of ten thousand varieties of plant species. What’s more; the admission into The Flora and Botanical Garden is free of cost.
While the garden impresses with its fragrant floral beauty, the Flora is the true belle of the ball with her winter garden, glass roof, and a restaurant. The entire structure is based on the London Crystal Palace.
You can ride a hop-on hop-off bus or take the cable from the Rhinepark. The latter affords wonderful aerial views.
After exploring and doing all the unconventional, taking a relaxing thermal bath in the Claudius Therme becomes a must. The thermal bath here allows your body to relax and mind to unwind.
It is perfect for all wellness and spa lovers, exhausted or not. The unique experiences that await you in the many indoor and outdoor swimming pools include Siberian Banja sauna, beauty treatments, physiotherapy, and even gastronomy.
The main indoor pool is a sight to behold. Immerse yourself in its tepid waters to feel all fatigue and stress release from your body.
Once you are done, climb to the terrace and drink in the gorgeous views of Rhinepark and the city skyline.
While a spa or a sauna may not be on your bucket list for travelling in Cologne, it is an addition that you deserve.
Banks of the Rhine
Rhine is without a doubt one of Europe’s greatest waterways. The river route witnesses over 7000 cargo ships every day.
The water of the river runs through Switzerland’s Alpine range towards the vast delta on the North Sea. Sitting on one side of Rhine is the magnificent Cologne Cathedral.
Taking people from the other half of the city to the cathedral is an equally stunning Hohenzollernbrücke or Hohenzollern Bridge.
Just like that the mighty waters of the river run between Cologne, splitting and connecting the two halves at the same time.
Running along the waterfront of the river in the Dusseldorf’s Altstadt is the scenic Rheinuferpromenade and the popular Königsallee shopping Blvd. Nestled here is also the Media Harbor, the postcard image of the neighbourhood.
In a weird sense, one can explore the most important Cologne landmarks by simply tracing the banks of the Rhine.
Tucked in the Brühl town, around 30km away from the Old Town, Phantasialand is a theme park whose name speaks for itself – it is Phantastic!
Imagination runs free and wild here. Irrespective of age, everyone goes home with lots of fun memories. It’s unique, thematic attractions include Adventurous Mexico, Magical China, Wuze Town, and Deepest Africa.
I cannot call a place hidden gem if you know that the late great Michael Jackson once performed there. But I am mentioning as its just amazing.
The enjoyment at Phantasialand is defined by its hair-raising, scream-inducing rides.
When you are seeking adrenaline rush in Cologne, nothing will beat the exhilaration that you will feel at one of these rides. It’s simply too fun and dangerous to be overlooked.
Located not on a mountain cliff or plateau, but the roof of the Kaufhof car parking, the Sonnenschein Etage is among the freakishly unique things to see in Cologne, Germany.
Fondly known as “the highest beach in Cologne”, it offers sweeping views of the city, including an unobstructed view of the Cologne Cathedral as well.
Despite being manually made, the Sonnenschein Etage lacks nothing. From white powdery sand, wooden lounges, parasols, to a beach bar serving delicious cocktails, it has everything. The food menu offers snacks like sandwiches to nibble with the beverages.
The beach may close around midnight, but not without a musical, or artistic event such as reggae music.
Street Art Bike Tour
Many guided bike tours across the city take you to the hippest and most artistic neighbourhoods of Cologne.
Far away from conventional art galleries and museums, the tours unveil before you a series of murals that are often lost and forgotten in the urban jungle.
Some of these artworks include those of the “Cityleaks Festival”, painted by well-known artists from around the world.
Segway Tour of Cologne
Ditch buses, cabs, and bikes and wheeee your way through the city on a Segway! Explore the most beautiful sights, from the twelve romantic cathedrals to the riverfront district on wheels.
Most Segway tours are guided, thus offer great opportunity to learn while you wheeze around.
The official Cologne Segway tour is 3 hours long and traverses 20 locations and attractions. Six tours are scheduled a day until 5 PM when the last batch leaves.
This means you can sleep leisurely, have a healthy breakfast, and still catch a tour without rushing.
Because most tours are in German and English, the language divide also fades away when you take the Segway tour.
The meeting point of the tour is Alter Markt near the famous Jan von Werth Fountain.
Cable Car Tour of Cologne
Ride a cable car across the city, over the Rhine for the views. After all, it is either the 533 steps of the cathedral or the car ride that will offer the best view of the skyline.
Also, to take the perfect IG shot of the brightly-coloured gondolas. The line runs between three locations, the Rhinepark, the city zoo, and the Sculpture Park.
On your way, you will fly over Claudius Therme, the zoo bridge, Cologne Cathedral, Colonius Tower, and the busiest waterway of Europe – Rhine.
Views from Köln Triangle
Köln Triangle is an extraordinary vantage point that lords the entire city. Towered to an altitude of over 100 meters, it offers an unrestricted 360-degree view of the Dom, the Rhine, and the bridge.
Protected by the thick glass walls, it lets you take camera shots comfortably and safely.
Wrap up of Hidden things to do in Cologne Germany
Cologne, Germany is a wholesome mélange of art, architecture, history, and entertainment.
Why miss any aspect of its personality? This list of hidden attractions will help you discover every aspect of the city. It is curated to answer the one big question – “What are hidden gems and secret spots in Cologne, Germany.”.
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