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Here is a guide to everything you need to know about visiting Cologne, Germany. From accommodation and things to do, to how to get around within the city.
Cologne is a beautiful city where a bustling modern environment complements historic architecture. Köln, as the city is called in German, winds along with the Rhine river through Western Germany.
It can be stressful to plan a holiday in a new place, which is the last thing you want! After all, holidays are all about relaxing while experiencing something new and interesting. If you’re wondering how to plan a perfect trip to Cologne, this guide will tell you everything you need to know.
These are the things I researched and wanted to know when I was planning my trip to Cologne.
Even if you’re a seasoned traveller, these tips will come in handy. Read on to learn everything you need to know when planning a trip to Cologne!
How to Get to Cologne
Of course, your mode of transportation depends on where you’re coming from. If you’re visiting Cologne from within Europe, you could simply take a train.
For example, an Amsterdam to Cologne train only takes 4 hours, and they run regularly. While this mode of transportation is certainly longer than a flight, there might be less hassle and stress involved. You can also see the countryside as you travel along.
But if you want, or if you’re coming from further than the European reaches, flying is the way.
You can check Skyscanner for flights, as this site has the best comparison capacity and directs you to the best prices.
If you’re wondering how to get from the airports to Cologne city centre, don’t worry, it’s easy.
There’s a train that goes directly from the airport to the city centre, and it only takes 14 minutes. It also goes 3 times an hour.
How to Get Around Cologne
Within Cologne, you will mainly make use of trams and buses. The public transportation systems throughout Germany is excellent, and you’ll have no need to rent a car, or even often take taxis.
You can download the DB Navigator app to help you find the closest bus, tram, subway and train station, and the timetables. The app can map out the best route for you, so it’s really easy to explore Cologne.
You can get a week or a day ticket, if you intend to move around a lot, or a single route ticket.
You don’t feed your ticket into the machine in order to get in, as there are no blockades. But you do have to validate your ticket so that it shows where you got in and off.
Interestingly, Germany uses the honour system for much of its transport. But we recommend respecting that system, as there are regularly plain-clothes controllers who will ask everyone for their tickets. You can get slapped with a €62 ($68) fine and some serious embarrassment.
How Many Days to Spend in Cologne
To really experience the best parts of Cologne at your own pace, then I would say book a trip to Cologne for 3 days.
I have written a more detailed guide on how long to spend in Cologne, filled with 2 to 6 days Cologne itinerary suggestions.
Cologne Germany Weather – How the Season will Affect Your Trip
This historical city is charming in all seasons, so the best time to visit Cologne is dependent on your personal preferences.
But let’s take a look at what to expect in the different seasons so that you can see what will suit you best.
Cologne in Winter
If you’re looking to enjoy the Gluhwein and stroll through the winter Christmas markets, with the chance of a white blanketing, then winter is for you. Consider planning your trip between December and February.
These months are rather icy, and the trees are bare of their leaves. But if you’re a fan of heavy coats and visible breath, it’s perfect.
And you can always pop into a pub to warm up with some spiced hot wine or the German staple – a beer.
If you plan your Cologne trip during these months, be sure to bring a very warm coat and thermal clothing.
You’ll also appreciate your boots and gloves. But layers are helpful because the indoors are kept very warm, even on the buses and trains.
Cologne in Spring
During the spring months of March to May you’ll find the trees turning green once again, and bright flowers all over.
This is, of course, typical for spring. But the very distinct seasons in Germany each introduce something unique.
In Cologne, it brings people outdoors a lot more. The days lengthen and it no longer gets dark at 16:30, like in the depths of winter. This season is perfect for explorations and busy, active days.
If your trip to Cologne is during spring you should bring good walking shoes and warm clothes. It’s a good idea to pack in maybe one t-shirt and shorts, but the weather will still be cool.
Cologne in Summer
When summer rolls around in June until August, you’ll really see Cologne come into its own. Summer is most Germans’ favourite season for a reason.
There are so many things to do in Cologne during the summer months. Open-air music concerts and performances, outdoor eating and drinking, public swimming pools and ice cream parlours are some of the best activities to engage in. It’s all great fun.
And because Germans seem to try their best to stay outdoors during the summer season, you’ll see plenty of people in good humour. Restaurants and bars even extend their seating to the outdoors and stay busy late into the night.
If you’re planning a trip to Cologne in summer, you should bring mainly light clothes, with maybe one pair of jeans and a jersey. The summer months are warm to hot, sometimes reaching over 30 degrees Celsius.
It also stays warm into the evening. So you should be happy with just a few cosy things, in case the cold hits.
Cologne in Autumn/ Fall
Last but not least, is Autumn from September till November. It’s a beautiful season with the many trees turning varying shades of red and gold. Even some of the buildings are affected by this seasonal colour change if they’re covered in ivy.
During the autumn months, the days slowly become shorter. And you’ll see the locals try to get the most out of the last bit of warmth and spend lots of time in the parks.
If you’ve decided to plan your trip to Cologne during Autumn, you should bring clothes that are geared towards cool weather.
Jerseys, jeans and stockings to go with your dresses should do it. Maybe one warm jacket, but not the one you reserve for the depths of winter.
If you’re looking for more information on the seasons and what to expect, check out my information on the best time to visit Cologne.
READ MY GUIDE ON HOW TO SPEND WINTER IN COLOGNE
Things to Do in Cologne – The Local Must Do’s
This is a question I all have for every destination I’m lucky enough to visit. What must you do in Cologne Germany? What, if you don’t take this chance to experience it, will mean that you didn’t have a full experience of Cologne?
We’ll answer these questions, ranging from the worthy tourist trap (some of them really pull everyone in for a reason), to the little known gems.
But one of the best things about Cologne is that you can just walk down the street and take in the sights. And have a great time doing so.
There are a number of free attractions in Cologne if you’re on a tight budget, or saving more for beer. In fact, you’ll find that almost all of the top sights in cologne are free. They just require a little walking.
Climb the Cologne Cathedral
The most famous attraction in Cologne is the Cologne Cathedral, or Kölner Dom. This gothic cathedral is the third tallest in the world, and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Construction of the cathedral started all the way back in 1248.
And the architecture and incredible attention to detail is an incredible testament to its creators.
You can walk up the 500 steps of the tower for an unrivalled view of the old city and the Rhine. Just being inside the cathedral and gazing through the meticulous stained glass windows is an impressive experience.
In front of this monument, talented artists perform their original music. Besides the cathedral, the impressive train station delivers people from all over Europe. And five minutes walk from its walls is the famous Rhine River.
There are many cool things to do in Cologne, and the best of them are right outside the Cologne Cathedral.
Cologne Walking Tour and Beer Tasting
This is a wonderful opportunity to learn about what you’re seeing and to experience things you would likely never have spotted. History adds such a richness to any trip.
You can also meet fellow travellers while you’re at it! The walk ends at a brewery, where you’ll try the traditional (and delicious) Kolsch beer.
If you’re only in Cologne for a short time and you’re wondering what to see in Cologne in 2 or 3 days, this is the perfect way to pack in some good sightseeing. Check out the tour on Getyourguide.com
Explore the Old Town
If it’s a sunny day, you should walk along the Rhine river and take in the sights. You could pick up a delicious german pastry from one of the many bakeries.
Along the cobbled streets are mouth-watering toasted almond-covered pretzels hanging in open air bakeries.
The bees might surround them in the shop, but that just shows that they are the absolute best. They’re called nougat pretzels and come highly recommended.
With your treat in hand, you can just meander through the Old Town. You will come across museums, old houses, boutiques and galleries. And you can pick up on the vibrancy of everyday Cologne life.
Consider ending your path at Cologne’s Old Town Hall, the Kölner Rathaus. It dates back more than 900 years and is the oldest public building of its sort in Germany. The Old Town is one of the things to see in Cologne.
Explore Old Town Cologne Germany A Guide For First-Time Visitor’s
Walk Across the Deutzer Bridge
This is the perfect way to get a fantastic view of the cathedral and old city. The Rhine is also an important feature of Cologne, so it’s great to take it all in at once.
The bridge delivers the best sunset views over the city. Don’t forget to take your camera!
If you’re looking for more unique things to do in Cologne, there are so many more hidden sights to find.
You’ll also find that there are many non-touristy things to do in Cologne if you’re wanting to get away from the crowds.
Best Day Trips from Cologne
If your trip to Cologne, Germany is more than a few days long, you might want to consider branching out a little.
After all, it’s so easy to even get a Cologne to Brussels train, for example, that you can certainly travel to surrounding areas.
And though there are so many places to visit in Cologne Germany, there are also incredible places to experience nearby that you won’t want to miss. So here are some of the best day trips outside of Cologne.
Ahr Valley Wine Hike
Germany might not be known for its wine like it is for its beer, but in the Ahr Valley, they know how to make a great red.
This wine region is known internationally for its spätburgunder (pinot noir) wine. You can explore the region by taking an easy hike on the Red Wine Trail.
It’s a beautiful way to experience the vineyards. And if you get thirsty, just walk down into the nearest town for another glass or two.
I recommend starting your ambling from the town of Altenahr. You can get to Altenahr in 1 hour and 45 minutes from Cologne with public transport.
Carolus Thermen in Aachen
The tradition of bathhouses go back over 2000 years in Germany, so experiencing one is a great way to soak in (excuse the pun) German culture. And Carolus Thermen is a beautiful, artful bathhouse that’s sure to leave you feeling blissful.
There are indoor and outdoor thermal baths, a sauna area for adults only, and a spa with wellness treatments and massages.
So if you’re feeling a little run down or just in the mood for pampering, this is the perfect day trip for you.
However, if you’re not so into nudity, you might be rather uncomfortable here. German saunas are textile-free zones.
So although you must wear a bathing suit in the pools, you cannot in the saunas. You also need to shower before entering the complex, which is a great hygiene rule.
Prices are dependent on how long you want to stay, and if you want access to the sauna (which you do). The spa also has separate costs. You can find all of the prices here.
Monschau Historic Town
Monschau is one of the most picturesque old towns that you’ll find in Germany. Built along a winding river, half-timbered houses line the lanes, with flower boxes in their windows.
You can simply meander down the beautiful lanes, preferably with a baked good or ice cream in hand. Or you could take a boat tour, or even do a little white water rafting.
There are plenty of things to do and see in this charming town. There is also a thirteenth-century castle that looks over the town.
It is rather austere and partially ruined, but if you’re visiting in summer, you might be able to catch one of the operas and summer concerts that are held within it.
Monschau is around 2 hours away from Cologne via public transport, so it makes for a great day away.
Your Cologne Budget | How Much You Should Save
While Germany is one of the most expensive countries in Europe, Cologne is reasonably affordable if you are mindful about your spending. As any budget traveller knows, things add up quickly if you’re not careful.
Luckily, many of the best things to do in Cologne Germany are free. And eating in or buying beer from the store is a great trick to make things cheaper, if not quite as fun.
And of course, your budget for Cologne depends on how long you plan to stay, and how frugally or extravagantly you want to live while there. But if you’re asking “how much should I budget for a trip to Cologne?”, then here are the answers.
The average traveller spends €99 ($107) a day. So, although you can certainly aim to decrease that amount if your budget is tight, this is the number you should keep in mind when planning a trip to Cologne.
For example, if you’re planning to live very frugally, you can get away with €36 ($40) a day. But this means a lot of walking, a hostel bed, and street corner food. This could be an adventure in itself, but it’s not for everyone. Personally, I like a little luxury.
So, going back to the average traveller, you should budget around €700 ($750) a week in Cologne.
This includes accommodation, food, tips, transportation and entertainment, among a couple of other things. But it doesn’t include alcohol!
So if you’re wondering how many days to spend in Cologne, keep these figures in mind. But whether you can stay for three days or three weeks, travelling to Cologne will be such a memorable experience on any budget.
Best Places to Eat in Cologne
If you want to make the most of your trip it’s important to know where to eat in Cologne. German food is a great drawing card all on its own. So, here are three of the very best restaurants in Cologne’s Old City.
Bei Oma Kleinmann is an eclectic German restaurant that bases its menu on the glorious schnitzel. It’s found in the Kwartier Latäng (the Latin Quarter) which is a busy hub known for its live music venues, art-house cinemas, cocktail bars and indie theatres. During the summer months, it extends its seating outdoors so you can bask in the sun while you munch on one of Germany’s best inventions.
Gaststätte Lommerzheim is an excellent pub and restaurant. You can order their famous pork chops while sipping on some pale ale or lager. And this wonderfully old-school pub is also well-priced, with a comfortable, busy atmosphere.
Menz burger is the place to go if you’re wanting a delicious handmade burger and fries. The atmosphere is welcoming, and the food will have you wanting to move in. The portions are also huge, so you’ll go home happy and full.
Elaborate gelaterias open their doors all over the city during summer. If you’ve never tried spaghetti ice cream, this is your chance! It might not sound appealing, but you’ll be digging your spoon into cream covered in spiralized vanilla gelato, topped with strawberry sauce and white chocolate shavings. Delicious and unique.
If you want to find more wonderful restaurants at which to embrace the German food culture, check out the best places to eat in Cologne.
Places to Stay in Cologne
If you’re visiting for the first time and wondering where to book your accommodation for the best experience, you should stay in the Altstadt (Old City). From here you can easily catch transport to all the best things to see, and you’ll be immersed in German culture.
Although over 70% of the city was destroyed in WW2, there are still some incredible architectural landmarks that remain. In Cologne’s Altstadt the narrow streets are flanked by picturesque old houses and buildings.
So, staying in this area means that, even if you just want to leave your accommodation for a quick bite to eat, you’ll be surrounded by interesting sights. And you’ll be happy to find tons of restaurants and pubs!
Luxury Hotel | The Excelsior Hotel Ernst am Dom
If you’re happy to splash out on the perfect accommodation, book in at the Excelsior. This luxury 5-star hotel has been family-run since 1863 and is very much part of Cologne’s rich history.
The location could not be more ideal, right opposite the Cologne Cathedral. It’s also just two minutes away from Cologne Main Station, and there is an airport shuttle. So, you won’t be dragging bags around looking for your hotel.
There are award-winning restaurants located within the hotel for you to dine at. And in the evening, after you’ve spent your day sightseeing in Cologne, Germany, you can retire to a piano bar that plays live piano music and serves wonderful cocktails.
The view is like nothing else, and the staff are very warm and welcoming. So if you’re looking for perfection, you can check rates here.
Mid-Range Hotel | 25Hours Hotel The Circle
It might have an odd name, but this hotel is stylish, modern, and pretty perfectly located. You can wake up, enjoy their scrumptious breakfast, and step out into the vibrancy of Cologne’s Old City.
If you’re not in the mood to leave the hotel, each room has a flat-screen TV with satellite channels (so you don’t have to practice your German too much), and WiFi. There is also a restaurant and a bar in the hotel, so there is no need to step outside if the weather isn’t to your liking.
So if comfort and style at a reasonable price appeal to you, check the rates here.
Budget Hotel | Cologne Downtown Hostel
If your budget is tight, or if you want to save more money towards beer and pretzels (leaning into the stereotype for just a moment), then a hostel could be perfect.
You won’t find privacy or luxury here, but the vibrancy of a hostel can be a wonderful addition to any vacation. You’ll meet travellers from all over the world, and you’ll certainly save your money.
This hostel is located in the heart of the Old City, and very close to attractions like the Museum Ludwig and Romano-Germanic Museum. The Cologne Chocolate Museum is also just down the road, yum!
If this appeals to you, or if you’re really just interested in a place to rest your head between adventures, you can check the rates here.
If you want to look at more neighbourhoods or if you have more specific requirements, here is a more comprehensive list of the best places to stay in Cologne.
Most Interesting Books About Cologne, Germany
Only in Cologne: A Guide to Unique Locations, Hidden Corners and Unusual Objects is a wonderful tool to find the hidden sights of Cologne. It’ll allow you to see the city from such a unique perspective.
Sometimes it’s near impossible to find everything that a local would know. But lucky for us, this book contains all the local knowledge of Cologne’s best-kept secrets. Find the book here.
Rick Steves Germany 2020 delves into the whole of Germany. But Germany is a fascinating country, and Rick Steves captures the very best parts of it.
If you want to know more about Germany, check out this travel guide here.
This book can help you get to know Cologne, or explore Germany further. Or it can simply make for an interesting read while you plan and travel to Cologne. There are all sorts of helpful tips and tricks in it to help you make the best of your travels.
Visit Cologne Summary
Cologne has a wonderful vibrancy at any time of the year. Not even the snow can keep down the inhabitants of this city. It might just drive them into the comfortable pubs to warm themselves with German beer and Gluhwein.
There is so much to do in this charming, historic city. If you have a pair of walking shoes and a hearty appetite, you are sure to make the most of your Cologne Germany travels.
I trust that you’ve found this Cologne tourist guide helpful! You’re sure to have a wonderful, well-planned holiday with these Cologne travel tips on hand.
Now you know what to visit in Cologne Germany!
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