18 Best Things to Do in Cologne, Germany

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Historic Spires of the Cologne Cathedral

Want to hit up Western Germany? Great! Cologne is one of the best towns in the west to visit and is easily reachable within a few hours from other major cities. There are many things to do in Cologne that are all undeniably outstanding.

Germany’s fourth-largest city is a center of remarkable High Gothic architecture from the dwellings, churches, museums, residences, and lovely landscapes that will sweep you off your feet.

Cologne Cathedral, Kölsch beer, chocolate, and churches. No list of the best things to do in Cologne, Germany, is complete without mention of these local claims to fame.

Let’s add art and archaeology – not to mention the famous Eau de Cologne – and you can see what an exciting range of attractions the ancient city of Cologne has to offer.

A thriving city since Roman times, Cologne has an extraordinary history. One of the Second World War’s most famous tank battles and over 250 bombing raids made it little more than a ghost city. Despite being a navigational aid for Allied bombers, Cologne Cathedral defied the odds and stayed standing.

Post-war rebuilding has left a comfortable higgledy-piggledy mixture of Gothic architecture and bold modernity. Visitors will find most Cologne attractions easily walkable from the city center. Museums and galleries showcase outstanding collections and cost only a handful of Euros to visit.

Another plus is that Cologne is only a few hours from other cities such as Dusseldorf, Brussels, and Antwerp. As you can see, this city in Western Germany is much more than a stop on the Rhine River to pick up some authentic Eau de Cologne. It deserves a true visit to experience everything.

Things to Do in Cologne, Germany

1. Cologne Cathedral & Dom Treasury

Front of Cologne Cathedral
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

Address: Domkloster 4, 50667 Köln, Germany

The magnificent Cologne Cathedral or Kölner Dom definitely dominates Cologne’s skyline. A stone’s throw from Hohenzollern Bridge, the shrapnel-scarred cathedral is a stunningly impressive example of Medieval architecture. This UNESCO World Heritage Site also has an astonishing history.

Although construction began on the cathedral in the Middle Ages, it wasn’t completed until 1880. The 19th-century iron roof trusses helped the cathedral withstand the bombing raids of the Second World War. Lucky, too, that its stained glass windows had been temporarily taken to safety. 

Cologne’s most visited landmark and one of Germany’s most visited monuments, the Cathedral, is the tallest twin-spired church worldwide. You can climb the 515-foot-tall south spire but be prepared for over 500 steps. Tickets are €6, and you don’t need to book. 

Get a €9 Combi ticket, and you can also see the dazzling artifacts in the cathedral treasury, deep in the basement vaults. Entry to the main cathedral building is free, but there are riches here, too. Look out for the stunning Gero Crucifix and the awe-inspiring Shrine of the Magi.

See Related: Things to do in Potsdam

2. Rheinauhafen

Rheinauhafen Cologne

Address: Rheinauhafen, 50678 Köln, Germany

Rheinauhafen or Rheinau Harbor is an urban regeneration zone on the left bank of the River Rhine in Cologne. Once a commercial port, this buzzing waterfront district now houses many digital, legal, and creative companies. Take a riverside walk and see a fascinating mix of modern and historic architecture. 

You can’t miss the Instaworthy bracket-shaped buildings known as the Kranhäuser or crane towers. A few minute’s walk away is the Siebengebirge.

This steeply-gabled ex-granary, named after a nearby hill range, is now a fancy apartment building. That being so, it’s handily surrounded by a great range of eateries.

The area’s also worth visiting for two museums devoted to chocolate and sport. Look out, too, for the quirky Malakoffturm, a 19th-century fort. A convenient place to base yourself is at the ultramodern art’otel cologne. It has superb river views and is decorated with tons of stylish art. 

You can make the most of the area on a guided 90-minute Rheinauhafen walk. Or see the architecture from the Rhine on a Cologne sightseeing river cruise.

See Related: Best Hotels in Düsseldorf

3. The Kolumba

The Kolumba, Cologne

Address: Kolumbastraße 4, 50667 Köln, Germany

Calling itself a “museum of contemplation,” the Kolumba Art Museum differs greatly from other museums you’ve visited. Showcasing two thousand years of Western art, it places modern pieces by artists like Warhol alongside Medieval period treasures. Even odder – there are no labels. You rely on your perspective, making it what you will. 

The museum’s architecture also gives food for thought. A massive new building stands on the ruins of the Gothic church of St. Kolumba, incorporating sections of the Medieval wall. Inside, there are leather curtains and steel fittings. 

The ancient church was almost destroyed during World War II. A Gothic statue, found nearly intact amongst the rubble, given the name “Madonna in the Ruins.” A new chapel named after the statue was built, and this octagonal building is also in the museum. 

You may want to consider the KölnCard if you plan to visit other museums. This gives free travel on public transportation as well as discounts off the Kolumba and other Cologne tourist attractions.

See Related: Dangers and Cautions in Germany

4. Cologne Zoological Garden

Cologne Zoo entrance featuring China Lights banners and ticket booths
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

Address: Riehler Str. 173, 50735 Köln, Germany

Enthusiastic about animals? Then, please make time to visit Cologne Zoo, as that happens to be their motto. The zoo’s home to over 10,000 animals from over 850 species and is one of the best things to do in Cologne with kids.

Cologne Zoological Garden

Most impressive is the elephant park – the largest in Northern Europe. There’s also a replica of an African riverscape for the hippos, 70 aquarium tanks, and a massive indoor rainforest. On weekends, you can pet the animals on the old-world mountain farm.

Plan your visit carefully, and you can watch sea lions, penguins, gorillas, and piranhas getting a meal. You can also learn about the zoo’s wildlife conservation programs, and in summer, watch birds of prey in the daily Air Show. 

As well as two kids’ playgrounds, there are plenty of snack bars and picnic areas. If the zoo’s 50 acres seem a lot for little legs, you can hire toddler handcarts for a rental fee of €5 plus €10 deposit.

5. Cologne Chocolate Museum

Cologne Chocolate Museum

Address: Am Schokoladenmuseum 1a, 50676 Köln, Germany

Another fantastic thing to do in Cologne with kids is to visit the Chocolate Museum. What am I saying? Unsurprisingly, it’s a dream for any chocolate lover and is one of Germany’s most popular museums. You’ll find it on the Rheinauhafen peninsula across the old swing bridge.

The museum was the brainchild of Hans Imhoff, a sort of German Willy Wonka. Its centerpiece is the 9-foot-high chocolate fountain running with fresh Lindt chocolate. You can also tour the chocolate-making process via a 30-foot-high tropical greenhouse and mini-production line. 

There’s a display of priceless cocoa pouring pots in the Porcelain Castle. After having a go on a hundred-year-old chocolate vending machine, you can even create your own chocolate bar.

Round off your visit with a lovely view of the River Rhine while indulging in a cocoa-based snack – gateau, waffle, crepe, or fondue – at the cafe. And don’t miss the Lindt pick-and-mix bar amongst lots of other chocolate products in the museum’s shop. 

Buy your ticket in advance and skip the line to get straight to the sweetness.

See Related: Best Breweries in Cologne, Germany

6. Flora und Botanischer Garten Köln

Flora und Botanischer Garten Köln

Address: Alter Stammheimer Weg, 50735 Köln, Germany

If you’re looking for a peaceful place to unwind in Cologne, visit the exquisite botanical gardens next door to Cologne Zoo. Containing elements of French, Italian, and English garden design, the 28-acre park is open daily from 8 a.m. – 9 p.m. and is free to visit.

There are formal gardens to enjoy, as well as a lily pond and a waterfall. Many of the park’s spectacular specimen trees have been designated natural monuments owing to their age and beauty.

The French Parterre is a picture in spring, with its 750,000 crocuses and 50,000 tulips. The botanical garden is also home to various food plants, including sugar cane and grain for the local rye bread.

There’s a subtropical house, a cactus house, and a small tropical house. Look out for pineapples, palms, and lotus flowers. During the summer, you can enjoy a coffee at the terrace cafe or buy goodies for a picnic in the park.

See Related: Best Boat Tours in Frankfurt

7. Rheinboulevard

Rheinboulevard

Address: Hermann-Pünder-Straße 2, 50679 Köln, Germany

Rheinboulevard, following the eastern bank of the Rhine River, is the perfect place for a stroll. Get your camera out; from here, you’ll get sumptuous views of Cologne Cathedral. 

The boulevard is also blest with broad steps, great for sunning yourself or whiling the time away with a cold Kölsch beer. Nearby bars include Biergarten Rheinboulevard and Kaiser Konstantin – Kölsches Brauhaus.

You can also wander at the famous Hohenzollern Bridge. This is Germany’s busiest railway bridge, with 1,500 train crossings daily. It’s now known as a love lock bridge for the thousands of padlocks attached by romantic visitors. Check it out on this segway tour of Cologne. 

Close to the bridge, you’ll find the Köln Triangle. This modern 29-story office block is built like a Realaux triangle.

(I know – I had to look it up, too. It’s a triangle that’s bulbous, OK?) From its observation deck, you’ll get a fabulous view of the city, and unlike the Cathedral, there’s an elevator to the top.

8. Romano-Germanic Museum

Römisch-Germanisches Museum in Cologne with Shalom Frieden banner
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

Address: Cäcilienstraße 46, 50667 Köln, Germany

The Römisch-Germanisches Museum is Cologne’s archaeology museum. It houses an impressive collection of Roman finds from the Colonia Claudia Ara Agrippinensium settlement.

This was the ancient city of Cologne established by Emperor Claudius at the wish of his wife, Agrippina. Her link with the area? She was born here in AD 15. 

Agrippina has a terrible reputation – well, she did murder her husband and give birth to the monstrous Emperor Nero. Cologne has mixed feelings about her, though. Where would Colonia – later Köln – be without her?

There is plenty of evidence of the 500 years of Roman occupation, including some of the world’s best Roman glass. Look out for the tiny black glass bust of Emperor Augustus.

The museum itself covers some ancient ruins. This important archaeological site contains a Roman mosaic discovered when an air-raid shelter was being built. Renovation works mean the main museum building is closed until 2026-7.

You can now see the collection, including even older finds, at the Belgian House. There are tools, weapons, and household objects from people living in the Rhineland 8,000 years ago.

See Related: Best Things to Do in Marlow

9. Museum Ludwig

Museum Ludwig in Cologne, Germany
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

Address: Heinrich-Böll-Platz, 50667 Köln, Germany

To see the biggest collection of pop art outside the USA, head to Cologne’s Ludwig Museum (or Ludwig Museum), one of Europe’s finest modern art museums. Also home to the third-largest Picasso collection in the world, the museum features fabulous works by Mondrian, Man Ray, and Hockney. 

As well as permanent displays, including stunning photographic works, there are regularly changing exhibitions. If you visit after 5 p.m. on the first Thursday of the month, you’ll pay €7 instead of €15 and be able to stay until 10 p.m. 

The Ludwig Museum is centrally located, only a few minutes from Cologne Cathedral and the Hohenzollern Bridge. Steps away is Hotel Mondial am Dom Cologne MGallery, which provides four-star accommodation with a spa and fitness center. For a three-star stay, pick the nearby Italian-style XII Apostel Albergo.

10. Altstadt

Restaurants in Altermarkt, Cologne
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

To understand Medieval Germany, wander around Cologne’s Altstadt or Old Town. Of course, it’s not the real deal – bombing raids during the Second World War destroyed or damaged most of the city. Only about 300 houses escaped unharmed.

But you can still see picturesque colored townhouses and quaint cobbled marketplaces – loving recreations – in the Old Town. The Fish Market is one of the city’s most photogenic spots. There’s no market now, but you can tuck into some authentic fish dishes at Herings im Martinswinkel.

A step or two away, you’ll find the Old Market or Alter Markt, Cologne’s most traditional square. This pedestrians-only plaza is a great place for a drink or a snack at Papa Joe’s Biersalon or Fräulein Herborths hamburger bar.

You can immerse yourself in 1920s Cologne at the TimeRide virtual reality experience, also in the Alter Markt. For real history, look at one of Cologne’s oldest houses, the gabled Overstolzen House, a short walk away in Rheingasse.

11. Rathaus

Tower of the Cologne Rathaus
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

Address: Rathausplatz 2, 50667  Köln, Germany

At one corner of the Alter Markt in the old town is the Rathaus or Cologne City Hall. It’s Germany’s oldest – there’s been a town hall on this spot for over 800 years. The Rathaus is especially famous for its ornate Renaissance porch, balcony, and restored Late Gothic tower.

Time your visit carefully for a musical treat if you’re there at 9 a.m., 12 p.m., 3 p.m., or 6. p.m., you’ll hear the 48-bell glockenspiel play a tune.  You’ll also see the famous “Platzjabbeck” in action. This is a quirky wooden face who sticks out his tongue when the city hall clock strikes the hour. 

For more comical faces, head to Lintgasse, a few minutes walk across Cologne’s old town. You’ll find Tünnes and Schäl, bronze statues of popular puppet figures from the nearby Hänneschen Theater. Make sure you rub Tünnes’s pudgy nose for luck!

12. Wallraf-Richartz-Museum

Wallraf-Richartz-Museum, Cologne
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

Address: Obenmarspforten 40, 50667 Köln, Germany

While in the old town area, don’t miss the city’s oldest art collection – dating from the early 1800s – at the Wallraf-Richartz-Museum. Some sensational pieces include Rembrandt, Rubens, van Gogh, and Munch paintings. 

Although 700 years of art are represented, the highlight is the collection of impressionist art, the most comprehensive in Germany. Look out for works by Cézanne, Monet, Renoir, and Gaugin. 

The museum’s souvenir shop might meet your gifting needs – a neat range of arty items and travel bags. Or you can grab a coffee in the museum’s foyer cafe.

The museum offers a stunning view of Alt St. Alban church ruins. You can wander around this atmospheric site and see memorials to those who died during the war.

13. Farina Duftmuseum

Farina Duftmuseum
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

Address: Obenmarspforten 21, 50667 Köln, Germany

You’re visiting Cologne: Of COURSE, you’ll want to sniff and maybe get your hands on some of the original Eau de Cologne fragrance. (And did you know Napoleon was a fan? He was a two-bottles-a-day man.) 

To find out where it all began, visit the Fragrance Museum, or Farina Duftmuseum, named after the Italian who created the perfume in 1709. You can only visit the museum – the world’s oldest perfume factory – as part of a guided tour. To guarantee an English-speaking guide, book this skip-the-line fragrance museum tour.

Guides in historical costume explain the fragrance’s history and production process. There’s also a shop where you can buy the original recipe, cologne, or newer versions. Next door to the Fragrance Museum is another quirky Cologne must-visit.

This is the Museum der Puppengeschichte, a dolls’ hospital and museum. To explore other places of interest in the old town, take this private walking tour of Cologne.

14. Tour Cologne’s Romanesque Churches

Fischmarkt, Cologne, Germany
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

For some superb architecture, don’t miss Cologne’s 12 Romanesque churches, set in a semi-circle around the city. Most were badly damaged during World War II but were meticulously restored using centuries-old techniques. 

One of the grandest is Gross St. Martin, which towers over Cologne’s historic center. After the church sustained bomb damage, archaeologists found Roman ruins underneath. Today, you can see how these were used as foundations by 12th-century builders.

Another gem is St. Maria Himmelfahrt, with its stunning three-story altar. St. Gereon is famous for its unusually shaped dome.

Inside, it’s a riot of color, with its red-painted ceiling and ravishing stained glass. St. Pantaleon contains part of a rare 10th-century screen, while St. Andreas is home to a precious collection of  Gothic wall paintings.

And St. Maria in Lyskirchen is definitely worth a visit – it’s the only Romanesque church in Cologne untouched by the Second World War. You can learn more about these serene and beautiful spaces on a guided tour of Cologne’s Medieval churches

15. Museum of Applied Art

Front of Museum of Applied Art in Cologne, Germany
Claudio Divizia / Shutterstock.com

Address: An d. Rechtschule 7, 50667 Köln, Germany

Medieval jewelry, funky modern furniture, and every possible example of decorative art. That’s what to expect at the Museum für Angewandte Kunst Köln or Museum of Applied Art in Cologne. 

This world-famous collection of arts, crafts, innovation, and cool things is open from Tuesday to Sunday. Expect to see 15th-century wine jugs, Art Nouveau glassware, and ceramics by Picasso. Look out, too, for special textile exhibitions, where you can see fashions by Dior and Lagerfeld.

Five minutes away is a museum showing another side of Cologne’s history. This is the City of Cologne’s EL-DE House or NS Documentation Center. Once the Cologne Gestapo HQ, the building houses a “Gestapo Prison” basement memorial.

Here, hundreds of wall inscriptions bear witness to nightmarish persecution. The museum explores the horrors of Cologne’s Nazi past, acting as a warning to posterity.

To see a Holocaust memorial and discover the part Jewish people have played in Cologne’s story, take this tour of Cologne’s old Jewish Quarter.

16. Visit a Kölsch Brauhaus

Historic Kölsch Brauhaus, Sünner im Walfisch
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

So, just what is Kölsch? For one thing, it’s the local Cologne-brewed beer. This is warm-fermented with ale yeast and then stored cool, lager-style. Malty and crisp, it’s sometimes described as a cross between ale and lager. So, very drinkable.

Kölsch also refers to the Cologne culture, giving rise to the local boast: “Ours is the only language you can drink!” For the authentic taste of Cologne culture, you have to try Kölsch beer. One of the most famous breweries is Früh.

You can sample their hearty Bratwurst and Schnitzel ales at Brauhaus Früh am Dom, a stone’s throw from Cologne Cathedral. Look out for the Köbesse waiters dressed in traditional blue jackets.

Another highly recommended brewpub is the Brauerei zur Malzmühle in the southern part of Cologne’s old town. They’re known, too, for their range of meaty specialties, including crispy grilled pork knuckles.

Peters Brauhaus is also highly rated. Or head west to Brauhaus Pütz in the Belgian Quarter, known for its hip artisanal cafes, street art, and vintage clothes shops.

No two Kölsch ales taste the same, so it makes sense to try several. If you need somewhere to lay your head after a conscientious sampling session, there’s always the Früh Brewery’s very own hotel.

17. Cologne Sightseeing: Trains and Boats and…Planes?

Loreley Boat on the Rhine River in Cologne
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

Many of Cologne’s top tourist attractions are within walking distance of each other, especially in the historic town center. But sometimes, you want a change. Luckily, Cologne has some fun transportation options on offer. 

A trip on the green-and-yellow hop-on-hop-off mini-train is one of Cologne’s classic tourist attractions—both the Chocolate Express and the Zoo Express run between major tourist spots.

You can take a Cologne sightseeing cruise. This river cruise comes with its bar – serving Kölsch, of course. Or you might prefer a longer boat trip to explore Cologne’s harbors

Finally, there’s the Cologne Cable Car or Rhein-Seilbahn. Get a bird’s eye view of the River Rhine on a half-mile, 6-minute ride between the zoo and the lovely Rheinpark.

And as we’re talking about flying, make sure you swing by Zeughaus-Strasse. Look up, and you’ll see a golden-winged car perched – no one quite knows why – on the historic Armory building. 

18. Cologne Christmas Markets

The Cologne Christmas Market

During December, millions of visitors flock to Cologne for the magic of a German Christmas. If you come to Cologne for the festive season, you’ll see the city in full twinkly mode.

The mini train runs its Christmas Market Express, an Ice Bar, and even a Christmas Circus. You’ll also experience some of the best Christmas markets in Germany. Cologne’s biggest Christmas market is near the cathedral.

Over 130 red-roofed stalls, all sparkling with fairy lights, offer local and fair-trade crafts, including wood carving, toys, and toiletries. You can also see amazing craft demonstrations like glassblowing and airbrush painting. 

You won’t go hungry! Along with mulled wine, seasonal treats include potato pancakes and roasted almonds. The local Dom Spekulatius Christmas cookies, shaped like the cathedral and packaged in decorative boxes, make ideal gifts.

Other Christmas markets are dotted around the city, each with its personality. Alter Markt and Heumarkt squares host a fairytale-themed market with an ice rink. The Harbor Christmas Market, near the Chocolate Museum, has a nautical theme, including seafood treats and a three-mast ship serving mulled wine.

For a less-crowded and more local-feeling experience, try Stadtgarten Christmas Market in the Belgian Quarter. Here, you’ll find quirky upcycled products and more artisanal culinary offerings.

Whichever Christmas markets you visit, we recommend bringing cash. And it’s a good idea to book up accommodation early. The retro-meets-sci-fi 25hours Hotel The Circle is walkable from Stadtgarten and Cologne Cathedral – useful if you’ve enjoyed a few mugs of Glühwein!

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Kyle Kroeger

Kyle Kroeger is the Founder and Owner of ViaTravelers.com. He is a full-time traveler and entrepreneur. Kyle started ViaTravelers.com to help travelers experience a fully immersive cultural experience as he did initially living in Italy. He's a converted finance nerd and Excel jockey turned world wanderer (and may try to get lost on purpose). After visiting 12 countries and 13 national parks in a year, he was devoted to creating and telling stories like he'd heard.

Plus, after spending more time on airplanes and packing, he's learned some incredible travel hacks over time as he earned over 1 million Chase Ultimate Rewards points in under a year, helping him maximize experiences as much as possible to discover the true meaning of travel.

He loves listening to local stories from around the world and sharing his experiences traveling the globe. He loves travel so much that he moved from his hometown of Minneapolis to Amsterdam with his small family to travel Europe full-time. Read more about his portfolio of work.

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