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 an array of 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 sceneries that will sweep you off your feet.
Visiting Cologne is ideal for history buffs and art enthusiasts as countless stunning buildings are rich in history and it’s a lovely place to discover works of art like Picasso’s masterpieces.
As you can see, this German city is much more than a stop on the Rhine River to pick up some original Eau de Cologne. It deserves a true visit to experience everything!
Fun & Best Things to do in Cologne, Germany
Below, we have prepared adventure-filled and scenic destinations for you to experience the best travel in Cologne.
1. Cologne Cathedral & Dom Treasury
Address: Domkloster 4, 50667 Köln, Germany
The shrapnel-scarred Cathedral Church of Saint Peter, also known as The Cologne Cathedral, is situated in Cologne, North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany. The Archbishop of Cologne has his seat in this cathedral, and the Archdiocese of Cologne is administered from it.
This edifice is a prominent structure of Gothic architecture from the Middle Ages and German Catholicism. In 1996, It was proclaimed a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The magnificent Cologne Cathedral attracts about 20,000 daily, making it the most visited monument in all of Germany. It stands at 157 m (515 ft.) and is presently the tallest twin-spired church worldwide.
It also has the second-longest spires and is the biggest Gothic church in Northern Europe. The towers erected for the cathedral’s twin spires give the building the biggest façade ever seen on a church. The choir possessed the biggest height to width ratio, 3.6:1 ever found in a medieval church.
The famous landmark and building of the Cathedral Church of Saint Peter started in 1248 but was stopped around 1560 and left uncompleted. The cathedral building did not resume till the 1840s, and the monument was finally finished in 1880.
Deep in the vaults of the cathedral is the treasury, housing collections of Christian art and artifacts from the Middle Ages. The six vaulted rooms are spread across multiple floors and were first opened to the public in 2000.
Items date from as early as the fourth century and are treasures made of ivory, bronze, silver, and gold. Adding a ticket to visit the treasury is inexpensive and highly recommended when visiting the cathedral.
In the winter, the Cathedral is the central spot for the Christmas market. If you haven’t seen Cologne during Christmas time, you need to. It’s one of the best winter destinations in Europe solely because of how epic the market is.
The old town of Cologne has a ton to offer that is easily done together with the cathedral, such as the Cologne City Hall and the Hohenzollern Bridge, to name a few. You could take a guided walking tour to be sure to get the best experience.
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Address: Rheinauhafen, 50678 Köln, Germany
The Rheinau Harbor is an urban regeneration venture situated along the left bank of the River Rhine just between the Southern Railway Bridge (Südbrücke) and the Severin Bridge (Severinsbrücke), south of the city’s historic old town area.
The harbor measures 15.4 hectares (38 acres) and is established around the original Rheinauhafen, which covers 2 kilometers (1.2mi) north-south and 200 meters (660ft) east-west where it is widest. It used to be a commercial harbor built in the 1880s.
Preparation for the reconstruction project began with a modern design contest held in the early 1990s. Construction began in 2002 and was slated to be finished by 2011. The whole building venture was meant to take up 38 acres of waterfront land mostly used for hotels, cultural institutions, offices, and residential areas.
The previously commercial port is currently functioning as a marina. Architectural landmarks include the former Siebengebirge wharf warehouses as well as the three Kranhaus buildings – “KranhausPLUS,” “Kranhaus1,” and “Pandion Vista.”
These warehouses were named as an allegory of the old harbor cranes. The Kranhaus1 building was given the MIPIM Award in 2009 for the category of Best Business Center. The novel Rheinauhafen has become the abode of multiple creative industry companies.
Some of the bigger companies and law firms include CMS Hasche Sigle (in “Kranhaus1”), Microsoft (in its own building), Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer (in “KranhausPLUS”), and Electronic Arts (in its own building).
Cultural organizations on the site include the German Sport and Olympia Museum, Imhoff-Schokoladenmuseum, and Kap am Südkai.
If this sounds like the type of neighborhood you’d like to base yourself in, the Hotel Novotel Köln City is a good choice. It has clean and comfortable rooms and you can earn and redeem Accor ALL points.
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3. The Kolumba
Address: Kolumbastraße 4, 50667 Köln, Germany
The Kolumba is an art museum formerly known as the Diözesanmuseum, or Diocesan Museum. It is situated on the St. Kolumba Church Site and is under the administration of the Archdiocese of Cologne.
The Kolumba is among the city’s oldest museums. It was established in 1853 by the Society for Christian Art, and in 1989, the Archdiocese of Cologne took over its management. Up until 2007, the museum was situated close to the Cologne Cathedral.
The museum’s new location had its structure built between 2003 and 2007 and was created by Peter Zumthor, then unveiled by Joachim Meisner. The land it was built on formerly held the Church of St. Kolumba, which was destroyed during World War II.
St Kolumba church was then replaced by a Gottfried Böhm chapel informally known as the “Madonna of the Ruins” in 1950. The novel structure constructed by Peter Zumthor for the present museum shares the site with old Gothic and 1950s church ruins.
The museum has sixteen showrooms and they all have different qualities related to size, pathways, proportion, and lighting. When the museum was refurbished, Jura limestone was used on the flooring, ceilings were created from a mortar shell, and the curtains were made from silk and leather, while the fittings and casings were made of steel.
Collections in the museum include decorative art, sculptures, religious icons, paintings, prints, and sculptures from the Late Antiquity periods to the current time. Although some works are permanently on display in the museum, several artworks are constantly in rotation.
They include a Roman-like Mosan or Rhenish style 12th Century crucifix made of ivory, Stefan Lochner: Madonna with the Violet (pre-1450), Jannis Kounellis: Tragedia Civile (1975), and a huge collection of Leiko Ikemura works.
You may want to consider the KölnCard if you plan to visit other museums around the city, as it will get you 40% off the Kolumba as well as other major discounts for most attractions in Cologne.
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4. Cologne Zoological Garden
Address: Riehler Str. 173, 50735 Köln, Germany
This Zoological Garden is home to more than 10,000 animals from over 850 species. The grounds for the Zoological Garden cover over 20 hectares.
It is a popular zoo known worldwide. It features an affixed aquarium and an invertebrate exhibit that actively handles the preservation and breeding of different animals at risk of extinction.
Wildlife Conservation efforts and research on animals found in Madagascar, Vietnam, and Wallacea are collaborated on with Cologne University and local ventures like the project of Prezalwaski’s horses.
The zoological garden was established in 1860. However, the zoo was forced to shut down for two years completely because both world wars adversely affected its development. In fact, World War II essentially decimated the whole zoo. In 1947, the zoo resumed operation, and in 1971, the aquarium was erected.
Furthermore, the zoological garden has a hippo house with fascinating underwater views, a huge elephant park, a zoo for petting purposes, and a farm filled with rare animal species.
Some of the remarkable and popular exhibits in the Cologne Zoo Garden include the Meerkat paddock, Madagascar house of rare lemurs, a Great ape facility, an Asian elephant park, and a hippodrome built like the African landscape for crocodiles, aardvarks, and of course, hippos.
This attraction isn’t far from the Cologne Cable Car, which is also a fun way to get a bird’s eye view of the city over the Rhine River. The Mercure Hotel Koeln Belfortstrasse is a good option if you want to stay nearby.
5. Cologne Chocolate Museum
Address: Am Schokoladenmuseum 1a, 50676 Köln, Germany
This chocolate museum was established and launched by Hans Imhoff on 31st October 1993. It is located within the Cologne area of Altstadt-Süd on the Rheinauhafen peninsula. Exhibits displayed within the museum show the complete history and story of how chocolate came to be.
Depictions show the start of Maya, Aztecs, and Olmecs chocolate discovery to modern production techniques and products. Yearly, the Museum receives 675,000 visitors and carries out 5,000 guided tours, making it one of the ten most popular museums in Germany.
The Imhoff Chocolate Museum is completely independent and gets no subsidy from government sources. It runs its own department of marketing.
It is also regularly used by the Schokoladenmuseum Gastronomie GmbH for their events. Some of the most popular attractions in the Imhoff Chocolate Museum include a miniature tropicarium made of glass and houses Theobroma grandiflorum and Theobroma cacao species of cocoa trees.
This 10-meter square tropicarium is open to the public. There are also small replicas of chocolate production machines, and visitors are treated to a demonstration of chocolate production.
A particularly remarkable sight is the chocolate fountain. It stands at 3 meters, and a museum staff carefully dips wafers in the fountain and shares them with interested visitors.
Right at the museum entrance is a chocolate shop filled with an impressive array of pralines and, of course, chocolate products. You can even make your own chocolate bar!
The Imhoff museum signed a deal with Lindt & Sprüngli, so most products found within the shop are from Lindt & Sprüngli. Before this deal, the museum was partnered with Stollwerck, a chocolate producer based in Cologne. Either way, it’s all delicious and a chocaholic’s dream destination.
Buy your ticket in advance and skip the line to get straight to the sweetness!
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6. Flora und Botanischer Garten Köln
Address: Alter Stammheimer Weg, 50735 Köln, Germany
The Flora Garten is a formal city park and a botanical garden situated next to the Cologne Zoological Garden on Amsterdamer Straße 34, Cologne, North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany.
The park garden is open to visitors for no charge. The garden dates back to 1863 when it was conceived to replace the older city garden close to the Cologne Cathedral, which was demolished in 1857 because of the central railway station construction.
Peter Joseph Lenné created the replacement park in 1864. He used a combined German design, adding English landscape gardens, with French Baroque, and Italian Renaissance elements into the plan. From 1912 to 1914, the garden experienced financial struggles, leading to the city stepping in to help by acquiring it.
The city built a nearby botanical garden of 4.5 hectares and joined it with the Flora garden in 1920. In the 1950s, new exhibition houses and glasshouses for tropical and exotic plants were erected. Flora park was renovated in 1987, and currently, it has an Italian Renaissance-style garden.
The Flora botanical garden houses over 10,000 varieties of plants. About 2,000 species are growing in the alpine garden. There are remarkable collections of maples, magnolias, rhododendrons, Hamamelidaceae, and coniferous trees. The park has a farmer’s garden filled with local crops and a medicinal plants garden as well.
Approximately 5,000 species are housed in four exhibition greenhouses. The main greenhouse contains tropical rainforest plants. The small tropical house contains crops such as vanilla, sugar cane, pineapple, coconut palm, cocoa, coffee, cinnamon, and bamboo.
It also houses marsh and water plants such as lotus, water lilies, rice, and taro. The subtropical house was opened in 1964 and contains plants from Africa, Asia, Australia, and the Americas, such as tree ferns, camellias, and proteas.
Finally, a cactus house contains succulents and cacti from different deserts and semi-deserts all over the world.
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Address: Hermann-Pünder-Straße 2, 50679 Köln, Germany
The Rheinboulevard runs along the Deutzer Promenade along the Rhine. Tourists tend to rest on the stairs, have a drink there, cycle, or take walks down the Rhine.
Strolls are a prevalent activity on the Rheinboulevard as the view of the Cologne Cathedral, and the lovely landscape of the ancient town is irresistible. The boulevard stairs themselves have grown in popularity into becoming a city hotspot since they were opened to the public in 2015.
Particularly in the summertime, many people- residents and tourists alike- can be seen having a great time. The Rheinboulevard can be accessed quickly and easily from the major train station.
Tourists who choose to walk to the boulevard usually pass the cathedral to enjoy its majestic sight as well as that of the Hohenzollern Bridge filled with numerous love locks left there by couples. The Boulevard can also be accessed by train, but visitors would have to walk about 500 meters from the Deutz Train Station before reaching the site.
The boulevard is positioned perfectly next to the Rhine bank, which means great photographs can be taken here, with a vista of the cathedral.
Visitors can use the boulevard to meet up with family and friends, particularly in the evening or early morning, to enjoy the Rhine River in the morning sun or golden sunset. There is also an impressive variety of cafes, shops, and restaurants on the promenade.
Rheinboulevard is filled with fantastic sceneries and food places, and breweries that served great brewed beers like the breweries in berlin.
8. Roman-Germanic Museum
Address: Roncalliplatz 4, 50667 Köln, Germany
The Römisch-Germanisches Museum is a museum of archeology situated in Cologne, Germany. It houses an impressively large assortment of Roman artifacts from the Roman Colonia Claudia Ara Agrippinensium settlement, upon which present-day Cologne was built.
The museum safeguards the original location of a Roman villa town. A huge Dionysus mosaic gotten from the Roman villa site stays in its exact original place of discovery inside the basement. The linked Roman Road of the villa town is directly outside. In this regard, the museum functions as an archaeological location.
The museum is also charged with the duty of conserving the Roman heritage and culture of Cologne. Thus, it holds a vast compendium of Roman glass from burials and funerals; and supervises the building of the underground Cologne project.
Many of the collections from Cologne’s past found here were previously held at the Wallraf-Richartz Museum until about 1946. At the front part of the Roman-Germanic Museum, there is the old northern Cologne town gate with CCAA (for Colonia Claudia Ara Agrippinensium) visibly inscribed on it and put on display for all to see.
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9. Museum Ludwig
Address: Heinrich-Böll-Platz, 50667 Köln, Germany
The Ludwig Museum is situated in the city of Cologne, and it holds an array of modern art. There are artworks in different genres, including Surrealism, Abstract, and Pop Art.
This museum is home to a huge Picasso collection -one of the biggest in Europe. There are also artworks by Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol.
The Ludwig Museum was launched in 1976 as a separate monument from the Wallraf-Richartz Museum it was formerly attached to. In that year, Peter Ludwig, the chocolate tycoon, agreed to donate 350 modern artworks in exchange for the city establishing a “Museum Ludwig” for artworks created post-1900.
Godfried Haberer and Peter Bussmann designed the new building, which was commissioned and opened to the public in 1986. The novel building close to the Cologne Cathedral first housed both the Ludwig Museum and the Wallraf Richartz Museum.
The museums were eventually separated, and the structure was shifted to Bischofsgartenstrasse to house only the Ludwig Museum. Steve Keene did a painting in 1999 at the museum. The building also houses the Kölner Philharmonic.
In 2016, the museum partnered with the Bell Art Center to arrange an informal exposition of Anselm Kiefer, which was first shown at Beijing’s Central Academy of Fine Arts.
The final showing was to be at the new Jupiter Museum of Art in Shenzhen, but it was postponed, and the artworks were placed in storage. Unfortunately, during this period, the museum misplaced the works and had to find them. The artworks were finally found in a Shenzhen warehouse in January 2020.
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10. The Cologne Christmas Market
If you visit the region during December, know that Cologne is home to one of the greatest Christmas Markets in Germany and even Europe! During the festive season, this is easily the most visited attraction and a great way to experience Cologne’s culture during the holidays.
Sipping warm kirsch wine (hot, sweet cherry wine) among the Romanesque churches and other historic buildings of the medieval period is such a nostalgic feeling if you’ve experienced other European Christmas markets, and Cologne will not disappoint. The main one is situated just near the Cologne Cathedral but you will find other markets throughout the old town.
The markets follow a theme and are always superbly decorated. You wouldn’t believe it, but the city of Cologne banned Christmas markets for a short time many decades ago due to the crowds and noise they brought. Ever since they were brought back in the 1970s, they have been an unstoppably festive force.
We recommend bringing cash to wander the hundreds of stalls purchasing souvenirs, Glühwein, pretzels, and sweet treats as you please. For a less-crowded and more local-feeling experience, try the market in the Belgian quarter for a younger crowd and more artisanal culinary offerings.