Nestled on the banks of the winding Rhine river, the German city of Cologne is the regions cultural hub. With a history spanning back over 2000 years, you’ll see impressive gothic architecture and medieval relics throughout the city. Famed for its festive Christmas markets, Cologne has become a hotspot for tourists looking to experience the best of German culture.
There is however far more to see of the city away from the popular December markets. Discover 38 of the best things to do in Cologne in our comprehensive guide, including the cities best attractions, foodie experiences and popular shopping destinations.
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Table of Contents
Perhaps one of the most famed sights in the city, Cologne Cathedral is a testament to German Catholicism. This impressive gothic structure was actually declared a UNESCO world heritage site back in 1996.
If you are a fan of modern art, the Museum Ludwig is bursting with works, spanning genres from Abstract and Surrealism to Pop Art. It also houses one of the largest Picasso Collections in all of Europe. Adult entrance costs 11 Euros, and you can book tickets online before your visit.
Romano Germanic Museum
This archeological museum celebrates the history of Cologne, displaying a large collection of finds from the Roman settlement of Colonia Claudia Ara Agrippinensium, on which modern-day Cologne was built. Alongside an extensive collection of Roman Artifacts, you’ll also find items from the Neolithic period.
Wallraf Richartz Museum
Housed at the Wallraf-Richartz Museum is a collection of fine art, spanning over 700 years. Here you’ll view one of the world’s leading collections of medieval paintings.
Cologne’s Old Town
Sadly during the second world war, roughly 72 percent of the city of Cologne was destroyed. This included most of the picturesque old town which had to be painstakingly rebuilt so we are able to marvel at its beauty still today. Enjoy a stroll through the cobbled streets and appreciate the old world feel.
Groß Saint Martin
Groß St. Martin, meaning Great Saint Martin is a Romanesque Catholic Church built on the foundations of an old Roman chapel. Located in the Old Town, the church has become a famous Cologne fixture.
St. Maria im Kapitol
Another example of one of Colognes impressive Romanesque Catholic Churches is the 11th century St. Maria im Kapitol. The church is actually based on the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.
Cologne’s Botanical Garden is the cities oldest and most traditional public park. Established in the 19th century, the garden is home to more than 10,000 species of plants. Walk through the tropical greenhouses and enjoy the greenery. If you are on a tight budget, fortunately, entrance to the botanical garden is free, easily making it one of the best free things to do in Cologne.
If you are looking for the most beautiful panoramic view over Cologne, the scene from to top of KölnTriangle will not disappoint. Standing at 103.2 meters, the observation deck at this modern building is a great place to take in the city from above.
Love Locks Hohenzollern Bridge
Cross over the river Rhine at Hohenzollern Bridge and you’ll notice something special, the love locks. Couples flock to the bridge to leave a monument to their love, a small padlock affixed to the structure. Thousands and thousands of locks make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside. Take a moment to appreciate how much love there is in the world. Why not join in the tradition and leave your own love lock?
Museum für Angewandte Kunst Köln
Colognes Museum of Applied Art is a decorative art museum full of pretty objects. The collections inside include jewelry, furniture, weaponry, and porcelain. The museum prides itself on the diversity of objects it displays, ranging from the middle ages to the 20th century.
Kolumba is one of the oldest museums in Cologne. This art museum displays works from late antiquity to present day pieces, with highlights including a 12th-century ivory crucifix.
St Gereon’s Basilica
Dedicated to martyr St. Gereon, this basilica was built in around 350AD. In 1920 it was designated as a minor basilica which is a privilege that is now granted by the pope.
NS Documentation Center
Looking back to a somber time in history, the Cologne NS Documentation Centre is the largest regional memorial site in all of Germany for the victims of the Nazis. The collection is housed in the EL-DE Haus, which was the headquarters of the Gestapo, Cologne’s secret police. Over 1,800 wall inscriptions tell the true tales of persecution, torture, and murder.
In the cellar, you will find one of the best-preserved prisons of NS times, Gestapo Prison.
The Schnütgen Museum is dedicated to Christian Art. Alongside the spectacular creative works on display, the museum also is home to one of the oldest churches in Cologne, the impressive Romanesque church of St. Cäcilien.
With pretty stores housed in historic buildings, the Belgian quarter’s shopping district focuses on quality over quantity. As well as the boutiques that sell handmade goods, you’ll find trendy pubs, restaurants, cafes and more.
The Farina Fragrance Museum
The fragrance museum gives visitors an insight into the history of perfume making, offering guided tours of what was once a bustling fragrance factory. The factory dates back over 300 years and is the birthplace of the popular Eau de Cologne.
When Cologne sightseeing, the Chocolate Museum is definitely a must-see attraction. Since opening in 1993, the museum has been dedicated to telling the splendid history of chocolate. The fascinating journey into the story behind one of the worlds most loved foods begins with ancient American civilizations, such as the Aztecs, and takes visitors through the industrial age and into the chocolate of today.
If you love animals, a visit to Cologne Zoo should be an addition to any Cologne itinerary. There are over 10,000 animals on display at this zoo, which dates back to 1860.
If you are wondering what to do in Cologne, why not catch a football match at 1. FC Köln. With over 100,000 members, 1. FC Köln is the fourth largest club in Germany.
Boat Trip on the Rhine
Taking a trip down the Rhine River will be an experience you will cherish. Gently cruising down the waterways of this German river, and you’ll be greeted with towering fairytale castles, small chocolate box villages and amazing landscapes that will leave you breathless.
Cologne Christmas Markets
The Christmas markets in Cologne are infamous, with millions of visitors flocking to the city each year to experience the festive magic abundant throughout the city. The scent of Christmas fills the air with mulled wine, gingerbread, and hot chestnuts roasting over an open fire. Decorations, gifts, toys, and crafts are on sale throughout the cities markets, allowing visitors to bring something special back for loved ones.
Experience the true taste of Cologne by drinking Kölsch, a style of beer brewed in the city. What makes Kölsch unique is the way it is made. The beer is warmly fermented with yeast and then conditioned at a cold temperature. Cologne is very big on its beer culture, with the cities legendary hospitality and warmth at the forefront of the experience.
Party at Cologne Carnival
Cologne Carnival, also known as Fastelovend is a big deal in the city. With planning to commence each year November, the party doesn’t really kick off until 40 days before Easter, so sometime between February and March. Join in the drinking and merrymaking like the locals by donning fancy dress, such a the traditional jecke (clown) and prepare for fun.
Hang out in the Rheinauhafen District
This bright, modern, waterfront complex is a great place to explore. Marvel at Tetris like Kranhaus Buildings, an architectural masterpiece within the city.
Shrine Of The Three Kings
If you are familiar with the biblical tale of the three wise men and their journey to Bethlehem, then you may appreciate a visit to the Shrine Of the Three Kings. This medieval relic is said to contain the bones of the three kings. You can view the gold gilded triple sarcophagous at Cologne Cathedral.
Cologne Cable Car
For great views across the Rhine River, take an awe-inspiring cable car ride. Visitors have enjoyed taking rides across the city on this cable car for over 60-years. The 6-minute gondola ride over the river will offer some fantastic panoramic views across Cologne.
Rathaus (Cologne City Hall)
Cologne historic Town Hall is famous for its incredible renaissance façade. To this day, the Town Hall is still used by the government, including the city council, as well as housing the offices of the Lord Mayor. You can find the hall in the heart of the cities old town.
It’s well known that Germans love mustard, and Cologne has a whole museum dedicated to the yellow condiment. The museum is also accompanied by a shop, selling a wide variety of mustards allowing you to take a little taste of Germany back home with you.
Kölnisches Stadtmuseum (Cologne City Museum)
What better way to understand the city than to visit the Cologne City Museum. This museum is all about the history of Cologne, showing objects, works of art and telling historic tales from the middle ages to the present day.
Just outside of the city, you’ll find Phantasialand, a theme park offering fun for all ages. The park was originally opened in the 1960s and now attracts over 1.75 million visitors each year.
Hohe Straße is a shopping street located in Colognes old town. The history of the street dates back all the way to Roman times, where it was lined with stores and vendors selling all kinds of goods. Nowadays, you’ll find you can purchase just about anything on this street, from electronics to clothes. Hohe Straße is also a good place to purchase souvenirs, as there are many shops offering mementos of your time in Cologne. Nearby you’ll also discover plenty of cafes and restaurants.
Cologne Pub Crawl
Being in a city famed for its beer culture, partaking in a pub crawl in Cologne offers visitors a chance to experience the vibrant nightlife for themselves. Pub Crawl Cologne is a popular crawl that takes part in the city. The crawl gives visitors a chance to meet other travelers, and visit several nightlife locations within the city.
Spot Colognes Street Art
For lovers of street art, Cologne has plenty of crazy colorful creations for you to seek out, spot and enjoy. There are certain areas of the city that are street art hotspots and worth paying a visit to. Ehrenfeld has plenty of large murals by internationally renowned street. In Belgisches Viertel you’ll discover a lot of diversity, including plenty of small-scale works by local artists. In MüTZe park in Mülheim you’ll glimpse lots of graffiti works dotted around the landscape.
Wander through the Yard of the Sick
Colognes Yard Of Sick is the original name of the Melaten Cemetery. Many rich and Nobel people are buried here, including historical figures such as the founders of Eau de Cologne.
Church of St. Ursula
A truly horrific moment in Cologne’s history is actually a tale remembered today on the cities coat of arms. According to legend, the church was built on the site where Saint Ursula and 11,000 virgins were martyred back in the 4th century. What is even more morbid is that the church is said to be partly made up of the bones of these dead women.
Visiting Chandelier Hall is one of the more unusual things to do in Cologne. Down in the sewers of Cologne, you’ll uncover something a little out of the ordinary. In a storm water overflow structure, you’ll see a single white chandelier hanging. Since the year 2000, a regular concert series had actually been taking place down in Chandelier hall. This is partly due to the impressive acoustics. Apart from concerts, you can visit the sewers of Cologne by taking part in one of the monthly tours offered, from early spring through until Autumn. But maybe keep your nose closed during your visit, after all, it is still a sewer.
Try the best of German Cuisine
Cologne is full of rich-tasting German cuisine to sample during your visit. Delve into popular mouthwatering dishes such as battered and crispy Schnitzel, or Mettbrötchen, which is actually raw sausage meat on a bun. Be astonished by the size of a meaty crispy pork knuckle, which will almost be the same size as your head. Also worth tasting is Himmel un Ääd, which means heaven and earth. Eath is represented by mashed potato, and heaven is apple puree. This dish is also served with tasty slices of fried black pudding.
Recommend tours to do in Cologne
- Skip the Line: Hard Rock Cafe Cologne Including Meal
- Small-Group Bike Tour of Cologne with Guide
- Rhine River Evening Panorama Cruise in Cologne
- The Kölsch Guys Brew House Walking Tour in Cologne
- Farina Fragrance Museum in Cologne Admission Ticket
- Cologne Rhine River Dinner Cruise
- Cologne Hop-On Hop-Off Bus Tour and Rhine River Sightseeing Cruise
- Cologne Super Saver: Sightseeing Cruise and Meal at Hard Rock Cafe Cologne
- The Kölsch Guys Southern Old Town Brew House Walking Tour in Cologne
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