Cologne has become a popular destination for those seeking a European city break offering a good mix of culture and leisure activities. While the city hosts many well-known seasonal festivities, such as its Christmas markets and Karneval events in November and February, I’ve listed some of the city’s top attractions, and things to do at any time of year.
1 | Visit the Dom
Arguably Cologne’s most iconic landmark, the Dom (cathedral) is a must-see. Standing at 176 meters tall, the two spires of this Gothic cathedral have dominated the city’s skyline since its completion in 1880. For a small entrance fee, you can admire the majestic interiors. For those who want to learn more about the building’s long history, guided tours can be booked in advance.
I would definitely recommend paying a visit to the south tower, where you have the chance to glimpse St. Peter’s Bell – at over 200,000 kilograms it is the largest freely swinging church bell in the world. Take the 533 steps up to the south tower’s platform and you’ll be rewarded with the most spectacular panoramic views of Cologne’s skyline and the Rhine.
2 | Go Shopping
Home to high street fashion brands and department stores, Cologne’s Schildergasse is one of the most-visited shopping streets in Germany. If you prefer to shop at a more leisurely pace, head to the Belgian Quarter, where you can browse designer labels and handmade jewelry, before enjoying trendy pubs, restaurants, and cafés. You’ll find lots of foodie spots near Rudolphplatz. This is a perfect place to make your mid-afternoon pit stop, or to experience the German ritual of Kaffee und Kuchen (coffee and cake). If the weather’s not on your side, take a short tram ride to the Rhine-Center shopping mall for designer and high street brands all under one convenient roof.
3 | Visit the Gorgeous Parks
Cologne’s parks look beautiful all year round and are the perfect place to escape the hustle and bustle of the city center. For an active day out, rent a bike and see how many of the parks you can visit in one day. With designated bicycle lanes throughout the city, cycling is a safe and fun way to cover a lot of ground. My favorite parks include the Rheinpark, Botanical Gardens and Flora, Volksgarten, and the Hiroshima-Nagasaki-Park.
4 | Take a Cruise on the River Rhine
A gentle river cruise along the Rhine is the best way to enjoy spectacular views of Cologne’s famous bridges. The Hohenzollernbrücke, also known as Love Locks Bridge, is a particularly distinctive landmark as the oldest and most famous of Cologne’s bridges. It looks even more stunning at night when its large arches are illuminated.
5 | Dine at a Traditional Brauhaus
The German term for beerhall, a Brauhaus, is definitely the place to go for your typical German cuisine and luckily, Cologne’s Old Town has them in abundance! I recommend heading to Brauerei zur Malzmühe for a German feast that’s both delicious and authentic in equal measure. The setting is beautifully traditional and they have menus in English – definitely a great help if you’ve never come across a Schweinhaxe (pork knuckle) before!
This is a great place to enjoy the local beer (Kölsch) and to experience the distinctive culture that comes along with it. No need to wait at the bar trying to catch the barman’s attention – the beer is served to you by waiters known as Kobes in 0.2-liter glasses, to ensure that the beer never gets too warm. The Kobes are constantly doing the rounds, and will set down a fresh Kölsch in front of you as soon as your glass is emptied. Top tip: just place a beer mat over the top of glass to signal that you’ve had your fill!
If you decide that the local drink just isn’t for you, I would suggest paying Craftbeer Corner Coeln a visit. Highly praised as the best craft beer pub in town, it boasts a varied selection of brews and a relaxed, laidback vibe.
6 | Visit a Museum
For a different approach to *ahem* soaking up the local culture, take your pick from any of Cologne’s many museums. Whether you’re interested in history, art, or chocolate, you’re sure to find something both engaging and informative.
Art enthusiasts should check out the Romano–Germanic Museum, which exhibits Cologne’s archaeological heritage from the Palaeolithic period to the early Middle Ages. It also houses the world’s largest collection of Roman glass. To learn more about the city’s past, pay a visit to the National Socialism Documentation Center. This tragic but fascinating museum teaches visitors about the history of the city of Cologne under Nazi rule. The former Gestapo prison located in the basement serves as a memorial to the prisoners that were detained and executed there.
A visit to the Cologne Chocolate Museum will take you on an interactive and informative journey through the history and culture of chocolate. The exhibitions start with the origins of chocolate in ancient Mayan and Aztec civilizations, then explores the industrialization of the chocolate-making processes before displaying the perfected product: what we know as chocolate today. You will be offered tasters on your way through the museum, too!