Cologne is a city in western part of Germany. Its Cologne Cathedral is one of the most recognizable buildings in the country and indeed is very impressive. But besides the cathedral there are much more things to see and do in this 2000 year old city on the Rhine.
We went to Cologne in the spring and spent about one and a half days there. I personally liked the city very much. Nice atmosphere, walks along the riven, Rhine boat tours, Lindt chocolate, old town, bridges with nice views, tasty beer – what’s there not to like?!
We were lucky because we had our own local guide. Yuriy’s niece studied in Cologne back then and she was happy to spend the day with us walking around the city and guiding us to places with best views (I wanted to add “…and cafes with great beers”, but then – is there such a thing as bad beer in Germany? 🙂 )
While we do most of our walks on foot, there is a good public transport system in Cologne. City is well connected by buses and trams. You can buy tickets at most of the tram stops and also inside buses and trams, cost depends on travel distance. Buy a single use ticket or if you plan to travel more than twice during the day then it’s more cost effective to buy a one-day ticket.
If you arrive to Cologne by train it brings you right to the city center. Cologne Central station (Köln Hauptbahnhof) stands right next to the Cologne Cathedral. So you will see the city’s main sightseeing as soon as you leave the station.
Square in front of the train station – Bahnhofsvorplatz – is usually full of people and often hosts different events. For example, if you come here around Christmas you will step into Christmas market literally right off the train. Cologne is so well connected by train with other cities in Germany and also neighboring Netherlands, that often people come here just for a day to spend on the Christmas market and heading back several hours later.
If you are visiting around Christmas, then I guess most of your time will be filled with drinking mulled wine, eating gingerbread cookies and doing other festive activities 🙂
But if you are visiting any other time, then here is our list of things to do and see in Cologne in a day or two.
As I already mentioned, it’s hard to miss the cathedral if you arrive by train. Well, it’s hard to miss it at all – it’s a large and beautiful Gothic church standing in the heart of the city with its two towers seen from far away.
Cologne Cathedral is simply breathtaking. Don’t just walk around, go inside and admire its interior and stained-glass windows. Or maybe even climb about five hundred steps to get up to the viewing platform inside one of the two towers.
Even if you just transiting through Cologne and have half an hour stop over there, I would advise to get off the train and go check out the Cologne Cathedral – it’s totally worth it.
We actually done this when we were traveling the other day with my dad from Koblenz to Utrecht. It was less than an hour to change trains in Cologne and we went out of the train station so my dad could see the cathedral. We even had time to go inside and check out the interior of Cologne Cathedral.
Altstadt, Köln Rathaus and Groß St. Martin
Walking around the Old Town – Altstadt – is a must do in Cologne. Narrow cobbled streets with lots of cafes and breweries with traditional German beer and food, well preserved historical Town Hall – Köln Rathaus and picturesque St. Martin Church – Groß St. Martin.
In warm weather buy an ice cream and enjoy sitting at one of the green zones with the Rhine views. Or have a drink and a meal at one of the cafes at Old Market Square (Alter Markt).
Take a boat trip
Boats depart from the “Rheingarten” landing, which is between the Hohenzollern and the Deutzer Bridge. You can buy tickets right there at the ticket office.
One hour harbor tour is a nice way to see some of the Cologne sights from the water, accompanied with information and commentaries in English. Cologne Cathedral, St. Martin Church, Chocolate museum and Rhine bridges – just to give you a few highlights from the excursion.
Apart from guided harbor tour, there is also an option to hop on any regular KD Rhine cruise. You can buy a Rhine Pass day ticket, which allow you to take on any KD Rhine cruise during the day. To see details on ticket prices and departure times, see KD official web site – https://www.k-d.com/en/cruises/cologne
We didn’t take KD cruise from Cologne. But we took Rhine cruise the other time we visited Germany – it was from Mainz to Boppard and you can read about it here – Scenic Middle Rhine cruise in Germany
Ride a tourist train
This could be a good option when visiting with kids – fun for them and less walking for the family.
We actually didn’t plan to go on the tourist train. Based on our experience with such kind of city trains they are quite noisy, with not much space and with very limited view because of small windows and low roof.
But rather than strictly following our planned itinerary we prefer to be flexible and be able to change the plan as we go. It was actually Andrey (who was then 5.5 years old), who saw the train and insisted we all should ride on it!
The tour starts near the Tourist office in front of the Cologne Cathedral. It’s called “Wolters Bimmelbahnen mini-trains”, and you can buy tickets either at the Tourist office, or directly from the cashier at the train stops. They go every half an hour and you can either make a whole round trip or get off (and then back on again) at Chocolate museum.
That’s exactly what we did – got off at Chocolate museum, walked around that area, and then took the train back to the old town.
The Chocolate museum is located at the Rheinauhafen peninsula. We didn’t go inside simply because we didn’t have much time (and maybe to avoid temptations to buy lots of chocolates in the museum shop 🙂 ). Perhaps next time.
You can purchase tickets and plan your visit to the museum here – https://www.schokoladenmuseum.de/en
Even if you’re not planning to go to the Chocolate museum, Rheinauhafen peninsula is a nice place to go. There is a Chocolate museum and Sport & Olympia Museum at one part of the peninsula and business center – Kranhaus – with fancy architecture houses and waterfront promenade at the other part of it.
Get up to the Severinsbrücke bridge for a nice view towards the Kranhaus.
Wait near the Chocolate museum until a toll boat passes to see the Drehbrücke bridge turn around to let the boat pass.
Don’t miss the viewing platform on top of the Chocolate museum to enjoy the Rhine river views.
Hohenzollernbrücke with its love locks
Hohenzollern bridge is not just a train artery to the city, but also a place where couples fix love padlocks to the bridge railings and tourists like us take slow walks reviewing them.
We crossed the Rhine via the Hohenzollern bridge and it took us almost an hour. Not because the bridge is so long, but because of the love locks. There are thousands of them, all different sizes and shapes, with bike locks and chains, master locks with codes, safe locks, and so on. Boys took their time to review many of them and to find most interesting or funny ones. Myself and Yuriy took our time to enjoy views to the Rhine river and its banks.
Cross Hohenzollern bridge to the Rheinboulevard with its steps and city views. Walk along the Rhine. Wait until after sunset and admire the view of right bank – Cologne Cathedral, St. Martin Church, city bridges, etc. are all lit up making the perfect view of the city at night.
Also on the left bank of the river is Rhine Park. Nice for a picnic in warmer season, walking, cycling or just having a nice time in a big green park close to the city center.
Cologne Sculpture Park
If you have more time in Cologne I would advise to go to Cologne Sculpture Park (Skulpturen Park Köln). As the name suggests, you will find contemporary sculptures scattered all over the park. The sculptures changed annually.
You can get there by tram #18, which departs from Cologne Central Station.
There is much more to see in Cologne. But if you only have one-two days in the city, the list above should be enough to have a nice time in Cologne and want to visit this city again to see and explore more.