Possessing beautiful landscapes, marvel architectures, top entertainment spots, rich in history and culture, Cologne is a favorite destination of many tourists. Cologne is a beautiful city in Germany, spanning on the two banks of the poetic Rhine river. Cologne is not only one of the oldest German cities but also the 4th largest city in Germany after Berlin, Hamburg, and Munich. With a history of more than 2000 years, this place possesses many unique and impressive architectural works with historical value. So, what to do, where to go and how to plan a perfect budget trip to Cologne for the first-time? Let’s check out our Cologne travel blog (Cologne blog) with the fullest Cologne travel guide (Cologne guide, Cologne tourist guide, Cologne city guide) from how to get there, best time to come, where to stay, best places to visit and top things to do as well as suggested Cologne itinerary 4 days 3 nights to find out the answer!
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- Guide to rail transport in Germany — Germany train guide & How to travel in Germany by train?
Cologne travel blog: Overview of Cologne
The name Cologne, in Roman times was Colonia Claudia Ara Agrippinensium comes from the Roman empress Julia Agrippina (Agrippina the Younger). The Emperror Claudius’s wife was born in Köln and lifted it to a city status in AD 50. During the Roman era, the city of Cologne was the reign of the provincial governor Germania Inferior (Lower Germania). Around AD 80, with the canal leading water from Eifel, Köln received one of the longest Roman aqueducts. Roman remains were found in the harbour area of Cologne in 2007 when an ancient ship dating back 1,900 years was discovered.
Cologne in German is Köln. This is the most famous and fourth largest city in Germany, located on the banks of the Rhine River in the western Germany. Because of its convenient location, which is quite close to neighboring countries such as the Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg, Cologne is often chosen as one of the most popular places to visit when it comes to German tourism by traveling from here to other European destinations and countries is quite convenient and easy as well as vice versa.
Cologne is Germany’s oldest city dating back to the Roman era in 50 BC. For centuries, the city was the religious center of Germany, as Three Kings (Three Wise Men) were once buried here. Therefore, Cologne is also known as one of the leading pilgrimage sites today.
Some interesting things about the German city of Cologne
- The city was destroyed to 90% through extensive bombing by British and American troops during World War II.
- Religion in the city of Cologne is quite diverse due to the large displacement from the wave of immigration. About 14% of the population are Catholic, 20% are Protestant, 10% (mostly Turkish immigrants) are Muslim, the remaining 30% are other religions or have no religion.
- In medieval times, Cologne was the largest city in Europe.
- It is the warmest and wettest city in Germany due to its location adjacent to the marine and continental climate.
- This city is known as the Germany’s capital of Carnival.
- The city with the Germany’s largest Turkish community.
Cologne travel blog: When to visit?
In terms of climate, the hottest months of the year are July and August like other European countries and the coolest and most pleasant time of the year is May, June or October.
Besides the weather factor, the peak tourist season in Cologne also depends on the cultural events taking place here. The city of Cologne usually organizes a lot of events taking place in August – November such as the festival Weltjugendtag (World Youth Day) (Youth’s festival takes place on September 17 – 18 every year), the Ringfest music festival (the end of August, every year), Carnival from November to February.
However, usually February is the most exciting days of the festival of Carnival. Therefore, the peak season for Cologne tourism is known as October, then August and February.
You can consider the time to travel to Cologne as I mentioned above, such as May, June or November, which are fine. The day I went was on November 25, the Christmas market started here. The weather was quite warm, around 10 – 14 degrees Celsius, the trees have not lost all their leaves and there were not too crowded with tourists as in the peak season.
Cologne travel guide: Getting to Cologne
There are many ways to get to Cologne by train, plane, bus… To getting from Cologne Bonn Airport which located 14km to the southeast of Cologne you can take a S-Bahn train for 14km to get to Cologne Central Station. To find the best cheap flights with good tickets and suitable schedules from other European cities or your location you can access Google Flights, Skyscanner to search.
To travel to Cologne by train or bus or other means of transport with best prices and optimal routes you can go to OMIO.com.
Cologne guide: Getting around Cologne
Germany has one of the best public transport systems in Europe. I find traveling here very easy and the cost is also quite affordable compared to other countries. Tickets can be used by all means of transport such as bus, train, tram… There is also no ticket management system like in the Netherlands or Spain but mainly based on the consciousness of each person. If you do not buy a ticket, you will be suddenly checked and fined. You can buy tickets on the app, ticket vending machines at stations, all are okay. Ticket prices and ways to travel when traveling to Cologne is quite similar to traveling in Berlin:
- Single ticket price: €2.7
- Day ticket price: €7
I recommend that if you travel to Cologne with a group, buying a group ticket will be much more profitable than a single ticket. Single tickets for groups of 2-5 people only cost €13.4. If you go with 5 people, you only have to pay less than €3 per day for the ticket.
You can also buy a Cologne Card (KölnCard) at Klook. Click here to receive a €5 discount code. Then book tickets at the link Cologne Card – Köln Card for €9/day and €18/2 days for all means of transport and discounted entrance fees to Cologne tourist attractions. Please refer to the link above for more information. In general, I think buying this ticket is worth it, only €2 more than the public transport ticket, but you will get about 20% off the ticket price to access the places to visit. Just like the ticket above, you can buy a Köln Card in groups of up to 5 people for only € 19/day.
Tips: It is best to buy alternate tickets if you stay here for a long time. For example, on the day you decide to visit many tourist attractions, buy this Cologne Card is okay, on other day if you just go for sightseeing or shopping, you should buy a public transport ticket is enough.
In addition, in Cologne, there is also a type of hop on – hop off bus/train which take you to the places of attractions. The other day I saw a red bus/green train stop in front of Cologne Cathedral. Ticket price is €15 per day. You can buy it there.
Cologne travel blog: Where to stay?
Before my trip, I asked some friends who had already been to Cologne and were introduced to 2 places to stay in Cologne that they had experienced and were satisfied with. One place is a clean, modern hotel about 10 minutes by train from the central station. The hotel’s name is Holiday Inn Express (Agoda.com or Booking.com). Room rate was about €80/night for 2 people including breakfast.
After reviewing, I have decided to chose to stay at the apartment. I must say that I was extremely satisfied with this accommodation. Room rates are around €90/night but it’s worth it. The house is super close to the center, from here to the famous Cologne tourist attractions very close. My apartment has a view overlooking the famous Cologne Cathedral, but the view is not very nice but that’s okay. Overall, the location is too good, the apartment is clean, communicating with the owner is easy, nothing to complain about.
Below we recommend more best budget, mid-range and upscale hotels with good ratings and reviews you can refer to.
- Hyatt Regency Cologne (Agoda.com or Booking.com).
- Lindner Hotel City Plaza (Agoda.com or Booking.com).
- AZIMUT Hotel Cologne (Agoda.com or Booking.com).
- Excelsior Hotel Ernst (Agoda.com or Booking.com).
- Hotel Mondial am Dom Cologne MGallery (Agoda.com or Booking.com).
- Pullman Cologne (Agoda.com or Booking.com).
Cologne blog: Where to go, what to do?
Cologne Cathedral is the most famous symbol when it comes to Cologne. With a height of 157m, this is the second tallest church in Germany and the third in the world. The church is designed in Gothic architecture similar to the Milan Cathedral in Milan.
According to many historians, underneath this church there are quite a few relics since Roman times from the 1st centuryto the 4th century. Until 1164, the remains of three “holy kings” (Three Wise Men) were brought back from Milan, resulted in rising waves of pilgrimages. That was the main reason the church was completely rebuilt in 1284 to meet that need. This place was once heavily damaged during World War II when more than 70 bombs were dropped here. When coming to this famous Cologne tourist place, you will have the opportunity to admire the photos taken during the war on the side of the church.
In addition, in 1996, this place was also recognized by UNESCO as a world heritage site and is one of the most beautiful Gothic architectures in Europe today. The Catholic Church has also bestowed Cologne with the title of “holy city”, a title only two other recognized cities in the world, Rome and Istanbul.
Entrance ticket: €3. With this ticket, you are allowed to climb up to the upper tower to see the whole city. The day I went, it fell on a Sunday morning, so the church was open for visitors to free visit. However, I only went to inside a bit, not deep because everyone were doing a ceremony.
A 2-min walk from the Museum Ludwig
Address: Domkloster 4, 50667 Köln, Germany
Height: 157 m
Construction started: August 15, 1248
Opened: September 27, 1322
The old city of Cologne is famous for hundreds of different museums, the most famous of which are the Ludwig museum and the Chocolate museum.
The Ludwig Museum was founded by Mr. Peter Ludwig and his wife, who had always had a great passion and devoted support to the arts in the 1976s. This museum is known as a place of mass archives of Picasso’s works with 774 works were all contributed by Mr. and Mrs. Ludwig. This famous place is located right behind Cologne cathedral so it is easy to find. The day I went, I didn’t go inside, so I don’t know how it was. ^_^
A 2-min walk from Cologne Cathedral
Address: Heinrich-Böll-Platz, 50667 Köln, Germany
Hours: 10AM–6PM/Monday: Closed
Ticket price: €12. You get an extra 20% off if you have a Köln card.
The Cologne Chocolate Museum is located on the banks of the River Rhine and was built in 1993 and established by German chocolatier Imhoff-Stollwerck Erck. When you come here, you will have the opportunity to learn about the history of chocolate development in Europe, learn all the processes from cocoa production in a closed room to processing and packaging, or even attend short courses on how to make chocolate. Of course, there is an additional fee compared to the entrance ticket.
Address: Am Schokoladenmuseum 1a, 50676 Köln, Germany
Ticket price: 12.5€
- Wallraf-Richartz Museum (Display art from the Middle Ages to the 19th century).
- Roman-Germanic Museum (art, trinkets and everyday objects from the Roman era and the Merowing dynasty of the Franks).
Hohenzollern ‘love locks’ bridge
In addition to Cologne Cathedral, the image of the Hohenzollern bridge is also one of the typical symbols of Cologne. On this iron bridge there are tens of thousands of love locks that are memorabilia proving the love of lovers – images often seen on bridges in Rome or Paris. Honestly, I was quite shocked with the number of love locks here, extremly a lot that there is no place for them on hand rails, so tourists turn to hanging locks on the fences. I don’t believe in this belief very much, but looking at the number of keys here is really overwhelming.
Total length: 409 m
Longest span: 168 m
Construction started: June 1907
Cologne Old Town (Altstadt)
Cologne has a famous old town, Brauhaus, next to the St. Ursula – Romanesque Catholic Church. There are many famous beer shops here and the architecture of the houses and buildings is also quite beautiful. Because I came here on Christmas Eve, locals make the most of the space in the old town to turn into Christmas market stalls. They decorate quite eye-catching and elaborate. In general, only the small markets in the old town of Cologne are enough to defeat the most famous Christmas markets in Helsinki or Stockholm. I claim because before going to Cologne, I also visited the Stockholm and Helsinki Christmas markets which were quite boring…
Cologne Zoological Garden
Cologne Zoological Garden was founded in 1860 with the largest elephant park in Europe. The zoo is more than 20 hectares wide and is home to more than 10,000 animals and more than 700 different species. Besides the zoo, there is also a very large aquarium for fans of oceanography.
Address: Riehler Str. 173, 50735 Köln, Germany
Ticket price: €19.5 for adults, €14.5 for children
Cologne Botanical garden
Right next to the zoo is the Cologne Botanical garden which is well worth a visit. Here planted a lot of different plants and flowers from tropical to temperate. The day I went, unfortunately, the greenhouse inside was closed, so I just walked around the gardens outside. In general, this area is very large and if you are a flower and plant lover, you should not miss it. Trees and plants are very diverse, I even see Vietnamese coconut trees in the introduction board.
Address: Alter Stammheimer Weg, 50735 Köln, Germany
This place is famous for its best view of the city. With a ticket price of only €3, you will be able to take the elevator to the top floor (29th) and comfortably enjoy the view of the city with a view of Cologne Cathedral and the Hohenzollern love lock bridge. I decided to come here in the evening because I wanted to see what the city looked like when lights up. In general, the scene was beautiful, but unfortunately the bridge was not lit so the scene is not as spectacular as the photos I’ve seen. You should bring a mechanical camera to take pictures, I took it with my phone, so the picture is quite boring, in return, it is really stunning to see the scene with my own eyes. This place is a high-rise building located right next to the foot of the Hohenzollern bridge.
Address: Ottopl. 1, 50679 Köln, Germany
Height: 103 m CTBUH
A large theme park in Germany that attracts more than 2 million visitors every year. This park was built in 1967 by Gottlieb Löffelhardt and Richard Schmidt. This park is famous for its thrilling games, especially roller coasters. Besides the adventurous rides, it has also been built some more play areas for young children with garden flowers, streams and many different themes, including the Chinese-style Asian Theme. The most famous among them is the 4-star Ling Bao hotel with a full and modern restaurant, spa, and sauna system.
Address: Berggeiststraße 31-41, 50321 Brühl, Germany
Ticket price: €43.5 for adults and €34 for children aged 4-11. If you go on your birthday, it’s free.
If you are wondering, do not know where to go when coming to Cologne, Rhein Park is also a great suggestion for you. This is the ideal stopover for those who want to escape the hustle and bustle of the city and find a space that brings a sense of peace. Because of its rich and diverse flora, Rhein Park is a place that many people choose to organize picnics, camping, picnics with friends and relatives. Therefore, this is also a tourist spot in Cologne you should not miss.
Address: Auenweg Rheinpark, 50679 Köln, Germany
Hours: Open 24 hours
Some other famous Cologne tourist attractions
- The Court of Appeal Cologne Building
- The European Flight Academy: I just passed this place, but because it was quite beautiful, I took a photo. It’s just an aviation academy, but it’s beautiful when photographed. This place is located on the banks of the Rhine river, direction from the Musical hall to the zoo.
Cruise ships on the Rhine are always busy with tourists because they offer the most special way to visit the city of Cologne. On the 1-hour cruising journey, you will be treated to a wonderful view from the twin towers at Cologne Cathedral, the old town with its colorful walls and the magnificent Hohenzollern Bridge. Especially at night, the city will become extremely bright and poetic through the eyes of passionate tourists, love the people and the small things here.
Cologne travel blog: What to eat?
With a diverse and rich cuisine, coming to Cologne you will easily find a lot of delicious and attractive dishes in this beautiful city. In particular, to discover the quintessence of the cuisine here, you should enjoy dishes such as: Kölsch wine or beer, Kölsche Kavir black pudding, Halve Hahn (Rye bread roll, an attractive and indispensable cheese bread roll of the German. The aroma of barley mixed with the taste of cheese is the strongest attraction for even the most demanding diners), mashed potatoes, fried pork rolls, Bratwurst sausage,… In addition, you should also taste the delicious taste of Pork Knuckles served with pickles.
Next is the dish with a long name that is hard to remember, but its delicious taste makes you remember forever. That is Rheinischer Sauerbraten (Soorbrode) – a dish that is a combination of sauces with a special recipe from raisins and red cabbage with horse meat or beef. The accompaniment of this dish is potatoes, not bread like other dishes.
Cologne blog: Shopping in Cologne
If you want to shop in Cologne, you should visit one of the two places Hohe Strasse and Schildergasse.
- Hohe Strasse: This street is close to Cologne Cathedral and is a shopping place exclusively for pedestrians with many famous clothing, footwear and jewelry stores such as Galeria Kaufhof, Peek & Cloppenburg…
- Schildergasse is located in the center of the city and stretches about 500m with many famous brands. This is also considered the most famous shopping center in Cologne.
Cologne travel guide: Day trips from Cologne
Cologne is conveniently located and very close to other popular tourist attractions in Germany. If you have time, let’s go to some more places below.
- Dusseldorf: About 1 hour from Cologne by train. The cultural and fashion center of Germany.
- Bonn: The hometown of the famous composer Beethoven and only 1 hour by train from Cologne.
- Brühl Castle: 17km from Cologne and located between Bonn and Cologne.
- Castle Schloss Drachenburg: About 40 minutes from Cologne by train.
Linz am Rhein old town: 1 hour by train from Cologne.
During my trip, I went to Dusseldorf for a day. It’s not a waste at all. Honestly, I was hesitant at first whether should I come here, but after that trip I known that Dusseldorf is one of the most famous and wealthy tourist cities in Germany. Even the day I went, the number of tourists in Dusseldorf could be said to be much larger than in Cologne. I was quite surprised and more beautiful than my initial expectations!
In addition, Cologne is also quite close to a number of other European cities such as Amsterdam, Luxembourg, Paris or Strassbourg. If you want to go to some other European countries, then think about the destinations above. It takes about 3-4 hours to travel by bus/train.
Cologne travel blog: Suggested Cologne travel itinerary 4 days 3 nights
During my journey, I went to Dusseldorf airport before traveling to Cologne, so I spent a day in Dusseldorf. Stayed in Dusseldorf for one night then took the train to Cologne the next day and stayed 3 nights here. The Cologne travel itinerary 4 days 3 nights you can refer to as the map below. I also followed this route, but after that itinerary, I learned some experiences that you can change such as:
Day 1: Follow the red line through places like:
Cologne Cathedral – Historical Town Hall – Ludwig Museum – River Banks – Old Town – St. Martin Church – Chocolate Museum – Concert Hall
Day 2: Follow the blue line. You can skip the Musical Dome and Bastion locations because Bastion is small and boring. With Musical Dome if you don’t go inside, it won’t look very nice during the day. Going to the Kölntriangle in the evening to see the better Musical Dome. On Day 2 you can take the train from the center to the zoo. Then go to the Botanical garden right next to it and go to other places like the wine museum, the Regional appeal court building and the Eigelstein-city-gate.
Day 3: Phantaisland Theme Park
Day 4: Take a day trip to Dussedolf, Bonn or Brühl castle.
Cologne guide: Traveling cost for self-sufficient trip 4 days 3 nights
- Hotel: €45/person – €135 for 3 nights
- Eating: €30/day
- Traveling, entrance tickets: €90. Because I went with only 2 people but still bought group tickets, I had to pay more than if I went with 5 people.
Total about €350 for all traveling costs to Cologne for 4 days. Eating and drinking, I find the prices in supermarkets in Germany are the same everywhere, restaurants are a bit more expensive than Berlin. In general, €10/meal is too good, even €8 has a good meal.
Cologne travel blog: Some useful tips before you go
- Cologne is very crowded with tourists, so always be careful with your belongings when coming here, especially at the piers, stations and crowded places.
- In Germany, besides the famous Lidl chain with low prices, the Netto discount supermarket is also another choice that you can consider.
- Note that when using public transport tickets or even a Cologne card, you should stamp the ticket when boarding those vehicles.
- Cologne Cathedral is located right next to the central station (Köln haustbahnhof), so I recommend you stay in places near the stations or have easy public transport connections for more convenience.
- Besides the famous German cologne tourist destinations, boating along the Rhine River is also a fairly popular activity of tourists. You can buy a 1-hour cruise along the riverside for €8 here.
- It is a fact in Germany that the rate of homeless/beggars is very high. It can be said that it belongs to the top of Europe because I have not seen it in many other countries before. You can see people begging for money everywhere from the main door of the church, on the street, at stations or even they get on the train to ask for each person. Don’t be too surprised if you come here to see it. Begging is not inherently illegal here, so this situation is quite common and in stark contrast to the Netherlands where it is considered illegal.
Talking about the feeling of traveling to Cologne, Germany, I am also quite impressed with this place. Basically, when I first learned about the city of Cologne, I only knew about Cologne Cathedral and Hohenzollern Bridge, but after going, I saw that there are many other interesting places here. If you just want to get an overview of the city, 1 day is also possible. Or if you want to experience slowly, come here for about 4 days. In addition, the Christmas atmosphere here is also quite bustling, crowded and the weather is much better than Berlin. The Christmas market is right next to Cologne Cathedral and the old town is quite beautiful and bustling.
Some best day tours, trips, activities and transfer services, tickets in, from and to Cologne you can refer to
- Cologne Card
- Chocolate Museum Skip-the-Line Admission Ticket in Cologne
- Cologne Private Flight Tour
- Dusseldorf 1-Hour Cruise and 24-Hour Hop-On Hop-Off Sightseeing Bus Tour.
Read more Germany guide here