What to do in Cologne: 7 ways to experience the city

What to do in Cologne: 7 ways to experience the city

by Erin McGann

Updated May 10, 2022

The fourth-largest city in Germany, Cologne, or Köln in German, is home to an impressive mix of historical sites, museums, modern architecture and a fierce sense of community pride. 

Their local beer tradition, Kölsch, is famous around the world, and you can experience it in the many brewhouses across the city. Of course, the famous sight of the Cologne Cathedral won’t fail to take your breath away, towering at over 157m above the square below. 

But that’s not all the places to see in Cologne! Here are some more must-see attractions in the city: 

  1. Visit Cologne Cathedral
  2. Drink the famous local Kölsch
  3. Taste everything in the Chocolate Museum
  4. Take in the best views from the top of the KölnTriangle 
  5. Walk along the Rhine and take in the Rheinauhafen
  6. Wander through the Old Town
  7. Pretend you’re a Roman in the Romano-German Museum

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1. Visit Cologne Cathedral

Dominating the city skyline is the Cologne Cathedral or the Kölner Dom

Construction began in 1248 when it was decided that the existing church wasn’t impressive enough to house the remains of the Three Wise Men. 

Unfortunately, funding problems and war interrupted the construction work, and the iconic towers weren’t completed until 1880. 

It’s the most popular tourist attraction in Germany, and between the tourists and pilgrims, over six million people visit annually. 

Today, you can climb the 533 steps of one of the towers for an incredible view over the city, as well as view the ornate relics of the Three Wise Men inside the cathedral. 

Due to the complex construction and intricacy of the facade, the restoration work is never completed; nearly 100 people work on preserving this UNESCO Heritage Site for future generations. 

2. Drink the famous local Kölsch

Served in small narrow glasses, the famous local beer in Cologne is called Kölsch. This is a type of beer, rather than a brand, and to qualify as Kölsch, the beer must be brewed within 50 km of Cologne and to a strict standard

When you sit down at a brewhouse or Brauhaus and order some Kölsch, the beer will just keep coming until you put your coaster on top of your empty glass! 

You can join a tour through the tourism office to learn more about the beer-drinking culture of Cologne, or just hang out in a Brauhaus for a while. 

Try the historic Früh am Veedel, which has been serving Kölsch since 1886. 

3. Taste everything in the Chocolate Museum

The Chocolate Museum is worth a stop when you’re in Cologne. From the galleries of gorgeous vintage chocolate advertising posters to the make-your-own Lindt bar workshop, there’s a lot more to this place than you might expect. 

Take a look at an actual cocoa plant in the greenhouse and peer into the chocolate bar assembly line as it runs. The café overlooking the Rhine is a pleasant way to relax and try some fantastical hot chocolate before you buy too many types of chocolate from the gift shop on the way out. 

You can take a mini-train Cologne sightseeing tour from the Tourism Info office down to the museum. 

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4. Take in the best views from the top of the KölnTriangle

If you’re looking to get that iconic shot of the Cologne skyline, head across the Rhine from the cathedral to the KölnTriangle

From the observation deck on the 29th floor, get a bird’s-eye view over the famous Hohenzollern Bridge, the Cathedral and the surrounding cityscape. Thankfully, you only have to take an elevator and not climb the 565 steps to see it. 

5. Walk along the Rhine and take in the Rheinauhafen

The riverside near the Chocolate Museum was once home to a vibrant shipping harbor in the 1880s but fell into disuse during the 20th century. 

The Rheinauhafen became the site of a big urban regeneration project that has turned the area into a popular neighborhood for locals and visitors.

It’s dominated by the famous Kranhaus buildings that bring to mind the old cranes that used to be such an important part of the working life of this area. There are lots of great spots for taking photographs or just for a pleasant walk.

6. Wander through the Old Town

Walking through the narrow streets of the Old Town now, you might not realize that nearly all of the buildings were destroyed in World War II. 

A few of the buildings, like the Overstolzen House and the Town Hall, were reconstructed with historical exteriors and modern interiors. 

Regardless, it’s still an interesting neighborhood to spend a few hours in and relax in the Alter Markt or the Heumarkt, watching people go by. 

7. Pretend you’re a Roman in the Romano-German Museum

Right next to the Cologne Cathedral is the Romano-German Museum or Römisch-Germanisches Museum

In 1941, an air-raid shelter was being constructed next to the cathedral when workers stumbled upon the remains of a Roman villa with an exquisite mosaic floor. After the war, the current museum building was constructed around the villa remains to protect it. 

Learn more about the extensive history of the Romans in this region of Germany with lots of artifacts, reconstructed Roman structures and more. 

How to get to Cologne

Cologne is a major rail hub, so it’s easy to get there from most places within Germany and neighboring countries. 

They also have a major airport that also serves Bonn, as well as the nearby airport for Düsseldorf. 


A weekend in Cologne is a weekend well spent

There are many reasons why Cologne is on everyone’s must-see list in Germany: the Cologne Cathedral, the beer, the museums, and the great culture of this vibrant city. 

Do check the schedule to catch some of the festivals happening throughout the year – the biggest one being Carnival. Cologne goes absolutely crazy for this pre-Lent celebration of excess. Even if there aren’t any special events, a weekend in Cologne is a glorious way to spend a few days. 

Looking for more places to explore in Germany? Why not try Frankfurt or Leipzig?

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Erin McGann is a Canadian freelance writer focusing on travel, living abroad, parenting, history, and culture. After nearly a decade living in the UK, Erin settled in Heidelberg, Germany with her husband and son. Dragging her family to every castle and open-air museum is a favorite activity, along with sewing, archery, and historical reenactment. You can check out her travel blog, and follow her obsession with half-timbered houses on her Instagram account.