Strung along the Rhine River, Cologne is the cultural honeypot of northwest Germany. It was established by the Romans in 38 BC and has evolved into one of the country’s greatest cities.
Not quite sure what to do in Cologne? Despite taking a sizeable hit during World War II, there’s bucket loads of history to soak up, plus plenty of atmospheric beer halls and an abundance of galleries.
Use our guide to the top things to do in Cologne to help plot out the perfect itinerary:
- Cologne Cathedral
- Old Town
- Museum Ludwig
- Saint Gereon’s Basilica
- Botanical Gardens Flora
- Chocolate Museum
- Romano-Germanic Museum
- Cologne Christmas markets
1. Cologne Cathedral
This mighty UNESCO-listed church should be at the top of your list of things to do in Cologne – it’s Germany’s most visited attraction for a reason. Swathed in gothic style, it dates back to the 13th century and dominates the city’s skyline with its two mighty towers. Gruesome gargoyles glare down and a rainbow of colour streams through the stained-glass windows. Inside the nave, you can really appreciate its sheer size. Make sure you embark on the guided tour, which takes you up the 533 steps of the south tower. The views? Unbelievable.
2. Old Town
Experience a quaint part of the city in the Old Town, known here as Altstadt. Much of it was razed by the RAF during World War II, so what you’ll see is a careful restoration of its predecessor. Cobbled streets are lined with colourful townhouses and museums are tucked away among alleyways. Drift around this serene district and duck into the many bars and restaurants for a taste of local cuisine.
Fine art is the focus of the Wallraf-Richartz-Museum. Medieval Cologne paintings and European works from the 13th – 19th centuries grace the walls here, with a who’s who of world-class artists featured among the line-up. Monet, Rembrandt, Rubens? Yup, they’re all on show.
4. Museum Ludwig
Modern art fans will be in heaven here. The Museum Ludwig’s collection includes hundreds of works by Pablo Picasso, along with pieces by Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol. Potter around gazing at the paintings, before heading to the onsite café and restaurant for a bite to eat.
5. Saint Gereon’s Basilica
Cologne Cathedral may be the predominate church to see in the city, but Saint Gereon’s Basilica is well worth the wander. Dating from the Medieval Age, it’s built in beautiful Romanesque style. Head inside the church and gaze up into the decagonal nave, topped by a soaring red dome – encircled by stained glass windows, it’s quite the sight to behold.
6. Botanical Gardens Flora
A lush oasis of nature can be found among the city at the Botanical Gardens Flora. Created in 1864, this 11-hectare park is filled with more than 10,000 types of plants, both along the pathways and inside tropical greenhouses. Stroll among rows of colourful flora and you’ll find nods to French Baroque, Italian Renaissance and English-style gardens.
7. Chocolate Museum
Chocolate lover? Get yourself down to the city’s Chocolate Museum along the Rhine. The guided tour will take you through nine exhibits that narrate the history of chocolate, as well as the confectionary production process. An enormous 3m chocolate fountain is a standout feature, flowing with 200kg of warm Lindt chocolate. At the end of the tour, you can bob into the Hussel Chocolate Shop onsite to buy truffles, pastries and gifts to take home with you.
8. Romano-Germanic Museum
Trace Cologne’s history all the way back to the Roman era at the Romano-Germanic Museum. Wander past archaeological finds to get an insight into life in the city thousands of years ago. Beautiful glass works, jewellery and sculptures feature, along with the unmissable Dionysus Mosaic from the 3rd century.
9. Cologne Christmas markets
Yuletide magic fills the air from the end of November in Cologne when the Christmas markets come to town. While there are several peppered throughout the city, the most magnificent is set outside the cathedral under the gaze of the largest Christmas tree in the Rhineland. More than 150 quaint wooden huts sell everything from toys and decorations to arts and crafts. Peruse them at your pleasure, while wrapping your hands around a warming mug of mulled wine.