Set in the western part of Germany and surrounded by the Rhine river, Cologne, or Köln as the locals like to say, is a captivating place with a rich history, heritage, and a variety of interesting things to do. Whether visiting the world-famous Cologne Cathedral, taking in the panoramic views high above the Seilbahn cable car, or marveling at the architecture on a stroll of the Rheinauhafen, travelers to this city will find the destination captivating. Other notable things to do include discovering the shops, restaurants, bars, and nightlife of the Belgian Quarter, or for a more relaxing experience, strolling the picturesque grounds of the UNESCO World Heritage sites, the Schloss Augustusburg, and the nearby Faulkenlust hunting lodge, both of which are no museums.
1.The Three Kings Shrine
© The Three Kings Shrine
Housed in Cologne Cathedral, the largest Gothic church in northern Europe, the Three Kings Shrine is a significant reliquary from the Middle Ages that is centrally displayed high above the altar in the house of worship. Crafted of gold and silver and adorned with precious stones and gems, the shrine is believed to carry the bones of the Three Wise Men. Before the relics of the Magi were given to the Archbishop of Cologne by the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick Barbarossa, they were situated in Milan and before that Constantinople. It was not until the latter part of the 12th century that work on an actual shrine was begun by famous goldsmith, Nicholas Verdun, who included various scenes from the life of Christ as well as sculptures of apostles and the prophets in his work. Today, the shrine continues to attract pilgrims and other curious visitors to the historic cathedral.
Cologne Cathedral, Domkloster 4, 50667 Köln, Germany, Phone: +49-221-17-94-05-55
Adventurous travelers can look forward to a bird's eye view when they go for a splendid ride on the Seilbahn, or more commonly known as the Cologne Cable Car. Since its early beginnings 60 years ago, the unique attraction has been delighting locals and visitors with a scenic six-minute gondola ride across the beautiful Rhine river. From high above, passengers get to see the German city in a new way, from the Old Town to the picturesque surroundings. Special trips can be arranged for birthdays and other occasions, and there are special theme nights, such as Cologne Lights, throughout the year. Open from April through October, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Riehler Str. 180, 50734 Köln, Germany, Phone: +49-22-15-47-41-83
© Tom Voelz/stock.adobe.com
Named after a former commercial port that used to occupy the area, Rheinauhafen is a vibrant commercial district and promenade with a mix of office and residential buildings, restaurants, art galleries, and other points of interest along the Rhine river between the Southern Railway Bridge (Südbrücke) and the Severin Bridge (Severinsbrücke). Striking architecture on the west bank catches the eye, and at the center of it all is the collection of three buildings known as Kranhäuser, which translates to crane towers in German. Other architectural gems include the art’otel cologne, a trapezoid structure with colorful collages by Korean artist SEO, and the former granary known as the Siebengebirge, which has also undergone a transformation. The popular attraction is great for a leisurely stroll or for relaxing with a coffee in one of the cafes.
50678 Köln, Germany
Set between the two squares Rathausplatz and Alter Markt in the Innenstadt district is the Rathaus, the historic town hall complex of Cologne. Dating back to the early 14th-century, the building features a design that has evolved several times. Notable features include the exquisite loggia, a fine example of architecture from the Renaissance period, and the gorgeous Gothic tower boasting 100 sculptures as well as the glockenspiel, a collection of 48 bronze bells that sound four times each day. The Hansasaal is the oldest part of the complex, constructed in 1360 and named after the Hanseatic League, who often met in the large hall. At the center, the open Piazzetta reveals a view of the tower, while in the north section is where you will find the Lowenhof or lion courtyard.
Rathausplatz 2, 50667, Köln, Germany, Phone: +49-221-22-10
One of the coolest districts in Cologne, the trendy Belgian Quarter, or Belgisches Viertel certainly lives up to the hype with fashionable shops, lively restaurants, and a happening nightlife. At its heart is Brüsseler Platz square, a good place to meet up with friends and people-watch during the warmer months. Travelers in the mood to indulge in retail therapy should head to the main shopping boulevards of Hohe Straße and Schildergasses and have a look at the boutiques selling designer clothes and shoes, or pick up a box of decadent chocolates, or pop into a bar for a Belgian beer. Art lovers will enjoy exploring the latest works at one of the galleries, such as 30works, an inspiring space that presents Pop and Urban Art in new orientations and contexts. The Quarter is also host to several fun events throughout the year including the Passagen Festival in January, which spotlights local designers, and Le Tour Belgique, a cultural weekend featuring everything from theater to art exhibitions, live concerts, DJ sets, talks, and more.
Foodies fascinated by history will enjoy discovering how a classic condiment is made at the Mustard Museum. Set across the street from the Chocolate Museum at the Holzmarkt, this cultural attraction provides a look into the centuries-old mustard-making process with guided tours and free samples. After expanding your mustard knowledge, the gift shop beckons with gourmet products in an assortment of flavors from the classic Historical Mustard made with the 1820 recipe to Garlic Mustard, Sharp Cayenne, Indian Curry Mustard, among others.
Holzmarkt 79-83, 50676 Köln, Germany, Phone: +49-221-20-53-23-40
© Mikhail Markovskiy/stock.adobe.com
The Yuletide spirit is very much alive at festive Christmas Markets all over Cologne. The beloved holiday tradition takes over with glistening lights, vendors selling their wares, fun winter activities, and more at various locations in the city from November 25 through December 23. The biggest of them all is the Christmas Market at the Cologne Cathedral, with the gothic landmark and lovely Christmas tree making a beautiful backdrop for strolling, shopping, musical performances, and other merriment. Nearby, Heinzels Winter Fairytale situated on Alter Markt and Heumarkt squares, draws in the ice skaters with its rink, while the Harbour Christmas Market boasts a nautical-inspired theme along the Rhine. At Neumarkt square, the Market of Angels is a sight to behold with twinkling lights in a whimsical, forest-inspired setting. Finally, the Village of Saint Nicholas attracts families with arts, crafts, food, warm drinks, and good cheer.
Various Locations, Köln, Germany
As the largest city on the River Rhine, Cologne offers the perfect location to explore one of the most traveled waterways in the world. And, the best way is on a scenic boat tour via one of the three companies that offer guided experiences including KölnDüsseldorfer, KölnTourist, and Colonia. All three offer tickets through the Cologne Tourist Board and the landing docks are located on the left bank around Hohenzollern Bridge. While experiences vary, the sites that people are sure to see are the iconic Cologne Cathedral, the Old Town and the modern Rheinauhafen waterfront complex. Meanwhile, the 65-minute Harbour Tour includes those landmarks as well as the Chocolate Museum, the German Sports and Olympic Museum, as well as the Rodenkirchen, a former fishing village.
Various Locations, Köln, Germany
9.The Old Town
© Maria Sbytova/stock.adobe.com
Quaint and charming, the Old Town of Cologne takes visitors to another time with historical sites, traditional houses, and narrow alleyways that lead to museums, restaurants serving typical German dishes, pubs, and craft markets. Set along the Rhine, the area is home to centuries-old treasures, including the Archaeological Zone and the Old St. Albam Memorial as well as monuments and the famous Cologne elves fountain, Henzelmännachen. Popular points of interest not to miss include the Romano-German Museum and the Museum Ludwig. After a day of exploring, there are many establishments to pop in for a stein of Kölsch beer, schnitzel, and other specialties from the Rhineland, such as Gilden im Zims and Brauerei Zur Malzmühle, a 150-year-old family-run brewery and restaurant.
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© 4711 Perfume
Learn about the beginnings of the iconic Original Eau de Cologne on a historic guided tour of the original 4711 store at Glockengasse 4, which was established in 1792 and just a short stroll from the Cologne Cathedral. Taking place every Saturday at 1 p.m. the guided tour takes guests to the Fragrance Museum where they learn about different scents, essential oils, and the production process. For those who prefer to make their own fragrance, there is a 90-minute class taught in German every Thursday afternoon.
House of 4711 GmbH, Glockengasse 4, 50667 Köln, Phone: +49-221-27-09-99-11
11.Farina Fragrance Museum
© Farina Duftmuseum
Creators of the original Eau de Cologne, Farina has its very own fragrance museum featuring fascinating tours for private groups and individual visitors. Available in several languages, several days a week, the 45-minute experience showcases 300 years of fragrance history. Visitors get to learn all about production, and what it takes to make the different products. Afterward, they can pop into the adjacent fragrance shop to find the perfect scents as souvenirs.
Obenmarspforten 21, 50667 Köln, Germany, Phone: +49-22-13-99-89-94
© Museum Ludwig
Near Cologne Cathedral and the Chocolate Museum, the Museum Ludwig is an art lover’s dream as it is home to the most extensive Pop art collection in Europe and the third-largest Picasso collection in the world. The majority of the collection is from art patrons Peter and Irene Ludwig, who donated 350 works of modern art to the city of Cologne in 1976, and Josef Haubrich, who donated fine examples of German Expressionism and New Objectivity to the city in 1946 shortly after the Second World War. Notable names that grace the museum galleries include Andy Warhol, Max Ernst, Claes Oldenburg, Jasper Johns, and Gerhard Richter. As for photography, there are 70,000 works and a FOTO LAB, where visitors enjoy immersive experiences, such as learning about the camera obscura and other fun activities.
Heinrich-Böll-Platz, 50667 Köln, Germany, Phone: +49-221-22-12-61-65
© Björn Wylezich/stock.adobe.com
Couples in Cologne often stop by the Hohenzollern Bridge to view the thousands of “Love Locks” that adorn the railings of the bridge over the Rhine. Sometimes, visitors take part in the tradition by showing their affection and adding their locks to the structure. The collection of padlocks features all sorts of striking colors, painted designs and messages, and make for great photo ops.
Hohenzollernbrücke 50667 Köln, Germany
14.Flora and Botanical Gardens
© Tom Bayer/stock.adobe.com
Nature enthusiasts will marvel at the scenic splendor of the Flora and Botanical Gardens. Set north of Cologne in the district of Riehl, the complex spans 28 acres and includes the 19th-century Flora venue designed by Peter-Joseph Lenné and the exquisite botanical garden that continues to delight visitors since first opening in 1929. From maples to magnolias and more, a stunning display of more than 12,000 species of plants and flowers from all over the world await at every turn. Highlights include an English landscape garden, a Subtropical House with 300 varieties of camelias, and exotic woods in the Arboretum, among others There is reason that more than 1 million people visit this place a year.
Amsterdamer Straße 34, 50735 Köln, Germany, Phone: +49-221-56-08-90
Revelry takes over the entire city of Cologne during “Fastelovend,” a carnival celebration that typically takes place between New Year’s Day and Ash Wednesday. However, in this city, the celebration gets started a little earlier, and every year on the 11th day of the 11th month at 11:11, the festivities begin. The city center is the focal point of the opening session with the Prince, the Peasant, and Maiden, the symbolic characters of the Carnival greeting everyone from a big stage. The next event is not until February 20, 2020, when the Weiberfastnacht or Women’s Carnival takes place, followed by a spectacular parade on Rose Monday on February 24, 2020, and Ash Wednesday on February 26. A six-day street carnival known as Crazy Days offers a fantastic finale to the beloved tradition.
Various Locations, Phone: +49-0-22-12-58-04-04
© Stadt Museum
Objects and artwork from the Middle Ages to the present day highlight the history of Cologne at the Cologne City Museum. Founded in 1888, the cultural organization has gone through immense changes over the years. Housed in The Zeughaus since 1958, the museum is temporarily located in the former department store Franz Sauer while the finishing touches are underway on its new home in the Historische Mitte, located in the heart of Roncalli Square or the Roncalliplatz. The museum is set to open in its new location in 2020.
Zeughausstraße 1-3, 50667 Köln, Germany, Phone: +49-221-22-12-23-98
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A spectacular time awaits, at Phantasialand, a family-friendly theme park featuring thrill rides, shows, dining and special events year-round. More than 2 million people visit this place for a reason. Set between Cologne and Bonn, this popular attraction features all sorts of amusements from the multi-launch roller coaster Taron to a Wild West experience and a spooky Mystery Castle. Other highlights include the dinner show Fantissima, featuring artists, daring feasts and delicious food in a stylish setting, and the daily Magic Rose – Spirit of Light fireworks extravaganza.
Berggeiststraße 31-41, 50321 Brühl, Germany, Phone: +49-223-23-66-00
A relaxing oasis in the middle of Cologne, the Neptunbad Sports and Spa invites guests to unwind and focus on their wellness. Housed in a lovely art Nouveau building, this rejuvenating destination features a range of experiences including an Asian sauna and bath landscape with indoor saunas, pools as well as a Japanese Zen garden, inviting sun terraces and Rotemburu-Onsen hot springs, as well as the Kaiserbad section featuring hydrotherapy and an ancient Rome-inspired steam bath with calm music and aromatherapy to awaken the senses. The facility also features a fitness area, healthy dining, and a dedicated area for massage and beauty treatments.
Neptunpl. 1, 50823 Köln, Germany, Phone: +49-221-71-00-71
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Home to more than 10,000 animals and over 800 species, the Zoological Gardens is open for exploration 365 days a year. Animal lovers will feel right at home at this popular attraction that has the distinction of being one of the oldest zoological gardens in the world. What began as a menagerie in 1860 has since evolved into modern destination for wildlife. Highlights include an island for apes, a big cat enclosure and an awe-inspiring elephant park. The terrarium and insectarium are also worth viewing.
Riehler Str. 173, 50735, Köln, Germany, Phone: +49-221-56-79-91-00
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In North Rhine-Westphalia in the town of Brühl, the majestic Augustusburg Castle (Schloss Augustburg) together with the Falkenlust hunting lodge and the surrounding park and baroque gardens stand out for their architectural splendor and beauty. Since 1984, the Rococo-style buildings have been designated by UNESCO as World Cultural Heritage sites. Over the years, the castle served as the residence of the Cologne Elector and Archbishop Clemens August and welcomed famous guests, including a young Mozart. Today, both sites operate as museums, and visitors can discover the grandeur and get a glimpse of the past with treasures and interesting exhibits such as falconry on display in the completely preserved rooms.
Parkplatz, Max-Ernst-Allee, 50321 Brühl, Germany, Phone: +49-223-24-40-00
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© Wallraf-Richartz Museum
Name an important European artist, and chances are that you will find one of their exquisite works at the Wallraf-Richartz Museum. Housed in a building designed by Cologne star architect, Oswald Mathias, the cultural organization is known for a monumental collection of medieval paintings, including “Mother God in the Rose Leaves” by Stefan Lochner. Other notable pieces include Baroque works by Rubens, Impressionist and Neo-impressionist art by Manet, Monet, and Renoir, as well as modern paintings by van Gogh, Gaugin, and Munch, and drawings by da Vinci and Rodin. After exploring the galleries, visitors may unwind in the café or pick up a few gifts in the museum shop.
Obenmarspforten 40, 50667 Köln, Germany, Phone: +49-221-22-12-11-19
© Peter’s Brauhaus
Inspired by the historic 16th century brewery Zum Kranz, the Peters family revived the beer tradition, opening Peter’s Brauhaus in the same location, back in 1994. Since then, friendly Cologne hospitality, refreshing Kölsch, an enticing menu, and a warm ambiance continue to appeal to hungry and thirsty guests. The hearty food card features satisfying dishes, such as Rheinische Soorbrode, marinated beef in raising sauce with potato dumplings and stewed apples, and the Peters Brewhouse Plate featuring pork schnitzel with fried bacon, potatoes, and salad.
Mühlengasse 1, 50667 Köln, Germany, Phone: +49-22-12-57-39-50
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23.Die Fette Kuh
© Die Fette Kuh
Savory, juicy burgers are the specialties day in and day out at Die Fette Kuh, a.k.a. The Fat Cow. The casual eatery lives up to its simple philosophy of serving “delicious, honest burgers and salads.” Along with homemade options such as the Teriyaki Burger, BBQ Cheeseburger, and the Chile Cheeseburger, the menu features tasty hot dogs with all sorts of toppings. Customers can expect thick-handmade burger patties that satisfy cravings for something delicious between two buns.
Bonner Str. 43, 50677 Köln, Germany, Phone: +49-221-37-61-77-75
Since 1987, Le Moissonier has been serving refined French fare in its always packed space. Boasting two Michelin stars, the establishment continues to attract buzz because of the culinary skills of Chef Eric Menchon who puts a creative spin on items such as bouillabaisse, fish dishes and more. Every dish is artfully plated and food enthusiasts travel near and far to dine here.
Krefelder Str. 25, 50670 Köln, Germany, Phone: +49-221-72-94-79
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© Da Damiano
Italian specialties delight diners at Da Damiano. Along with the excellent cuisine and wine list, this lovely restaurant offers an inviting, family atmosphere in an elegant dining room. The menu is always evolving but features enticing starters, such as Green Asparagus with Scampi, Quail Breast Filet and Beef Carpaccio with Italian truffles as well as delicious pasta selections including Black Fettucine with Lobster and Fresh Tagliatelle with Seasonal Mushrooms, and satisfying seafood and meat dishes including the Damiano-style lamb.
Marzellenstraße 66, 50668 Köln, Germany, Phone: +49-221-12-36-62
25 Best Things to Do in Cologne, Germany
- The Three Kings Shrine, Photo: The Three Kings Shrine
- Seilbahn, Photo: sehbaer_nrw/stock.adobe.com
- Rheinauhafen, Photo: Tom Voelz/stock.adobe.com
- Rathaus, Photo: vvoe/stock.adobe.com
- Belgian Quarter, Photo: rcfotostock/stock.adobe.com
- Mustard Museum, Photo: 5ph/stock.adobe.com
- Christmas Markets, Photo: Mikhail Markovskiy/stock.adobe.com
- The Rhine, Photo: travelview/stock.adobe.com
- The Old Town, Photo: Maria Sbytova/stock.adobe.com
- 4711 Perfume, Photo: 4711 Perfume
- Farina Fragrance Museum, Photo: Farina Duftmuseum
- Museum Ludwig, Photo: Museum Ludwig
- Love Locks, Photo: Björn Wylezich/stock.adobe.com
- Flora and Botanical Gardens, Photo: Tom Bayer/stock.adobe.com
- Carnival, Photo: picturetom/stock.adobe.com
- Stadt Museum, Photo: Stadt Museum
- Phantasialand, Photo: Phantasialand
- Neptunbad, Photo: Neptunbad
- Zoological Gardens, Photo: SergioET/stock.adobe.com
- Schloss Augustusburg, Photo: dudlajzov/stock.adobe.com
- Wallraf-Richartz Museum, Photo: Wallraf-Richartz Museum
- Peter’s Brauhaus, Photo: Peter’s Brauhaus
- Die Fette Kuh, Photo: Die Fette Kuh
- Le Moissonier, Photo: alipko/stock.adobe.com
- Da Damiano, Photo: Da Damiano
- Cover Photo: sborisov/stock.adobe.com