Welcome to Cologne, the vibrant and historic city in Germany’s Rhineland region! Cologne is one of the oldest cities in Germany, with a rich history that stretches back over two thousand years. From its stunning Gothic architecture, to its vibrant nightlife, and its beautiful riverfront, Cologne is an unforgettable destination.
In this guide, you’ll find all the information you need to make the most of your time visiting Cologne. From top attractions to delicious local cuisine, we’ll show you the best of what this city has to offer.
So, let’s get started exploring the beautiful city of Cologne!
Here is an overview:
Table of Contents
A snapshot of what to expect when visiting Cologne
The distinctive flavour to the city of Cologne is often put down to the inhabitants, or Kölsche, who take an enormous amount of pride in their city. Cologne, like most areas of Germany, has its very own local dialect of German, though this is unlikely to hinder the average sight-seeing tourist, as many of the landmarks of the city have English-speaking guides and information.
For those tourists who speak German, and wish to practice it, the citizens have a lot of patience with those getting to grips with the grammatically difficult language.
Colognians are very friendly people; welcoming tourists of all types and with all interests. Away from the landmarks, many workers of the German rail system (Deutsche Bahn) speak English, as well as ticket/timetable machines available in English modes. Local transport systems, however, rarely cater for the English speaker, with only the bare essentials of information available but this should only concern those wishing to explore the city away from the more centralised sights.
Those wishing to explore away from the central city should plan their journey before leaving, to prevent minor complications as there is a lack of English away from the centre of Cologne. Older people in Cologne tend to have little or no knowledge of English, whilst businessmen and women, as well as the German youth, all tend to have a good knowledge of the language. Language is rarely a strong barrier, so this shouldn’t be too much of a worry for the average tourist, just approach a friendly native and use a smile on your face, your arms and legs. Cologne’s strong side is its cultural life.
If you visit Cologne alone, you won’t stay alone for long (any time of the year). You just have to visit a pub and it won’t be long, someone will invite you for a beer!
Get the KölnCard
Discover Cologne comfortably and cost-effectively with the KölnCard. With free access to public transport you can travel for 24 or 48 hours and receive discounts of up to 50% from numerous partners. The KölnCard is available for single persons or groups.
– Free travel on buses and trains
– Up to 50% discount at attractions and museums
– Up to 50% discount on guided tours
– Up to 20% discount at restaurants
– Up to 15% discount on shopping
Get the card here.
Cologne Carnival (Fastelovend)
Karneval, the biggest festivity in Cologne is the Winter carnival (or Fastelovend) in February. According to the official Cologne tourism website: “Its highlight is the street carnival taking place from Weiberfastnacht (the Thursday before Ash Wednesday, traditionally the day on which women take control of the city) to Karnevalsdienstag (Shrove Tuesday).
On Rosenmontag (Shrove Monday) more than one and a half million people line Cologne’s streets to watch the parade with the mad triad – the prince, farmer, and virgin – every year.”
Dates for Cologne Carnival: It starts on the Thursday before the beginning of Lent each year.
I’m always telling friends that the Cologne Carnival might be the best carnival in the world. Ok, I know it’s quite something to say that, as there are many great places out there with great Carnival experiences. But Cologne Carnival is unique!
Everyone… really…Everyone gets dressed up! People run around as clowns, cowboys, Indians, self-made costumes & whatever you like to be! The songs you’ll hear are all in “Kölsch”, the dialect and most of them are about carnival and about the city and its people.
Cologne is famous for its Kölsch (beer)
Cologne is known for its love of beer, often referred to as Kölsch. This top-fermented beer is usually light in color and has a distinctively dry and crisp taste, thanks to its local ingredients. It is also served in a special glass called a Kölschstange, which is designed to keep the beer cold and carbonated.
Cologne has a rich brewing culture, with dozens of local breweries producing Kölsch and other beers. Some of the most popular include Reissdorf Kölsch, Gaffel Kölsch, and Sion Kölsch. Many of these traditional beers are served in pubs and restaurants throughout the city, often accompanied by a plate of hearty local food.
To taste as many Kölsch as you can, join this brewery tour.
The city also plays host to a number of beer festivals throughout the year, including the famous Cologne Carnival that we just mentioned. During this time, thousands of people come to the city for its unique mix of parties and parades, as well as its beer.
In addition to traditional Kölsch, Cologne also produces a number of craft beers. These include IPAs, wheat beers, and even sour beers, which are becoming increasingly popular. There are also a number of specialty bars and shops throughout.
See also: Traditional Beer and Food in Cologne
Traditional meals in Cologne
Cologne is a wonderful city full of culture and tradition, and this is especially true when it comes to its food. Traditional food in Cologne is a mix of influences from all over the world, giving it a unique and delicious flavor.
In general, it is important to follow a healthy diet. However, there are times when you just want to indulge, like when you eat a cured and cooked pork knuckle. But if you want to keep an eye on your figure, you can cut off the visible bacon and eat only half of the shank. To make the dish more balanced, it’s also a good idea to focus on the side dishes like sauerkraut or mashed potatoes!
Another traditional dish is the Halver Hahn. If you haven’t read up on it, the name might mistakenly lead you to expect half a roast chicken – but if you’re then served only a rye roll with medium-aged Gouda, onions, butter and mustard by the Köbes (the waiter at the brewery) you’ll be in for a surprise! In Cologne, however, everyone knows that this is the legendary Halve Hahn.
This is a very popular snack in Cologne and is often served in pubs or cafes.
Kölsche Kaviar (Cologne Caviar)
Similar to “Halver Hahn”, the specialty “Kölsche Kaviar” could also lead to confusion. But unlike the incredibly expensive fish roe, this delicacy has absolutely nothing in common with it.
Kölsche caviar is a hearty portion of blood sausage, affectionately known in Cologne as “Flönz”. This delicacy is served with a crispy “Röggelchen,” onion rings, and a generous dash of mustard – sometimes accompanied by a crunchy pickled gherkin.
Rheinischer Sauerbraten (Soorbrode) – Rhenish Sauerbraten
German cuisine has many traditional dishes, including Sauerbraten. If you follow the Rhenish recipe (known in Cologne as “Soorbrode”), it is refined with sweeteners such as apple or turnip, and raisins are also added.
An important fact: The meat for sauerbraten is usually horse. However, many Cologne breweries and restaurants use beef instead out of consideration for their guests.
This hearty braised dish is classically served with potato dumplings and applesauce, but occasionally boiled potatoes are also served.
Himmel un Äd
For those looking for more hearty traditional dishes, there is the “Himmel und Erde” (Heaven and earth), which is a dish made with mashed potatoes. A delicious variation is served in Cologne: Crispy fried blood sausage and roasted onions add a hearty flavor to the potato and apple mash. Have it with a glass of Kölsch beer.
The dish, which takes its name from the common term “Erdapfel” for potatoes – apples from the ground – and the fruit on the trees in the sky, is a real treat for the palate.
Miesmuscheln – Moschele
You should know that mussels are usually served only from September to February. The background is probably historical, at a time when there were no refrigerators and it was too warm to store them.
The mussels are cooked in a broth of white wine and fresh root vegetables with bay leaf and pimento, they are simply delicious!
Another popular dishes in Cologne is the Bratwurst. This is a sausage that is served with either sauerkraut or mashed potatoes. It is often served with a side of apple sauce and is a very popular dish for locals and visitors alike.
Sausages, Pretzels and Sauerkraut
Cologne is also known for its numerous beers and ales, which are often served with traditional German foods such as sausages, pretzels, and sauerkraut.
Private 3-Hour Südstadt Food Tour
Begin your three-hour walk in the heart of Südstadt at Chlodwigplatz and immerse yourself in the culinary secrets of the district before enjoying your first tasting.
As you walk, you’ll get a glimpse into the history of Südstadt. Stop for an international treat and discover cool thrift and curio shops.
Then visit a traditional Cologne brewery and relax with a typical Cologne snack. Your guide will share his insider knowledge and tell you stories about the Balchem House, St. Severin’s or even the “wrong” part of the Rhine bank.
At the end of this tour of Cologne’s culinary culture, you will experience even more exotic delicacies from all over the world, including a sweet specialty!
Sophia is a fantastic guide with a warm personality and a wealth of anecdotes. She has an extensive knowledge of the Severinviertel and conveys it in a sympathetic way. The tour offers a successful combination of culinary delights and historical background knowledge – also extremely exciting for young people!
Good to know: During this tour you will be accompanied by an experienced guide and visit a total of 5 international restaurants to enjoy a taste of each. Please note that drinks are not included and must be purchased separately.
Top sights in Cologne
Cologne is a beautiful city in Germany, filled with amazing sights that are worth seeing. Whether you’re exploring the city for the first time or revisiting your favorite spots, here are the top sights in Cologne that you won’t want to miss.
Check out these Cologne activities available on Get Your Guide:
The Cologne Cathedral, protected by the UNESCO
Protected by UNESCO, Cologne’s Dom is the first sight you will notice when taking the main exit from the central station. (If you don’t see it, you’ve taken the back exit.)
If you are in good shape, take the 533 stairs to the top of the south tower. It takes about 8-15 minutes to get up and I would recommend to spend 45 – 60 minutes in total, so wear comfortable shoes, but it’s worth the hike. A breathtaking view of the city awaits you as you climb to the top of Cologne Cathedral. After about 53 meters you will pass the Petersglocke – also known as the Cathedral Bell 1 and affectionately called “Decker Pitter” by the locals. Since 1923, this bell has been the acoustic embodiment of the cathedral’s deep C-note.
Cologne Cathedral is a place of superlatives. With a height of 157 meters and an area of 10,000 square meters, it is the third largest Gothic cathedral in the world.
Around 20,000 people visit it every day and an incredible 300,000 tons of stone were used!
Inside Cologne Cathedral there are many highlights to discover that will inspire you. An absolute highlight is the Shrine of the Three Kings, which is said to contain the “relics of the Magi” – at least if you want to believe it. Also impressive is the 4th-century St. Peter’s Rod, which you can admire in the cathedral’s underground treasury, along with many other treasures such as reliquaries, liturgical utensils, and manuscripts.
Another fascinating experience are the stained glass windows of the cathedral: they bring an incredible power of color to the interior of the building! With over 10,000 square meters of windows, this sacred building actually has more stained glass than any other church in the world – a truly magical place!
The cost of maintaining the cathedral is around 30,000 Euros per day – a large sum, but well justified for such an impressive sight.
The value of the cathedral can hardly be expressed in monetary terms: it is priceless and has therefore been valued in accounting terms at a symbolic value of just 27 Euros!
In order to maintain this unique place, about 100 people work on the building every day – they are part of the so-called “cathedral construction crew”.
It is not for nothing that the cathedral is often referred to as Germany’s UNESCO World Heritage Site; its significance extends far beyond its borders.
Touring the Cathedral is forbidden during Mass. Entry into the cathedral is free but you will be asked for a donation.
- Admission to the tower costs (regular/reduced): €6/€3 (Family card: €12)
- Admission to the treasury costs (regular/reduced): €6/€3,
- A combined ticket granting you admission to the treasury and tower can be purchased for (regular/reduced): €9/€4.50. (Family combi card: €18)
- Entrance to climb the Cologne cathedral: Look at the majestic main portal of the Cathedral and walk towards Roncalliplatz, which is to the right of the Cathedral when you look at it from the front. After a few meters you will discover a staircase that goes down next to the South Tower and is marked “Dom-Turm / Parkhaus / Toiletten”. There you will find as well the entrance to the tower at the foot of the stairs.
Cologne Cathedral: VR-Walking Tour
Experience a breathtaking journey that takes you from the medieval planning of the construction to the present day. Discover the story behind the construction of the cathedral and learn exciting facts about the building process in this captivating tour.
Thanks to a virtual reality headset, you’ll be immersed in the crucial moments of construction! More than just a history lesson, it’s an adventure through centuries of awe-inspiring insights.
The tour will cover a distance of 1.5 km, so wear comfortable shoes. Note, the tour does not go inside the cathedral, but only around the outside.
Max group size: 15
Free cancelation until 24 hours before your visit.
Skip the line.
The Römisch-Germanisches Museum is a museum dedicated to archaeology and the history of Cologne. It’s one of the oldest museums in Germany and was founded in 1912.
Inside, you can explore collections of stone monuments, mosaics, and coins from the Roman period. There are also sections dedicated to medieval and modern art, including a sculpture park.
The museum offers the opportunity to marvel at the archaeological heritage from the Paleolithic Age to the early Middle Ages. The collection holdings are unique and include rich finds from the Stone, Bronze and Iron Ages, as well as top-class goldsmith’s work from the Migration Period.
In addition, the museum offers you insights into the art and culture of Roman and early medieval cities and regions.
Particularly impressive is the world’s largest collection of Roman glass vessels, which is considered the most precious treasure of the museum.
Price: €6 (€3 reduced)
In the immediate vicinity of Cologne Cathedral, and with that right in the city center, you’ll find the Concert Hall “Kölner Philharmonie“.
It’s one of the most renowned concert halls in Germany and it offers a varied program of the great works of the symphonic and chamber music repertoire, as well as jazz, folk and pop events.
There is a concert every day of the year, and often several on Sundays and holidays. The impressive hall is designed as an amphitheater, so that every seat has an excellent view of the stage.
The hall is also home to the Gürzenich Orchestra and the Kölner Philharmoniker and its world-class acoustics makes it a great place to experience live classical music.
It’s not allowed to walk on the plaza above the roof of the Philharmonie during concerts, as this would disturb the great acoustics. Skateboarding and bicycling are also prohibited to avoid disturbing footsteps.
If you are in Cologne on a Thursday and if you want to escape the hustle and bustle of the city at 12 noon… Then you should definitely check the Philharmonic Hall to see if the “Philharmonic Lunch” is taking place there. Note: Lunch is not a meal, it’s just lunchtime. During this time, you have the opportunity to listen to an orchestra rehearsal for 30 minutes free of charge and get an authentic impression of how the members prepare. A real insider’s tip for anyone interested – especially since admission is free! Here
The Cologne Zoo is one of the oldest zoos in Germany and is home to over 8,000 animals. It’s a great place to spend a day with family and friends and is filled with fascinating exhibits and attractions.
The elephant park is undoubtedly one of the main attractions at Cologne Zoo and is also the largest north of the Alps.
Another highlight is the adventure house Hippodom, which houses an extensive African river landscape – Nile crocodiles, Sitatunga antelopes and hippos, among others, live here in an impressive setting.
Also very popular with visitors is the Rainforest House, which features endangered animals and plants from a natural paradise in Southeast Asia.
The jungle house for the great apes, on the other hand, offers guests the opportunity to observe primates up close without disturbing them – a showcase project of the Cologne Zoo for the whole of Europe!
For children, the Clemenshof is a lovingly designed replica of a typical small farm with a petting zoo for rare native species.
And if you like fish or reptile shows, you can see countless species in the aquarium on three floors!
You have to cross the river rhine to get here. And it’s worth taking this short walk, as you’ll get the best views of the old town, the cathedral and the city from this side of the river.
The KölnTriangle is a modern complex located close to the Cologne Trade Fair. It houses museums, shops, restaurants, and offices, as well as a large observation deck with panoramic views of the city.
The KölnTriangle is a great spot to take in the sights of the city and get a glimpse of the surrounding area.
Streetart Bike Tour Cologne
Embark on a street art bike tour that will give you a new perspective on Cologne!
Off the beaten track, you’ll explore the Belgian Quarter and Ehrenfeld with a maximum of 15 like-minded people and a local guide. Dive into the world of street galleries and experience the city’s vibrant creative scene up close!
During your tour, your English-speaking guide will tell you everything you need to know about this fascinating art form, as well as background information on the individual artists. This will give you a valuable insight into how Cologne has evolved over time into a colorful urban jungle.
Each of our tours is individually designed – because no other city culture can match the vibrant flair of this place. So grab your bike and let’s dive into the urban charm of Cologne’s diverse street art scene!
Duration: 3 hours
Free cancelation up to 24 hours before
The tour includes:
- Use of city bikes on tour
- Helmets (available on request)
- English speaking guide
- Disposable rain ponchos (in case of bad weather)
These are just a few of the top sights in Cologne. From historic landmarks to modern attractions, there is something for everyone to explore. So make sure to take the time to explore the city and take in all of its beauty.