Cologne is a unique German city that rose like a phoenix from the ashes after bombing raids in WW2.
It picked itself off, dusted itself off and started all over again. Years later, it is a city that delights visitors from near and far with its Gothic Cathedral, cool neighbourhoods like the Belgium Quarter and unmissable landmarks as listed below.
It hasn’t got the fairytale appeal that other German towns such as Heidelburg or Trier display, but what it doesn’t have in cuteness it makes up for with its art galleries, quirky cafe culture, and of course, its magical Christmas markets, often voted as some of the best in the world.
Cologne has an excellent tram and bus network, making navigating the city easy. A good idea is to purchase a Cologne Welcome Card that offers free public transport and discounts at many landmark sites.
Whether you visit for a day from elsewhere in Germany or book into one of the city’s plush hotels, such as the five-star Excelsior Hotel and spend longer, you will have plenty of cool and unmissable things to see and do in Cologne.
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Unmissable Cologne Attractions
Visit the Tomb of The Three Kings in Cologne Cathedral #1
Cologne Cathedral is #1 on your list of things you must see in Cologne for a good reason. It is a true landmark of the city and is the only building to remain standing in WW2 while the rest of the city was destroyed in bomb raids. Its turrets, blackened by sulphuric rain, loom above the city, visible from all around.
Step inside and discover the Three Kings’ shrine, traditionally believed to hold the bones of the Magi, the Kings of Gold, Frankincense and Myrhh fame.
The world’s largest church bell, weighing 24 tonnes, can be found in the belfry of Cologne Cathedral.
Light a candle and remember a loved one, or spend some time in silent contemplation inside this World Heritage Site, one of Northern Europe’s oldest and most important pilgrimage sites.
If you fancy being a bit more active and have a head for heights, climb the 533 steps of the Cathedral’s southern tower and enjoy the best view in Cologne from a height of 97 metres.
However, remember, after you have enjoyed the views of Cologne and the River Rhine, you must walk back down again because there is no lift!
Visit the Lindt Chocolate Factory and devour a hot chocolate with all the toppings #2
So, this will undoubtedly be on everyone’s itinerary; after all, who can resist chocolate?
Set next to the River Rhine, visiting the Chocolate Museum will show you the cacao bean journey from field to mouth. This interactive museum will allow you to discover how chocolate is crafted and how it could eventually be worth its weight in gold!
Follow the aroma of melted chocolate, and you will arrive at a giant chocolate fountain complete with a chocolate maestro stirring the thick velvet liquid. Hang around and smile sweetly, and he will give you a few Lindt chocolates (my favourite), then head up to the cafeteria.
Delve into the chocolate menu and choose your favourite – be warned, you may want to order one of everything; it’s not a good idea unless you intend on returning to your hotel to sleep off the sugar coma!
I chose the signature hot chocolate with marshmallows, cream and chocolate on top; it was pure ecstasy.
Oh, and I also had a chocolate and banana waffle (but that may have been one step too far), so take heed!
Check out the Colourful Buildings in Cologne’s Old Town #3
Cologne’s old town is the historic centre of Cologne. Walking along its cobbled streets will lead you to traditional coloured houses standing in the shadow of the Romanesque church of St Martin, a monument that had been damaged and rebuilt after the war.
Pinks, blues and yellows bring a splattering of colour to the area, and with its cute restaurants, cafes and traditional craft shops, it is a great place to relax with a Kolsch beer.
Join in with a walking tour of the Old Town to see the highlights of Cologne.
Cruise the Majestic Rhine River #4
Head for the water and sail down the Rhine River, discovering the landmark sights of Cologne.
Opt for a Rhine River cruise either in the day or a more romantic one in the evening to watch the illuminated city from the comfort of your boat.
Join a Walking Tour of Cologne #5
Soar Above the Rhine #6
See if you can spot the animal enclosures at the Cologne Zoo or guests bathing in the Claudius Thermal Spa as you soar from one side of the Rhine River to the other aboard Cologne’s cable car.
Combine a trip to Cologne’s magnificent Botanical Garden or enjoy the superb views as you soar above the treetops.
One-way tickets are available, so you can walk back along the pretty riverbank or buy a return ticket, stay in your gondola, and enjoy the journey again.
Take a train to Ehrenfeld to see Street Art #7
If you are a regular reader of Where Angie Wanders, you will know I love European street art. So a visit to the hip district of Ehrenfeld, with its dynamic street art and quirky coffee shops, is on my list of the unmissable things you must do in Cologne.
Hop on a train from Cologne (Koln) central station, and within 10 minutes, you will be in the neighbourhood of Ehrenfeld.
As soon as you leave the station, you will see wall-to-wall murals, which are fantastic. Take your time and wander around the town; you will notice many more fantastic street art pieces.
Eat schnitzel and drink Kolsh at a traditional Bavarian restaurant #8
There are five awesome foods to try in Cologne. Himmel un Aad (black pudding, fried onions, and mashed potato with apple sauce), Mettbrochen (minced raw pork sandwich), Schnitzel(breaded meat), Leberwurst (liver sausage) and Schweinshaxa (crispy pork knuckle), which of course, must be washed down by the best drink in cologne which is Kölsch beer.
With so many traditional restaurants, you will be spoilt for choice, but check out TripAdvisor’s recommendations for the Best German Food Restaurants in Cologne.
I would add a cautionary word of advice. I didn’t receive a warm welcome in the restaurants I ate in once I spoke in English!
You should be prepared for the possibility of an abrupt welcome if you don’t speak native German.
This attitude upset me as it was the first time I had felt “unwanted” in any European city.
Regardless, I still thought Cologne was a wonderful city and would not let this put you off. Everyone has different experiences when travelling.
Book a Tour of the City on Wheels #9
Check Out 15 of the Best Christmas Markets in Germany
Visit Cologne’s Christmas Markets and drink Gluhwein #10
Cologne Christmas Market 2023 – 23rd November to 23rd December 2023
If you have planned your trip to spend Christmas in Cologne to coincide with the season of goodwill, then you are in for a treat. Cologne has seven unmissable Christmas markets that are considered some of the best Christmas Markets in Europe.
Mouthwatering apple schnitzel, stollen and gluhwein are some of the best Christmas German foods to try at the markets. Believe me, with so many markets to discover in Cologne, you will be able to try every moreish thing that is on offer (and there’s a lot).
Ensure you get your souvenir Christmas cup when you order your Gluhwein (spiced red wine).
Some of the city’s best Christmas markets are located around Cologne’s centre, by the cathedral, the Alter Markt, the Neumarkt and Rudolfplatz.
Another smaller market, Stadtgarten, is located within Cologne’s oldest park, where many locals meet to eat and drink traditional yuletide fayre.
There is also one by the harbour (next to the chocolate factory). They are extremely popular and see millions of visitors attending each Christmas.
Christmas in Cologne is also a magical time to experience some of the city’s festive tours.
Is Cologne worth visiting? Yes
Although it hasn’t got the medieval architecture of other European cities, that doesn’t mean it isn’t rich in history. Köln Cathedral is proof of that.
Cologne is the perfect destination to enjoy a city break in Europe. The activities listed in this article show why Cologne is worth visiting by visitors from far and wide.
What is the weather like in Cologne?
Summer can be hot, as is the case with most of Europe. When I visited in winter, it was chilly but dry. Wear warm clothes in layers to remain snug during your trip.
What is Cologne famous for?
It is famous for its beautiful cathedral, Kölsch beer, chocolate and 4711 cologne (scent).
In recent years, Cologne has also established itself as a cultural city thanks to modern galleries like the Ludwig Museum, home to a diverse range of art from Picasso to pop art.
Where are the best places to stay in Cologne at Christmas?
If you travel to Cologne at Christmas, you will find some superb properties in Cologne close to the Christmas markets, meaning you will be in the heart of the festivities.
Where can I shop in Cologne?
Cologne’s main shopping street is Schildergasse. If you want to shop, you will find everything from department stores, global chain shops and independent retailers. Look out for the fabulous bakery shops for a taste of German patisserie delights and lebkuchen (gingerbread), especially over Christmas.
Where can I get a rooftop view of Cologne?
For the best view of Cologne, head to the Köln Triangle, near the bridge of locks. You will have the most fantastic views of the Rhine River and the Cathedral from the top.
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