You can easily spend a week exploring Cologne (Köln), one of Germany’s most diverse cities. A must-see stop on your German and European sightseeing itinerary, here are some highlights not to miss, even if have only a day to tour this vibrant city.
Cologne happens to be one of Kula’s top two favorite cities to date, so it’s been difficult to choose the “highlights” to visit in a day. We’ve curated the following to appeal to most travelers across ages coming to the city for the first time. There’s plenty more to see in the city if you’re around for longer – we recommend seeing the Lindenthal and Ehrenfeld areas for greener, more student-based, alternative sightseeing. There are even areas in Köln that sometimes locals that have shown us around haven’t seen before, so walk around and explore!
The diversity of Cologne also means it has a fantastic array of international restaurants to offer, so take your time to explore the restaurant scene in the city as well.
Hohenzollern Bridge (Hohenzollernbrucke)
This bridge offers beautiful views over of the Rhine, and of the famous Cologne Cathedral. It was built in 1911.
The Cologne Cathedral (Kölner Dom)
If you’re arriving in Cologne by train, it is likely that this Gothic church will shock you as you come out of the Cologne main station. A stunning epitome of Gothic architecture, this church is emblematic of Cologne, and is Germany’s most visited landmark. Construction of the cathedral began in 1248. It was bombed 14 times during World War II, but while badly hit, still stood standing. It was repaired in 1956. It is likely that you will see it being renovated in some form or other during your visit – the immensity and age of the cathedral make it inevitable.
Allow yourself an hour to explore this vast cathedral. Don’t miss out on the Shrine of the Three Kings, located above and behind the main altar within the cathedral. Shoulders need to be covered during a visit to the church.
You can climb the Cathedral tower to see commanding views over Cologne. The viewing deck is more than 700 steps high. There may be a cut off of people for the day, so arrive early if you want to climb the tower!
Cologne City Hall (Rathaus)
Over 900 years old, this is Germany’s oldest city hall.
Great St. Martin’s Church
This is a Romanesque Catholic church, built on the foundations of a Roman Catholic chapel dating as far back as 960 AD.
Hahnen Gate (Hanhentorburg)
This is one of twelve gates on a medieval city wall built between 1180 and 1220 to secure access between Cologne and nearby Aachen and Jülich. There are many cafes by the gate to enjoy a coffee, cake, or meal at, especially if you’re visiting during a cold spell (which, of course, in Germany, can happen in mid-August!)
Cruise on the Rhine
Visiting in the summer? Take a cruise on the Rhine! Tickets are usually available daily depending on the season. Online reservations are strongly recommended. You can enjoy spectacular sunset views over the Cologne city-scape while enjoying a beer or wine on an hour long cruise along the beautiful Rhine – a great way to end your day-tour of the city! This cruise is suitable for families and couples alike, there’s plenty of room on (multiple) deck(s)!
If you have more time: Visit Drachenburg Castle (Schloss Drachenburg)
We strongly recommend you take a trip outside of Cologne to visit Drachenburg Castle (Schloss Drachenburg) to explore picturesque towns outside of Cologne like Königswinter, and catch spectacular views over the Rhine.
Drachenfels, where Dranchenburg castle is located, is most accessible by car. Alternatively you can take the train to Königswinter and walk or bike the 2 km from there. You can also take the train to Königswinter, walk to Drachenfels station and take a little tram from there to the castle which is charming in and of itself. The minimal entrance fee to visit this picturesque castle is well worth it, as you can climb the castle towers for stunning views, and enjoy the almost fairytale like gardens. Have a coffee at the in-castle restaurant, and perhaps even visit the Reptile House in Drachenfels. This area is great to spend half a day in, walking around exploring the other castle ruins, gardens, and nature nearby. It is best enjoyed in the summer.
Schloss Drachenburg loosely translates to Dragon Castle.
Top tip: Whether you’re visiting in summer or winter, July or December, take layers and a rain jacket/umbrella. German weather can be fickle!
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