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Things to do in Cologne: 10 beautiful places you must see [with map]

Cologne is internationally known. No wonder, this Hanseatic city with its landmark, the Cologne Cathedral, has quite a few attractions to offer. It looks back on 2000 years of city history and an important cultural and culinary heritage.

In this article, I would like to show you the most beautiful places and the most important things to see in Cologne so that you are best prepared for your city trip. I also have more tips and information for you. Of course, the Cologne Carnival can not be missing, but there are also great alternatives for those who don't like carnivals. Be curious!

Created on26.02.2023
Phototravellers-Autorin Nathalie

Köln’s top 10 sights at a glance

Der Blick auf die Hohenzollernbrücke mit dem Kölner Dom im Hintergrund
The View onto the Hohenzollern Bridge with the famous Cologne Cathedral – Foto: Kurt Hossfeld

In this article we show you the top places to go in Cologne. To visit all the attractions in this great town in a relaxed way, you should plan a whole weekend for your short trip. However, you can also easily spend more time in this beautiful city on the Rhine with its amazing places. If you have only one day available, you should focus on the first five highlights.

  1. Cologne Cathedral
  2. Historic City Hall
  3. Historic Old Town
  4. Great St. Martin
  5. Towers and gates of the old city wall
  6. Rhine and Hohenzollern Bridge
  7. Belgian Quarter, Agnes Quarter & South City
  8. Flora and Botanical Garden
  9. Museum Ludwig & Chocolate Museum
  10. Melaten Cemetery

Cool activities in Cologne

ActivitiesPriceTicket
Winter boat trip with live music and mulled wine19,50 Eurobook ticket here*
Winter boat trip with live music and mulled wine17,50 Eurobook ticket here*
Ticket for Chocolate Museum13,50 Eurobook ticket here*
Kölsch tasting and brewery tour 25,50 Eurobook ticket here*

Map: The top sights at a glance

In our interactive map, you can find all the best things to see in Cologne at a glance. Join us on a tour of the city.

[mapsmarker map=”135″]

1. Cologne Cathedral

The view of the Cologne Cathedral in the twilight
In the twilight, the Cologne Cathedral is a great photo motif – Photo: Kurt Hossfeld

The most famous landmark of the Rhine metropolis is the Cologne Cathedral. The Roman Catholic church is one of the largest cathedrals in the Gothic architectural style and the first sight you see when leaving the main train station directly in the center.

Construction of this famous landmark began as early as 1248 – but the building was not completed until 1880. The fact that construction was interrupted for about 300 years was not atypical for such large projects in the late Middle Ages. Nevertheless, the pause is often explained by a legend: because the cathedral builder allegedly lost a bet with the devil and was summoned by him, no other master builder dared to take over the work for a long time.

Tip: With the KölnCard* you get free travel on buses and trains and reduced admission to Cologne’s museums and beautiful sights.

Despite the delay, the Gothic elements of the early phase were almost seamlessly combined with the neo-Gothic architecture of the later construction phase. And although much of Cologne was destroyed during World War II, the cathedral remained seemingly unscathed. However, there was severe damage to it as well, only it was not visible at first glance.

The view up to the Cologne Cathedral
The view up to the Cologne Cathedral

Since 1996, Cologne Cathedral has also been a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The most famous sights in the cathedral itself are the Epiphany Shrine, which houses the alleged bones of the Magi, and the Cathedral Treasury in the vaulted cellar.

One of the windows in Cologne CathedralThe Cologne Cathedral is a cool place to visit!
Inside the Cologne CathedralCologne Cathedral is absolutely imposing and an amazing thing to do in the Rhine metropolis

Tickets for the treasury are only available on-site, as well as for the ascent of the south tower – which is with 157.22 meters, by the way, 4 cm higher than the north tower. After 533 steps, a phenomenal view awaits you there. Admission to Cologne Cathedral is free of charge.

2. Historic City Hall

The Old Town Hall is one of the top sights in Cologne
The Old Town Hall is one of the coolest things to do in Cologne and is located directly at the Old Market – Photo: Depositphotos by benkrut

What else is to do in Cologne? Another prominent building in the Old Town and one of the top sights in Cologne is the Historic Town Hall, which is located right next to the Old Market. It’s considered to be the oldest city hall in Germany and consists of different parts of the building, such as the core building with the Hansa Hall, the City Hall Tower, the administrative wing, and the Renaissance Arbor.

The town hall tower is a particularly interesting element of the town hall. It’s in the late Gothic style and also adorned with 124 figures, representing, for example, representatives of guilds and science, but also important princes and archbishops.

Below the clock, there is also the Platzjabbek, a wooden figurehead from the Middle Ages, which opens its mouth and sticks out its tongue every hour precisely. The tower also has a carillon that plays one of 24 melodies daily at 9, 12, 15, and 18 o’clock.

Tip: How about a city Stour of all the highlights with a real Cologne resident? You can book the tour here*. It will take you to more beautiful places

3. Historic Old Town

In addition to the characteristic colorful houses at the Fischmarkt, there are many other exciting corners and buildings hidden in Cologne’s Old Town. While you can stroll around during the day, there is a lot going on in the evening. Oh, and there are also a lot of breweries here. I’ll tell you more about that later!

Particularly well known in the old town of Cologne and an important sight is the Alter Markt (Google Maps) as probably the oldest square in Cologne. Also very popular are the two shopping streets Schildergasse (Google Maps) and Hohe Straße (Google Maps). Numerous historic townhouses and the cathedral are also located in the old town.

By the way, a Kölsch beer brewery tour is unforgettable (book here*).

Look out for the High-water marks and the Schandmasken. on the houses in the city center. These are stone grimaces with tusks, around whose origin various legends entwine.

⭐ Recommended travel guides for your city trip to Cologne

The following travel guides are ideal if you want to read up and inform yourself in detail before your trip. You should have a look into Cologne Marco Polo Guide (get it here*). You also get a lot of advices in Fodor’s Essential Germany (buy it here*).

4. Groß St. Martin

The church Groß St. Martin and the Cologne Cathedral
View of the church Groß St. Martin and the Cologne Cathedral

Another prominent church in Cologne is Groß St. Martin. Its characteristic square tower with four smaller corner towers, due to the cloverleaf-shaped ground plan, is a well-known landmark. The basilica was built in the 12th century on the foundations of Roman buildings. Today you can marvel at excavations from Roman times in the newly created crypt.

Groß St. Martin is one of a total of 12 large Romanesque churches in Cologne. If you are interested, you can download the app “12 Romanesque Churches” of the Förderverein Romanische Kirchen Köln e.V. here. There you will find current events, opening hours, interactive floor plans, and audio guides of the churches.

Colorful houses at the Fischmarkt in Cologne
The colorful houses at the Fischmarkt are a top photo motif. Besides, there is always something going on here – Photo: Depositphotos by Mary_smn

By the way, a very special highlight is the city tour with electric scooters (book here*). With this, you don’t have to explore Cologne on foot and the scooters take you to popular places in Cologne.

The church, by the way, is located at the Fischmarkt not far from the banks of the Rhine in downtown Cologne. There is a characteristic colorful row of houses that looks great in photos. You can learn more about the historic old town below.

5. Towers and Gates of the Old City Wall

The Hahnentorburg in Cologne
The Hahnentorburg is one of the top attractions in Cologne

The first parts of the Cologne city wall were already built between the 1st and 3rd centuries. From the Middle Ages until the 19th century, the wall was extended again and again. While some elements of the old Roman city wall are now on display in the Roman-Germanic Museum (website) numerous towers and gates still stand in their original places.

Of what used to be a total of 19 towers, the best-preserved part of the Roman city fortifications today is the Römerturm (Google Maps). The use of different stones and many ornaments makes the tower very special. Only about 100 meters further south stands the ruins of Helen’s Tower, which, however, is not ornamented.

There are also four medieval city gate towers still standing. These include the Eigelsteintorburg (Google Maps), which is one of the most visited sights in Cologne today. You can also rent it as an event location.

The Hahnentorburg (Google Maps) in the west of the city is also still well preserved, as is the small Dreikönigenpförtchen (Google Maps) – this is not a city gate castle, but the only preserved gate that used to separate the urban area from the grounds of a monastery.

By the way, here you can find an online tour with all information about the Cologne city wall.

6. River Rhine and Hohenzollern bridge

Cologne is the largest city on the Rhine (German: Rhein). The river influences the appearance of the city and creates a unique atmosphere. Because of it, there are also some indispensable sights and unusual things to do that you must see during your visit to Cologne. The Rhine is an absolute crowd puller and offers many opportunities for recreation, cycling, other sports, and just a walk.

Hohenzollern bridge with love locks

First, there are seven bridges over the Rhine. The most famous one, which you probably also know from the characteristic shot of the cathedral with the Rhine, is the Hohenzollernbrücke (Google Maps). The characteristic structure with the three large arches is considered the busiest railroad bridge in Germany. It’s also distinguished by the tradition of love locks which are now estimated at a number of over 500,000. You’ll find many couples placing locks here.

The Hohenzollern Bridge with a view of the Cologne Cathedral
The Hohenzollern Bridge is one of the top highlights in Cologne. Especially the view of the bridge and the cathedral is a popular photo motif
Love locks on the Hohenzollern Bridge in Cologne
Love locks on the Hohenzollern Bridge in Cologne

Rhine promenade and Rhine boulevard Deutz

You can get an excellent view of Cologne and the Hohenzollern Bridge from the Rheinboulevard Deutz (Google Maps), a large flight of steps directly on the river. In general, the Rhine promenade along the riverbank is perfect for a relaxing afternoon stroll!

A spectacular highlight in Cologne every July is the Kölner Lichter (Website), the largest music-synchronized fireworks display in Europe. Again, you’ll get the best view from the banks of the Rhine. When everything is lit up in the evening, it looks great.

Rheinauhafen

The old Rheinauhafen is no longer in use today and has been transformed into a futuristic posh district after restructuring. Particularly famous here are the angular crane houses, which house luxury apartments and offices. The renovated old brick buildings offer an exciting contrast

It’s worth taking a walk because you’ll also find numerous cafés and bars with a view of the Rhine in this hip neighborhood, which, by the way, is located on a peninsula. You can also find the Wurstbraterei, the bratwurst stand from the Cologne Tatort, at the Rheinauhafen. In addition, there is the well-known Sion Sommerkino (Website) – an open-air cinema with a very special flair.   

The crane houses in the Rheinauhafen
The Rheinauhafen is today a modern city district

Rhine Park

Another beautiful sight to see on the Rhine that you should not miss is the Rheinpark (Google Maps). The large green area is considered one of the most beautiful parks in Germany. The Federal Horticultural Show has already taken place here. The view over the Rhine to the cathedral is breathtaking, especially at sunset.

The large green area is considered one of the most beautiful parks in Germany. The Federal Horticultural Show has already taken place here. The view over the Rhine to the cathedral is breathtaking, especially at sunset.

For our sporty readers, we recommend exploring the city on a 15-kilometer bike tour (book here*).

The Rhine Park with Cologne Cathedral in the background
The Rhine Park is simply a popular recreational destination and a must-do for your trip

7. Belgian Quarter, Agnes Quarter & South City

What else is to see in Cologne? In addition to the old Rheinauhafen, Cologne has other trendy neighborhoods – or, as it’s called in Cologne, Veedel –, that is definitely worth a visit. With boutiques, bars, and cute cafés, the Belgische Quarter around Brüsseler Platz (Google Maps) has almost everything you might wish to see. The adjacent Hohenzollernring is considered a well-known strolling and party mile.

The Agnesviertel with the parish church of St. Agnes is located in the north of the city near Eigelsteintorburg. In addition to imposing buildings such as the Old Fire Station (Google Maps) you will also find nice restaurants, bars, and cafes here. Fort X, a historic fortress with a rose garden, is also located there (Google Maps).

In the opposite direction, you’ll find Südstadt, often referred to as one of the most “urkölsch” (original Cologne) neighborhoods. The popular and child-friendly area around Chlodwigplatz (Google Maps) with the Severinstorburg all the way to the Rhine also offers numerous cafés, bars, and restaurants. Depending on where you tend to stay, you should stop by at least one of these hip neighborhoods.

Tip: The Streetart Bike Tour through Cologne (check prices here*) and the Food Tour through Südstadt (check prices here*).

8. Flora und Botanischer Garten

The Flora is an 11.5-hectare green space in the north of Cologne and the city’s botanical garden. The festival house located there is also called Flora. Opened in 1864, the palatial historicist-style building was originally intended to serve as a palm house, but is now used for conventions and events and can also be rented privately.

Note: New show greenhouses will be built in the Botanical Garden by 2022, and are expected to open in 2023. Nevertheless, you can still find more than 10,000 plant species from all over the world there at the moment, which makes a visit to this sight worthwhile!

In the nearby sculpture park, you’ll find exciting exhibits that change every two years. The Cologne Zoo is also right next door

9. Museum Ludwig & Chocolate Museum

Museum Ludwig & Chocolate Museum
The Museum Ludwig with the Cologne Cathedral in the background is one of the best places to go in Cologne- Photo: Depositphotos by claudiodivizia

In case of bad weather, but also otherwise, I would like to recommend you two of the most popular museums in Cologne. The Museum Ludwig near the cathedral is one of the most important art museums in Europe and exhibits art of the 20th and 21st centuries.

Another much-visited attraction in Cologne, which should be of particular interest to those who love chocolate, is the Chocolate Museum (online tickets*). It has been operated by Swiss chocolate manufacturer Lindt & Sprüngli since 2006, is located in Rheinauhafen, and houses all the important information on the history and production of chocolate. There are even cocoa trees growing in a tropical house. This museum is also the perfect option when it rains.

10. Insider Tip: Melaten Cemetery

A statue of an angel at the Melaten Cemetery in Cologne
Melaten Cemetery is also very interesting for sightseeing. At any time of the year, the place is worth seeing, photo: Depositphotos Erik de Graaf.

Another attraction you should visit when in Cologne is the Melaten Cemetery. It’s still considered an insider’s tip because you have to walk a bit out of the city to get there. Celebrities of Cologne rest here. Walk along the graves and you’ll see Willi Ostermann on an overview – he was the composer and lyricist of local and carnival songs. Of course, they can’t be missing in Cologne. But you will also discover the graves of the Millowitsch family, which looks back on a theater dynasty, at this interesting place.

The 55,000 graves in the cemetery are surrounded by impressive monuments. Be sure to walk through the park as well – it’s very worth it. In our eyes, the place is a must-see in Cologne.

I think we don’t have to add that cemeteries are a place of rest and you shouldn’t disturb the other visitors. But cemeteries, like Melaten Cemetery, are also suitable for sightseeing in Cologne.

More tips and attractions

If you are now wondering what to do in Cologne, we have more tips and cool places for you. In the same building as the Museum Ludwig is the Cologne Philharmonic Hall. By the way, if there are concerts going on right now, don’t walk across Heinrich-Böll-Platz above it.

Near the cathedral is another exciting sight: the 4711 fragrance house, where the perfume manufacturer has been making the famous Cologne since 1792. Guided tours, seminars, and other events are offered in the impressive neo-Gothic building Glockengasse 4 (Google Maps).

If you want to delve deep into the city’s history, check out the underground tours (Website) which explore Cologne in the footsteps of the Romans. Here you’ll be guided to some secret corners of Cologne that you won’t see otherwise. If you prefer to go high up, the Rhine cable car in the Rheinpark is for you.

Also high up is probably the best viewing terrace in the city on the KölnTriangle. You’ll find this high-rise right next to the Hohenzollern Bridge, where a fantastic panoramic view opens up to you from the completely glassed-in platform at over 100 meters. Although this is no longer an insider tip, you should definitely take a look at the view from above. The entrance fee is 3 euros. So you see, there are many more highlights that you must have seen in Cologne.

The KölnTriangle skyscraper
From the roof of the KölnTriangle, you have a unique view over the city

West of the old town is another highlight, especially in the summer. It’s the Aachener Weiher (Google Maps), an artificial lake. You can’t swim in it, but it’s perfect for relaxing, barbecuing or playing sports.

Cologne Breweries

You’re wondering: Where do you have to go in Cologne? Well, then we have another attraction for you. Cologne looks back on a long brewery tradition. You can find the rustic “Weetschaften” (breweries) all over the city. They serve delicious food all day long and, of course, the characteristic Kölsch beer, which has often been brewed there for hundreds of years.

The light, top-fermented full-bodied beer must have been produced in Cologne to be called so. The waiter here, by the way, is called a Köbes. If they seem bad-tempered, it’s not your fault – the biting remarks are part of the job.

If you want to learn more about brewery culture, you can take a brewery tour (check price here*). It’s popular with young people and older people alike.

By the way the Lommerzheim on Siegesstraße 18 near the kölscheste aller Kölschkneipen. What looks like a dilapidated building from the outside is a truly traditional pub from the inside.

Carnival in Cologne

Carnival in Cologne
The carnival in Cologne is world famous

If you are now asking yourself, what is Cologne known for? Then the answer is quite clear. For partying Carnival in Cologne is one of the largest and most famous carnival celebrations in the world. In Cologne, people also say “Fastelovend” or “Fasteleer”. Carnival is one of the most famous tourist attractions and is an absolute experience.

The fifth season begins every year on November 11 at 11:11 am. The street carnival is opened in the spring on the day of Weiberfastnacht, also at 11:11. There is then continuous celebration until the evening of Carnival Tuesday. The official highlight of the Cologne Carnival is the Rose Monday parade.

Hotels are usually fully booked around this time and the city is teeming with people. So if you want to experience the carnival season in Cologne, make sure you do so early and take good care of yourself and your valuables when you get there.

Phantasialand

The steel roller coaster Taron in the theme world KlugheimWith a top speed of 117 km/h in the second launch, Taron is the fastest multi-launch coaster in the world
The Würmling Express at PhantasialandThe Würmling Express is a pedal coaster in the Fantasy-themed area and perfect for a first ride on rails for the very little ones

If you’re in the mood for a fun-filled day trip, you can head in summer to Phantasialand (Google Maps). The popular amusement park is one of the top things to do in the Cologne area and is also perfect for families with children.

The park is divided into six themed areas: Berlin, Mexico, China Town, Mystery, Fantasy, and Deep in Africa. On the approximately 12 hectares large area, you can expect numerous exciting and varied tourist attractions. Thanks to two themed hotels you can spend more than one day here. The facility is also a great photo spot and offers one or the other eye-catcher. The destination is very worthwhile.

We have summarized all the attraction in Phantasialand in an extra article. Have fun with your trip.

Where to stay in Cologne – the best hotel tips

Are you looking for an exclusive place to stay? How about the 5-star Excelsior Ernst (check price here*)? The Cologne Marriott Hotel (check price here*) and the Hyatt Regency Köln (check price here*)are also highly recommended.

The Hotel Sandmanns am Dom (check price here*) convinces with 3 stars and the central location. On the other side of the main train station is the vacation apartment Haus am Dom (check price here*), which is also highly recommended.

The 3 stars Hotel Stern am Rathaus (check price here*) with its simple, modern furnishings is also an ideal starting point for exploring the city and its sights, with its location right next to the Ratsturm. Motel One Köln-Neumarkt (check price here*) on the other hand, is located on the southern edge of the old town and scores highly as an accommodation with excellent guest reviews

There are also a lot of excellent hostels in Cologne. The Hostel die Wohngemeinschaft (check price here*) for example, is located in the trendy Belgian Quarter near the Aachener Weiher and amazes with creative and imaginative furnishings – take a look for yourself!

Going on vacation or flying from Cologne

From Cologne Bonn Airport, which is about 12 kilometers from the city center you can fly to Palma de Mallorca, London, Lissabon, or Dublin, for example. Numerous domestic flights are also offered here.

You can also take a look at the train connections Cologne’s main train station. It is an important hub and one of the busiest long-distance train stations of Deutsche Bahn. From here you can travel to all of Germany and Austria. You can also get to other European countries, such as Italy and France, easily and in a climate-friendly way.

Advertising of the 4711 brands in Cologne Central Station
The 4711 brand advertises at Cologne Central Station

Within Cologne, you can use the 12 lines of the city railroad as well as numerous bus lines. You can find the right connection for you here. You can also reach many tourist attractions on foot, especially in the city center

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