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!
See also: Off The Beaten Track Tip: Belgian Quarter Cologne
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.
One of the most popular traditional dishes in Cologne is the Kölschbraten. 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.
Another traditional dish is the Halver Hahn, which is a rye bread roll filled with butter, cheese, and onions. This is a very popular snack in Cologne and is often served in pubs or cafes.
Cologne is also known for its numerous beers and ales, which are often served with traditional German foods such as sausages, pretzels, and sauerkraut.
For those looking for more hearty traditional dishes, there is the “Himmel und Erde”, which is a dish made with mashed potatoes.
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 509 stairs to the top of the south tower. It takes about an hour, so wear comfortable shoes, but it’s worth the hike.
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
- Admission to the treasury costs (regular/reduced): €6/€3, however, a combined ticket granting you admission to the treasury and tower can be purchased for (regular/reduced): €9/€4.50.
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 Kölner Philharmonie is a concert hall located in the city center. It’s one of the most renowned concert halls in Germany and hosts performances by some of the world’s best orchestras, choirs, and soloists. The hall is home to the Gürzenich Orchestra and the Kölner Philharmoniker and has world-class acoustics that make it a great place to experience live classical music.
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. Highlights include the popular elephant and giraffe enclosure, the aquarium, and the tropical house.
The KölnTriangle is a modern complex located in 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.
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.