Cologne (Köln) Area Travel Guide

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This city guide is an introduction to Cologne (Köln in German) and will help you start planning your visit to this city on the beautiful Rhine river (Rhein in German). Keep reading this page for an overview of what to do and see in the Cologne area.

Or check out one of our more in-depth guides here:
Where to stay in Cologne
28 best things to do in Cologne
14 castles to visit near Cologne

Near the Rhine and Moselle rivers, Cologne is a must-see for many visitors to Germany. Home of the magnificent Cologne cathedral (Kölner Dom), a chocolate museum, the famous Kölsch beer, river cruises, and hip neighborhoods, you’ll find plenty to do, see, and experience in Cologne.

I’ve visited Cologne (and the Rhine/Moselle area) several times and even spent a couple months living just outside of Cologne and also in a smaller town in the region. It’s a beautiful area!


What to Do and See in Cologne

Cologne is located in western Germany in what’s called the Rhine-Ruhr metropolitan region of the Bundesland Nordrhein-Westfalen (state of North Rhine-Westphalia). 

Whether you’re into food, history, architecture, nature, art, or spontaneous adventures, you’ll find plenty to see, see, and experience in and around Cologne. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Cologne Cathedral
  • Chocolate museum
  • Boat trip on the Rhine
  • Cologne Zoo
  • Food tour
  • Rautenstrauch-Joest Museum
  • Christmas markets
  • Ludwig Museum
  • Cologne’s Old Town
  • Botanical Garden
  • Kölsch beer tour
  • Wallraf-Richartz Museum
  • Romano-Germanic Museum
  • Belgian Quarter
  • NS Documentation Center
  • Hohenzollern Bridge & Love Locks
  • Cable car across the Rhine
  • Ehrenfeld street art

If You’re Only In The City For A Few Hours Or A Day:

We recommend booking a guided tour so you can easily and quickly see the best sights and have a memorable experience. Book ahead so you’re sure to get a spot in your preferred tour.

TIP: if you have our Germany Travel Planner be sure to check out the interactive planning map so you can see where the best sights are located. Seeing where these sights are on the map, along with our up-to-date photos and tips, makes planning your trip SO much easier. If you don’t yet have it, click here to get access.

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  • How-to videos
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Everything you need to plan the perfect trip yourself!

Where to Stay in Cologne

You’ll find a wide variety of accommodation options in Cologne, including hotels, B&Bs, and apartments. If you’re only in Cologne for a couple days, I recommend a hotel in downtown near the cathedral so that you can easily walk to sights, shopping, restaurants, and the Rhine river. You can also easily catch public transportation to other parts of the city from this area.

READ our Cologne (Köln) hotel guide!

Where We Stayed in Cologne

On our most recent trip to Cologne, we stayed at the wonderful Konzept Hotel zum kostbaren Blut. This hotel prioritizes sustainability and is in a converted convent above the historic square of Alter Markt.

It has a slightly funky retro vibe but is equipped with all your standard, modern amenities. It’s location is perfect, since it’s only a short walk from the train station, Cathedral, Altstadt, the Christmas markets, and Rhine river. It’s also well-connected to public transport.

Our room was light, airy, and spotless, the bed was super comfortable, and we had a great view of the Cologne Cathedral from our room and balcony. It’s also reasonably priced and there are lots of options for food and drink nearby. Highly recommended!

If you’re looking for an apartment in Cologne, do a search on Booking.com. We’ve found several great apartments there (less than what we saw on Airbnb for the same apartment) and it’s SO nice to have all hotel and apartment reservations in one place.

TIPS:

Tip: if you have our Germany Travel Planner you’ll find recommended hotels on our interactive planning map. Seeing where these hotels are in relation to the top sights makes it a lot easier to find the perfect place to stay. If you don’t yet have it, click here to get access.

Book your Cologne accommodations in advance! They tend to fill quickly during peak travel times (summer, Christmas, etc) so I recommend seeing what’s open for your travel dates.


Cologne Tours & Tickets

One of the best things about making Cologne your home base is that you have countless day trip options. You can plan your own day trips for maximum flexibility or book a guided tour for maximum relaxation and convenience. Some ideas to kickstart your planning are below but do check out this list here.


Cologne Day Trips

One of the best things about making Cologne your home base is that you have countless day trip options! A few ideas are below but do check out this list of day trips here.

  • Carolus Thermen Bad (Aachen)
  • Monschau
  • Aachen
  • Liege, Belgium
  • More castles!

READ more about day trips from Cologne here!

TIP: If you have our Germany Travel Planner/Bundle look at our interactive planning map to see do-able day trips. Seeing the castles, towns, and other must-see sights on the map (along with our photos and up-to-date tips) makes it much easier to decide what to add to your itinerary. If you don’t yet have it, click here to get access.


Know Before You Go

Airport: Düsseldorf International Airport (DUS)

Currency: euro
Language: the official language of Germany is German (Deutsch)
Time zone: Centra European Time (CET / GMT+ 2 / 6 hours ahead of US EST)
Germany Visa: tourists from the US, Canada, and several other countries do not need a visa to visit Germany for under 90 days
Germany Electricity Socket: Germany uses different voltage and sockets than in North America, the UK, and other parts of the world. Read our guide to adapters and converters so you can safely use your tech in Germany.
Germany SIM card: Read our guide here to SIM cards and other ways to use your phone in Germany.
Germany Car Rentals: We find great deals on rental cars here. You can also check out our scenic Germany road trips article here.


Cologne Travel FAQ

Where is Cologne Located?

Cologne (Köln in German) is located in the German state of Nordrhein-Westfalen (North Rhine-Westphalia), just south of Düsseldorf and north of Frankfurt.

map of Germany highlighting Cologne (Köln)

What is Cologne, Germany Famous For?

Cologne has a famous cathedral right across from the main train station, the Rhine river that flows right through the city, and Kölsch beer, to name a few.

Is Cologne, Germany Worth Visiting?

It really depends on how much time you have in Germany, how close you’ll be to Cologne, and what you most want to do and see. If you’ve always wanted to see the cathedral and you’ll be within a couple hours of Cologne, it’s worth a day or overnight trip. If you’re only planning to be in Berlin or Munich, however, going all the way to Cologne might not be worth it.

Getting to Cologne

Cologne is easy to reach via train, bus, car or plane. If arriving from the US, consider flying into Düsseldorf International Airport as an alternative to Frankfurt. You can take public transportation to Cologne (it takes about an hour) or arrange an easy airport transfer here ahead of time and a driver will pick you up at the airport and drive you right to your hotel or apartment.

If you’re arriving via train or bus, you’ll arrive at the central train station downtown (Hauptbahnhof). From there you can walk to many downtown hotels (check out our Cologne hotel guide here) and tourist sights, take public transportation or grab a taxi.

Getting Around Cologne

The city center is very walkable and you should be able to easily walk to many hotels and tourist sites. For the ones that are further away you can hop on a tram, bus, U-bahn or S-bahn. There’s also a HOHO (Hop On Hop Off) bus and a Bimmelbahn train for visitors.

Read Our In-depth Cologne Guides!

Where to stay in Cologne
28 best things to do and see in Cologne
Castles near Cologne


Cologne Basics

Population
1 million

Cologne is the largest city on the Rhine river and in North Rhine-Westphalia. It’s the 4th largest and one of the oldest cities in Germany.

Airport

Düsseldorf International Airport (DUS) & Cologne/ Bonn Airport (CGN)

Bundesland
North Rhine-Westphalia
(Nordrhein-Westfalen)

Train Travel Times to Cologne
Berlin ➔ Cologne = 4 hrs 20 min
Frankfurt ➔ Cologne = 1 hr – 2 hrs 20 min
Hamburg ➔ Cologne = 4 hours
Salzburg ➔ Cologne = 6 – 8 hours
Paris ➔ Cologne = 3.5 hrs – 5 hrs
Rome ➔ Cologne = 12 hrs 45 min – 14 hrs 45 min
Prague➔ Cologne = 7.5 hrs – 8.5 hrs

Fun Facts
Cologne’s airport has the only runway in Germany that is also an emergency landing site for NASA shuttles!


image of Cologne Germany guide