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Cologne is one of the most historic cities in Germany, and it’s long been the centre of all the action in the Rhineland. We won’t lie, there are some great things to do in Cologne itself, from visiting the towering cathedral to perusing the extensive museums and galleries of this medieval city, but it also makes for a brilliant base from which to explore much of western Germany.
You can make some excellent day trips from Cologne, with a great public transport system that can take you to nearby cities, towns and villages to explore to your heart’s content. Bonn, Dusseldorf, Essen and Frankfurt are all under 2 hours travel time away and even less if you take the high speed, intercity trains.
You can also cruise along the famous River Rhine, visit fairytale castles and palaces and see historic, medieval villages in glorious, beautiful locations.
To inspire your trip to the Rhineland, here are the best day trips from Cologne, expertly compiled by our excellent team of travel writers!
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Bonn is less than half an hour away on the efficient German rail network from Cologne, ensuring that you have plenty of time in the day to explore the first city directly to the south of your base.
After arriving at Bonn’s central station, it’s time to explore what was once the capital of West Germany during the Cold War and before reunification. Despite this historic position though, Bonn is still a relatively small and quiet place, although it’s bursting with hidden history and you might well want to consider hiring a local guide to show you around.
Bonn is also famous for being the birthplace of legendary composer and musician, Ludwig van Beethoven who perhaps even more famously, did not like his hometown one bit! Despite this, the city very much tries to cash in on the Beethoven connection, and you can visit the Beethoven House to see where he lived as a youngster.
The city has a wonderful selection of charming cafes and bars too, and once you’ve finished walking through the historic streets and tracking down the Beethoven legacies, you can tour around the best of Bonn’s local breweries and pubs to get a real sense of the local culture.
The large city of Dusseldorf is also less than half an hour by train from Cologne central station, but this time to the north, rather than to the south. Dusseldorf makes for a great day trip, and an easy one too, with trains running all through the day.
When you step off in Dusseldorf, take a short walk towards the River Rhine, or buy a hop on hop off bus pass to travel through the city. Your first stop should be the preserved streets of the Altstadt or the Old Town, where you can immerse yourself amongst medieval buildings and history.
Call in at some of the hundreds of traditional German pubs that are found in the Altstadt and overlooking the Rhine, to enjoy some quality German beer and quality German food. From the old, head to the new, and check out the vibrant, modern and luxurious Konigsallee, the city’s most famous shopping street.
Luckily, trains run late back to Cologne because Dusseldorf is famed in the west of Germany for its nightlife. Hit up the brewpubs and try some more German beers, and if you fancy, you can even hit up the clubs.
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A little further to the north of Dusseldorf, and you’ll soon come to the city of Essen, which makes for a great day trip by train from Cologne. Essen is just over an hour away and it’s part of one of the largest urban areas in Germany, being in the centre of the Ruhr region.
Essen is a big city, but a fun and quick way to get around is to join a segway tour, where you can ride through the streets and along the river with a local guide showing you the way and imparting their local wisdom.
Make sure you visit the Coal Mining Museum – the Ruhr is the industrial heartland of Germany after all! – and save plenty of time for the Museum Folkwang. This is one of the best art museums in the country, and you can find works from painters and artists as diverse as Monet and Van Gogh hanging on the walls.
In this densely populated part of Germany, you’re never too far from a famous German city, and Dortmund is just an hour by train from Cologne.
Sports fans won’t want to miss out on a day trip to Dortmund, because the city is home to both the German Football Museum and to Borussia Dortmund, one of the country’s most successful teams.
Learn about German football history and take a tour of the local stadium, if you’re into the beautiful game that is. If you’re here on the right day, you could even try and get tickets for a live match. Expect it to be loud, passionate and fiery!
If you’re not a football fan, then don’t fear, Dortmund still has plenty of offerings for travellers! Walk through the beautiful, green Westfalen Park, before heading to the top of the nearby Television Tower for exceptional views of the skyline.
Dortmund was also once the centre of industry in the Ruhr, and you can find many former industrial buildings and mine sites which have in recent years been transformed into museums and exhibitions that focus on this side of local history.
The fast train from Cologne will see you arriving in Frankfurt in just one hour, despite being located well over 150 miles to the south. Frankfurt is one of the largest and most iconic cities in Germany and it makes for an unbeatable day trip by train.
The River Main cuts right through the heart of the city and when you first arrive in Frankfurt, it’s worth taking a sightseeing cruise along the water to truly enjoy the beautiful skyline. After this, you can purchase a hop on hop off bus ticket to really get to know the sights and attractions of the city in good time.
Visit the city’s plethora of surviving medieval buildings, including the 14th-century town hall and other historic houses found in Romer Square. One of the most famous inhabitants of Frankfurt was Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, a novelist and politician who was active in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, and you can still visit his former house today.
To see the other side of Frankfurt, then you can stroll through the bustling financial district to marvel at the modern high rises and glimmering skyscrapers. Climb to the top of the staggeringly tall Main Tower for the best view over the city below.
Finish your day by dining and drinking at traditional German brewhouses, or finish your day at the other end of the tourist spectrum by dining and drinking at one of the high end, international restaurants that are found across the city.
Mainz is remarkably close to Frankfurt, but the city makes for a unique day trip by train in itself from Cologne, as there is much to discover! Located on the River Rhine, Mainz is one to two hours by train, depending on the class and speed of your chosen carriage.
The city was founded during the Roman era and has since had a long and illustrious history. Much of the historic city centre dates back – or has been refurbished at least – to the medieval days when Mainz grew in importance.
Start your journey through the city at Mainz Cathedral, before then spending time at the Gutenberg Museum. This is home to one of the rare surviving copies of the Gutenberg Bible, one of the first mass-produced works of literature in the world, created in Mainz by some of the world’s first printing presses.
South of Cologne, Koblenz is more than worth a day trip, and you can even reach the city in true fashion by cruising along the Rhine. With a river pass, you can even hop and hop off all along the route from Cologne and back, but make sure you save plenty of time for charming Koblenz.
Koblenz is situated at the confluence of two rivers, the rivers Rhine and Moselle, and is in a truly unbeatable location. You can see where the two rivers meet, a point which has become symbolic too of the reunification of East and West Germany and is known as the ‘German Corner’ and which could equally have many a romantic connotation too for couples!
This is one of the oldest cities in Germany too, as it was first established as an outpost on the fringe of the empire by the Romans in 8BC. Much of the city is UNESCO World Heritage listed, and the surrounding hills are dotted with fairytale castles.
Take the cable car over the river and up to a medieval fortress and museum, for wonderful views over Koblenz and over the surrounding region. Few cities can match this for beauty, so make the most of it with your partner on a wonderful day trip from Cologne.
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A cruise down the Rhine from Cologne can also bring you to the pleasant climes of Konigswinter. You’ll spend the day enjoying the blissful views from the boat as you steadily make your way along the river, cruising past beautiful views of the Rhineland, passing castles and quaint villages. It’s a romantic journey for two, and you will cruise through the city of Bonn, before arriving in Konigswinter.
Konigswinter is home to the remarkable Drachenburg Castle, which is found atop the equally remarkable Drachenfels Hill, which towers above the city. It’s one of the region’s fairytale-esque castles, with dreamy spires and romantic legends surrounding its walls. The Drachenburg Castle was only built in the 19th century and was designed to fulfil those romantic notions prevalent across Europe at the time, and it succeeded to pass into legend!
A more authentic castle to visit is perhaps the ruins of the Drachenfel, an older castle which is still crumbling by the hill. This castle dates far back to the 12th century when it was built to defend Konigswinter against attack. In its own, abandoned and stricken state, it’s equally as romantic, yet also much more historic.
The Ahr Valley is one of the most northern regions of Germany that still specialises in growing excellent grapes for wine production, and it’s a truly romantic destination to take a date, particularly if you both love a good glass of Pinot Noir.
There are countless wineries in superb locations, with dreamy landscapes and beautiful surroundings to immerse yourself in as you taste some of Germany’s best wine. It’s not so far from Cologne, but to truly experience the Ahr Valley, you’ll want your own vehicle or to join a tour to get around and see the best of the area.
Having your own vehicle can help you to see more remote parts of the valley and to truly delve into the countryside, but joining a tour means that you and your partner can indulge in more than a few wine tastings on your journey through the Ahr.
As well as vineyards though, part of the romantic appeal of the Ahr Valley is the spectacular scenery, and you may want to spend time here hiking and walking through the gorgeous, green hills and forests, through ramshackle villages and across crashing rivers.
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Bruhl is just a short journey outside of Cologne, and it’s home to some of the most romantic castles and palaces in the Rhineland. The main highlight of the town is the Augustusburg Palace, which alongside the Falkenlust Palace comprises a unique UNESCO World Heritage Site in Bruhl.
Both palaces date to the 18th century, when they were constructed by wealthy, noble German families to serve as grand residences. They couldn’t have picked more splendid locations, and the palaces are found in beautiful, landscaped gardens, complete with shimmering lakes and verdant greenery.
It’s a truly romantic day trip from Cologne, and you can immerse yourself in the world of German nobility as you explore this historic part of the Rhineland when you visit from Cologne.
The city of Aachen lies right on the border with France and Luxembourg but is just one hour away from Cologne. It’s long been a multicultural, and incredibly historic city, and for couples looking for a great getaway, it’s also known as a spa city.
For centuries, Aachen was the seat of kings and emperors, from Charlemagne through the early German rulers. You can visit old cathedrals and churches, walk ancient roads and peruse intriguing museums.
After exploring the medieval streets of Aachen, and immersing yourself in thousands of years of local history, it’s time to unwind at the local spa. It was the Romans who brought their spa culture to Aachen when they discovered thermal springs in the area. Since then, over the centuries since, residents and visitors have made use of the hot water to bath and relax!
Limz am Rhein is a quintessentially German town which is found on the river just a short journey from Cologne. If you are looking for a stereotypical, medieval destination to visit, with ramshackle houses dating back hundreds of years standing alongside old churches in a beautiful setting,
The town can trace its history back centuries, while nearby you can find Roman ruins dating back thousands of years. History aside though, this is the perfect day trip for couples looking for a romantic escape, as few other towns can match the charm, colour and pleasantness of Limz am Rhein, making this the perfect territory for a date or a couple’s getaway!
Limz am rhein is resplendent all year round, however, consider visiting in autumn to see the foliage at its most colourful, or in winter to enjoy the christmas markets and frost covered scenery.
Phantasialand is a huge theme park in the Rhineland that draws in huge crowds of both locals and visitors through the year. It’s a great day trip from Cologne and a great place to take the kids.
The amusement park is located close to Bruhl, where you can also find the beautiful palaces. This is a bit of a different experience however! The kids will adore the rides and the different themed sections that are found across Phantasialand. There are international and historic areas, ranging from the Mexican world through to 1920s Berlin, and the kids will learn as they have fun.
Adults need not to worry about being bored either, as many of the rides – particularly the roller coasters – are designed to scare and thrill anyone of any age. While it’s easy to travel here on a day trip, either using public transport or as part of a tour from Cologne, you can also stay overnight at the onsite resorts if you’d rather enjoy more time outside of the city to take in the wonders of Phantasialand!
Few cities can boast a beach within their boundaries, but on the outskirts of Cologne, you can find just that! Blackfoot Beach is a half hour train ride north of the city centre, and in summer it’s perfect for families to visit during the day when the sun is shining!
At Blackfoot Beach, you’ll find crisp, golden sands on the edge of a freshwater lake. Your kids can build sandcastles on the pristine beach, while if it’s warm enough you can jump right into the water to cool down. It’s not far from the city centre, but you’ll easily spend the whole day here when the weather is great!
With an incredible train network crossing western Germany and connecting Cologne with all the major cities, towns and even villages in the Rhineland, day trips from the city are simply a matter of turning up at the central station and hopping on the next departure for the next adventure!
You can easily travel to big metropolises, historic palaces, and ancient spa towns for great days out. There’s so much history, culture and good food in the region, that you’ll be heading out to explore every day that you stay in Cologne.
If you’re on a couples’ getaway or travelling through with the kids and family, there really are opportunities for everyone to enjoy themselves and to see the best of the Rhineland on day trips from Cologne.
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Emma Johnson lives to travel! Born in Washington D.C., Emma is a hotel connoisseur and a staff writer at Hotel Jules. An army brat, Emma got the travel bug early and has never been able to stop. Now, she has proudly visited 70+ countries and plans to visit every country in the world! Passionate about her ukelele (obviously) and her family, Emma eventually wants to retire in Thailand and write a book about all of her travel experiences.