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World-famous for its stunning cathedral, Cologne boasts a wealth of brilliant cultural sites. You can also look forward to a lively nightlife, varied culinary scene, and plenty of opportunities for pampering.
One of Germany’s top-five largest cities, knowing where to start your explorations of Cologne can be a challenge. How can you maximise your time in this interesting city to ensure you don’t miss anything?
We’ve just made planning your Cologne vacation that much easier! Bursting with a mixture of well-known musts and off-the-beaten-track local gems, our recommendations for the best things to do in Cologne will help you to really make the most of your vacation.
We’ve also compiled our favourite neighborhoods in Cologne, and our favourite hotels in Cologne. Also, our other must-read guides to the best hotels in Hamburg and amazing hotels in Berlin will save you time and money!
Our top rated things to do in Hamburg and ultimate things to do in Berlin will give you inspiration for the adventure of a lifetime! Not to mention the 131 ultimate things to do in Europe – check them out!
Some of the best things to do in Cologne are sure to surprise you too …
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Having fun is an important part of any vacation. After all, we visit new places for a break from our everyday lives and to enjoy a wealth of new experiences. Luckily, Cologne isn’t lacking when it comes to the fun factor!
See Cologne in a different way with a comedy bus tour around the city.
You’ll get to see highlights of the city while accompanied by various local funny guys and gals on the rolling stage. More intimate, and arguably heaps more exciting, than an evening in a regular comedy venue, prepare to laugh your way around the beautiful German city and have a terrific time.
Learn surprising historical tales and facts and hear witty anecdotes about the city’s past, present, future, and people. Many acts take on a local flavour, blending humour and Cologne life. Laugh your socks off to witty repertoires, become privy to inside jokes, and finish the tour with a warm and fuzzy glow.
Walking along the bustling streets of Cologne is exciting, but going below ground level is something else entirely. It’s simply incredible to think that a whole other world lies hidden beneath the hubbub above!
Some 2,000 years ago, when Cologne was known by the tongue-twisting name of Colonia Claudia Ara Agrippinensium, the Romans were busy building a mighty city. The street levels were lower back then, and the ancient city gradually got swallowed up beneath subsequent streets and buildings.
Descend underground, however, and you can still spot traces of the Roman city from thousands of years ago. Set your imagination free and wonder about the people who once scurried along the ancient streets going about their everyday business in what was once one of the Roman Empire’s biggest cities.
The city once boasted a sophisticated infrastructure that included a water supply, a network of roads, homes, religious buildings, and businesses, all encircled by an imposing defensive city wall.
Hit up some of Cologne’s most awesome sights and learn interesting tales about the city before pausing to chill in several traditional pubs in the atmospheric Old Town.
Your tour even includes four drinks of local beer and you can try the local favourite snack of Halver Hahn in a top Cologne brewhouse. The half rye roll is topped with butter, cheese, onion, and mustard, giving it a strong flavour and making it a great nibble to accompany beer.
This terrific tour lets you really experience Cologne like a local and discover the significance of the city’s brewing heritage while feeling as though you’re sat inside someone’s comfy and cosy living room.
If you’re looking for great ideas of ways to romance and impress your significant other while in Cologne, look no further! Why stick to the tried-and-tested candle-lit meals and cocktails (lovely as they are) when there are new things to enjoy together?
Get your peddle power on together and explore some of Cologne’s arty spaces by bicycle, wander through charmingly cool areas, and experience the local way of life as you unwind in a Cologne café.
As you explore the district of Ehrenfeld you’re sure to notice a hip side to the city. Ehrenfeld is home to one of the biggest mosques in Germany,and boasts many trendy stores and cafes.
The Belgian Quarter is somewhat off the beaten track and grossly under-visited by many tourists. That’s a bonus for you though as you’ll get to uncover an authentic part of the city and glimpse local life without the crowds. At Brussels Square, you’ll find the beautiful St. Michael’s Church, and all of the streets in the area are named after Belgian cities.
Art is everywhere, with interesting and attractive pieces on walls, floors, doorways, and even in some places you wouldn’t expect. Created by both local and international artists, the artworks are really worth hunting for.
Cologne has a great spa and wellness scene, and there are many spas that offer special treatment packages for couples. Lie back, close your eyes, and enjoy a range of blissful treatments and therapies alongside the one that you love.
Feel all stresses and strains simply melting away with a selection of soothing and invigorating massages. Bathe together in Jacuzzis, steam rooms, and ornate pools. Drift in float pools. Feel refreshed after a sauna. Chill in relaxation zones. There are many ways to enjoy Cologne’s fabulous spas together.
Enjoy the sights of Cologne from a different perspective and cosy up next to your love for a panoramic boat trip along the River Rhine. Soak up sights of the Old Town, complete with its striking historic architecture, and the harbour, where boats big and small bob on the gentle waters.
See Cologne’s famous cathedral, the Olympic Museum, rural areas, and more.
Some tours travel farther afield along the river too, taking in the countryside, riverside towns and villages, and fishing villages. You’ll pass under several picturesque bridges and there are plentiful photo opportunities to remember your romantic stay in Cologne.
After your boat ride, why not return to Hohenzollern Bridge to affix a lasting symbol of your love? Take your own padlock, adorned with your messages of love or simply your names, and hang it from the bridge.
Cologne has many great things to keep kids happy, from tours and museums to parks and play areas. And, happy kids make for happy parents!
In the summer months, a combined bus and boat trip is a perfect way to get around Cologne’s highlights without little ones becoming too tired and fed up.
The constantly changing sights leave little time for younger members of the family to feel bored, and the multi-lingual commentary onboard the bus ensures that the adults can learn more about the city’s history, famous people, achievements, and culture.
There are many stops along the route, all in interesting neighbourhoods or close to major attractions, and the regular services mean that you won’t need to wait long to continue your sightseeing journey. Plus, being able to hop on and off as you like makes it easy to accommodate on-the-spot bathroom breaks and refreshment stops!
Especially ideal for older kids and teens, a scavenger hunt around Cologne is a fantastic way to see the main sights, get off the beaten track, learn more about the German city, and bond as a family.
Pit your wits against other participants and aim to be the champions!
You just need your smartphone, wits, and comfy shoes to compete.
Collect your action pack and make your way around Cologne’s Old Town, solving various clues, tasks, and riddles as you go. The route is unconventional and you’ll experience things that are easy to miss if exploring the city under your own steam.
Just a short drive from the centre of Cologne, Phantasialand is an action-packed amusement park that offers fun for the whole family.
There are suitable rides and attractions for people of all ages, and special seasonal events add to the holiday fun throughout the year. There are indoor and outdoor attractions, letting you escape weather extremes if needed.
Feel the rush on Taron, the world’s fastest multi-launch rollercoaster. Get dizzy on Mamba. Watch younger kids’ eyes twinkle on the Maus au Chocolat. Journey overseas and back in time on Tikal. Soar through the air on the carousel of Wellenflug. And much, much more!
The costs can quickly rack up on city breaks without you even realising. Luckily, Cologne has a decent amount of free things to do that will make your days not only more cost effective but also full of fun. Who doesn’t like a freebie every now and then?!
Cologne Cathedral is one of Cologne’s most iconic and recognisable landmarks. A striking part of the city skyline, visiting the cathedral is one of the top things to do in Cologne and it needn’t cost you a single euro. The World Heritage Site is one of the most-visited places in Germany too.
Construction of Cologne Cathedral started in the 1240s, with large breaks until it was finally finished in the late 1800s. The huge Gothic marvel boasts two soaring spires, which reach more than 150 metres into the sky.
As if the outside wasn’t impressive enough, the interiors boast even more stunning architectural and artistic designs. The sublime Shrine of the Three Kings, the stunning black marble High Altar, and the historic wooden statue of the Milan Madonna are just are few of the exquisite beauties to catch your eye inside. Oh, and there’s no admission cost either!
MUST READ – If you are in Cologne, You have to check out article about some of the coolest hotels in Cologne
The Rhine River is another famous feature of Cologne, and a walk alongside the waterway provides awesome views. Several bridges span the river; the Deutzer Bridge offers especially nice views, particularly in the evening time when the sky is changing colour, the sun is going down, and the city’s lights begin to twinkle and shimmer on the water’s surface.
Pleasure boats and cruise vessels add more life to the river, and a walk along the banks provides many scenic views. You’ll likely meander through areas that you wouldn’t have thought to visit otherwise. And, a riverside walk can be romantic in the right company!
Recommended article! Also – if you’ll be in this area, you HAVE to check out our article about some of the other best day trips from Cologne!
There’s no charge to enjoy the beautiful colours and fragrant scents in Cologne’s pretty Flora Botanical Garden.
The beautiful outdoor space is the oldest public park in the city, and you’ll get a sense of rich traditions as you explore the different zones. Several footpaths wind through the gardens, letting you get up close to some 10,000 plant species. There are areas where you can sit and relax and soak up the air of serenity and admire the delightful scenes.
Step into the Palm House and the various tropical greenhouses to see plants from other parts of the world, and admire the elegant Flora—a historic building with plenty of character.
Keep the excitement and enjoyment levels up after dusk—there’s tons to do in Cologne at nighttime too! The large immigrant population has created an exciting dining scene and there are diverse pubs and clubs to keep you out until the wee small hours. Throw in nighttime tours, diner boat rides, cinemas, theatres, and walks through the illuminated streets and there really is no reason to go to bed early.
Take you Cologne’s streets under the cover of darkness and explore with a night watchman to learn more about the city’s secrets, surprises, ghouls, myths, and horrors.
Meet at sunset or later on a midnight to begin your tour—the witching hour is definitely a cool time to be out and about! Roam the quiet streets by torchlight, venturing away from the busy thoroughfares to poke around down small, dim alley ways.
Cologne’s urban myths and legends include stories of demons and ghosts, fairies and werewolves, witches and warlocks, spirits and hauntings, not to mention the various dastardly deeds that have been carried out by living people over the city’s long history.
You’ll hear some stories that have all but been forgotten, brought back to life in the dark, and those that have been handed down the generations as fact and are still tightly woven into the local culture and beliefs.
Don’t miss experiencing the karaoke bus for a fun and unique evening in Cologne. It’s certainly a highlight for singing enthusiasts, though don’t worry if you prefer to watch and listen to belting out the tunes yourself—you won’t be forced to warble if you don’t want to!
You’ll get a welcome shot of schnapps and you can purchase further drinks onboard to really loosen up your vocal cords and get you in the party mood. Who knows—you may be the star of the show when it’s your turn to take to the stage!
As the bus rolls through some of Cologne’s most interesting areas you’ll see myriad interesting sights through the windows. But the true joy, however, lies in the uniqueness of karaoke on wheels for an awesome night out.
Whether you’re travelling solo, as a couple, or already with a group of pals, it’s always fun to make new drinking buddies. Mingle with other cool cats on this terrific pub crawl, and be taken to some of the hottest places around Cologne by your friendly local guide.
The night includes a good selection of bars and clubs, with a free shot in each place to really get the good vibes flowing. Another bonus: you get to skip the queues! You’ll hit up popular night spots and secret underground gems that are so uber cool and hidden that even some locals don’t know about them yet. Shhhhh!
So, there you have it; our top picks for a city break in Cologne to remember. Marvel at ornate architecture, discover secret spots, be pampered, and have a ball with the kids at cool theme parks.
The riverside setting makes this German city even more attractive and activities like karaoke and comedy bus tours mean you’ll certainly never have time to feel bored!
Tick off these best things to do in Cologne for a fabulous trip.
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Born in Los Angeles, Aaron Hovanesian is one of the original staff writers for Hotel Jules. Having backpacked the world as a young man, Aaron now prefers to travel the world in luxury, proudly staying in the world's most amazing hotels and properties. When Aaron is not traveling he lives in Western Colorado he can be found brewing his own beer (probably an IPA) or spending time with his two amazing golden retrievers.