Cologne is the fourth largest city in Germany and a popular tourist destination for people passing to or from Holland. The city has a great cathedral; the food is delicious, and the historic architecture is also a big draw. Moreover, the city has a great range of museums and free activities from which to choose. Additionally, compared to cities like Berlin and Munich, Cologne is a lot less touristy. Cologne isn’t my favorite city in the world but it makes for a great stopover on your way between the east and west sides of Germany.
Hostel prices – Hostels in Cologne start at $19 USD a night for a dorm bed, and a private will be about $25 USD.
Budget hotel prices – Most budget hotels range from $50-80 for a double room with breakfast and a private bathroom.
Average cost of food – You can typically eat a meal at a nice sit down restaurant for between $15-25 USD, including a hearty pint of German beer. Like the rest of Germany, Cologne has many cheap food options. Street vendors (i.e. sausage stands) cost between $1-4 USD, pre-made sandwiches average $5 USD, and fast food will set you back around $8 USD. Additionally, kebabs and Indian food can also be found at a good price for under $5 USD. A week’s worth of groceries will cost around $50 USD.
Transportation costs – The tram is the best way to get around the city besides walking. You can purchase tickets on the tram or at the stations. A one-day Cologne pass gives you free transportation and costs $12 USD. It also gives you discounts on certain attractions and restaurants.
Money Saving Tips
Spend the day in the park – Cologne offers many free parks within city limits, so spending the day walking around is a great way to spend some time and get to know the city.
Get a Cologne Pass – A one-day Cologne pass gives you free transportation and costs $12 USD. It also gives you discounts on certain attractions and restaurants which is a great deal if you’re spending a bit of time in the city.
Top Things to See and Do
Visit the Kolner Dom – This beautiful church is one of the largest and most famous Gothic cathedrals in the country. It’s pretty damn impressive. The view from the top of the south tower is breathtaking but you have to walk up 509 stairs to see it. Entry into the cathedral is free but the south tower will cost $3.25 USD.
Walk around – Spend time walking Cologne’s neighborhoods. Agnesviertel is a bohemian area filled with shops, art galleries, bookstores, and pubs. Alte Feuerwache has a great flea market during the summer. The riverside has some modern buildings and of course there is always the historic center to explore.
Visit the church of St. Kunibert – Cologne has some gorgeous churches to visit. Besides Kolner Dam, St. Kunibert is one of the best. Its beautiful stained-glass windows are intricate and detailed. I could spend hours looking at them.
Visit Grüngürtel – Located in the heart of the city, Grüngürtel is a great place to spend the day having a picnic, soaking in the sun, and watching people. Not interested in that? Well, there is also a beer garden, and that’s something you can never go wrong with.
Visit the Wallraf-Richartz museum – This museum will give you a detailed history of the area and insight as to how people lived during the middle ages. Admission is $16 USD.
Celebrate the Winter “Karneval” – The biggest festival Cologne is the winter Karneval. It occurs every February and, on opening day, crowds line the streets and watch a huge parade. This is followed by lots of eating, drinking, and merrymaking.
Visit the Cologne Synagogue – The synagogue is notable for its architecture; it looks like it comes right out of Gotham City. The Torah within the synagogue was rescued by a Catholic priest from another synagogue as it was being burned during Nazi rule. In August 2005, Pope Benedict XVI visited this place of worship.
Take a famed river cruise – Cruises up and down the Rhine river are very popular. You can take one around the city or join a multi-day trip all the way down the Rhine through other parts of Germany. You pass through many good towns and mountains. It’s very scenic but more geared towards older travelers, families, and couples. The cruises also tend to be pretty expensive.
See the Museum Ludwig – This is one art museum that stands out from the rest—a unique attraction, recommended by nearly everyone. There is an excellent exhibit on German expressionism, but the main draw is the variety of postmodern art. There is essentially work from all major genres of the 20th century. It is exciting to see so many originals from artists you’ve heard of.
Visit the Schokoladen Museum – It the name doesn’t ring a bell, you should sound it out-loud. This place is dedicated to the history and production of chocolate. You’ll learn about everything from the Aztecs’s production of it to modern day cocoa growing. The end of the tour features a chocolate fountain for sampling and a fully-stocked shop.
Educate yourself at Kolumba – This is a museum that has a huge variety of exhibits, that cover several years’ worth of history. The building itself was constructed to enclose the church St Kolumba, dating back to the late Gothic period. There is a range of religious artistry, medieval paintings, Coptic textiles, and more on display.
Experience the nightlife – There are a slew of bars, lounges, and clubs throughout the city. Many of them feature really interesting decors and themes—some are quite glamorous. Places like Shepheard and Papa Joe’s Klimperkasten are a little more slow going, whereas, Lauschgift and Alter Wartesaal are great places for dancing and theme-night fun.
Take a day trip to Beethoven’s Birthplace – Bonn, the town where Ludwig van Beethoven was born, is located 25 km from Cologne. Plan a day trip to this city on the Rhine, where you can visit the composer’s house or some of the other museums on offer.