Cologne, the largest city on the Rhine in the east of Germany is often overlooked as a short break destination. Larger German cities such as Berlin or Munich instead attracting millions of visitors each year.
However, Cologne fully deserves to be mentioned in the same bracket as these more confident cousins. Rich in history and culture, with more pubs per capita than other cities in Germany and an eminent location in the center of the Ruhr region a weekend in Cologne, is a must.
How to get to Cologne and getting around town
FROM THE AIRPORT
If you arrive by plane, you’ll most certainly fly into Köln-Bonn Airport. From there, getting to the city center will prove to be relatively easy by train.
You will find the train platform inside the airport terminal, and you can buy tickets directly from the machines, by cash or card. The end destination should be either Köln Hbf (Central Station), or Köln Messe for hotels located across from the river.
GETTING AROUND TOWN
With a great public transportation infrastructure, like most in Germany, getting around Cologne will be relatively easy. You can buy tickets from most of the stops, just be aware that you might need to carry cash with you.
You’ll have to choose to go around by “U-Bahn” (metro), “S-Bahn” (trains that go outside the center of town, lines from 1 to 18), or by tram.
Another option you might want to consider when you want to forget about the hassle of buying public transportation tickets is getting the KölnCard.
You can order it online here, grants you free access to public transportation for 24 or 48 hours, along with up to 50% discounts from numerous partners.
Where to stay in Cologne
If you’re visiting for the first time and you’re spending only a weekend in Cologne, you’ll want to look for accommodation in the Old Town and close to the Dome. A nice hotel with a great location and delicious breakfast is the CityClass Hotel Europa am Dom. You can see the majestic building from your window, be close to restaurants, and the Christmas Market if you visit during winter. Check out availability and prices here!
However, if you are looking for a budget stay, you will want to head for Altstadt Süd, and you’ll also be close to the chocolate museum. The NH Köln Altstadt is a great option from where you can have an easy walk to the Old Town. Check availability and prices here!
The third option is to stay close to Central Station – this way you can get to the hotel and leave your belongings just minutes after arriving in town. You’ll then have plenty of time to wander around town end make the best out of your 2 days in Cologne. Savoy Hotel would the perfect option for couples looking for pampering in the right location. Check out availability and prices!
Weekend in Cologne – 2 days itinerary and things to do
Day 1 in Cologne
As with most major cities across the world Cologne offers many guided tours of its main attractions. Whilst we have enjoyed a walking tour in Marseille and hopped on several open-top buses the most productive way to explore any city is by yourself on foot.
Walking through narrow streets or quieter districts you’ll inevitably stumble across hidden places and tucked away stores not listed in guide books or on tourist maps. Take your time to walk between a city’s main attractions and you will find little gems and create lasting memories.
Use our suggested itinerary in this flexible way and your own trip to Cologne will be so much more rewarding.
The first of our recommended attractions just has to be Cologne Cathedral. The city’s most famous landmark towers above the city and with 20,000 visitors per day is Germany’s most visited attraction.
The cornerstone of this gothic delight was laid on 15th August 1248 with work continuing for the next 300 years. Unfortunately a lack of both money and interest left the Cathedral unfinished before being restarted in 1842.
Almost 650 years after commencing Cologne Cathedral was finally completed in 1880, all in accordance with the original medieval plans.
You do not need to be religious in order to appreciate and marvel at this architectural masterpiece. The Cathedral is as glorious inside as it is out and fully deserves an hour of your time to take in all its splendor.
Shrine of the Three Wise Men
After its construction commenced Cologne Cathedral became an important place of pilgrimage in Europe due to the presence of the remains of the Three Wise Men.
These brought to Cologne in 1164 by Archbishop Rainald von Dassel from the conquered city of Milan.
Whilst part of these relics have been returned to Milan the Shrine of the Three Kings completed around 1225 remains the most celebrated and significant artifact within the Cathedral.
Find out more on a guided tour about how the Wise Men came to Cologne!
UNESCO World Heritage
Due to its historical significance, treasures such as the Shrine of the Three Wise Men and the splendid stained glass windows Cologne Cathedral has rightly declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996.
From dark medieval gems to vibrant and vivid modern art masterpieces.
Museum Ludwig, sitting just meters east of Cologne Cathedral was founded in 1976 following the donation of 350 works with an estimated value of $45 million by chocolate magnate Peter Ludwig.
Alongside pop art works from luminaries such as Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol, and George Segal the museum also displays several hundred works by Pablo Picasso. You will therefore not be surprised to learn that this is the largest collection of Pop Art outside the USA.
Cologne City Hall
A five-minute walk south of the Cathedral and Museum Ludwig lies the City Hall, another of Cologne’s architectural treasures. Germany’s oldest City Hall boasts a history dating back an astonishing 900 years.
Today the City Hall complex consists of several structures added over successive centuries. The 14th-century town hall, the 15th-century Gothic tower, and most famously the 16th-century renaissance style loggia (external covered corridor) and cloister. More recently a post-modern atrium has been added.
Cologne Old Town
Continuing a tour of Cologne’s history the next stop on our day 1 itinerary is the old town district located directly along the Rhine.
Just 300 meters east of the City Hall this area fronting the river boasts distinctive tall, narrow terraces of colorful facades. This panorama overlooked by the equally impressive Great St Martin Church is an iconic shot of Cologne.
With its rustic alleyways, local breweries, small restaurants, and many handicraft stores this area is as popular with locals as it is tourists. The old town is a great place to end your 1st day whilst enjoying a local Kölsch beer.
Day 2 of your weekend in Cologne
After ending day 1 with one or more of the seemingly never-ending supply of Kölsch you may well be starting day 2 with a hangover. For these sufferers or those with a sweet tooth you’ll love our starting point.
Located a mile south of Cologne Cathedral in the Rheinau Harbour district lies this museum devoting 4,000 m2 to all things chocolate. The nine exhibition areas cover topics such as the history of chocolate, its manufacture from cocoa beans, and packaging.
The undoubted centerpiece though is the 3-meter high chocolate fountain designed especially for the museum filled with a mind-boggling 200 kg of liquid chocolate.
German Sport & Olympic Museum
After the gluttony of the chocolate museum, the next stop must be the German Olympic Museum located just next door.
Housed in an impressive former warehouse this museum was the unexpected highlight of our trip to Cologne. Starting with the sport of the ancient Greeks this fascinating museum takes you through individual Olympic Games to the more modern-day. There are a number of interactive exhibits as well as a floor dedicated to the history of FC Cologne.
To finish your tour there is also a charming bistro offering great views over the Rhine.
Rhine River Walk
From the Rheinau Harbour district our next activity is not a particular attraction or destination. It is rather an enjoyable walk along the Rhine heading north back toward the center of Cologne. Dependant on the time of year the river walk is a popular route and lined with a number of food or market stalls.
This route also offers great panoramas of the city in front of you as well as across the majestic Rhine toward another of Cologne’s most famous landmarks – the Hohenzollern rail bridge.
Option: Get the Rhine River cruise full-day pass and join a cruise at any of the 40 departure points!
Hohenzollern Bridge Love Locks
With over 1,200 trains per day the Hohenzollern bridge is the most heavily used railway bridge in Germany. Originally constructed between 1907 and 1911 and named after the rulers of Prussia the bridge was rebuilt following destruction at the end of WWII.
The reason this industrial feat makes our suggested itinerary though are the thousands of ‘love locks’ that now adorn the metallic fencing lining the pedestrian walkways.
These individually decorated locks of all sizes have amassed since 2008 and make the Hohenzollern Bridge a modern pilgrimage. Lovers add their own bespoke lock to the collection and then throw the key into the Rhine below.
Only one day in Cologne?
Should you just have one day in Cologne then our suggested itinerary would be to concentrate on the attractions and route we detailed for day 1.
Make sure though that you allow sufficient time for one of the local breweries to sample the Kölsch and local delicacies.
Staying longer in Cologne?
Should you be fortunate to be spending more than two days in Cologne than we suggest you consider a guided bicycle tour or even a boat trip on the Rhine. These tours are a relaxing way to explore the city and learn more about the history of this region.
Alternatively Cologne and the surrounding area is perfect for football lovers. As well as FC Cologne itself, fellow Bundesliga team, Bayer Leverkusen lies just 15 km or a 20-minute rail journey north of Cologne. The cost of public transport is also included in the price of your entrance ticket.
You might also want to visit a castle as a day trip from Cologne, or an enchanting colorful small German village.
Food and Drink in Cologne
In addition to its many physical attractions and tourist destinations Cologne offers visitors a number of culinary delights.
The old town district of Cologne between the Cathedral and City Hall is home to a number of traditional brewery restaurants or Brauhäus. In the early 1800s breweries started to sell their beer direct to the public from their own courtyards. Over subsequent decades they added food to their menu and retaining their historic charm these Brauhäus offer a unique and convivial atmosphere.
We visited Brauerei Zur Malzmühle, the second oldest of Cologne’s brauhäus and one of the few that has remained in the same location for its full history. Situated on Huemarket it is a short walk from central Cologne.
Kölsch is the local Cologne beer observing specific and strict brewing methods. Traditionally served in a tall thin glass or Stange holding approximately 1/3 of a pint there is a method of service that all visitors will very quickly learn.
The barmen or waiters in these Brauhäus known as Köbes carry around 12 glasses at a time using a circular tray. Rather than waiting for a guest to order they will simply replace any empty glasses. Should another glass not be required the guest should place a coaster on top of the empty glass.
The food served in these Brauhäus and other restaurants around Cologne is often hearty fare containing a lot of pork or chicken dishes served with sauerkraut. No matter what you choose you will leave neither disappointed nor hungry!
Two of our particular favorites are the Haamche and Halve Hahn.
‘Haamche’ or Ham Hock
Brauerei Zur Malzmühle served what can easily be described as the largest ham hock we have ever seen in our lives. A T-Rex would struggle to devour this enormous meat delight.
In Cologne the hock is salted and stewed and often served with lashings of mashed potato and sauerkraut.
“Halve Hahn” or Rye Bread with semi-mature Gouda, onions, and mustard
Whilst ‘Halve Hahn’ is actually translated as a half chicken this is a tasty bread, cheese, and onion dish. The origins of its name are uncertain but this confusingly named dish is a staple on menus across Cologne.
If you want to experience all the local delights, book a 3-hour food tour!
Cologne is a modern city rightly proud of its many historical delights such as the Cathedral and City Hall. It also possesses a culture and culinary tradition unlike the rest of Germany. Whatever your interests you will be overwhelmed by 2 days in this fantastic city.
The Two That Do blog, founded by husband and wife Paul & Nicki Rought aims to share experiences of their worldwide travels. An active couple constantly seeking new experiences and always learning The Two That Do includes city and country guides, Van Life tips, and blogs on their various adventures. Highlights include paragliding over Cape Town, pasta making in Italy, and sand-boarding in Namibia.
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