Travel Guide Europe Germany Nordrhein-Westfalen Cologne





© porz

Cologne (Köln in German), built along the Rhine river, is Germany's 4th largest city with a population of approximately 1 million. Famous for the Cologne Cathedral and other historic monuments and sights, you might be led into believing there isn't more to the city than "old". You would be wrong. Cologne is known, yes renowned even, for it's lively nightlife. Germany's party city has plenty of pubs, cafés and restaurants to attract younger travellers every year. Especially in the midst of one of Cologne's famous carnival celebrations, the city comes alive and this is a perfect time to visit.




Cologne is split in half by the Rhein river. The left or west side is known to locals as Links-Rhein (left Rhine) and was where the city was originally founded by the Romans. It's also today's centre and densely populated. It's built up in rings surrounding the Old City (Altstadt). The right side (Rechts-Rhein) does not have a centre and Cologners often refer to it as the "wrong side" (Schäl Sick).



Sights and Activities

Cologne Cathedral

Cologne Cathedral

Cologne Cathedral

© GregW

The Cologne Cathedral (in German: der Kölner Dom) is a gothic building of which the build was started in 1248, and finished in the 1880, when the build of the towers was completed. The two towers of the Cathedral have a height of 157 metres. (the North Tower is 7 centimetres higher than the South Tower). Until 1883, so only very briefly, it was the highest manmade building on the planet. In the second World War the cathedral was hit and damaged by bombs, but most of the church survived, mainly because the towers were an orientation point by the pilots flying over this part of Germany. The main part of the building is 144 metres, and 43.5 metres high. The plan of the cathedral is shaped like a cross, which is common in gothic churches. Inside the cathedral there many chapels, graves, relics, treasures and works of art to be found. Also pay attention to the decorated colourful windows. Entrance to the cathedral is free, but if you want to climb the 509 stairs to the top of the North Tower you have to pay a small fee. Climbing the tower takes a while, but the great view of the city is worth the effort. The cathedral can be found across the square from the train station, so even if you are planning just to pass Cologne it is worth to take that exit of the Autobahn and pay a visit to Cologne, see that beautiful cathedral and continue your journey.

Rhine by boat

Rhine Cruise from Koblenz to Rudesihem, Germany

Rhine Cruise from Koblenz to Rudesihem, Germany

© arif_kool

Take a boat trip down the Rhine. You can go as far as Strasbourg, France, but the most scenic part of this route is between St. Goar and Rudesheim. Many companies operate on this route, most famous being the KD Rhine. Eurail pass holders, who have Germany as one of the countries covered under the pass, get free sailing on the ferry operated by KD Rhine between Cologne and Mainz.

Roman-Germanic Museum

The Roman-Germanic Museum, located in the heart of the city, displays many artifacts from the early Roman settlements disovered in the city, dating back to the 2nd century AD.

Philharmonic Concert Hall

Located next to the Cathedral, the Philharmonic Concert Hall is an important concert hall hosts festivals, jazz sessions, music performances and various other international events.

The Chocolate Museum

The Chocolate Museum is well worth a visit. You can read about the history of cocoa, how chocolate is produced, and watch it being made. You can even sample some newly made chocolate as it is still made on the premises. It's by the river; allow a couple of hours to look around.



Events and Festivals

  • Cologne (Winter) Carnival is a huge street party each February in the inner city.
  • Christopher Street Day is an international festival for lesbians, gays and transvestites.
  • Cologne Lights is a spectacular display of fireworks all along the Rhine river usually held during the month of July each year.
  • Christmas Market is held for some weeks before Christmas like many other German cities.




Similar to most of western Europe, the warmest time to visit Cologne is in it's summer, July and August usually being the warmest months at around 24 °C on average during the day and around 12-13 °C at night. Winters (December to February) are averaging around 5-6 °C during the day and around zero at night. Snow falls nearly every winter, but usually not a lot and it melts away within days in general. On average June and July have the highest rainfall with around 87 mm a month, out of a total of around 800 mm a year.

Avg Max5.2 °C6.6 °C10.5 °C14.2 °C19 °C21.3 °C23.7 °C23.7 °C19.6 °C14.6 °C9 °C6.2 °C
Avg Min-0.7 °C-0.9 °C1.7 °C3.6 °C7.7 °C10.7 °C12.8 °C12.3 °C9.6 °C6.2 °C2.5 °C0.6 °C
Rainfall60.4 mm46.6 mm62.5 mm50.5 mm72.4 mm87.6 mm86 mm65.3 mm69.3 mm61.7 mm63.2 mm70.7 mm
Rain Days11.99.312.510.210.411.611.29.410.710.511.912.9



Getting There

By Plane

Cologne/Bonn Airport (CGN) is located around 15 kilometres from both Cologne and Bonn. Homebase of budget airline Germanwings, other major users of the airport are Air Berlin, Lufthansa, Condor and TUIfly. Especially Germanwings and AirBerlin have dozens of cities served throughout Europe and just beyond. It is the sixth largest airport in Germany and one of the country's few 24-hour airports.
The airport can be easily reached from the city centre by public transportation. S-Bahn trains are available from the airport station to the Cologne main train station. There is a regular bus service also from the airport to the main train station. Not that far from Cologne is the much bigger airport of Düsseldorf (DUS), with good train connections to Cologne.

By Train

Cologne is very well connected by rail. International trains to the Netherlands, Belgium and France are available at the huge station. For more information on how to get to Cologne and to calculate your initerary, check the website of Deutsche Bahn. Cologne has a railway service with Deutsche Bahn Intercity and ICE-trains stopping at Köln Hauptbahnhof (Cologne Central Station), Köln Messe/Deutz and Cologne/Bonn Airport. ICE and Thalys high-speed trains link Cologne with Amsterdam, Brussels (1h45min, 6 departures a day) and Paris (3h15min, 6 departures a day). There are frequent ICE trains to other German cities, including Frankfurt and Berlin.

By Car

Cologne requires all cars to have a "Low Emissions" sticker in order to drive around in the city centre Low Emission Zone ("Umweltzone"). Information on obtaining a sticker (which must be done at least several weeks in advance) is available|here]].

Autobahns A1, A4, A3, A57, A555 lead to Cologne. During rush hour the streets are heavily congested, also due to massive construction of a new subway tunnel Nord-Süd Stadtbahn, crossing half the city centre.

For cheap parking, with quick connections to central Cologne, use park and ride ("park und ride"). At some stations, parking is free when you present a validated transit ticket on exit.

By Bus

Eurolines has connections from Cologne to other cities in Germany and beyond, including London and Brussels. The stop is at the central train station in the centre of town. You can't buy tickets in Cologne itself, you will need to make your reservations on the internet.



Getting Around

By Public Transport

Cologne has an excellent public transport network consisting of trams, local trains and buses. Bicycles are also available for hire on the northern side of the Hauptbahnhof. Local transport systems rarely provide announcements in English, but network maps are commonly available to assist with your journey. Those wishing to explore areas away from the central city should plan their journey and potential connections before leaving. The KVB (Kölner Verkehrs-Betriebe) website is a good source of public transport information.

Cologne has a very good subway/tram and bus network "KVB" (Kölner Verkehrsbetriebe); one- and three-day-passes are available. The tickets are valid for subway, tram and regional train within the VRS-network. Trips within the city limits require zone 1b tickets (2016: €2.80). For short trips of up to 4 stops on subway, tram or bus there is also the slightly cheaper "Kurzstrecke" (short trip ticket, 2016: €1.90). A map of the network should be found at any station, and official Kölner Verkehrsbetriebe network maps are available online.

Cologne's subway and tram-system, or U-Bahn, is a mixture between both systems: A subway line can go on street-level and end up as a tram or vice versa. There are vending machines or ticket-offices at larger stations The trains and buses also have vending-machines. See the public bus, tram and subway-company KVB for printable maps of the bus/tram/subway system.

Regional Trains are known as "S-Bahn", "Regional-Bahn" and "Regional Express". Most of them don't have ticket vending-machines so remember to buy a ticket at the station.

By Foot

On the whole, the centre of Cologne is not that big for a city of one million. It is entirely feasible to walk from one end of the centre, say, the Rudolfplatz, to the other end, say, the Cathedral, in half an hour.

By Bike

Cologne has, like Berlin, Munich and Frankfurt, a Call A Bike - System. After you register for an account on-line, it will charge your credit-card a per minute fee. You can pick up or drop off one of the silver-red bikes anywhere in the city. See here for details. It is also possible to rent a bike at many different places, by bike is maybe the best way to go around in the city.




One can eat pretty well in most traditional-style Kölsch restaurants, and in fact as a visitor, you should try some of the local food, which is quite rustic, but tasty, hearty fare.

The brewery taps (Früh, Sion, Pfaffen, Malzmühle etc. in the old town south of the Dom) are worth taking note of to that respect, although they tend to be expensive for what you get.

Places out of the way such as Schreckenskammer and Max Stark (north of the train station, the former being within crawling distance of the Station Backpackers Hostel), Päffgen (Friesenstrasse) and both of Cologne independent brewpubs (Hellers Brauhaus on Roonstrasse and Braustelle in Ehrenfeld) offer cheaper, better food that the old town tourist traps. Besides, most of these places have tons of atmosphere, which doesn't hurt! You may also experience the deadly dry wit of the Köbes (traditional name of the blue-clad waiters) in most of those places. If it happens to you, don't get upset, just enter the game, send the Köbes packing with a dig and a smile and you'll be all right.

You'll mostly find typical Rheinland dishes in those traditional Kneipen. Classics include:

  • Halver Hahn - nice big slab of Dutch gouda with a rye roll (Röggelchen)
  • Himmel und Äd mit Flönz - fried black pudding with mashed potatoes ("earth"), apple sauce ("heaven") and fried onions.
  • Soorbrode / Sauerbraten - joint marinated in vinegar with raisins, usually served with red cabbage and a kloss (potato dumpling). The joint may be beef or horsemeat, so you may want to ask first...
  • Dicke Bunne mit Speck - boiled white beans with hefty boiled bacon slices on top.
  • Schweinshaxe (grilled); Hämchen (cooked) - pig's leg, usually a bit of a monster (ranges from 600 to 1400 g, including the bone)
  • Rievekoochen / Reibekuchen - flat fried potato cakes usually on offer once a week, and served with a variety of sweet or savoury toppings, which may include apple sauce, Rübenkraut (the beet-sourced equivalent to black treacle) or smoked salmon with horseradish cream.

If you are looking for a snack, you can either head for one of the Middle-Eastern or Asian places, or you can make use of the traditional fast food places like Mc Donalds, Burger King etc. Italian restaurants in Cologne seem to attempt to aim for a higher quality than in the UK, though it is debatable whether they achieve it, and whether their prices (often 150-200% of UK prices) are justified. There are several Indian restaurants across the city, which serve a fair fare, though the visiting Brit may be slightly disappointed to find that German 'curry culture' is rather akin to that of the UK in the 1960s: menus are neither large and varied, nor regionalised and specialist, and although ingredients are fresh, the food without exception appears to be tamed-down for the conservative German palate and the cooks are rather hesitant to spice it up even if you ask for it. "Clay Oven" (Luxemburger Straße near Südbahnhof) and "Bombay" (near Eifelstraße tram station) do make a vindaloo that will satisfy the most hardy customer, though. More recently, Japanese and Thai restaurants have become more common; both are quite expensive.




With 21 breweries, Cologne officially has more of them than any other city in the world. Not only do they all brew the same style of beer, but it is one which is unique to Cologne, Kölsch. Kölsch has it's own drinking culture, being generally drunk on draught (vom fass in German) and served in tiny Stange containing only 0.2L. These are often reffered to derisively by other germans as test tubes and the beer can sometimes have a rather effete image. On the other hand Kölsch culture is one of social inclusion since the beer is drunk by both men and women and was traditionally drunk across all social classes. Karl Marx joked that his revolution would not work in Cologne, since bosses frequented the same pubs as their workers.

Almost all Cologne bars will serve a couple of Kölsch varieties on draught but you can also head to one of the restaurants operated by a specific brewery. Aproned waiters known as Köbes will serve your beer, refilling empty glasses as a matter of course until you tell them to stop, leave a glass half drunk or place a beer mat on top of an empty glass.




Cologne is an internationally important trade fair city, with expansive fairgrounds in Deutz. The hotel rates rise multi-fold during important fairs. If you do not have to, try not staying in Cologne during those. Alternatively, you can try finding accommodation in Dusseldorf, which is a short train ride away and is usually not affected by the rate hikes (but has its own trade fair calendar, so mind it as well).


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Keep Connected


Internet cafes (rates €1.50 to €5 per hour) are starting to become less common due to widespread offers of free wifi by shops, restaurants or cafes. Sometimes it requires minimum consumption but usually it's free within the premises. Phone shops will often offer internet access, too. In general hotels offer internet access. In several cities, projects exist to provide free "community" hotspots for wireless networking. Passenger lounges at some airports and central railway stations also provide internet access to their customers.

Several pre-paid SIMs allow Internet access for a monthly flat fee, for example those available at Tchibo coffee stores (o2 network, €10/month limited to 500 MB, €20/month for 5 GB) or Aldi (E-Plus network). A regular O2 sim card, which can be used for calls and text messages, is €15 and another €15 buys 1GB of data valid for 1 month. Vodafone offers a prepaid sim card for €25 which includes €22.5 of credit, out of which you can get 300 MB of data for 2 days for €15 and be left with €7.5 of credit.


See also: International Telephone Calls

The international call prefix in Germany is 00. To dial out of Germany, dial 00, followed by country code, area code, and the telephone number (for example 00 44 1234 567890). If you're using a mobile phone, simply add the plus sign "+" before the country code to call out of Germany (for example +44 1234 567890). The general emergency number is 112 and the additional number for less emergent issues for police is 110.

Mobile phone coverage on the four networks (T-Mobile, Vodafone, E-Plus and o2) is excellent across the whole country. UMTS (3G data and HSDPA) and EDGE is also available. UMTS is still somewhat limited to urban areas. All mobile providers use GSM technology on the 900 and 1800 MHz frequency ranges. If you stay for a longer period of time, consider buying a prepaid phone card from one of the mobile phone companies; you won't have trouble finding a T-Mobile (in a "T-Punkt"), Vodafone, E-Plus or O2 store in any major shopping area. In most supermarket chains (for example ALDI), there are prepaid SIM cards from their own virtual providers available. These are normally quite cheap to buy, but expensive for international calls (around €1–2/min), but incoming calls are always free and SMS cost around €0.09–0.19. They are available at: Aldi, Lidl, Penny, Netto, Tchibo, Rewe, toom. A registration via Internet or (expensive) phone call is necessary after buying to activate the SIM card.

The cheapest way to call abroad from Germany is to use the internet cafés run by immigrants. They sell special calling cards that give the best rate to certain countries as well as offer cheap international calls from phone booths. It is also the cheapest way to call landlines in Germany.


Germany's postal system is very efficient, their logistics branch DHL is one of the best companies in this field world-wide, with domestic post or within a radius of 400 kilometres, send within a day. The website of Deutsche Post has an online calculator for postage fees as well as a post office finder. Stamps are available at post offices and sometimes at newsagents or shops selling postcards. Also stamp vending machines can be found at a lot of places around the cities. You can purchase every stamp you need from this machines. They are unique as they accept every coin from 1 cent to 2 euro but change is only given in stamps. It costs about €40 to send a small package to Australia and €1.70 to send an old-fashioned letter to any place in the world outside of Europe. Within Germany, sending postcards costs €0.45 and standard letters €0.55, within Europe it is €0.65 for a postcard, standard letters to places in Europe cost €0.75. Outside Europe, the prices for sending a postcard or standard letter are €1 and €1.70 respectively. Although you will find the old post offices (mainly in the city centre), most of the smaller neighbourhood post offices are part of a small tobacco shop or grocery store. For larger package, you might consider competitive private companies like UPS, DHL or TNT.


Quick Facts


  • Latitude: 50.940664
  • Longitude: 6.959912

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