Imagine relaxing in a lively beer garden with a mug of Kolsch in one hand and a bratwurst in the other, all the while watching ships pass slowly on the sparkling Rhine River. In Cologne, you’ll find yourself planted firmly in German tradition, enjoying the classic cuisine and perhaps making new friends at the outdoor pubs as you’re swept up in the music and culture of this venerable old city.
Here’s how to spend a perfect weekend in Cologne.
Be Inspired By The Cathedral
The Cologne Cathedral, or Kolner Dom, is at her best at night. The imposing cathedral’s spires dominate the evening skyline; lit up magnificently, she proclaims to the world that Cologne is an old Catholic city. The largest Gothic church in Northern Europe, the current structure is also quite old, dating to the 1200s. Surviving fires, revolutions, wars, and financial difficulties, it was finally finished in 1880.
While the structure was damaged by the bombs that ravaged Cologne during World War II, the towers of the cathedral remained standing tall. It is thought that they were spared because they provided a navigational landmark for Allied bombers. The cathedral’s beautiful stained glass windows were saved by priests who removed them and hid them outside of the city.
Guided tours of the cathedral are available through Domfuhrungen Koln. They offer several tours, including a tour of the excavation under the cathedral, a night tour, a rooftop tour, a bell tower tour, and others. When Mass is not being said, you are welcome to quietly visit and enjoy the spectacular stained glass windows, ornate metalwork, and fine masonry.
The excavation tour under the cathedral provides a fascinating look back in time. The archaeological site preserves old walls, floors, graves, and foundations. Showcasing the unbelievable talent of the builders who erected the first church on this site during Charlemagne’s reign, it is a not-to-be-missed historical viewing.
If you want a tour in English, book the group tour specifically for English speakers. There is a small upcharge for this tour, but it is worth the extra fee.
Wonder At The Shrine Of The Three Kings
The Shrine of the Three Kings located inside the cathedral is said to house the bones of the Magi who journeyed from afar to see the Child Jesus. The gold-and-silver reliquary containing their remains is studded with gemstones and cameos and holds a place of honor behind the high altar. This medieval masterpiece was completed in the early 13th century.
Be sure to stop at the south wall, where you will find a triptych, the Adoration of the Magi, that was completed by Stefan Lochner around 1440. Lochner was a German painter known for his religious renderings.
Sample Goodies At The Schokoladen Museum
At the Schokoladen Museum (Chocolate Museum), the history of chocolate comes to life. The museum offers several tours, including one on the history of chocolate, one on how chocolate is made, and inclusive tours for those with disabilities. You’ll learn about everything from chocolate’s roots in the Mayan and Aztec cultures to modern processing techniques.
The gift shop offers an overwhelming array of delectable chocolate confections. Looking for that special souvenir? You can have your own personalized chocolates made here.
Marvel At Masterpieces
The modern architecture of the Museum Ludwig, located at the foot of the cathedral, is an interesting contrast with the medieval Gothic architecture of the cathedral. Surrounded by a large plaza, the cathedral, and the railway station, the museum is perfectly situated to be part of your weekend adventure.
Housing an extensive pop art collection, an impressive Picasso collection, and an expansive collection of German Expressionist works, the museum is a center for culture and modern art.
Enjoy The Eau De Cologne
The Farina Duftmuseum, or the Farina Fragrance Museum, showcases 300 years of fragrance history. Cologne is the birthplace of Eau de Cologne, which was invented by Johann Maria Farina. Eight generations later, the Farina family is still in the perfume business.
The 45-minute guided tours of the museum are the only way to visit. While there, you can learn about the history of Eau de Cologne, the Farina family, and the making of the time-honored scent.
I recommend purchasing your tickets online in advance to secure a tour time in English.
Relish The Rococo Style
Schlosser Bruhl is a quick half-hour trip south of Cologne. The Schloss Augustusburg, or Bruhl Castle, will delight you with its extravagant Rococo style. The home of Cologne’s Archbishop Clemens August in the 18th century, it features magnificent furnishings and opulent finishes that will dazzle you at every turn.
The nearby Hunting Lodge Falkenlust -- whose site was chosen based on the flight patterns of the falcon’s prey, the heron -- was renowned for its hunting and courtly game dinners. This elaborately furnished lodge is almost as ornate as the main castle.
The baroque gardens invite you to stroll among the statues, plants, and water features. It is a beautiful place to spend a few sunny afternoon hours.
Walk The Hohenzollern Bridge
The beautiful Hohenzollern Bridge spans the Rhine and connects Cologne’s Old Town to the new commercial section. It’s a multitrack train bridge with a pedestrian walkway that affords a spectacular view of the Rhine. The bridge is known as Cologne’s Love Locks Bridge because many couples have placed locks on the bridge and thrown the keys into the river to profess their eternal love.
While a beautiful symbol and delightful for photographers, the practice has caused several unforeseen effects. The more than 40,000 locks have added an additional 2 tons of weight to the bridge, causing structural issues. The discarded keys, glittering at the bottom of the river, resemble small fish. They are scooped up by birds and give them digestive issues.
Spend Time With A Local
Lokafy is an up-and-coming tour site that allows visitors to customize their tour. Choose your location, number of guests, preferred meetup location and time, and what you would like to explore. You are paired with a local who will give you a this-is-my-city tour designed specifically for your group.
In Cologne, a Lokafy guide will escort you around the city, ensuring that you visit the highlights on your bucket list while adding a few little-known attractions. Your guide will help you find hidden squares, quaint local shops, and the rich history you would miss if you just wandered about.
Where To Eat In Cologne
German cuisine is rich in meat, paired with sharp sauerkraut, and served with fantastic beer. You’ll also find lighter vegetarian dishes making their way onto menus across the city. There’s a culture of dining out, so you will find sumptuous plates everywhere you turn in Cologne.
Here are some of my favorites.
Herbrand’s is a large and popular beer garden that offers American- and European-inspired pub fare at long community tables. It’s a fun place to make new friends.
For first-class German dining at a great value, visit Maibeck. Dine on North Sea sweet-and-sour mackerel or pork belly with parsnips. The menu offerings are local, fresh, and unique.
Meet & Eat Market
If you are lucky enough to be in Cologne on a Thursday evening, the Meet & Eat Market is the place to go to eat like a local. The after-work crowd descends on the Rudolfplatz to partake in the delightful locally and internationally inspired food-truck cuisine.
Kolsch, a beer brewed only in Cologne, must be consumed at a brauhaus for a classic German experience. For a fun beer hall experience, try Peters Brauhaus, where you can sample traditional German specialties like pork, bacon, black pudding, sauerkraut, and mashed potatoes.
Where To Stay In Cologne
The Old Town is dotted with lovely boutique hotels tucked away on quiet streets. You can also find trendy stays and brand-name hotels to round out your options.
Stern Am Rathaus
The Stern am Rathaus is an intimate, nine-room hotel that oozes European charm. The small but well-appointed rooms are a short walk from many of Cologne’s most popular attractions. Breakfast is included, providing a relaxing way to begin your day.
Hotel Im Wasserturm
The Hotel im Wasserturm will satisfy your craving for a unique stay. This circular hotel with a spectacular rooftop restaurant and lounge will make you fall in love with Cologne. The modern rooms are well appointed and a wonderful place to rest after a long day of sightseeing.
Bring your appetite and walking shoes for an enchanting trip through German history in Cologne! For more to see and do in Germany, see this page.