Cologne (Köln in German) is the fourth-largest city in Germany and the largest in North Rhine-Westphalia. It is truly a fantastic place to live, but for visitors we suggest 24 to 28 hours to see the city.
This city comes alive during the Carnival season. It’s characterized by a form of tolerance that allows everyone to be happy in his or her own way. Its motto is “Jede Jeck es anders” (Every fool is different) – a slogan that is taken to heart in Cologne, not only during carnival but all year round. We have yet to experience Carnival in Cologne, but we expect to update you as soon as we do!
Views not to miss:
The Köln Dom Cathedral
The Cologne cathedral is the pride of the city and to my surprise the most visited landmark in all of Germany. Construction on the cathedral began in 1248 and wasn’t completed until 1880. Most of Cologne was demolished during the second World War, however the Kölner Dom remained standing tall amidst the destruction. It is truly amazing to stand right under the Dom and gaze at all the intricate details.
This is one of the few remaining parts of the city that showcases the gothic architecture of the middle ages sparred during the WWII bombings which nearly leveled the city. Located right next to the St. Martin church, this was the site of the 13th century fish trade in Cologne as it is prominently located along the Rhine River. Today the fish market is full of pubs, restaurants and inns and is a great place to grab a table on a patio and people watch.
The sunset from the east side of the Rhine River
The best place to view the sunset in Cologne is across the Rhine River from the old town, with the Dom as the background. Start at the main train station and follow a walking bridge along side the commuter train in and out of the main train station. This bridge can be walked in 10 minutes across the Rhine for a spectacular view of the Dom and the Rhine River. Enjoy the view like a local and grab some wine and take in the sights from the steps along the Rhine.
Things to do:
Walk Along the Rhine Promenade
The Rhine Promenade is the place to be on a beautiful day in Cologne. You may run into a pop up street festival on the weekend, but you will definitely run into many other people out enjoying the day with their families. On the promenade you will pass by the fischmarkt noticeable by the colorful, gothic architecture along with multiple restaurants and pubs.
Explore the Belgian Quarter
This neighborhood is where you can find the young and artsy vibe to Cologne. There are many independent shops and galleries to be found here, as well as fun bars and restaurants. This area is close to downtown, but far enough away that few tourists venture this far.
Shopping on Schildergasse
The Schildergasse is full of high-end street chains, with the fancy shops on Mittelstrasse between Neumarkt and Rudolfplatz. For more shops, continue one block north to where Breite Strasse turns into Ehrenstrasse. Continue down Ehrenstrasse and this eventually leads straight into the Belgischesviertel (Belgian Quarter), which is full of artsy independent galleries and small shops.
Have some beers at a Brewhouse
There are plenty of brewhouses in Cologne who proudly brew their version of the local Kölsch. From Sion, Peters, Früh and Gaffel you can’t go wrong by picking any brewhouse around town and having rounds of beers. In Cologne this activity is acceptable at any time of day. The Kölsch beers are served in a small and are relatively cheap, so it is expected to have multiple rounds. The waiter will tally your beers on your coaster and will usually bring another without asking as soon as your glass is even close empty, so put the coaster on top of the glass to let them know you are finished.
Cologne Beach Club Km 689
This beach club boast sandy beaches with views across the Rhine to the cathedral. At the Rhine river kilometer no. 689, about 1200 tons of sand are dumped during the summer months bringing the beach to the Rhineland.
The magic of Christmas will be felt throughout the festively decorated city. The aroma of baked apples, cinnamon biscuits and mulled wine will waft through the alleys, and many differently themed Christmas markets will invite people to stroll, shop and explore. The larger Christmas markets are held in downtown Cologne near the Dom arranged around a huge Christmas tree.
Places to eat:
Bastian’s, Auf dem Berlich 3, Köln– Bakery and Brunch
We were pleasantly surprised to stumble across more than just fresh croissants and coffee at this brunch location with such a German feel. The restaurant was packed full when we showed up, without a reservation of course. In Germany, it is very normal to share a table with strangers when at a full restaurant. Since this place has very long tables with bench seating, the sharing opportunities are almost unlimited. We were squeezed in between two groups in the middle of a long table, so making a reservation ahead of time wasn’t necessary. If you are looking for American-style breakfast options, make this a stop on your itinerary.
Café Rico, Mittelstasse 31, Köln– Brunch
A non-German style breakfast alternative to the typical German bakery. This brunch spot is the hip place to be. Located right on one of the famous shopping streets in Cologne, make it the start to your Saturday shopping spree.
Bagatelle, Teutoburger Str. 17, Köln – French style tapas
One of our favorite restaurants in Cologne! There is a ton of inside and outside seating, so we have never had to wait for a table. We have enjoyed the atmosphere both inside and outside equally – just depending on the weather. Our favorite dishes include Gebackener Schäfskase auf Tomaten-sugo (baked cheese in tomato sauce), Gratinierter Ziegenkäse auf Orangen-Chili-Marmelade (goat cheese with orange chili jam), Pikante Lamm-Häckballchen (lamb meatballs in rosemary and tomato sauce), and Coquille St. Jacques – Jakobsmuscheln (Scallops in basil sauce with lemon and saffron). Each plate is 4 or 5 Euros, so you can’t go wrong ordering a few dishes written in German and hoping for the best. That was our approach and everything turned out delicious.
Brüsseler, Brüsseler Pl. 1, Köln – Traditional Cologne style pub
This pub/restaurant has a very relaxed atmosphere which gives you a true feeling of Cologne. There will likely not be any tourists at the pub, however the servers will still be genuinely friendly as you stumble through the 5 German words you know. Here the only German you need to know is: Hänchen. Go here for dinner and order the hänchen and pommes frites (roasted chicken and French fries) for about 9 Euros. After ordering the local Kölsch, you will leave with a 10 Euros meal for dinner.
Brauere zur Mälzmuhle, Heumarkt 6, Köln – German brewhouse
This is your typical German brewhouse, the servers walk around with trays of Kölsch that unless you say no, you’re drinking Kölsch for the night. Once severed your first beer, you will continue to get a refill until you place your coaster on top of your existing beer. Don’t try to order any other type of beer, it will not be welcomed as a preference, the only preference in Cologne is Kölsch. The food is also very German, so your choices are between brats, schnitzels, and pork. Whatever you pick I assure you it will be delicious.
Shaka Zulu, Limburger Str. 29, Köln – South African tapas
With a quirky, colorful atmosphere and killer happy hour drink specials, this place is definitely worth checking out. I can’t say I have had the opportunity to try South African style tapas many times in my life, so this was a fun new experience with tons of new flavors. The menu is pretty easy – you decide how hungry you are and they will bring a corresponding number of tapas bowls. The waiters are more than willing to help, so let them know your preferences and they will explain each dish when they bring it!
Bulgogi Haus, Neusser Str. 654, Köln – Asian BBQ
We have already been to Bulgogi Haus a few times now because one, my love for Asian food is growing while in Europe, and two, the experience is unlike any other in Köln. It is nice to change up the typical German brauhaus every once in a while, and this place vastly differs from most dining experiences you will have in Germany. There is no menu, and just one price per person for a full appetizer bar and an assortment of uncooked meats (beef, pork and duck) and seafood. The raw meats and fish come in stages and every plate is cooked by you right at the table on a coal-stone grill. You are also given the suggestion by the waiters to use the lettuce from the appetizer bar and other Asian salad sides to compile with the cooked meat into a mini pocket for eating in one bite. The waiters are extremely friendly, guiding you through the steps and best practices for having an enjoyable dinner. Dining can typically take up to two hours – so don’t rush and just enjoy the experience. Definitely make a reservation ahead of time!
Pastabar, Salierring 46, Köln – Italian
Owned by an Italian couple, you know you are in good hands when you step into Pastabar. The menu rotates, but we were lucky enough to try the lamb ragout and truffle pasta, which were both absolutely fabulous. Each pasta dish ranges from 14 – 16 EUR, but the quality is matched to the price.
Where to get a drink:
Cologne has quite the bar scene, and we are fortunate the live around the corner from one of Cologne’s top cocktail bars – Barfly. Every Thursday night the owner hosts a themed cocktail tasting which have included James Bond 007 or A trip with Ernest Hemingway. The other nights of the week come here to enjoy a laid back atmosphere with delicious cocktails.
A cozy little atmosphere awaits after you ring the bell outside to get access to this swanky cocktail bar. The cocktails you order here have won awards, so you know that you are in good hands.
This bar and restaurant is in the heart of the young and stylish Belgian Quarter, so you know it will have a good vibe to it. The menu has a Spanish tapas theme, so order a cocktail or two, some food and enjoy the night here as the prices are reasonable enough to stay for a while.
The black interior gives a sophisticated and sleek atmosphere to this bar. However the real treat here are the wildly creative cocktails, blending unusual ingredients together to make something you can’t find anywhere else in Germany. The bartender has an entire mixology laboratory next door where he dreams up these unique cocktails. Don’t pass up on the food menu either – pull pork or truffle sandwiches are what they are serving for bar food.
Known as the “liquid kitchen”, this cocktail bar serves their drinks fancy glassware and decorated to the T. This bar resembled a member’s only club. The inside is small and cozy, so the doorman outside that will only let people in up to the point that the bar is comfortably full. There is an outdoor heated patio with garden furniture and lots of greenery. The inside is decorated with thick red curtains and wood accents.
Visit and enjoy Cologne for its food, beer, and friendliest people in northern Germany!