Public Transport in Cologne: Buying Tickets and Using Trams

Updated on December 29, 2023  

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Cologne, a vibrant city on the Rhine, is known for its history, architecture, and arts. Its efficient public transport system, including trams, buses, subways (U-Bahn), and S-Bahn light rail, offers affordable, eco-friendly access to popular destinations, transforming urban mobility.

Here is your ultimate guide on taking public transport in Cologne, Germany. In this article, we explain what are the best options when it comes to taking public transport, the best journey-mapping apps, how to purchase bus or tram tickets, and more.

How To Navigate Public Transport In Cologne

Types Of Public Transport in Cologne: Trams, Buses, U-Bahn, And S-Bahn

Cologne's public transport is pretty darn good. Yeah, a bus or train might run late every now and then, but show me a place where that never happens.

In fact, the public transportation system here is so well-connected, even locals don't need a car (plus, parking here is awful anyway) – nearly everywhere in Cologne can be reached easily via the tram/subway or bus network. 

U-Bahn and S-Bahn

First of all, the main train system in Cologne has two types of trains: the U-Bahn (tram) and S-Bahn (the rail rapid transit). 

Honestly, the distinction between them isn't that important.

When people in Cologne talk about the train system, they tend to just refer to the U-Bahn, calling it the "metro", "Straßenbahn" (tram) or the "KVB" (Kölner Verkehrs-Betriebe – Cologne's public transport authority).

The S-Bahn travels faster than a tram, because it only stops at the main train stations, such as Köln Hauptbahnhof (Cologne Central Station), and not the tram stops. When you arrive at Cologne/Bonn airport, you can take the S-Bahn and reach city center in under 15 minutes.

On the train network, U-Bahn lines are marked with a "U" while S-Bahn lines are marked with an "S". They're collectively known as Stadtbahn, or city train lines, numbered from 1 to 18. S-Bahns all pass through the main station, but not all U-Bahns do.

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Unlike some cities where the trams only travel on street level, and subways only travel underground, once you're in Cologne's city area, the same train can run above and below ground.

For example, you can take an underground line, like 18, from the central station and exit at a street-level stop like Barbarossaplatz.

Most lines run until 1 am on weekdays and all night on weekends, making it convenient those who enjoy the nightlife.

Cologne Bus Network

Cologne also has a bus network, but you might