Cologne Cathedral Guide (Opening Hours, Tickets, Facts, History)

Updated on September 7, 2023  


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Hidden among Cologne's treasures is Cologne Cathedral - the largest Gothic cathedral in Northern Europe with an intriguing 600-year construction history!

This blog post will act as your guide to navigating this UNESCO World Heritage Site, enriching your visit with fascinating facts and must-see highlights.

Cologne Cathedral Highlights

Shrine of the Three Kings

Emerging behind the high altar of the Cologne Cathedral, you'll find an intriguing highlight - The Shrine of the Three Kings. Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar rest in this space; rumored relics from these wise men enhance its allure. [1]


A peek inside reveals bones and ancient garments bestowed upon them. Gold cloaks this rich shrine located on a grand scale beyond the cathedral's main altar.

Showcasing it suggests reverence for these three figures who hold deep significance within Christian narratives worldwide.

Cologne Cathedral Treasury (Dom Treasury)

The Cathedral Treasury in Cologne is a spectacle to behold. As the largest and richest treasury in Germany, its selection of historical relics and sacred treasures stands testament to centuries of religious devotion.

Back in the Middle Ages, it began as a collection of cherished relics, now housing an array of art from the medieval period up till date.

One sight within this treasury that never fails to captivate visitors is the colossal gold Shrine of the Three Kings.


These valuable possessions breathe life into scenes from different periods, making every exploration feel like you're stepping back through time itself!

Further along your visit, you'll also find delicate artworks and precious relics born out of venerable craftsmanship unmatched anywhere else in Germany.

The invaluable artifacts housed here span eras, embodying layers upon layers rich cultural heritage preserved by those who came before us.

Largest Free-Swinging Bell in the World

High above in the South Tower of Cologne Cathedral, proudly swings Petersglocke, also known as St. Peter's Bell. Nestled right here in Germany, it garners attention from around the world being the largest functioning bell to swing freely for almost a century now. [2]


A spectacle to behold indeed! Visiting this cathedral virtually allocates you an exclusive pass to witness this colossal marvel and its ever-echoing sonorous music that seems etched within the historical walls of the structure itself.

So make sure not to miss out on experiencing one of the grandest highlights inside this monumental German edifice.

Madonna of Milan (Cologne Cathedral)

As part of your exploration inside the Cologne Cathedral, you will encounter an exquisite wooden sculpture nested in the Sacrament Chapel. This is none other than the captivating Milan Madonna, a stirring depiction of Virgin Mary and Jesus.


The piece exudes solemn beauty while reflecting Gothic artistry at its finest. Revered for hundreds of years, it acts as a spiritual beacon amid an abundant array of treasures within this medieval wonder - featuring priceless artifacts, intricate mosaics and grand alters that skirt around the architectural spectacle.

The Cathedral Tower

Bracing myself, I began the ascent to the top of Cologne Cathedral's South Tower. With each step on the 533-step spiral staircase, I felt an ever-growing sense of exhilaration.

Appearing intimidating in its stature and grandeur, climbing this cathedral tower is no small feat but so worth it! Upon reaching my destination - an observation point standing at a height of approximately 100 meters - breathlessness quickly turned into breath-taking gasps.


Right there before me laid out a panoramic view of the entire historic cityscape unlike anything else. Gothic architecture stretched as far as my eyes could see from one of northern Europe's largest Gothic churches and tallest twin-spire church in the world!

This climb through time left me atop not just a remarkable European landmark or historical site; it gave me an unmatched birds-eye perspective on creating captivating moments that will forever remain etched upon my heart.

Stained Glass Windows

Stepping into Cologne Cathedral, one cannot help but marvel at the stained glass windows. The spacious interior seems to embrace a kaleidoscope of colors that usher in natural light in a captivating display.

One can hardly miss the Bible Windows - one of the oldest and most famous windows situated in the central chapel of the ambulatory.


The St John the Baptist Window, made back in 1847, is part of Bavarian Windows series narrating the story of Redemption while adding to its charm.

Each window stands as an intricate art piece within this masterpiece cathedral contributing significantly to its overall architecture.

Finally, located high up on your eye's reach is an impressive cycle of kings from historical times featured around you inside this magnificent ecclesiastical building giving off an air of grandeur undeniable by anyone stepping inside.

Cologne Cathedral Facts & Features

1. The Cologne Cathedral stands proudly as the largest Gothic church in northern Europe, soaring to a height of 515 feet (157 meters).

2. It covers nearly 8,000 square meters of floor space, with the capacity to hold over 20,000 people.

3. Construction of the Cologne Cathedral commenced in 1248 and remarkably wasn't completed until 1880, spanning a staggering 632 years.

4. Three other churches have stood on the same site where the Cathedral stands today.
UNESCO World Heritage Status.

5. In 1996, the cathedral earned a spot on the UNESCO World Heritage List, recognizing its cultural significance.

6.In 2004, it was placed on the "World Heritage in Danger" list due to plans for a nearby high-rise building, but it was removed from this list in 2006.

7. Originally built to house the shrine of the Three Wise Men (3 Kings), the cathedral holds deep religious and historical significance.

8. The Cologne Cathedral boasts an expansive façade, giving it the largest façade of any church globally.

9. Its choir features an exceptional height-to-width ratio of 3.6:1, unique among medieval churches.

10. The cathedral wasn't always dark grey, hinting at its changing appearance over the centuries.

11. The cathedral houses a wealth of artwork, including stained glass windows from the 13th century and a contemporary masterpiece by Gerhard Richter, completed in 2007.

12. The Lady Chapel features the Altar of the City Patrons, painted in 1442 by Stefan Lochner.

13. The Cologne Cathedral houses the largest swinging church bell in the world.

14. Approximately 6 million visitors explore the cathedral every year, drawn by its history and architectural splendor.

15. During World War II, the Cologne Cathedral was struck by 14 bombs but miraculously survived the devastation.

16. It held the title of the world's tallest building from 1880 to 1884.

17. The Cologne Cathedral ranks as the third-largest Gothic architecture church globally, surpassed only by Spain's Silvelle Cathedral and Italy's Milan Cathedral in size.

18. The Cologne Cathedral served as a destination for Pope Benedict XVI during World Youth Day 2005 festivities.

19. The cathedral features two remarkable pipe organs by Klais Orgelbau: the Transept Organ (1948) and the Nave Organ (1998).

20. As of March 1, 2017, a ban on large bags was instituted within the cathedral due to security concerns following recent terrorist attacks in the country.

Material and patina: Why is the Cathedral black?

Walking up to the colossal Cologne Cathedral, you might wonder why it appears so dark. In truth, this cathedral's surface wears a dense patina that has evolved over centuries from countless pollutants absorbed by its stone exterior.


Its main building component is sandstone, which reacts with sulphuric acid present in rainwater or smog. This chemical reaction takes on an almost black hue upon exposure and wearing over decades resulting in the dim shade we see today.

I was also astounded to discover inside the sanctuary; their high altar boasted a massive monolithic slab of imposing black limestone—an intentional architectural feature contrarily chosen for its rich darkness and stark visual contrast from other liturgical appointments!

Cologne Cathedral Visitor Information

Cologne Cathedral Opening hours

Cologne Cathedral is usually open from 6 am to 8 pm. As a World Heritage Site, it welcomes tourists from Monday to Saturday, between 10 a.m. and around 5 p.m., on Sundays, 1 p.m. to 4 p.m., and the tower hall after the evening Mass until 8 p.m.

Monday to Saturday:  10 am to 5 pm

Sunday: 1 pm to 4 pm

Tower Hall: After Evening Mass until 8 pm 

Cologne Cathedral Entrance Fee:

Cologne Cathedral is free to visit. Visitors have to pay to visit the tower and treasury.

Adults pay €6.

Children, schoolchildren, students, and persons with special needs pay a reduced entry fee of €3.

Families can buy a family ticket for €12.

The reduced rate is €4.50. 

Combi tickets, which give visitors access to both the tower and the Cathedral Treasury, cost €9 for adults.

Family combi tickets cost €18. 

Enjoying panoramic views and attractions from the towers

A trip to the Cologne Cathedral's towers is like an instant ticket to a magical viewpoint. Brace yourself for a sight that will truly leave you awestruck as you climb towards the observation deck on one of these majestic towers.

You get wrapped in panoramic views stretching far into this vibrant city, offering glimpses of distinctive landmarks, architectural wonders, and scenic vistas.

cologne cathedral sunset

What makes it even more thrilling is watching huge swathes of the urban skyline emerging in perfect harmony with their serene riverfront attractions all from up high!

I guarantee that every breathless moment during your ascent will be replaced by sheer wonder as you marvel at sights sprawling around from such great heights of this iconic cathedral tower.

You'll feel immersed in a picturesque journey bringing storybook images alive right before your eyes.

History and Cultural Significance of Cologne Cathedral

Construction history and preservation efforts

Spanning over six centuries, the construction of Cologne Cathedral is a testament to Gothic architecture and historical significance. It kicked off in 1248 but encountered an extended pause around 1560, with the structure remaining unfinished for over 250 years.

Inspired by the grandeur of cathedrals in Paris and Strasbourg, elucidating plans were drawn up to resume construction. In 1814, these blueprints breathed life back into this architectural masterpiece as completion efforts recommenced.


Contrary to its medieval roots, it wasn't until 1880 that workers laid down their tools at last marking its full structural formation.

Our responsibility towards this symbol of religious devotion did not end here; preservation has become central since then.

A continual emphasis on restoration efforts safeguards the longevity of this timeless wonder while spotlighting it as invaluable cultural heritage globally.

Throughout generations and societal shifts, Cologne Cathedral's perseverance illuminates our shared dedication toward preserving magnificent testaments from history's grip for future appreciators yet unseen.

Role and significance of the cathedral in the Catholic Church

Cologne Cathedral holds immense weight in the Catholic Church for reasons beyond its physical grandeur. As a revered monument of German Catholicism, it stands tall as a towering symbol of faith and devotion.

The Feast of the Assumption of Mary is exceedingly important to the church's history; with every year that passes, this esteemed day reminds us that our cathedral was designed with thoughtfulness and great religious importance at heart.

cologne cathedral sunset

A vibrant testament to Gothic architecture, its splendid artistry and design were meant to echo those admired French churches we hold dear.

Sanctioned as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1996, it isn't just another pretty building–it serves as cultural touchstone connecting generations through history, tradition and shared faith.

In essence, Cologne Cathedral functions not just an architectural feat but rather it plays pivotal part in unifying Catholics under shared symbolism which undoubtedly surpasses countries' borders making all feel welcome.

Impact during World War II and restoration efforts

Cologne Cathedral braved 14 bombardments in the course of World War II. Despite this intense devastation, the Gothic structure gleamed as a beacon of hope amidst ruin when US forces entered Cologne in 1945.

Witnessed firsthand by Army Chaplain Philip Hannan, it truly demonstrated the cathedral's solid structural integrity. [3]


Being one of Germany’s most iconic landmarks didn't come without its fair share of challenges. The aftermath was torturous; responsibilities were shouldered to restore this masterpiece back to its original grandeur owing to damage not only from bombings but also weathering and pollution over time.

It took many arduous years for experts and restorers around the world who dedicated their skill and passion for bringing back to life every intricate detail showcasing Cologne Cathedral’s unique blend of architectural beauty and historicity.

Events and Activities at Cologne Cathedral

Religious services, ceremonies, and pilgrimages

Cologne Cathedral is a beacon of spiritual devotion and houses countless religious services. It's not uncommon to walk in amid stirring sacred rituals that pay homage to centuries-old religious traditions.

Pilgrims from all corners of the world are drawn here, feeling an unmistakable sense of ascension into something grander than life as they partake in these holy ceremonies.

As a noted milestone on many Christian pilgrimages, it emanates peace and honors faith much like many other historic churches across Europe.

The transformative air within this spiritual powerhouse is opulent with belief even without being present during official ceremonial hours.


The presence of the Shrine of the Three Wise Men alone resonates deep reverence due to its significant role relating back to Archbishop Rainald von Dassel era.

Glimpsing into the ongoing divine rituals within this cathedral offers profound insights into the devotional customs of Catholic culture. It also underscores the cathedral's pivotal role within the German archdiocese, under the leadership of the esteemed Archbishop himself.

Musical performances, concerts, and choir events

I've attended many musical performances in Cologne Cathedral that made my skin tingle with the sheer beauty of sound. The cathedral's intricate acoustics are brilliant, enhancing both choir and orchestra events.

Every note seems to linger in the air for just a while longer, prompting an unforgettable acoustic ambiance. The cathedral doesn't only house religious services but also serves as a popular venue for concerts and cultural events.


It makes you feel like you're part of something bigger when listening to sacred music echo through its enormous halls, contributing towards the rich cultural heritage within Cologne.

And let us not forget about their well-renowned church music which forms a cherished part of the cathedral’s treasures!

Whether it be via live performances or spectacular music festivals - Music truly reverberates at every level here delivering immersive experiences under timeless arches brimming with history!

Special exhibitions, cultural events, and educational programs

Cologne Cathedral draws more than just admiration for its architectural magnificence.

Special exhibitions grace the grand interiors quite often. Each one showcases unique artworks and rare historical artifacts, taking you on a visual journey through time and culture dive deeper into German heritage.


Feeling the rhythm of Cologne doesn't end there! Imagine immersing yourself in cultural events right inside this iconic landmark.

Regular concerts offering rich acoustics bounce off centuries-old walls, enriching every listener's soul with melody intertwined history.

Equally captivating are intriguing educational programs designed meticulously to offer insights into the cathedral’s symbolism, architectural marvels and deep-rooted ties to the city's past; thus unraveling another layer that makes Cologne inspiring.

Conclusion: All About Cologne Cathedral

Visiting Cologne Cathedral is like stepping into a living history book, where each structure and artwork imparts a story. This architectural masterpiece continues to awe and inspire millions of visitors every year with its stunning Gothic design.

It's not just a cathedral; it's an embodiment of art, history, faith, and resilience all combined in one remarkable landmark. Indeed, experiencing the grandeur of Cologne Cathedral is an unrivaled journey through time that leaves travelers breathless.


In this section, I'll address common queries such as the visiting fee for the Cologne Cathedral, its mode of operation and why it's so renowned. Also, we'll delve into why it appears dark grey and whether a trip there is worth it or not.

Do you have to pay to visit Cologne Cathedral?

Visiting the impressive Cologne Cathedral comes with no admission fee! I was pleasantly surprised to discover this as many monumental historical buildings usually cost some sort of entrance fee.

However, bear in mind that if you fancy an exploration of the cathedral's treasury or a thrilling climb up the tower, there are certain costs involved. An adult ticket for both these experiences is simply €6, while children and students get a discounted price at €3.

Families can also secure a deal with tickets for everyone costing just €12 total. The cathedral offers English guided tours too; these attract slightly different fees – adults pay €7 and children shell out only €5 - quite economical keeping in view the rich history they unravel!

So overall, you're not required to pay anything when gracing this marvel with your presence, but engaging further comes at a very reasonable cost (one I believe provides great value for money!).

When is Cologne Cathedral open?

Cologne Cathedral welcomes visitors every day of the week. From Monday to Saturday, it opens its doors from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m., providing ample time for you to explore and marvel at the stunning architecture and historical artifacts housed inside.

During summer months, from May through October, extended hours are in effect - the cathedral is open for visits starting early in the morning at 6:00 AM till as late as 9:00 PM. Excitingly, this iconic religious landmark remains accessible on Sundays too but doesn't provide specific timing details about December 25th and 26th.

It's best to check their official website or contact them directly for accurate information during these holiday days.

Why is Cologne Cathedral famous?

The fame of Cologne Cathedral lies in its grand scale and striking Gothic architecture. As the largest Gothic church in northern Europe, it presents a breathtaking sight with its twin towers soaring to an immense height of 515 feet.

Deeply rooted in German Catholicism, for many it stands as a testament to faith and devotion. But beyond religion, it is considered an artistic masterpiece showcasing exceptional European culture - weathered yet enduring over centuries.

Its dark patina lends character and substance to the cathedral's exterior while stunning artworks embellish the inside like hidden jewels waiting discovery by travelers worldwide.

Why is Cologne Cathedral dark grey?

The dark grey color you notice on Cologne Cathedral has an interesting origin. It's because of the sandstone used in its construction, which over time and exposure to sulphuric rain changes into this intriguing hue.

This transformation is a natural process, where weathering plays a significant role. The cathedral stands proudly with a unique aesthetic quality, owing much to its distinctive dark grey tone that augments the majestic Gothic appeal of the structure.

You may find it fascinating how such simple natural processes can significantly contribute to enhancing grandeur and aesthetics!

Is Cologne Cathedral Worth Visiting?

Absolutely, a visit to Cologne Cathedral is worth it! This architectural masterpiece of Gothic style exudes historical significance and offers much more than religious relevance. As the largest Gothic church in Northern Europe, its prominence is clear across the globe.

The impressive towers soar into the sky at an astonishing 515 feet making this landmark an indelible part of Germany's skyline. What makes it even more enticing for travel enthusiasts is its survival and restoration after World War II warfare.

Combined with rich medieval history and a collection of treasured art pieces inside, visitors get entranced with every step they take inside this popular tourist attraction.

Significantly crowned as part of our cultural heritage, one can say that seeing Cologne Cathedral isn't just an option when in Germany - it's essential!

Key Takeaways

  • Cologne Cathedral is the biggest Gothic church in northern Europe.
  • Visitors can check out treasures like the Shrine of the Three Kings and climb to a viewing deck in one of its towers.
  • The cathedral looks black because sandstone on its surface reacts with sulphuric acid from rain or smog, creating a dark patina.
  • You can visit every day and join guided tours for an informative experience.


1: The Shrine of the Three Kings in Cologne Cathedral is the largest reliquary of the Middle Ages | The Vintage News, retrieved from
2: Cologne Cathedral's biggest bell silent for Christmas -, retrieved from
3: In the Ruins of Cologne | The National WWII Museum | New Orleans, retrieved from

About the Author

Stephan Drescher, founder of, is a German travel expert and insider, providing trusted tips and advice for a perfect trip to Germany. Born & bred German.