Cologne, a beautiful city in Germany known for its history and stunning buildings, has plenty of things to do that won't cost you a penny.
After visiting Cologne for years, especially with our kids, we've found lots of fun and free stuff to do – from cool historical spots to family-friendly adventures.
So we finally sat down and put together this guide of 17 awesome free activities to help you plan your time in Cologne!
Top Free Activities In Cologne
Explore The Old Town (Altstadt)
Cologne's historic district, the Old Town, is a treasure trove of free attractions.
You can explore its charming traditional buildings and stroll along cobblestone streets, as well as discover iconic landmarks that tell the story of the city's past – all for free!
To truly appreciate this beautiful area without spending a penny, you can sign up for a free walking tour. These tours cover historical sites, cultural highlights, and interesting stories about the city.
You're encouraged to tip the guide based on how much you enjoyed the tour, as these tours often work on a tip-based system.
Visit Cologne Cathedral (Kölner Dom)
No trip to Cologne would be complete without paying the Cologne Cathedral a visit. Constructing this architectural marvel took over 600 years, and it's amazing how you can simply walk in without paying an entrance fee.
That said, certain areas do require a fee, such as the treasury and climbing the bell tower, where you can take in breathtaking views of the city below.
However, exploring the main nave and taking in the impressive stained-glass windows are entirely free!
Stroll Through Stadtgarten Park
Cologne's oldest modern park is a lovely retreat in the city. Tucked near the fashionable Belgian Quarter, it's a peaceful spot with grassy areas, benches and picnic spots – attracting locals during the day and a young and lively crowd in the evenings.
This beautiful public park is free to visit, and offers an escape from busy urban life. There's a popular beer garden, a quaint little "library" and a venue for concerts. Plus, there's a popular spot near Herkulesberg Bridge that's great for taking photos!
By the way, during the holidays, Stadtgarten turns into a Christmas market which attracts those who want a more local experience, and avoid the touristy markets.
You can easily get to this park using Stadtbahn lines 3, 4, or 5, and stop at Hans-Böckler-Platz or Friesenplatz.
Visit Fischmarkt (Fish Market)
This historic market is located in the heart of the city’s downtown area, and it's one of the few remaining parts that offer an authentic glimpse into Cologne's past.
While no longer a fish market, the square dates back to medieval times when fishmongers used to sell their wares from small boats on the river.
Candy-colored buildings line the area, dating back to the 14th to 17th century, adding a unique character to the square. Today, it's a mix of pubs, bars, and restaurants, creating an animated atmosphere.
While strolling along the promenade, we caught amazing views of the Rhine River and its bridges – Deutzerbrücke, Hohenzollenbrücke, and Severinsbrücke.
P.S. Fischmarkt is an iconic photo spot of Cologne, often gracing postcards with its candy-colored houses set against the impressive backdrop of the Great St Martin church!
Walk Along The Rhine River
The Rhine River is a pivotal part of Cologne! Countless songs and stories have been written about this picturesque river, and the riverbanks are dotted with numerous docks in Cologne, serving leisure cruises and cargo ships alike.
It's a lovely experience to walk along the promenade, with a bottle of Kölsch in hand, soaking in the scene of boats gracefully navigating the river's ebb and flow.
The Kölner Lichter, an annual fireworks extravaganza, is best witnessed from the banks of the Rhine too.
If you want a great view, head to the Rheinboulevard on the Deutz side. From here, you'll get a stunning panoramic view of the cathedral, the Hohenzollern Bridge, and the Old Town. It's one of our favorite spots to enjoy waterfront sunsets in Germany.
See The Love Locks At Hohenzollernbrücke
The Hohenzollern Bridge in Cologne, with its distinctive wave-like arches, stands alongside the iconic Cathedral and the Rhine. But what caught my eye was the thousands of padlocks lining the railings.
Also known as "love locks", they are left by couples that crossed this bridge as a symbol of everlasting love. Free spaces to attach love locks can usually be found in the last third of the bridge, opposite the Cologne Cathedral. If you want to stick one of your own, you can! 
Walking the bridge, especially in the evening, provides some of the best views of Cologne and the Cathedral because of the way they light up at night.
Admire Street Art In Ehrenfeld
For travelers looking to explore the artistic side of Cologne, a visit to Ehrenfeld is a must. This hipster neighborhood is undoubtably the coolest place in Cologne, filled with urban street art and graffiti (some commissioned and some... ahem... illegal), making it one of our favorite free activities in the city!
When you walk around the neighborhood, you can spot all kinds of art – some are bold and abstract, while others are detailed and intricate. The street art shows off the eclectic nature of Ehrenfeld, covering everything from social issues to cultural expression.
What we love about the street art in Ehrenfeld is that things are always changing – what you see today might be painted over tomorrow and replaced by something else.
Visit The Flora Botanical Garden
Located near the city center, the gardens are easily accessible by public transportation, making it a convenient stop, especially if you're planning to visit the Zoo too.
Don't miss the herb garden, which smells amazing, and the neat fountain and waterfall. There are plenty of nice spots to take pictures with too, like the color-coordinated flower beds.
And there's even a pond with lily pads and croaking frogs which were a hit with my kids.
There's a cute cafe here, but we decided to pack our own picnic lunch. Although we couldn't sit on the grass, there were plenty of benches to rest on comfortably. All in all, a relaxing way to spend an afternoon on a budget!
Attend A Service At A Local Church
A question we often get is whether one can attend mass at the Cologne Cathedral... the answer is yes!
To attend mass at one of Europe's most beautiful churches, you can simply walk in during mass time.
However, one thing to keep in mind is that the cathedral is off-limits to tourists during mass.
There might be guards at the entrance to the main sanctuary; simply inform them you're heading for the mass, and they should let you through.
The masses usually happen in a side chapel, which you can access through the main sanctuary. Timings are usually posted on the front door, and the bells toll a call for worship.
You don't have to pay to attend mass in Cologne, and is definitely one of the things to do in Cologne if you're a devoted Catholic, a curious traveler or someone looking for a moment of reflection. It's open to everyone!
Take A Free Walking Tour Of The City
"...Make new friends, see the major sights from a local view and understand why 'HOME IS WHERE THE DOM IS'...”
That's what Freewalk Cologne promises when you're done with one of their free walking tours of the city. 
What sets our guide apart was his knack for storytelling. He had us hanging on to every word, and his jokes and innuendos had us smiling and laughing throughout. It was as if we were part of a stand-up comedy show on the streets of Cologne.
And don't worry, we got to see the typical sights but also discovered hidden gems. The tour wasn't just a checklist of landmarks, but a chance to embrace the 'Cologne feeling' – a warm welcome by a friendly face.
But how does a free tour work? Well, technically its a "Pay What You Want" system and at the end, you contribute based on what the experience was worth to you. Sounds fair to me!
People Watch By The Historic City Hall
Trust me, it's nothing like your typical city hall. Forget the image of a dull, modern building; the administrative hub of Cologne looks more like a castle. It's actually Germany's oldest, boasting a history that spans a whopping 900 years.
Called Historisches Rathaus der Stadt, this beautiful building is located in the heart of the Old Town and is a great spot to relax and watch local life go by.
What's interesting is the mix of gothic Renaissance and modern architecture; during war bombing, the city hall took a hit, and only the front portion and part of the tower survived. The rest just got a modern makeover.
And here's the kicker – it's not just a relic; it's a working town hall. Imagine going there, and boom, a wedding party is unfolding right outside.
You can grab a seat on one of the many benches scattered around or sit at one of the outdoor cafes nearby while observing street performers, locals going about their day, or even people posing for pictures.
P.S. Hidden under a statue, there's a carving from 1410 that's a bit, well, unconventional. See if you can spot it!
See The Crane Houses
At Rheinauhafen, situated along the waterfront and next to the Chocolate Museum, is a neat little harbor area. It's home to Cologne's unique Kranhäuse, also known as the crane houses.
These cool buildings look like upside-down "L"s and are a sight to behold, dominating the waterfront like giants. And get this – they're designed to resemble those harbor cranes from back in the day.
These buildings make for some really cool photos at the right angles, and we even used them as a family photo backdrop!
Rheinauhafen dates back to 1898 and was the heartbeat of the city then, until it fell out of prominence in the 80's.  However since then, the harbor has been spruced up into an attractive and hip district, with the hottest bars and restaurants here – including Ox & Klee, an experimental restaurant.
It's the place to be, especially during Christmas season when the Harbour Christmas Market lights up the scene.
Witness The Cologne Carnival
If you happen to visit Cologne in February, you'll get to experience the lively celebrations of the Cologne Carnival. Considered one of Europe's biggest festivals, the tradition dates back to the Middle Ages.
It's so big, locals call it the "fifth season" - after spring, summer, fall and winter. It's a time when both locals and tourists converge on the streets in costume to dance, laugh and be merry – before the fasting during Lent starts.
Technically, Carnival officially starts earlier on November 11th at 11:11 am. But the real fun happens in February, trust me. The main highlight is the colossal parade on Rose Monday, drawing millions of visitors each time.
Take Photos From The Deutzer Bridge
This bridge may not be as ornate as other bridges in the city, but its position gives you a spectacular view of Cologne Cathedral and the Hohenzollern Bridge over the Rhine River.
The views from the bridge are truly breathtaking, especially during sunset when you can see the sky painted with shades of orange and pink. Taking pictures on this plain yet scenic bridge has become an essential stop for people wanting that Instagram-perfect photo!
Window-Shop On Schildergasse Street
Schildergasse is Cologne's go-to spot for a fantastic, free activity – window shopping!
Located right in the heart of the city center, this street is Europe's favorite shopping mile, lined with an array of stores, from budget-friendly gems to high-end labels. Up from Schildergasse is Hohe Straße, another one of the city's oldest and busiest streets.
The bustling atmosphere is perfect for a leisurely stroll, peeking into store displays and soaking in the city vibes without spending a dime. The Christmas season transforms it into a festive wonderland, making it an even more magical experience.
Soak In High-Quality Art At Sculpture Park
Skulpturenpark, or Sculpture Park, is a peaceful oasis in in Cologne filled with mind-bending sculptures made by German artists.  We've dropped by a couple of times since it's right near our favorite Botanic Gardens.
Sandwiched between Zoobrücke, Konrad-Adenauer-Ufer, and Riehler Straße, it's the perfect spot to kick back and soak in some high-quality art without spending a dime.
The only thing missing? Benches. So remember to take a blanket if you want to sit on the grass. Our kids had a blast spotting little bunnies bouncing around too. It's a seriously beautiful park. You can breeze through the whole thing in about 15-20 minutes, but we prefer to take it slow.
This hidden gem is a stone's throw from the Zoo/Flora tram stop, and a convenient stop before you head to the Zoo or Botanical Garden – both just a short walk away. Alternatively, you can take a stroll by the Rhein or hop on the nearby cable car.
Enjoy Rooftop Views At St. Gereon's Basilica
For a breathtaking panoramic view of Cologne, head to St. Gereon's Basilica rooftop. This ancient church, which dates back to the early Christian era, boasts stunning Romanesque architecture and magnificent views of the city skyline.
To access this hidden gem for free, simply visit during church opening hours or attend one of their services.
Get Up Close With Animals At Lindenthaler Tierpark
Lindenthaler Zoo might be a bit off the beaten path, but trust me, it's a hidden gem that's totally worth the journey. The best part? It won't cost you a penny to get in.
This large, tranquil park has animals roaming around an enclosed area, and adults and children alike can get up close to them. Lots of animals, like chicken and geese, even walk outside of the cages which makes it really fun to walk with them.
It's fun to feed them with animal food that you can buy for 1 euro at the feeding stations. If you're lucky, the sheep, cows and goats will let you pet them. However don't feed them any outside food you bring with you – it's for the safety of the animals!
Aside from the petting zoo, there's a nice playground for children and plenty of nature trails to wander around in. There's lots of greenery and a tranquil vibe here, so you'll really feel like you've left the city behind.
At the entrance of the park, there's a flurry of activity on Saturday mornings. We found food and drink stalls, and even stands selling flowers.
Tip: Note Mondays are the animals' fasting day. It's to prevent them from gaining too much weight, so they can't be fed on Mondays!
Uncover Cologne's Medieval Gates & Walls
Cologne's medieval fortifications are scattered across the city, and can be explored on foot. For example, there were up to 12 medieval gates, and some have survived to modern day.
The most famous is the Hahnentorburg at Rudolfplatz, a massive 13th-century gateway that once welcomed German Kings after their coronation in Aachen.
Venture deeper into the city, and you'll discover remnants of the Roman city wall, which was built to protect its 40,000 citizens.
Around 700 meters of the old walls are still hanging out in public and private spots, and even hiding underground. Simply head south and you'll spot a chunk of it at Sachsenring, called the Blaue Funken Turm, where two round towers stand guard on either side.
The Roman Tower (Römerturm) at Zeughausstraße used to be one of 19 round towers protecting the city walls. It's still standing tall and proud, showing off its beautiful original decorations!
Tips For Enjoying Free Activities In Cologne
Before you hit the streets of Cologne, do yourself a favor and think ahead. Check when the attractions are doing their thing, respect the local rules, dress smart for whatever Mother Nature throws at you.
If you're planning to keep spending low, stash some snacks and drinks in your bag to save a few euros. Lastly, keep an eye out for cool free events and festivals happening in the city – there are plenty!
Plan Ahead And Check Opening Times
Some attractions may have limited hours or are closed on certain days, so checking beforehand can save you from disappointment.
The famous Cologne Cathedral is a must-see attraction in the city; however, it has specific visiting hours that vary depending on the day of the week.
Another example is Fischmarkt, which opens early in the morning and only operates until midday every Sunday.
Many museums here, like Museum Ludwig, Museum Schnütgen of Christian Art, and Rautenstrauch-Joest-Museum of Ethnography, are closed on Mondays.
Respect Local Customs And Traditions
It is important to always be respectful of local customs and traditions when visiting a new destination.
In Cologne, like the rest of Germany, people observe the jaywalking laws seriously, and tourists are often spotted because they jaywalk. It's common to be fined on the spot for it, so don't jaywalk!
Locals are also pretty patriotic, and take pride in their city, their football team (1. FC Köln), and Kölsch beer – the signature beer made in Cologne. Showing interest in their local culture will go a long way too.
During the carnival season, which takes place every year, the entire city jumps headfirst into a state of madness. If you plan to join, you're encouraged to participate by wearing costumes, but just note that the people of Cologne take dressing up seriously.
Dress Appropriately For The Weather
It's essential to check the weather forecast before heading outdoors in Cologne. For example, rain is plentiful throughout the year. Having a raincoat or an umbrella handy is going to help you get around easier.
During colder months, you ought to dress warmly and wear layers to stay comfortable while spending time outdoors at Christmas markets or walking along the Rhine River.
In warmer months, light clothing is recommended for activities such as exploring Cologne's Old Town or visiting the Botanical Gardens Flora.
Lastly, people here dress quite casual in general. So I recommend packing clothes that can transition from casual to slightly formal if needed.
Bring Your Own Snacks And Drinks
When exploring Cologne on a budget, bringing your own snacks and drinks can save you some serious cash. Packing a picnic is a great idea if you're traveling on a budget, and there are tons of great parks to lay out a blanket at. For instance, Stadtgarten Park and Lindenthaler Tierpark.
Plus, you won't have to worry about finding a restaurant or cafe that fits within your budget or waiting in line.
Instead, you can simply grab a spot in one of Cologne's beautiful parks!
Take Advantage Of Free Events And Festivals
Don't miss out on the many free events and festivals that Cologne has to offer. From music concerts to street festivals, there's always something happening in this vibrant city.
The annual Carnival festival is a must-see event with thousands of people taking to the streets in colorful costumes and dancing to lively music. Other popular events include Kölner Lichter, where fireworks light up the city's skyline.
Conclusion: Top Free Things to Do in Cologne
In conclusion, there are plenty of fun and free activities to do in Cologne that won't break the bank; from getting up close to animals at a petting zoo to exploring ancient Roman remnants on foot.
So if you're a budget-conscious traveler looking to experience Colognewithout spending too much money, be sure to add these free activities from our list onto your itinerary.
- Cologne offers a variety of free activities for budget-conscious travelers, including exploring the Old Town, visiting the iconic Cologne Cathedral, strolling through Stadtgarten Park, and admiring street art in Ehrenfeld.
- Other free things to do in Cologne include walking along the Rhine River at sunset, witnessing the love locks at Hohenzollernbrücke, attending religious services or guided tours at local churches, and enjoying rooftop views from St. Gereon's Basilica.
- To make the most of your time in Cologne without spending a penny, plan ahead and check opening times for attractions, respect local customs and traditions while dressing appropriately for the weather. Bring your own snacks and drinks to save money or take advantage of free events/festivals happening around Cologne.
1. What are some of the free things to do in Cologne?
There are plenty of free activities to enjoy in Cologne, such as wandering through the historic Old Town, checking out the Flora Botanical Garden, visiting the Cologne Cathedral, strolling along the Rhine promenade or exploring parks like Stadtgarten.
2. Are there any landmarks or attractions that offer free entry?
Yes! There are several iconic landmarks in Cologne that have no entrance fee, such as the impressive Gothic cathedral (Kölner Dom), which is open daily for visitors who want to marvel at its stunning stained-glass windows and intricate sculptures.
3. Can you recommend any free events happening in Cologne?
Throughout the year, there are all kinds of events taking place around town that won't cost you a dime - from street festivals and concerts to outdoor movie screenings and cultural celebrations like Carnival (held every February). Check out local event listings online or stop by a tourist information center for more info on upcoming happenings.
4. Are there any scenic spots outside of central Cologne worth seeing for free?
Absolutely! The surrounding areas near Cologne boast picturesque countryside landscapes and castles perfect for a day trip. You can take a short train ride to nearby destinations like Bonn or the gorgeous Benrath Palace castle grounds without spending on entry tickets or tours.
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