Is Cologne Worth Visiting?
Yes! Cologne is worth visiting as the fourth-largest city in Germany, only trailing behind big guns like Berlin, Munich and Hamburg.
In fact, it's the kingpin of North Rhine-Westphalia, packing a bustling population of 1.1 million.
When you're in Cologne, you get the best of both worlds – new and old. The city is an incredible mix of different cultures, traditions, and delicious foods from kebab to kimchi to Kölsch. It's also known for its thriving art scene and a LGBTQ-friendly community.
But underneath all that, there's a deep history that goes way back. The city has been around for over 2,000 years, resulting in festivals, traditions and cuisine that's truly unique to the region.
So if you ask us, a trip to Cologne is well worth your time!
Reasons to Visit Cologne
Rich History And Stunning Architecture
Cologne's rich history is etched in every corner of the city, sometimes hidden in plain sight. Once a Roman settlement, remnants of its past are scattered in places you don't expect.
For example, the Romano-Germanic Museum is built around where an actual Roman villa stood, a section of its mosaic floor preserved in its original position.
The city also bore the brunt of WWII. It's said that 90% of Cologne's buildings were bombed. Luckily, the Old Town, also known as Altstadt, survived the war.
I always recommend first-timers to Cologne to walk along the rustic cobbled streets of the Old Town, where charming half-timbered buildings (now harboring shops, pubs and restaurants) stand frozen in time.
However, nothing outshines the city's pride and joy – the Cologne Cathedral. This Gothic masterpiece commands attention with its towering spires, and is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Nothing strikes awe better than seeing it in person!
If you want to make the most of the Old Town, having a guide who dives into the history and spills local stories is an absolute game-changer. This fun-filled Old Town Highlights Walking Tour is our favorite!
Vibrant Multicultural Scene
Cologne truly shines when it comes to diversity. The city is home to 180 different nationalities, with a significant number of people of Polish, French, Turkish, and Russian origin.
There's even a "mini Istanbul" in Keupstraße, lined with a plethora of amazing Turkish restaurants and markets. The city also has one of the oldest and largest Jewish communities in Germany, around the Mindener and Hallenstraße areas.
Asian influences are becoming increasingly prominent in Cologne's dining scene too. Ever tried Takumi in Zülpicher? Great ramen experience right there. Craving some Indian food? Ginti Restaurant's got your back with the best Thalis around.
The Belgian Quarter, especially, is a trendy district where you can find funky cafes, multicultural eats, and chefs serving up a slice of Cologne's diverse heritage.
All in all, the blend of cultures in Cologne makes for an exciting experience where every corner has something different to offer.
You'll never run out of landmarks and attractions to visit in Cologne. The crown jewel is, of course, the colossal Cologne Cathedral.
This landmark building took more than 600 years to construct, survived several bombings during the second world war, and is arguably Germany's most recognizable church.
Here are other must-see sights in Cologne:
- Lock in your love on the Hohenzollern Bridge
- Soak in the history at the old Town Hall
- Marvel at the grandeur of Great St. Martin Church
- Catch the unique crane houses in the Rheinauhafen district
Although I'm not much of a boat person, I decided to take a cruise on the beautiful Rhine River on a whim. It turned out to be the best way to see all of Cologne's top sights in one sitting. In fact, the photos we took look just like they do in postcards.
Another unique option is the Kölner Seilbahn, or cable cars, which offers a panoramic view over the Rhine River and parts of the city, but doesn't cover all the sights. 
Diverse Shopping Experiences
Cologne is a shopping paradise for every taste and budget; spanning from mainstream brands to "my bank account is giving me side-eye" boutiques.
For the standard shopping experience, hit up Schildergasse and Hohe Straße. These are some of the busiest shopping streets in Germany, packed with old-school and modern shops.
If you're up for a big shopping haul, hit up Galeria Kaufhof, the Godzilla of department stores.
But if you're tired of the usual shopping spots in Cologne, check out Ehrenstraße or Breite Strasse for trendy boutiques with unique styles – popular with younger folks. And if you're into fancier stuff, swing by Mittelstraße nearby.
It’s Easily Accessible
As the oldest and largest city in North Rhine-Westphalia, Cologne serves as a major transportation hub. 
Whether you're arriving by train or plane from other major cities in Europe, getting to Cologne is quick and efficient. Once you're there, navigating the city is a breeze thanks to its compact size and well-connected transportation system.
With an easily accessible location and efficient transport options, visiting Cologne saves you time and allows you to make the most of your trip.
Cologne is also an excellent base for day trips to other parts of North Rhine-Westphalia – Düsseldorf, Bonn, Aachen, Essen and Dortmund are just some examples.
The Rhine River is a pivotal part of Cologne. Countless songs and stories have been written about the picturesque river. In the heart of the city, I noticed riverbanks are dotted with numerous docks, serving leisure cruises and cargo ships alike.
As mentioned, a Rhine River cruise is the best opportunity to see Cologne at her most awe-inspiring.
Drifting along the river, the cathedral city reveals itself in a breathtaking panorama, showcasing the prominent features such as the Cologne Cathedral, Great St. Martin Church, the Hohenzollern Bridge, and more.
If not a cruise, a walk along the promenade beckons. Picture yourself there, 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 Rhine's banks too.
But however you choose to see Cologne, whether taking a guided tour or embarking on a Rhine river cruise, or simply sitting back and soaking in the beauty of the Rhine...it's sure to be an unforgettable experience that captures the essence of this vibrant city.
Top Attractions in Cologne
This is no ordinary church – it's a 600-year-old masterpiece. We're talking the biggest Gothic church in the whole northern part of Europe, standing at a mind-blowing 157 meters.
It's twin towers reach 515 feet into the sky, practically visible from every other landmark in Cologne.
Not only is it visually striking, this cathedral is a history heavyweight as the seat of the Archbishop of Cologne and a UNESCO World Heritage site. Having survived the second world war, the cathedral stands as proof of the city's resilience too.
Whether you're interested in history or simply appreciate beautiful buildings, you have to throw visiting the Cologne Cathedral on your to-do list!
Sat between the Rhine and Cologne Cathedral, this art museum houses an impressive collection of modern and pop art. It isn't just a repository of art; it's a voyage through the evolution of 20th and 21st-century creativity.
With its establishment dating back to 1976, the museum has showcased an extensive collection, including Europe's most comprehensive Pop Art and the world's third-largest Picasso collection.
The place is well laid out, not too crowded, so you can really soak in the art without feeling rushed. Personally, we loved how spacious it is - you can easily spend a good chunk of time there.
The Hohenzollern Bridge in Cologne, with its distinctive wave-like arches, stands alongside the iconic Cathedral and the Rhine. This steel giant, once carrying road traffic, is now only used by trains, pedestrians and bicycles.
But what caught my eye is 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. If you want to stick one of your own, you can.
From a historical perspective, the Hohenzollern Bridge has weathered the trials of World War II and subsequent reconstruction. The statues of German emperors and Prussian kings, on either side of each ramp, clue you in about the history of this iconic structure.
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.
Located at the Rheinau harbour, the Chocolate Museum in Cologne takes you through the history and making of chocolate. Spanning 5000 years, the exhibits include a walk-in tropical glasshouse and an actual chocolate fountain – talk about a Willy Wonka dream come true!
The highlight is really the production of chocolate on-site. You feel like you're walking through a real chocolate factory, and there's even a small robot distributing freshly-made chocolates to the delight of everyone.
Located conveniently near Cologne Old Town, it's easily accessible and engaging for both children and adults. There are guided tours, but I found exploring at our own pace easier since we had young children who can't stand still for too long.
It's worth noting that the museum can get crowded and the ticket lines are mad, so you'll thank yourself if you get your tickets online in advance.
Tips for a Successful Visit
Best time to visit
Fall is the ideal time to visit Cologne. The months of September to November offer pleasant weather and fewer tourists, making it a great opportunity to explore the city without the crowds.
Plus, fall in Cologne is budget-friendly, with generally lower prices for accommodations and tours. If you're looking for a more festive experience, consider visiting in early December when the Christmas markets are in full swing, or February when Carnival celebrations ramp up!
Cologne has a well-developed public transportation network, so it's super easy to get around the city on your own, without a private car or hiring a taxi.
In fact, from the Cologne Bonn Airport, you can reach the city center within 15 minutes by taking an S-Bahn train, a Regional Express train or an Intercity-Express (ICE) train. And it only costs a few euros!
You can absolutely explore most of Cologne's key sights on foot, but taking the bus or tram is just as convenient.
Tickets can be purchased from KVB (Cologne's public transport authority) ticket machines, but travelers have the advantage of using the KölnCard for free unlimited public transport rides.
The KölnCard is a special card that helps tourists save money while traveling around Cologne.
You can access information on routes and schedules through the KVB website and app, both of which are available in English. So go ahead and hop on a bus or tram – getting around Cologne has never been easier!
Must-try local dishes
Cologne's cuisine is deeply rooted in the Rhineland, which often boasts sweet-and-sour or sweet-and-savory flavors. Himmel und Ääd, or 'Heaven and Earth' in English, is a local favorite that combines applesauce, potato mash and black pudding. 
As Cologne has historically been a rather prosperous city, the region's signature dishes often feature meat. Mettbrötchen, a raw minced pork sandwich, and Flönz, a Colognian blood sausage, are just some examples.
Kölsch beer, served cold, is the perfect companion to the traditional fare here. Pale, clear, and highly carbonated, it has a clean and crisp taste. Kölsch is typically served in shorter slim glasses, to preserve freshness.
For a small snack, look for Rievkooche, deep-fried potato pancakes traditionally served with applesauce. Rheinischer Sauerbraten, a vinegar-and-wine marinated beef roast, is another local staple.
And of course, no visit to Cologne would be complete without trying the legendary Halve Hahn ("Half a Rooster"). This classic sandwich actually has no chicken – instead, it features rye bread, a thick slice of Gouda cheese, mustard and raw onion rings. I swear, it tastes better than it sounds!
For authentic Cologne food, it's best to visit one of the many Brauhaus or pubs in the city.
There are some great recommended accommodations in Cologne, including popular areas like Altstadt-Nord, Belgian Quarter, and Altstadt-Süd. If you're a first-time visitor, Altstadt-Nord is a fantastic place to stay.
It offers easy access to top attractions like the Cologne Cathedral, Museum Ludwig and Hohenzollern Bridge. I personally like Excelsior Hotel Ernst am Dom for the fantastic location, and CityClass Hotel am Dom as a value-for-money stay.
For those looking for a trendy, vibrant nightlife, the Belgian Quarter is the ideal location with its buzzing restaurant, bar and club scene.
On a tighter budget? Consider staying around Friesenplatz for more affordable accommodation, while still being relatively close to all the action.
The Cons of Visiting Cologne
It can be crowded
Cologne is a popular tourist destination, and it can get quite crowded, especially during peak tourist seasons. The city's popularity attracts a high number of visitors, which can be both a blessing and a curse – especially in terms of safety.
On one hand, the lively atmosphere adds to the vibrancy of the city. On the other hand, navigating through crowds and long lines can sometimes feel overwhelming.
It sounds obvious, but it's always wise to get your attraction tickets in advance online, to save you lots of time at ticket queues. You don't even have to pay extra to do that.
With some patience and planning ahead, it's possible to enjoy all that this charming city has to offer.
It can be expensive
Visiting Cologne can be a costly affair, especially when it comes to accommodation and eating out. Tourists often find themselves paying higher prices for items compared to other German cities like Frankfurt and Berlin.
For example, daily food costs may hover around €50 on average, but you can opt for more affordable options like sandwiches or street food. A restaurant meal in the Old Town can cost around €20-30, but in areas like Deutz it may be slightly cheaper.
Due to Cologne's prominence as a hub for trade exhibitions, hotel prices can be influenced by trade fairs, at times doubling or even tripling the usual rates.
However, don't let the cost deter you from visiting this beautiful city.
With some planning and wise spending choices, you can still enjoy all that Cologne has to offer without breaking the bank.
A great way to save on your trip to Cologne is to get the KolnCard. This tourist pass gives you 20% to 50% off many attractions, museums and restaurants. And free unlimited public transportation rides.
➡️ Read more about the Cologne Card here!
Conclusion: Is Cologne Good to Visit?
Cologne is definitely worth visiting for its rich history, stunning architecture, vibrant cultural scene, and excellent shopping and dining experiences.
The city offers a range of top attractions including the impressive Cologne Cathedral, Museum Ludwig, Hohenzollern Bridge, and the Chocolate Museum.
With its easily accessible location and the beautiful Rhine River flowing through it, there are plenty of reasons to explore this charming German city. So pack your bags and get ready to discover all that Cologne has to offer!
1. What are the must-see attractions in Cologne?
Some of the must-see attractions in Cologne include the Cologne Cathedral, Old Town (Altstadt), Hohenzollern Bridge with its love locks, and Museum Ludwig.
2. Is it worth visiting Cologne for its shopping scene?
Yes, Cologne is known for its vibrant shopping scene with a variety of options ranging from high-end boutiques to trendy local shops and bustling markets.
3. Are there any famous festivals or events in Cologne worth attending?
Cologne hosts several famous festivals throughout the year, including Carnival (Karneval) and Christmas markets during the holiday season, which are definitely worth experiencing.
4. What makes visiting Cologne worthwhile?
Visiting Cologne is worthwhile due to its rich history, stunning architecture, cultural attractions such as museums and theaters, lively nightlife scene, and friendly locals.
1: Kölner Seilbahn, retrieved from https://www.koelner-seilbahn.de/en/
2: NORDRHEIN - WESTFALEN - Geography and history, retrieved from https://circabc.europa.eu/webdav/CircaBC/ESTAT/regportraits/Information/dea_geo.htm#:~:text=Of%20the%2082%20German%20cities,with%20around%20970%20000%20inhabitants.
3: Himmel un Ääd recipe - Deutsche-Delikatessen.de, retrieved from https://deutsche-delikatessen.de/en/heaven-and-earth/