City Breaks

A guide to the best things to do in Cologne

Bustling with life and character, Cologne has an incredible mix of things to see and do.

The beautiful German city of Cologne is a popular spot for visitors due to its vibrancy and diversity. From the world-renowned museums, stunning Cathedral and famous Belgian Quarter, there’s plenty on offer in Cologne no matter what you’re interested in.

A line of multicolor three storey houses with a blue sky in the background

Driving to Cologne from Calais

The drive from Calais to Cologne takes roughly 4 and a half hours and is easily manageable in a day. However, as the two main routes for your journey take in some of Europe’s most popular destinations, if you have time to spare it’s well worth extending your trip and stopping where you can. Equally, if you fancy exploring more of Germany, and visiting the delights of the Black Forest or venturing along the Volcano Route, Cologne is a gateway to so much more than Europe has to offer.

E40 via Bruges and Ghent

Driving away from the French coastline along the E40 toward Cologne, it’s worth stopping in Bruges or Ghent (or both) to maximise your trip. Both cities have stunning streets, as well as wonderful places to eat and stay. If you have more time on your hands and are a fan of motor racing, carrying on down the E40 will lead you to the world-famous Nürburgring racing tracks which are a spectacular place to visit.

E40 & A4 via Antwerp

If you fancy staying closer to the coast or want to stop off in Belgium’s port city Antwerp, use the E40 before swapping to the A4 and continuing from there. Antwerp is Belgium’s second biggest city, and home to a vibrant fashion and entertainment scene. If you have the chance to visit on your drive, the stunning cobbled lanes, cathedral, and cafes are a wonderful addition to your trip.

The top 10 things to do in Cologne

With amazing churches, unique vintage shopping opportunities, fabulous bars, and amazing art galleries, it’s easy to lose yourself in Cologne. To help you make the most out of your time here, we’ve selected our top 10 things to do in the city.

Clear blue sky with a rive running and a church spire either side of a bridge

Cologne Cathedral

Often referred to as ‘the Dom’ and constructed over seven centuries, the Gothic masterpiece that is the Cologne Cathedral is a sight to behold! Featuring many works of art which were added throughout the construction process, the shrine of the Three Wise Men and incredible stained-glass windows saw UNESCO declare Cologne Cathedral a World Heritage Site in 1996. Although you will have to climb over 500 steps to reach the top, it’s well worth it for the stunning views of the city you can enjoy.

Ludwig Museum

While Cologne is renowned for its world-class museums for you to explore, the Ludwig Museum, featuring the works of Picasso as well as many other artists, is not to be missed. Not only are there a variety of collections on display, but every year, the museum opens its doors for the night so the public can party amongst the exhibitions.

Wallraf-Richartz Museum

Showing a range of European art collections, with a variety of paintings from across the centuries. Whether you’re an art fanatic or not, Stefan Lochner’s “Madonna in the Rose Bower” is hard to forget once you have seen it in person.

Groß St. Martin

The great Romanesque church Groß St. Martin is one of Cologne’s most prominent religious structures and highly distinctive with its crossing tower and trefoil choir. Having shaped the skyline of the city since Roman times, today the church is open year-round for visitors.

Cologne Botanical Garden

Located in Riehl, Cologne’s oldest and most traditional public park is home to more than 10,000 species and plants, open for the public to walk through. The perfect contrast to the hustle and bustle of the city, the beautiful gardens are an idyllic way to spend an afternoon.

White building with green trees either side of it with green lawns and flower beds and fountain

Hohenzollern Bridge – The ‘love locks’ bridge

Since 2008 padlocks have adorned the bridge over the Rhine River, affixed by couples as a sign of love and commitment. The bridge is accessible by train and by foot, but for the perfect holiday snaps, it doesn’t get much better than strolling along the bridge towards the Dom.

St Gereon’s Basilica

According to medieval legend, the name patron of St. Gereon was a Roman officer who died for his faith along with 318 legionnaires. The oval shaped church complete with medieval mosaics, murals, and precious ancient relics is designed to resemble the Minerva Medica in Rome. Like many of the buildings in Cologne, St Gereon’s Basilica is also open to the public, and a great place to add to your list.

Cologne Zoo

Popular with adults and children alike, the Cologne Zoo is home to more animals than any other zoological park in Germany, including an aquarium and the largest elephant park in northern Europe. Visitors will have the chance to immerse themselves in the African content in the ‘hippodom’, where an imitation river houses hippos and Nile crocodiles. As well as the fantastic animal exhibits, you can also enjoy a unique cable car ride over the river Rhine from the zoo to the River Park.

Green field and trees with a little girl feeding a large deer

Boat trip on the Rhine

Sail down the Rhine on one of the many boat cruises on offer in the city. You’ll get the chance to see everything the city has to offer from the water as you sit back and unwind.

Cologne Chocolate Museum

Calling all chocolate lovers, the Cologne Chocolate Museum is a real treat. You’ll be able to tour the processing area, learn about the craft of chocolate making, and of course enjoy some free samples! The museum is also a great place to pick up some delicious souvenirs.

Tips for your visit to Cologne

Cologne is a beautiful city with plenty to see and do. If you’re planning a visit, our top tips will help you maximise your time there.

Don’t swim in the Rhine!

Although extremely picturesque, the Rhine has strong currents which make swimming in there extremely dangerous. As the tides can change quickly, it’s far better to enjoy the river’s beauty from the banks or on a boat.

Enjoy the shopping in Cologne

If you love vintage fashion or styles from the 70s, 80s or 90s, shopping in Cologne is a must. Popular vintage shop Todd is a great place to find unique second-hand clothing, and the streets across the city are filled with independent stores.

Respect the local culture

Local patriotism is strong in Cologne and the rivalry with Dusseldorf is widely known. Coming to light in football matches and beer selection, make sure you watch what you say and order if you don’t want to offend locals.

Have a beer by the Rhine

What better way to unwind after a busy day sightseeing and exploring than with a beer by the Rhine? The sunset over the river, combined with the beauty of the buildings riverbanks makes this the perfect place to watch the world go by.

Start your journey to Cologne with Eurotunnel Le Shuttle

With Eurotunnel Le Shuttle you can be on your way to Cologne in no time, with a journey from Folkestone to Calais taking only 35 minutes. Watch Europe flash past the window as you drive and experience all the delights of Cologne when you arrive.

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