History & Culture

Visiting Cologne Cathedral

Cologne Cathedral is one of the great glories of Germany. Step inside and appreciate its treasures, which are closer to Calais than you might think.

Rising up over the modern city on the Rhine, Cologne Cathedral is one of the great landmarks of Germany. It is the second tallest church in Europe, and its 157-metre high dual towers make the cathedral the third tallest church of any kind in the world.

Cologne cathedral is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Did you know it is also Germany’s most visited tourist attraction, attracting an astonishing 6 million people every year through its glorious doors?

You could be one of them, with Cologne so close to the Eurotunnel terminal.

Where is the cathedral?

It is a drive of around four and a half hours from our Calais terminal to Cologne Cathedral. Why not stop off in the beautiful Belgian cities of Ghent and Brussels on the way?

The cathedral is in the heart of Cologne, right next to the main railway station and the Hohenzollern Bridge. The famous Cologne Christmas market is held in the cathedral square every year, making the city a festive favourite with visitors.     

A brief history of Cologne cathedral

Sepia photograph of a cathedral under construction in the heart of a city.
Credit: Johannes Franciscus Michiels, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Many medieval cathedrals took centuries to build, but where timeless construction is concerned Kölner Dom is in a league of its own. It took an incredible 632 years for the building to be completed! Work started in 1248 but had ceased by the 16th century, with both towers unfinished. A medieval crane on one tower was part of the Cologne skyline for over 400 years. By the 1840s enough money was raised to complete the building, and in 1880 it was finally finished. At the time Cologne Cathedral was the tallest building in the world.

Though heavy bombing damaged it during the Second World War, the cathedral survived. It is said that Allied pilots used it as a sighter for their bombing raids over the city, but did not make it a target.

Planning your visit

Cologne Cathedral opening times

The cathedral is open Monday to Saturday from 10am-5pm and Sundays from 1-4pm. It is free to visit, but donations can be made to help fund the considerable costs of maintaining the building.

The shrine of the three wise men

A gold sarcophagus in a glass display platform in a church or cathedral
Credit: Arminia, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The cathedral was originally built to house the relics of the Three Kings, which had been given to the Archbishop of Cologne, Rainald von Dassel, by the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick Barbarossa in 1164. The holy relics drew pilgrims from all over Christendom, and a gilded reliquary reputed to contain the bones of the Magi sits behind the high altar of the cathedral. It was completed by 1225 and is a masterpiece of romantic Romanesque art, carved exquisitely in gilt relief.

Because of its significance, the reliquary is housed in a glass display case, but its beauty can still be appreciated and it is undoubtedly one of the main attractions of the cathedral.

The medieval windows

A stained glass window in a cathedral
Credit: Jan van der Crabben, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The cathedral contains some of the most stunning and spectacular stained glass windows from the Middle Ages. The windows in the choir are the largest series of original 14th-century stained glass that survive in Europe. 95% of the glass is original, and this section dates from 1311 in the very earliest phase of the building.

Elsewhere there are monumental windows from the 16th century depicting Biblical scenes, including the Adoration of the Magi, and more recent work in the stained glass tradition. In the south transept you will find the controversial window by the modern artist Gerhard Richter, a series of stained glass abstract ‘pixels’ which was unveiled in 2007.

The cathedral treasury

In a series of vaulted rooms in the basement you will find the treasury, a collection of the cathedral’s relics, vestments, reliquaries and artworks dating back to the 4th century. Among the treasures are the baroque shrine of St Engelbert and a bishop’s regalia from an Imperial coronation in 1742. Illuminated manuscripts, altarpieces and processional items from the Middle Ages makes this a fascinating part of the cathedral for anyone with an interest in ecclesiastical history and art.

In this sacred space you will also see remains of the original Roman city walls. The treasury has disabled access.

The south tower

Now is your chance to climb one of the tallest churches in the world!

There are 533 steps to the viewing platform of the south tower, 97 metres above Cologne. On the winding staircase up you will pass the bell cage containing ‘Fat Peter’, one of the largest free swinging bells in the world. From the platform itself you get panoramic views of the city and the surrounding Rhine region. There is an entrance fee to climb the tower, but entrance tickets can be combined with admission to the cathedral treasury.

A large cathedral and bridge illuminated by a beautiful sunset over a large city

Guided tours

There are guided tours in English of the cathedral, usually once a day from Monday to Friday and at weekends. Tickets must be pre-booked and can be purchased up to seven days in advance in person from the cathedral foyer. There are also tours of restricted areas such as the roof, bell tower, treasury and excavation areas.

Visit Cologne Cathedral with Eurotunnel Le Shuttle

Cologne is a fabulous city, and its cathedral is its star attraction. You can be there in only four and a half hours after your 35-minute crossing from Folkestone to Calais on Eurotunnel Le Shuttle.

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Visit Cologne Cathedral with Eurotunnel Le Shuttle

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