Cologne Old Town, Germany | Travel Guide & Fun Things to Do
Cologne is a vibrant city in the western Germany that has many things to see and do. Known as Koln in German, the city has a mixture of gothic German architecture, contrasted against modern buildings and structures. Imagine rustic narrow cobbled streets in one direction and spacious open areas bustling with shops, bars and restaurants in another. One thing is for sure, a travel guide to Cologne old town, (Altstadt) will help you discover the many fun things to do.
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Where is the Infamous Cologne Old Town?
Quick reference guide
The old town is conveniently located to the West of the majestic Rhine river, right in the heart of the city. Best of all, the town Altstadt is the first place you will arrive when travelling to the central train station; Koln Hauptbahnhof. Trains from Cologne Bonn airport are regular and affordable which is perfect if you’re only visiting for a short trip, or if you’re travelling on a budget.
If you’re looking for cheap flights to Cologne, then take a look at my guide to the best travel resources online which will make it easy for you to plan your trip.
When is best to visit Cologne Old Town?
Cologne, Germany is best to visit during the warm summer months between June to September. That being said, from late November to early January, the majestic German Christmas Markets are open. What is more Christmassy than snowy cabin stalls set against the nightscape of a wintery gothic cathedral?
Where to stay in Cologne Old Town?
There are various places to stay in the old town area. Generally. it is not expensive to stay in the Centre of Cologne so you will easily find accommodation within your price range.
I stayed at the art-otel which is a fantastic location next to the Big Wheel Cologne & the Chocolate Factory. It is also within walking distance of all the main attractions. I recommend paying a little extra for the superior room. You will get a much larger room that features a modern, coloured glass cube window that you can snap quirky and artistic photos in.
If you pick the right area to stay, then you will be able to walk most places, rather than relying on public transportation. Take a look a best travel resources online to find useful links and suggestions to help you book your trips.
Where to Eat and Drink in Cologne Old Town?
Germany is a cultural and social hub, so accordingly there are many great districts in Koln that cater for both indoor and outdoor dining and drinking. One of the most popular areas for tourists is down the cobbled streets that run parallel to the banks of the rhine river and in front of St Martins Church.
These quaint streets open into a large square with plenty of outdoor bars and cafes. As there are many choices available, this square is a popular location to start your night.
If you’re looking to taste the local delicacies, then dishes to try are:
- Halver Hahn; a rye roll with Dutch cheese, butter and mustard.
- Himmel un Ääd (Heaven and earth) – a veggie friendly mix of apple pieces and mashed potatoes.
If you’re a vegetarian (like me), then Germany isn’t the easiest country to find veggie food. As you can expect, a lot of the restaurants are geared towards sausage or steak houses with limited veggie options. Take a look at the the cologne tourism board for some suggestions on vegan friendly restaurants.
Cologne Fun Things to Do
70% of the historic old town is pre world-war II and the rest has been restored or built since then. This makes Cologne a city that is rich in culture and the Koln historic quarter is simply fascinating. Some of the best Cologne Germany things to do and see are listed below.
1) Visit the Kolsch Beer Brewhouse.
Yes, you’ve guessed it. A trip to Germany isn’t complete without sampling the finest local lager. You can’t help but be tempting by a refreshing cold one when you see advertisements for Kolsch lager everywhere you turn. Being British, I expect lager to be served in pints or half’s. But not in Cologne! Kolsch is brewed locally and traditionally served in a small glass.
Kölsch isn’t just a beer, it’s also the local dialect! Learn more about the history and traditions by taking a tour of the Kolsch Beer Brewhouse. Best of all, you will get several samples of this delicious beer.
2) Explore the gothic cathedral – Kölner Dom
Kölner Dom, the infamous Cologne Cathedral is the most iconic landmark in the heart of the historic Old Town and is a registered UNESECO world heritage centre. Kölner Dom is a brilliant piece of medieval architecture that you cannot fully appreciate until you see it in person.
The full scale and beauty of Cologne cathedral will hit you as soon as you leave the train station. Gaze at the gothic spiked towers and the intricate detail across the beautiful architectural structure. If you travel in Winter, the Cologne Christmas Markets will light up this area, making even more magical travel photography.
To view the inside of the Kölner Dom this needs to be booked in advance. If you want the tour in English, it costs 8 euros and you only have one option which is at 2:30pm on Saturday or Sunday. Take a look on the official Kölner Dom website for more information.
3) Learn about the history and culture of Cologne through its museums
If you enjoy learning about history and culture, then a visit to the museums is one of the best things to do in Koln Germany. The different museums that you can visit are:
- Museum Ludwig, also known as the Cologne modern art museum. Sample the permanent art collection or visit for special art exhibitions that depict modern trends from the beginning of the 20th century.
- Roman Germanic museum. Discover the ancient history and archaeological heritage of Cologne.
- Fragrance museum. Learn all about the infamous ‘cologne’ perfume and discover the origins of the popular scent. Make sure you book in advance as only guided tours are available (5 euro).
- Wallraf Richartz museum. An art museum with spectacular pieces from the medieval period to the present day.
4) Take a tour of the whole city of Cologne
If want to squeeze as much into your trip as you can, then I’d recommend a Cologne city tour. This way, you will get to see the major attractions, whilst also learning a lot about the German culture, history and traditions from a local guide.
Best of all, there’s so many options, you can choose the type of tour that best suits you.
- Have you ever had a rickshaw ride? If not, why not tick that off your bucket list as you explore Cologne? You can choose the location for pick up and drop off and have an exciting journey learning about the city by a rickshaw tour.
- Enjoy the artistic qualities of urban street art? Then take a 3 hour tour of the hip Belgium quarter and Ehrenfeld districts to admire the street art by bicycle.
- Are you a supernatural buff, or are just intrigued about Koeln’s spooky history? If so, take the night watchman tour which takes place after sunset.
- If you’re travelling with a family, or just want a bit of fun, catch the Wolters Bimmelbahnen mini-trains. There are two different routes available that take you to / from some of the main attractions such as the Cologne Zoo, Lindt Chocolate Factory or the Cathedral.
5) Visit Cologne’s Melaten cemetery
Some might think of cemeteries as morbid; others will be fascinated by the history and untold stories of those who rest there. This particular park has beautiful flora and forna that is in contrast with its Melaten cemeteries dark past. Melaten cemetery was formally Koln’s execution site and leper colony, so there’s definitely some stories to be told! The park is free for the public, but if you want to understand its history and troubled past, consider a guided tour of Melaten cemetery
6) View the Hohenzollern Bridge by Cable Car
If you’ve taken the Bimmelbahnen mini-train, your ticket will give you a discount for the cable cars which are located close to the Cologne Zoo. Tickets are one way or return and give great views of the city and the famous Hohenzollern Bridge.
Be warned… at the foot of the cable car there is a spa which has nudist areas that you can see. German culture is typically open and relaxed about things like nudity so this is just the norm. If I’d have known about the Claudius Therme spa in advance, I might have visited it myself! Not all pools require you to be nude, so if you’re intrigued, consider planning this into your city itinerary.
In this area, there is a lovely park you can stroll around, as well as the Cologne Zoo itself. I’m not a big fan of zoo’s personally which is why I’m not covering this specifically but If you enjoy them, then the zoo could be a good choice for family fun in Koln.
7) Take a Lindt Factory Tour in Cologne
It is the world’s worst kept secret that Germany is famous for chocolate. So, it would be a travesty if you visited Cologne without exploring the factory where Lindt chocolate is made! Learn about the process a chocolatier makes in producing the chocolate bar we all love. Take a walk through the past and discover the history of chocolate and how Germany became so famous for making it. Above all, watch the chocolate being made and taste it hot off the press.
8) Take a ride on the Big Wheel Cologne
While you’re visiting the chocolate factory, take the opportunity to ride the Big Wheel Cologne which is only a few steps away. The Big wheel is illuminated at night which makes it a stand-out attraction. Located right next to the Rhine river, you can expect brilliant views of the city.
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