Two days in Cologne: the best things to do

by Gaetano
Great Saint Martin Church

I’ve been to Cologne twice and always for two days. The second time I thought I would also stop in Bonn, the hometown of Beethoven since the airport that serves the two cities is the same.

My plan didn’t work. Bonn will have to wait because Cologne, certainly less known than other more popular German cities (such as Berlin, Hamburg, and Munich), has a lot to offer.

It is, in fact, a well-organized metropolis with a well-maintained artistic and architectural heritage.

Cologne is also one of the cities with the fifth season: the Carnival. Since I’ve never been interested in it, I have shamelessly avoided it both times, but whoever has seen it swears: it’s crazy and fantastic.

Hohenzollernbrücke - View of the bridge from the Cathedral

Hohenzollernbrücke – View of the bridge from the Cathedral

Most of the attractions are in the historic center up to the old city walls, and you can easily reach all of them by randomly moving on foot.

I have divided the points of interest by themes and made three itineraries: sacred/religious, historic, and architectural.

Cologne in a nutshell

The following is an interactive map. Some monuments and general points of interest like the City Hall, the Synagogue, and the Cologne Cathedral are marked with blue pins. 

All other city attractions are divided this way:

  1. The 12 romanesque churches are marked with red pins (sacred/religious itinerary).
  2. The old city gates, sometimes real small fortified castles, are marked with brown pins (historic itinerary).
  3. Some architectural hot spots are marked with purple pins (architectural itinerary).

Finally, some museums are marked with green pins, and the layout of the old city wall is drawn in dark blue.


Cologne Cathedral

The Cologne Cathedral (UNESCO heritage) is something impressive, both from the outside and from the inside. It became dark shortly after its construction due to its proximity to the railway station and the locomotives’ gases.

The German administrators have decided, at least for now, that it will remain black, probably because there will never be enough funds for a restoration of this magnitude.

The Cathedral has been built in gothic style and has two 150 m bell towers. Don’t think much about it and go up. If the weather is fine, the panoramic view of the city will be your reward.

The Cathedral is dotted with pinnacles and grotesque statues, and the entrance portal is finely sculpted. But these are only a few hints, it is, in fact, impossible to describe all the details. You have to take a tour of the building from the outside and see them live.

The interiors are as good as the exteriors. The Shrine of the Three Kings, several organs, and 10,000 m2 of polychrome glass windows should be enough to give an idea of what awaits you.

Religious itinerary

Cologne became in the Middle Ages an important commercial and religious center. This is why there are 12 churches in the city, built in Romanesque style, all beautiful and well maintained.

Now I am not telling you to go and see them all, because, between the Cathedral, the Synagogue, the 12 Romanesque Churches, etc. this tour will become a kind of pilgrimage! Just include some of these examples of religious architecture in your city walk.

Friars Minor Conventual Church
Friars Minor Conventual Church
Church of the Assumption
Church of the Assumption
Church of the Assumption
Church of the Assumption

Historic itinerary

Cologne has various remains of Roman and Medieval times. Near the City Hall, for example, there are open-air excavations, and you can visit the remains of the Praetorium.

You also find here and there signs of the past: the main ones are the remains of the old city wall, and the sometimes perfectly maintained old city gates.

Another clarification: I am not advising you to do all the 5 km of the old city walls on foot. You are making a city tour and not a jogging session!

But you can visit some of them, considering that they are located next to the Romanesque churches mentioned above. Sacred and profane in one fell swoop.

Architectural itinerary

You find modern constructions between historic buildings almost everywhere in Germany. I think this is partly explainable because, after World War II bombings, the Germans preferred to build from scratch instead of trying to save hard damaged buildings.

In the map above, you find some examples of modern and contemporary architecture in Cologne. The Hohenzollern Bridge isn’t actually what we call a modern construction, but it is still worth a visit.

Obviously, a tour based only on modern architecture will make you lose the ancient soul of Cologne. I suggest instead to walk with open eyes, you will find these buildings almost everywhere, and they will enrich your visit.

Walk along the Rhine

A walk along the Rhine could be a good idea for those who want to relax for a couple of hours. Starting from the Hohenzollern bridge, you can walk southbound to the Chocolate Museum. Near the museum, there are the famous crane houses, modern buildings that look like construction cranes.

From the Hohenzollern bridge, you can also walk northbound instead: from the KölnTriangle until Rhine Park. This Rhine walkway certainly offers fewer points of interest, but much more tranquility.

In both cases, these walks take about 30 minutes.

Riverside and KölnTriangle

Riverside and KölnTriangle

Cologne from above

  1. Cologne Cathedral (obviously).
  2. KölnTriangle (the skyscraper in front of the Cathedral).
View of Cologne from the Bell Tower

View of Cologne from the Bell Tower

If bad weather happens

Entering a museum just because the weather is bad is certainly a little embarrassing. But as tourists, in a new city, you probably prefer to breathe its spirit in the street, especially if you have only a couple of days for the visit.
Some suggestions:

  1. Imhoff Chocolate Museum. It is a must: if there is a chocolate museum in the city I am visiting, I must go there.
  2. Ludwig Museum. Like the following museums, it is located near the Cathedral and exhibits works of modern and contemporary art.
  3. Romano-Germanic Museum (Römisch-Germanisches Museum). It exhibits a collection of Roman artifacts from the Roman settlement of Cologne.
  4. Fragrance Museum (Duftmuseum im Farina-Haus). Have you ever asked yourself why Eau de Cologne has this name?
Chocolate Museum

Chocolate Museum

What to drink

Like all German cities, Cologne has a strong brewing tradition and a large assortment of beers. But there is more. In Cologne, the beer also has its name and format: Kölsch in the 0.2 l glass.

It is a must-try, but be careful: in the city center, a Kölsch can be very expensive. Do the math: three Kölsch are just a little more than a half-liter mug. You will understand the trick only when you get the bill.

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