Cologne is the fourth largest city in Germany and a popular tourist destination for those travelling from or to Holland. The city has a great cathedral, a wide variety of wonderful cafes and international restaurants, and the historic architecture is worth taking in. Moreover, the city has a great range of museums and free activities, perfect for those on a budget. Compared to cities like Berlin and Munich, Cologne is a lot less touristy and makes for a great stopover on your way between the east and west sides of Germany.
What to See and Do
Climb the Cologne Cathedral
Climb the 509 steps to the top of Kölner Dom, or Cologne Cathedral – a UNESCO World Heritage site and second tallest building in Cologne – to take in sweeping views across the city. It takes an hour to reach the top, but the panoramas make working up a sweat and the €3 admission fee well worth it. If you’ve not got a head for heights then take a tour of the treasury for €4, or simply see the impressive chapel for free. During the summer months (May to October) it’s open from 6am right up until 9pm daily, although tower climbs stop at about 6pm – it’s a romantic spot to watch the evening draw in across Cologne come sunset.
Get down to Cologne’s chocolate museum in the Rheinau docks, facing the old town, for the chance to meet a real-life Willy Wonka and enjoy a spot of edible education. Learn all about the history of cocoa and the process of turning this bitter bean into lovely bars of luxurious Lindt chocolate. Once you’re up to speed, grab a spatula in the museum’s ‘confiserie’ and try your hand at crafting your very own sweet treats. Lessons last for about three hours and cost anything from 32 GBP to 77 GBP per person depending on group size (max 12 people). Contact the museum to arrange these special classes, it’s an interesting way to spend an afternoon and by the end you’ll have a box of (hopefully) delicious bon-bons to snack on.
Take a Boat Ride through the Rhine
An integral element of the city. Snaking through the centre, delivering goods to sell and locals from A to B. The Rhine has been at the heart of Cologne for centuries. So you’ve got to sail along it to see the city from a different angle. Cruise by the historic old town or get a glimpse of the super chic and modern Rheinauhafen district. Boats take different routes with a number of pick-up and drop-off points, making it an enjoyable, unique and convenient way to see Cologne. Furthermore, you can float through this cool city, enjoy a drink (soft or something a little stronger) and a spot of sunbathing on deck, or dance under the stars on a night time cruise. Tickets are priced at between 9 GBP and 18 GBP, depending on the package you choose, and the company booked with.
Create your Cologne
From the Rhine to bottled fragrances: Cologne is famous for its water. You could just pick a souvenir bottle of Eau de Cologne off the shelf in a perfumerie. Make it more you and craft your own unique fragrance? Visit 4711’s flagshipstore and learn about the history of the city’s famous export – they’ve been producing parfum for over 220 years, so they know a thing or two about it and can help you choose the right scent for you or someone special. Design your own signature smell in one of their workshops; they host a public, one-hour session in German every Thursday from 3pm, or you can arrange to have a private tutorial in English upon request.
Throughout the year you can find cheap tickets to visit this beautiful city. The slightly less touristy area, however still some of the greatest beauties of Germany. Flights being available from less than 15 GBP return, making this an ideal location for a quick getaway or a spontaneous holiday.
I use Skyscanner to search for my flights, nonetheless there are alternatives such as Momondo.
Hostel prices – Hostels in Cologne cost between 15-28 GBP a night for a dorm bed. Private rooms start around 45 GBP for a double. For those traveling with a tent, there are only a couple of options for camping available outside the city and they tend to be further away. Expect to pay around 8-15 GBP for a basic plot. You can book your hostel with Hostelworld.
It can be difficult understanding things on the internet. When planning for longer trips away, it is always best to be sure of what you can do, where you can stay and the best places for the value. Get all the necessary information you will need for Finding Cheap Accommodation.
Budget hotels range between 40-80 GBP for a basic double room with a private bathroom. Most budget hotels are in the centre of town. Use Booking.com as they consistently return the cheapest rates. With Airbnb you can find shared accommodation for around 22 GBP per night. Entire homes or apartment start at 36 GBP per night. (It’s my preferred option.)
You can typically eat a meal (with a drink) at a sit-down restaurant with table service for between 14-20 GBP. Like the rest of Germany, Cologne has many cheap eats options. Street vendors (i.e. sausage stands) cost between 1-4 GBP, and pre-made sandwiches average 5 GBP. Additionally, kebabs and Indian food can also be found at a good price for under 5 GBP. A week’s worth of basic groceries (fruits, veggies, pasta, chicken, eggs, etc) will cost around 40 GBP.
The tram is the best way to get around the city besides walking. You can purchase tickets on the tram or at the stations. A one-way ticket in a single zone will cost you roughly 2.80 GBP. A one-day Cologne pass gives you free transportation and costs 9 GBP. The pass also includes discounts on certain attractions and restaurants. Cycling is another great way to see the city, and bike rentals begin around 9 GBP per day. If you’re coming from the airport, you can use the regular public transit. It will take around 15 minutes and only cost 2.80 GBP. For trips outside the city, intercity trains and buses are available to all the major cities in the country.
Cologne offers many free parks within city limits, so spending the day walking around is a great way to pass some time, relax, have a picnic, get to know the city, and enjoy your surroundings.
A one-day Cologne pass gives you free transportation and costs 9 GBP. It also gives you discounts on certain attractions and restaurants. As a result, this is a great deal if you’re spending a bit of time in the city.
You can buy yours from here.
If you stay at an Airbnb property with self-catering facilities (a kitchen) then you will be able to cook your own food. This will be significantly cheaper than going out for every meal. You can develop your own cooking skills with some new flavours and spices!
Trains in Germany are expensive, but you can get a saver ticket that is around 40-50% off the standard fare if you book at least a week in advance. These tickets have limited availability, so be flexible with your travel plans.
Free walking tours – Freetour.com offers a daily tour of the city (in English). It lasts over two hours and covers all the main sites of the city. It’s a great way to explore and learn about the history and culture of Cologne