Cologne, a German city with 2000 years old history, leaves an impeccable impression on the mind of a curious traveler. The ruins of Roman Era, a beautiful river view, the third tallest cathedral in the world, museums, riverside restaurants and the centuries-old colourful buildings decked on the harbour of River Rhine; they all make this city a cultural hub of Western Europe. There are many interesting and best things to do in Cologne. I have enlisted a few of them which I explored during my day trip to Cologne from Frankfurt.
During my backpacking trip to Europe, I got a chance to opt for a one day trip to Cologne for Frankfurt. Definitely, just one day trip is not enough to experience this city of carnivals and varied cultures. However, you can make the best of your one day trip to Cologne provided that you start early.
Here are the 12 Must-do and Free Things to do in Cologne
Explore Rhine Park and Its Historic Sculptures
The park was built in the early 1900s and was substantially extended up to 40 hectares along the river Rhine. The mesmerizing view of the city in the morning would be the best thing you can start your exploration in Cologne. The park is loaded with fresh flowers and the creative horticulture makes this garden kaleidoscopic. It also has rides and activities for kids. While walking around in the park, you can also spot some destroyed sculptures installed here post the world wars.
Walk Along the Hohenzollern Bridge and Find the Oldest Love-Locks
Now, Walk along the river to reach the stairs joining the Hohenzollern Bridge. This iron bridge is a famous attraction of Cologne for more than a century. The bridge with the backdrop of the cathedral and Rhine can actually be called a symbolic picture of the city of Cologne.
If you are lucky to get a clear blue sky, make sure to click the ‘Picture Perfect.’
Further, when you would walk on the bridge, you will find innumerable love-locks telling the love saga of the couples who wished luck and sworn of loyalty to their beloveds. The tradition, though adapted from Italy, has started here since the time this bridge was constructed. Till now there are locks weighing more than 2 tonnes on this bridge. The padlocks are in curious shapes showing the trend in the particular decade. From the antique heavy locks to modern digit locks, this bridge is not less than an open museum of locks.
They are painted in lovely colours, romantic messages and cute decorations on them make them look more beautiful. It has also been a fascination of the graffiti artists who have randomly sprayed over the wall of these padlocks. This would definitely be one of the interesting free things to do in Cologne.
Explore the Cologne Cathedral, the 700 Years old Heritage
The Cathedral’s construction started on 15th August 1248 (Who knew that 700 years later it would end up being India’s Independence Day) . It took almost 600 years to build Cologne Cathedral. So, this fourth tallest cathedral in the world is now around 770 years old. The entry to the Cathedral is absolutely free. You can witness the finest glass work of the early teen centuries.
There is an admission fee of just 3 Euros to climb the Cologne Cathedral Tower for an astounding view of the city and beyond. It also gives you a chance to see the Cathedral’s largest bell called St. Peter’s Bell that weighs 24 Tonnes. There is also a museum inside that exhibits the artefacts of the bygone era.
The cathedral also holds religious importance as the ‘remains of the Three Kings’ are stored here. In fact, the cathedral was built for the ‘Bones of the Three Kings’. Every German King visits this cathedral before ascending the throne. The belief says that the visit would fetch God’s approval of him as a Monarch.
Walk along the Narrow Colourful Houses in the Old Town of Cologne
Further ahead if you walk towards the river along the bank, you will reach the old town of cologne characterized by typically narrow houses colored in pastel hues. The buildings hide a historic structure at every nook and corner. The historic buildings in the Gothic style would certainly stand out among the colourful multi-storied buildings.
In order to enjoy the best of this old charm, follow the purples lanes or the walking paths as marked in the Free City Map of Cologne. You would also pass through some square and old markets. It is truly an experience to walk through the streets of Cologne’s Old Town.
Relish some best “Kölsch Beers” at Cologne’s Oldest Breweries
Tasting a type of beer that you will find only in Cologne is a must-have experience in this city. Almost every pub and bar in this city sells Kolsch, but some old and traditional ones still serve it the way it used to be in the ancient time. Kolsch is served in a special long cylindrical glass called ‘Stangen” and these are only used in Cologne. The waiters known as ‘Kobes’ serve it while wearing the traditional livery of the brewery workers.
Learn more about the Brauhaus Culture of Cologne on the official website of the Tourism Department
The Kolsch is special and tastes different as it is top-fermented. The yeast in Kolch rises to the top level during the fermentation process. Thus, it has high alcohol but is easily digestible as it is less carbonated and has more hops in it.
These are the best breweries in Cologne to try Kolsch:
- Sion Brew House at Unter Taschenmacher (Founded in 1511)
- Colner Hofbrau P, near the Cathedral
- The Paffgen Brewery, on Friesenstrase
- Malzmuhle Brewery, at Heumarkt
- Schreckenskammer (Chamber of Horrors) near Romanesque Church
Walk Past the Historic buildings and the Oldest Rathhaus at the Altar Square
The Rathhaus of Cologne is Germany’s oldest town hall in Germany. It is also one of the most impressive buildings in Cologne with 130 statues forming its beautiful façade. If you are not running short of time, you can wait for the strike of an hour when the Grosteque wood-carved Platzjabbeck in the Rathhaus Tower would announce it by popping out its tongue.
Take a Self Guided Walk to the Ancient City Gates and Walls
The Free City Map shows the few of the many city gates that Cologne once had. These city gates still hold importance as the meeting point or the starting point of a few festivals or carnivals. Even the buses and trams operate in these areas. You can board any of the public transport and reach here if you are in hurry.
Don’t miss the historic building in the lanes of the old town as well as at the Rhine harbour.
Get Enchanted by the Fragrance at House 4711
This House is famous for a shop of perfume that is located on its ground floor. It is also the birthplace of a popular perfume brand called 4711 Eau de Cologne. Produced only in Cologne, it is loved worldwide for its fragrance and the use of high-quality essential oils in it. In fact, there is also a fragrant fountain or the “Miracle Water” that sprinkles the fresh perfume. It eventually lures the customers to buy it. However, you can even buy 4711 perfumes from any shop in Europe. The motive of visiting 4711 can be just the soothing experience in this world of fragrances. In addition to that, you also get to learn about this creative art of crafting perfumes.
The number of the house also has an interesting tale behind it. When the French occupied the city, a guard committee was given a task to number all the houses of Cologne. The house was then numbered 4711 as per the counting. That is how the famous building is still known as 4711 despite the new numbering.
The history and the case of ever-changing ownership of 4711 Eau De Cologne are also quite interesting, but for that, you need to take the guided tour to Farina Museum, the Museum of Fragrances.
Surprise Your sweet-tooth at the Chocolate Museum
“Do go to the Chocolate Museum, it’s a must if you are going to Cologne,” almost everyone who knew about my plans, had suggested to me. And I am glad I did listen to them despite not being a museum fan. I mean who wouldn’t want to be drenched in the fountain of unending streams of delicious chocolates. (slurrrrp :P) I was totally engrossed in learning about their quality, origin, types, production, and of course in eating most of them later on.
Thanks to Hans Imhoff, my mind was enlightened with the 5000 years old cultural and evolutionary details of Cocoa and its processing.
Anchored at the Rhine Harbour in Cologne, this floating museum’s main attraction is the chocolate fountain that sprinkles around 200 kg of warm chocolate. So, do not miss your “ Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” moments at this chocolate museum of Cologne.
Check the Entrance Fees and Other details here. Remember that I have recommended it as it is totally worth its fees. In case you do not wish to take up the Museum Tour, you can also savour some varieties at its cafe and garden, the entrance to the same is free.
Join the Carnivals and Festivals
Men rubbing bums with each other’s, people being showered with kisses and sweet on raising of specific slogans, booze all around and the people dressed in the most colourful clothes or costumes; This is how the scene of most of the crazy and gay carnivals of cologne looks like. Thousands of people get together at Severinstor, one of the ancient city gates and join the carnival with stupendous extravaganza. If you would call Cologne, a city of carnival, it would totally justify the spirit of this city.
Get More Info about the Carnival on Cologne Tourism’s Website
The city even accepts and respects the people with all sexual orientations. A special carnival is also organized showing the happy spirit of the LGBTQ community.
The main Cologne Carnival is held usually in February but there are many other Festivals that are celebrated publically in Cologne. You can either check the website mentioned above to get more idea about it or can inquire in the tourism office on reaching there.
If you are lucky to attend this, you would be enjoying one of the best free things to do in Cologne.
Enjoy an Evening Walk at the Rhine Promenade
The locals gather at the promenade on a lovely sunny day just for some tan. And the evenings are usually frequented by the artists, musicians, street performers and this creates a spirited atmosphere on the promenade.
It would be a great idea to walk through the Duetzer Bridge and then along the Promenade to reach the Hohenzollern bridge once again at the day’s end.
Be with n Nature at Flora and the Botanical Garden
The oldest traditional public park of Cologne gives Free Entry to all. Located right beside the zoo, this place is easier to reach by public transport. The historic building named Flora at the centre of this symmetrically designed Botanical Garden holds events and concerts. The Garden lets you walk through thousands of interesting plants. Even if you are not interested in the plants and flowers, it would be a perfect place to get some cool shade on a hot day.
Before you start on your actual exploration it is utmost important to keep the following points in mind:
- In order to utilize the best of your available time, get down at a station before the Cologne Main Train station if you are opting for S8 Subway from Airport.
- The moment you get down at the BF Koln Messe, face the big circular tower and take right (Located on your right) to enter the Rhine Park. Apart from the green beauty and the sculptures in the park, I want you to visit it for the view of the historic city of Cologne.
- It is a bad idea to come to Cologne by bus as the bus station is outside the city. Either you need to take the train again from the bus stop or you need to take the metro from Cologne Airport where the bus leaves you. Unless you are hitchhiking from the bus stop or airport, you will anyway spend almost an equal amount. So check both the prices in GoEuro App before heading.
- If you are opting for a Cologne Card then all these internal transport won’t remain a problem as it would be free for you.
- It is easy to cover the old town by walk, however, for certain areas, you will definitely need the public transport or be read to walk for 30-40 minutes.
- Don’t’ forget to grab your Free city Map, Hop on Hop off Bus map, subway/Tram Map and Free City Guide Brochures from the Cologne Tourism Office located right opposite the main entrance of the Cologne Cathedral.
A Bonus Tip
Most of the pictures of Cologne featuring its cathedral, houses and the Hohenzollern bridge are taken from the Duetzer Bridge. You can opt for a night walk for the dazzling view of the city. On a new year eve, you can even expect the fireworks in the backdrop.
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This post is written in Collaboration with Cologne Tourism. However, the exploration was done independently and the views/experiences are of my own. I would like to thank the Cologne Tourism for the valuable information about the history and development of the city. It really helped me in exploring this city with a better perspective.