After visiting Cologne recently for the first time I wanted to put together a 3 days in Cologne itinerary for anyone who might be thinking of visiting this quaint undiscovered German city.
When planning a visit to Germany, cities such as Berlin and Munich easily come to mind. However, Cologne, a 2,000-year-old multifaceted city sprawled across the river Rhine in Western Germany, ticks several good city break destination boxes. While the old town districts still have a feel of the city’s ancient roots, Cologne has quickly grown into a commercial hub, and thanks to the lack of mass tourism, you will easily be absorbed into the city’s culture. This 3 days in Cologne guide that breaks down how you can have the perfect city break in Cologne.
Table of Contents
- 1 How to Spend 3 Days in Cologne, Germany: Cologne City Break
- 2 How to Get to Cologne
- 3 Where to Stay in Cologne
- 4 Best things to do in Cologne Germany
- 5 1 Day in Cologne Itinerary
- 6 2 Days in Cologne Itinerary
- 7 3 Days in Cologne
- 8 Best Restaurants in Cologne
- 9 Things to Know Before Visiting Cologne
How to Spend 3 Days in Cologne, Germany: Cologne City Break
How to Get to Cologne
You can get into Cologne city using different modes of transportation:
I can access Cologne through three airports: Cologne Bonn Airport, Dusseldorf International Airport, and Frankfurt Rhein Main International Airport, 15 minutes away from the city centre by train. And it is a hub for low-cost airlines such as Ryanair, Eurowing and TUIfly.
I flew from London Stansted to Cologne Bonn Airport for my city break in Cologne, flight time was 80 minutes.
Dusseldorf International Airport offers connections to a wide range of cities in the world. Getting from Cologne airport to city centre by train takes only 40 minutes.
Frankfurt Rhein Main International Airport is Germany’s largest airport, and it is served by all major international airlines in the world. High-speed trains managed by InterCity Express (ICE) connect the airport to Cologne central station within an hour.
The law requires all cars entering Germany’s cultural capital to have a “Low Emissions” sticker to ensure they can drive around the city centre. Different motorways that can get into Cologne.
Two major railway stations – Köln–Deutz and Köln Hauptbahnhof – connect Cologne. It links the train stations with the following cities: Paris, Brussels, Amsterdam, and Luxembourg by ICE and Thalys high-speed trains.
Transport in Cologne
Cologne is a city you can pretty much cover on foot without ever having to take a tram or train while there. But if you are looking to visiting some neighbouring areas around Cologne on your trip there.
The transportation system in Cologne is optimised to meet your needs. Trains, trams and buses make up a major part of the city’s public transportation system. Trains in Munich known as “U-Bahn” and “S-Bahn” run from the outskirts into Cologne central.
U-Bahn stands for Underground. U-Bahn (and Hochbahn) train lines are indicated with the letter “U” on the line.
S-Bahn stands for Schnellbahn or fast line; U-Bahns are, however, just as fast. The letter “S” is a prominent feature marking the train lines along with their two-tone colour code. They refer these indications to as the Stadtbahnlinien (city train lines). All S-Bahns, numbered from 1 to 18, run through the main station in Cologne, but all U-Bahns do not.
Where to Stay in Cologne
Deciding where to stay in Cologne is essential to getting the best of your trip to this quaint German city and its surrounding areas. It is ideal you look to stay in hotels in Cologne city centre, so you can gain easy access to the city’s landmark sights.
Here is a list of best places to stay in Cologne including some of the best hotels in Cologne Germany.
Where to Stay in Cologne Old Town
Cologne’s old town spans across the eastern banks of the river Rhine, and it is Cologne’s centre. From the cathedral, the northern point of Old City, the streets lead into the 14th century historic quarter which houses the cluster of Romanesque churches in the city. The 12th century Church of St Martin at Martinspförtchen, the Roman-Germanic Museum, and the boat cruise at the river Rhine are only a few fascinating attractions you can easily get access to.
Settling down in any of the hotels in Old Town means you are in a great position to have magnificent views of the city skyline.
Hilton Cologne – A block from Köln S-Bahn station, this upscale city centre hotel is a 4-minute walk from Cologne Cathedral and 7 minutes on foot from the Museum Ludwig. Click Here For Latest Prices
Holiday Inn Express Cologne – City Centre – This newly built a modern hotel is 15 minutes’ walk from the Old Town and less than five minutes’ walk from Poststraße and Severinstraße U-bahn stations, giving access to the city centre to the north and the trade fair to the west.
It’s an exceptional hotel place to unwind at the end of a long day and their continental breakfast is a must if you are staying here. Click Here For Latest Prices
Hotel Stern am Rathaus – Set in the old town, this contemporary hotel is a 4-minute walk from Cologne Cathedral and a 7-minute walk from Cologne Central train station. Great for staying close to Colognes main attractions. Click Here For Latest Prices
Where to stay in Neustadt-Nord
Neustadt-Nord is a modern and lively area at the northern point of Old Town Cologne. The Belgian Quarter is a great nightlife spot while the glass and steel MediaPark, hosting some media companies and the most important TV stations in Germany, is a prime tourist site. If you are a little party-animal, you’ll love bars like Six-Pack – and staying in any of the hotels in Neustadt-Nord will be your best bet.
Hyatt Regency Cologne – This luxury hotel located directly on the Rhine River with views of the old town and Cologne Cathedral. This is a modern hotel and is great if you are looking for a more luxurious weekend. Click Here For Latest Prices
NH Collection Koln Mediapark – This hotel is in the city centre of Cologne, in the MediaPark close to the Cologne Tower. The modern building by architect Jean Novel with a view over the Mediapark Lake and is only 15 minutes’ walk distance from the city centre with its famous Dom. Click Here for Latest Prices
Where to stay in Deutz
Deutz hosts prominent places such as the Fair-Trade Grounds, where shows like Photkina take place, the Lanxess Arena, and Kennedy Embankment, an area that gives visitors a fantastic view of Cologne’s skyline. You can lodge in any of the hotels in Deutz as it gives you access to the city centre and many other historical places.
Best things to do in Cologne Germany
While it’s nearly impossible to have a feel of everything the city of Cologne promises. They design this 3 days in Cologne city break itinerary to help you visit all the main attractions in Cologne, and even some less famous, yet attractive places in between.
1 Day in Cologne Itinerary
Cologne Cathedral (Kölner Dom)
The world-famous Cologne Cathedral is an obvious first-stop destination for any visitor. With its construction spanning across six centuries, the Cathedral is a really huge structure – like, really huge. Following the completion of the building in 1880, the cathedral became of the highest structures in the world. And to this date, it is still the largest church facade in the world. You’d have an opportunity to take lots of amazing photos at the cathedral, and with the lighting effects in the building, each photo comes out as unique. Book Tickets Here
Climb the Cologne Cathedral
You can also climb the gothic Cologne Cathedral! Something that should not be undertaken lightly or with large bags. Many people tour the cathedral, but only a few climb the stairs to the top of the spire and for good reason. The staircase starts off as circular stone steps, you eventually you climb to the bell tower where you can see the bell. This is where I would suggest you take a rest stop.
Trust me you’ll need it.
You keep climbing, eventually arriving at a metal open staircase, the last climb is a tight circular battle to the top.
The view over Cologne is nice enough but you’ll probably be panting and sweating from battling that many stairs in such a small area.
Tip: Do not climb this unless you are in good physical health. It gets hotter the as you are ascending higher up the tower and steps get increasingly smaller.
It is a 2-way staircase so when passing someone the up climbers go to the inside where there is no railing to hold on to. It is also hard to manoeuver because the steps are small and uneven.
Lock Bridge (Hohenzollernbrücke)
With around ten thousand love padlocks covering the Hohenzollern Bridge, it is now commonly known as the lock bridge. Couples lock an engraved padlock on the bridge and throw the key deep into the Rhine River – a sign that their love is locked forever. Does this appeal to you? You can easily get padlocks from souvenir shops around the bridge – and you can even enjoy magnificent views of the cathedral when you cross the bridge.
To have the bridge all to yourself and take your bomb Instagram photos, rise early (get there for 7am), as the cruise offloading Chinese tourist gets to the river around 9:00am.
Cologne Chocolate Museum (Schokoladenmuseum)
Cologne’s chocolate museum sitting pretty in the quarter of Altstadt-Sud on the Rheinauhafen peninsula, has become a traditional tourist attraction. The museum is filled with a massive collection of interactive exhibits on cocoa farming, a chocolate fountain, and the historic sweet treat, among others.
Opened by Hans Imhoff, a chocolate enthusiast, the Koln chocolate museum plays host to about 600,000 visitors yearly. But the best part of your visit will be the creation of the delicate Lindt chocolate ball; witnessing the creation of each piece via a gentle swirl feels heavenly. It’s one of the fun things to do in Cologne.
Walking Tour of Cologne
I highly recommend taking a walking tour of Cologne. It one of the quickest and easiest ways to learn about this historic city and find your way around on foot.
The walking I took during my weekend in Cologne by a member of the Cologne tourist broad. I learnt that the city was an important hub during World War II, Cologne has a rich history.
Discovered some historical sites around the city and little known hidden bits such as the narrowest house in the city (the second narrowest in Europe) and the underground Roman ruins is in an underground multi-storey car park. A walking tour covers all the things to see in Cologne. Book tickets to your walking tour.
2 Days in Cologne Itinerary
Rhine Garden (Rheingarten)
The Rhine Garden, a fun sight for pictures, will make sense. Do not forget to stop by at the Flora and Botanical Garden (Rhine Garden) and see for yourself the sheer beauty of the city’s oldest park. The park is so marvellous that you’ll return after your first visit, to feel its tranquillity before your exit.
Rhine Garden is home to different plant and flower species – a genuinely amazing place that lets you relax before heading into the hustle and bustle of the industrial city of Cologne. This park is one of the most relaxing places to visit in Cologne.
Tip: beware of the many ducks in this park, they can get really close to you.
Explore Cologne’s Old Town and Old Market (Alter Markt)
With its historical architectural design, Cologne’s Old Town never loses its allure. They rebuilt the city centre, once covered in ruins during the World War II. What remains today is the Old St. Alban Memorial, the Archaeological Zone, and the Stapelhaus, a marketplace with so much history and medieval charm.
The Old Market or Alter Markt is another historical site, and a focal point of the dynamic city of Cologne. Located a few steps away from the Rhine River, the Alter Markt is home to historical monuments and traditional German architecture.
These are two of the top attractions in Cologne and tourists typically visit in December for the annual Christmas market when there will be food stalls, fairy lights, and skating rinks. Even if you are visiting at any other time, the daily markets held here are a beauty to behold.
This is where you’ll find the colourful Instagram houses in Cologne. Book Tickets Here
Wallraf-Richartz Art Museum
The Wallraf-Richartz Art Museum is a dream location for lovers of impressionist art. From artworks dating back to the medieval period and early twentieth century to some first-rate artists such as Manet, Vangogh, and Monet, the museum is home to a variety of masterpieces.
Opened in 1861 and named after Franz Ferdinand Wallraf and Johann Heinrich Richartz – two of Cologne citizens – who left their mark in the form of painting collections and money for the development of the museum, respectively.
The Ludwig Museum is another one art lovers would appreciate. The museum is home to one of Europe’s largest Picasso collections and contains other amazing collections of Abstract, Surrealism, Expressionism, and Pop Art.
Stadtwald Park Köln
The Stadtwald Park Köln, an offshoot of the Stadtwald forest, boasts a healthy relaxation atmosphere and an enchanting ambience. Stretching across the south-east through Decksteiner Weiher pond to the borough of Sülz, where it crisscrosses Beethovenpark. Visiting families with children will find the park interesting as there is a wide variety of activities on offer including pony riding, jogging, and a hands-on children’s zoo.
3 Days in Cologne
The Hiroshima-Nagasaki Park is a perfect illustration of how rubble can be transformed into a beautiful, breathtaking park. Set on the backdrop of a hill which was a dumping ground for debris during the World War II, the park offers the ultimate pleasure: there are spots where you can enjoy barbecue, jog, or better still, enjoy the tranquil scenery the environment offers.
The Romano-Germanic Museum features a remarkable abundance of hidden treasures that offer an insight into the typical Roman life, including a collection of Roman glass. The museum is not only home to Roman artefacts; it is a Roman site itself.
The Belgian district is one of the trendiest neighbourhoods in Cologne – and this is for a good reason. The beautiful inner city features art galleries, boutiques, food, and a booming nightlife. You can head over to Brüsseler Platz at the heart of the Belgian District where you can mix with the locals and join in the parties and celebration in the quarter.
Rheinauhafen is Cologne’s most prominent gentrified city district, as it affects the skyline from the right bank of the River Rhine is such a spectacular fashion. The impressive transformation of industrially used waterfronts into a beautiful modern district and combination of old and new architecture makes for a special allure about the district.
A walk through the area promises lots of excitement, and if you are hungry, there is a wide selection of varied restaurants at the port.
Boat Trip on the Rhine
What a way to bring your trip to this unique city to an end! Different companies offer boat cruise services – and they run at various times of the day. So, you’ve got lots of options to choose from. The tickets here are reasonably priced, and it is a terrific way to spend your last day in Cologne. Book Tickets Here.
A boat cruise along the Rhine is one of the top things to do in Cologne.
Best Restaurants in Cologne
Sitting on the popular Brüsseler Platz, the Hallmackenreuther has an amazing retro interior, perfectly complementing its awesome service. Looking for a huge bowl of freshly prepared pumpkin and some bread? Or are you looking out for a relaxation spot where you can enjoy nature at its breathtaking best?
The environment (in Belgian District) makes this restaurant a more appealing option.
This is your spot if you are looking to enjoy banana bread. The friendly service and atmosphere ensure visitors like you make the most of your time in the dynamic city of Cologne.
Pop-up Laden Ein
A pop-up bar set up to host varying restaurant types every other week, Laden Ein offers a wide range of inviting cuisines – that will appeal both the locals and tourists of diverse backgrounds.
Things to Know Before Visiting Cologne
Germany is the official language spoken by a majority of the population. However, most residents speak English too so you can get by without speaking or understanding the German. Still, learning a few basics of the German phrases will be ideal since not everyone can speak English fluently.
The Euro is the official currency in Germany as in most European Union countries. Before embarking on your trip, it would be wise to buy euros (enough for at least you). I notice that most shops in Cologne took cash and didn’t even have contactless payments.
I used my Monzo card while in Cologne at a few places that accepted cards and withdrawn money at the cash machine at no extra charge because Monzo is a fee-free currency card. You can read my review on the Monzo travel card.
Hopefully, this 3-day travel itinerary will help you plan your next city break to Cologne.