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Top things to do in Cologne

See all 12 things to do in Cologne

Things To Do in Cologne

Sitting along the Rhine River in western Germany, Cologne is the cultural and artistic hub of the country. While it’s famous for its medieval churches—most notably the 515-foot-tall (157-m) Gothic Cologne Cathedral—the city is a dynamic hotspot where the past and present coexist to create one of the most invigorating atmospheres in the nation. The city is known for its numerous museums, with subjects that range from history and artwork to chocolate and sports. The locals have earned a reputation for a certain exuberance and spirit, and it’s easy to have fun right alongside them at any of the many restaurants, nightclubs, music venues, and beer halls. With exciting events, trendy neighborhoods, and a vibrantly colorful culture, there’s much more to Cologne than just a really big church.

Areas & Neighborhoods

The city of Cologne is broken up into 9 districts and nearly 100 neighborhoods, but the best and most exciting attractions are concentrated in a few parts of the city. If you only have a short time to explore this 2,000-year-old town, these are the spots you simply can’t miss.

Innerstadt — The central district of the city, Innerstadt is cut in half by the Rhine River. The district is further broken up into smaller neighborhoods, which make up the cultural, commercial, and entertainment hubs of the city.

  • Altstadt: Altstadt, or the Old Town, is the historic heart of Cologne, marked with narrow alleyways, centuries-old churches, and a ring of roads that line the northern, southern, and western borders. Near the Hohenzollern Bridge, the neighborhood’s most significant landmark is the Cologne Cathedral, with its 13th-century Gothic spires towering over the city. The area is also where you’ll find many other landmarks and institutions such as Great St. Martin Church, the Museum Ludwig, and the Alter Markt. In the south half of the neighborhood, the Rheinauhafen waterfront promenade is a great place to find shopping and cafes, while the areas on and around Hohenzollernring buzz with restaurants, bars, and nightclubs.
  • Neustadt-Nord: To the north and west of Altstadt, Neustadt-Nord—or North New Town—is a lively neighborhood, where modern-day buildings and attractions share the streets with historic architecture and sprawling parks. The trendy area is gritty but clean, known for used record stores, vintage fashions, and captivating street art. In the Belgian Quarter, centered around Brussels Square, a party atmosphere fills the air as the young and artsy hop between bars, lounges, and comedy clubs until the wee hours of the morning. The Quarter and nearby Rudolfplatz square have also become hubs for the city’s large LGBTQ population.

Ehrenfeld — To the west of Neustadt-Nord, Ehrenfeld is one of the most sought-after residential areas in the city, with plenty of shop-lined streets, dining options, and artist studios that appeal to the liberal youth of Cologne. Along Venloer Strasse, a selection of eclectic bars, alternative music venues, and independent cinemas have made the street a social and cultural hotspot for the cool crowd.

Nippes — Though it doesn’t boast the active nightlife scenes of Altstadt, Ehrenfeld, or Neustadt, Nippes is a great place to visit when you’re in search of a quaint cafe, cozy eatery, or dimly lit cocktail bar. Located directly to the north of Old Town, the quiet neighborhood is also home to farmers’ markets and beautiful parks.

Rodenkirchen — Situated to the south of Old Town along the Rhine River, the quaint suburb of Rodenkirchen is a popular residential area for families. The neighborhood is a prime spot to relax along the water, soak in some sun, or enjoy a game of soccer at one of its several parks.

What to See in Cologne

Soak in the sparkling sights of Cologne lit up at night aboard a Rhine River cruise boat. Board the yacht near the Hohenzollern Bridge and grab a spot on either the outdoor deck or in the covered lounge with panoramic windows. As you begin your ride and twilight falls on the city, watch as the skyline begins to suddenly glisten like jewels. Marvel at awe-inspiring sites like illuminated bridges, contemporary museums, and the imposing spires of the Cologne Cathedral, which glow with shades of white and gold.

Things to Do, Landmarks & Attractions

Wander through the streets of Altstadt to uncover the city’s most significant sites and historic landmarks. Take in the grandeur of the Cologne Cathedral—Germany’s most visited landmark—see the iconic tower of Great St. Martin Church, and admire the Renaissance facade of the Historic City Hall. Along the way, pop into any number of spectacular museums that can be found throughout the area. See the extensive collection of Picasso artwork at Museum Ludwig, get close to ancient artifacts at the Roman-Germanic Museum, and explore 3,000 years of cacao-related history at the waterside Chocolate Museum.

North of the Old Town, pay a visit to the Cologne Zoological Garden. Here, you can make friends with more than 700 species from across the globe, including hippos, leopards, meerkats, gorillas, and kangaroos. See the majestic creatures at the elephant park, dive into the underwater world at the aquarium, and watch birds soar through the air during daily flight shows.

With the KölnCard, you can see all these sites and more while saving a ton of money. Explore the city at your leisure using public transportation, enjoy special rates on bus tours and boat rides, and get incredible discounts on museums, shows, restaurants, bars, and hotels.