The largest city on the Rhine, Cologne makes its mark as one of Germany’s most dynamic cities, bridging the gap between ancient history and modern metropolis. From Roman Ruins and progressive design to distinctive museums and authentic experiences, this city offers something for everyone—and it’s all within reach over a long weekend.
Start your adventure in Cologne’s Old Town, a quarter that charms visitors with its striking buildings, quaint alleyways, picturesque plazas, and inviting breweries.
Meander through the neighborhood bordering the Rhine and appreciate the towering views of the historic City Hall and Romanesque church Great St. Martin. Stop to marvel at the Cologne Cathedral, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which is a shining example of Gothic and Neo-Gothic architecture and Germany’s most-visited attraction. For a breathtaking view of the city from above, scale the cathedral’s 533 stairs, and—once you’ve caught your breath—scan the vista for the Seven Hills south of Bonn.
Back on the ground, explore the draws of the Museum District. With approximately 900 original works (including a notable Picasso collection), The Museum Ludwig houses the largest Pop Art collection outside the U.S. The Museum of Applied Arts showcases fine art and design objects, ranging from 5,000-year-old jewelry to works from the present day. Meanwhile, the Wallraf-Richartz Museum displays Renaissance, Impressionist, and Gothic collections, and holds the distinction of being the oldest museum in Cologne.
Fans of European history will be fascinated to learn that Cologne once served as a provincial Roman capital. In the years between 38 B.C. to 50 A.D., Generals and Emperors alike harnessed the city’s strategic location on the Rhine to increase their trading power and military might in this “Colonia Agrippina”. Signs of former Roman rule remain throughout Cologne whether in the form of ancient stone gates around Old Town, or mighty stone walls now incorporated into modern builds.
Begin your second day with a dose of fresh air. On the western side of the Rhine, Rhine Garden offers walking and cycling paths, while the Rheinboulevard boasts a striking view of Old Town, with the flowing Rhine and old railway bridge in the foreground.
If you would rather see the skyline from above, visit the panorama platform atop the KölnTriangle. This 339-foot building allows for 360-degree views of the city and allows for frame-worthy photography through its clear glass walls.
Prefer more earthly delights? Cross the river and make your way to Schildergasse. Cologne’s busiest shopping street, Schildergasse clocks an average of 13,000 visitors an hour visiting its clothing stores and department stores.
To add a new scent to your fragrance collection, stop by Farina Dufthaus near City Hall. Home of the original “Eau de Cologne,” this museum offers both an assortment of fragrances for sale and a deep-dive into the origins of cologne, first mixed here in 1709. Also popular, the second-oldest perfume-maker, 4711, lets you try their 4711 Original Eau de Cologne at their flagship’s perfume fountain.
On your final day in Cologne, get a taste of the lively urban scene with a visit to Rheinauhafen. This young district stands in marked contrast to the Old Town, displaying dazzling creativity through its modern architecture, art galleries, and restaurant scene. Stroll beneath the Kranhäuser, or “crane towers”, a series of three 17-story buildings that hover like harbor cranes along the Rhine.
Walk a few minutes north for a stop at the Cologne Chocolate Museum, a veritable temple to chocolate that not only takes visitors through 5,000 years of cocoa-filled history, but also delights with a nearly 10-foot-tall chocolate fountain.
If all that chocolate makes you feel indulgent, head next door to the Sports and Olympics Museum, where over 3,000 exhibits bring guests on a journey through sporting history from ancient Greece to the present day.
Wrap your day with Cologne’s hometown brew: Kölsch. Whether you find a spot at a historic brewery or elect a more modern haunt, keep an eye out for Köbes: traditional waiters wearing blue aprons, blue jackets, and large leather purses. These servers make the rounds with casks they have personally bought from the brewery and replace empty glasses with full pours until guests place coasters atop their empties.
Photo ©FRÜH Gastronomie
A Köbe or traditional waiter
To ensure the ever-replenishing beers don’t go to your head, order a local dish like currywurst, pork knuckle, or “Halver Hahn,” a roll served with cheese, pickles and mustard. Once you’ve had your fill of eats, take the coaster off your empty glass, and prepare for another pour to magically appear upon your table. Prost!