Before the weather turned too cold I took a short trip up to visit Cologne (that’s Köln) for the very first time. Having lived in Germany for a little while now (a long while, really), it seemed strange that I hadn’t yet visited. All the things I’d heard about Cologne were positive. It’s apparently Germany’s most “gay” city with a more-than-usual LGBT population. It’s supposed to have good nightlife and artsy things to do. You hear these things about cities all the time but it’s always hard to judge.

In reality, though, I found Cologne 100% lived up to its hype. And probably even exceeded it! This was one damn cool city.

Things To Do in Köln

10 Things To Do In Cologne

1. Shop in the Belgian Quarter

Well this has to be one of the coolest neighborhoods in Cologne. Full of great shops, boutiques, cafes and restaurants I pretty much stayed out in this area as much as possible. My favorite shop I found in this neighborhood was called Magasin 2, which was actually part of a trifecta of shops. They sold men’s and women’s fashion, plus cool & trendy things such as records and knick-knacks.

2. Explore Ehrenfeld

Ehrenfeld is another one of Cologne’s coolest neighborhoods. Many street artists from around the world have left behind murals and other public art pieces. The roads nearby Ehrenfelder Bahnhof have some large-scale murals. The annual CityLeaks festival takes over much of the art spaces in Ehrenfeld each September for its urban art tours, exhibitions and performances.

Köln shopping

3. Leave a lock at the love lock bridge

This bridge has become a bit of a Cologne institution. Tens of thousands of “love locks” have been added to the Hohenzollern Bridge in less than 10 years. It’s become a tradition to leave one behind, whether with your lover or just for the love of Cologne. Locksmiths and nearby souvenir shops will provide engravings on your locks if you’re interested.

4. Visit the Chocolate Museum

Fun for anyone who has even the slightest interest in chocolate, I visited the Chocolate Museum on a rainy afternoon. They even make their own chocolate in the museum and you get a free sample with your entrance ticket. If you’ve never learned how chocolate is made, this is a unique (and tasty!) experience.

beer cologne

5. Drink a beer along the Rhine

In the summertime, it seems there’s one thing that everyone in Cologne does. And that’s hang out along the Rhine River. Just near the edge of the Altstadt (Old City) is a row of colorful breweries and restaurants. Grab a table at one of them for some typical German food and a local brew (Kölsch beer).

6. Carnival!

Has to be Cologne’s biggest event — the annual Carnival usually takes place in February/March. Perhaps because there’s such a large gay and lesbian population in Cologne, or maybe just because everyone in this city just wants to have fun, Cologne’s Carnival is one of the biggest in Europe. Over 1 million people join in the Cologne Carnival celebrations each year!

Carnival costume shopping

7. Drink outside at Brüssler Platz

Okay — back to my favorite neighborhood of Cologne: the Belgian Quarter. The Brüssler Platz is at the intersections of Brüssler Strasse and Maastrichter Strasse. When the weather is good, the plaza fills up with Cologne’s young and trendy folks for some good ol’ public drinking. The bars and cafes located here all seem to spill out into the street.

8. Eat typical Cologne foods

Well there’s Kolsch beer; that’s probably most important. But you should also try a local food dish, Himmel und Äd (Heaven and Earth). It’s named for apples (from the sky) and potatoes (from the ground). You can find this meal at most bars, or kneipen, and it’s usually served with black pudding.

9. See pop art at Museum Ludwig

Located just behind the Cathedral, the Museum Ludwig is one of Germany’s best contemporary art museums. They’ve got a great permanent exhibition including works by Andy Warhol (but really, who doesn’t have a Warhol these days?). If you’re looking for art in Cologne, this is the place.

I love Cologne

10. Oh yeah…there’s a Cathedral

It’s Europe after all. Wouldn’t be a city without one. Except Cologne has gone all out with this guy and it’s utterly MASSIVE.

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Want more of my travel tips for Cologne? Check out my “Ultimate Hipster Guide to Cologne” — available for free!

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Please note some posts do make me some money but I never sacrifice my integrity in exchange for a favorable review. Read the full disclosure policy.

17 comments

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  1. Pingback: Cologne Tourist Attractions / Travel Guide / Tips / Blog

  2. Carnival seems very fun and an interesting thing to be done! And it seems its not as fancy as the Venice Carnival; more down to earth one:).

    • I think you might be right, Sorin – but I’m visiting Cologne for Carnival this weekend and will have a full report then :)

  3. Great post on a place that we nearly went to when in Maastricht, but didn’t make it. Next time for sure and maybe at Christmas.

    • I’m a big fan of Cologne. It’s a fun city! Hope you can make it for a visit sometime.

  4. Cologne was awesome – we had so much fun at the Kolsch bars. Wish we’d had more time there.

    • Cologne definitely feels like a city that could easily be enjoyed on a longer trip than just a day or two. I’m hoping to make it back there myself!

  5. Good write-up, sir! I’ve still only ever been *through* there on a train, but never actually stopped to look around. Can’t see it all though – maybe next time!

    • Thank you Ryan! Hope you make it back to Köln at some point – it’s inching up to be one of my favorite German cities

  6. After reading this, I’m even more bummed out that I’ve had to cancel my trip to Germany next month! I’ve heard only good things about Cologne, and also that it’s Germany’s ‘gayest’ city. I’m not sure about the idea of apples and potatoes together, but I’d give it a try for sure! Also, the Cathedral looks incredible.

    • Too bad to hear you won’t be visiting Germany, Tom. But it’ll still be here. Plus I think it’s a bit cold this time of year in Germany—better to visit in the spring or summer!

  7. I liked Cologne more than I expected to; it does indeed seem like an underrated German city. And that cathedral…I believe it’s actually the most visited sight in all of Germany.

    • I think Cologne is one of those cities that always surprises its visitors. Everyone hears good things about it, but the city still over-delivers! And yes, I think you’re right—the Cologne Cathedral is one of the most touristic sites in all of Germany!

  8. #2. Explore Ehrenfeld and #9. Modern art would be high on my list. Thanks for this peek inside Cologne.

    • Ehrenfeld is definitely the cool/hip area to hang out. Enjoy Cologne!

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