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Cologne Hipster City Guide for Travelers

Germany’s fourth largest city is more interesting than you think. With cool events, trendy cafés and a vibrant, colorful culture, there’s a lot more to the city than just a really big church.

As Germany’s fourth largest city, Cologne is big but not overwhelming. The population is diverse and while the city is spread out, it’s a completely manageable city to discover with easy public transportation or even on foot.

One of the best areas to spot Cologne’s many hip cafes & trendy bars is around Rudolfplatz and the nearby Belgian Quarter, but what I found when discovering the city for myself, much of Cologne is actually pretty cool. Here’s a peek into the hipster hotspots in what might just be Germany’s most under-rated city.

Know Where To Go: Cologne Neighborhoods

Hipster Guide to Cologne - Travels of Adam -

Cologne is one of Germany’s larger cities but it’s actually still quite easy to get around using the u-bahn. Most tourists stick to the Cologne Old City, but go a little further (sometimes even just 10 or 15 minute walk away) and you’ll find quirkier areas full of street art, trendy shops or tasty international food.

  • Old City (Altstadt) — This area is relatively touristic, but its narrow alleyways and colorful buildings along the Rhine River make it picturesque. It’s definitely worth taking a stroll through this neighborhood as it’s so near the major tourist sites.
  • Central area around the Cologne Cathedral — The Agnesviertel area and neighborhood near the Cologne Cathedral is often crowded with tourists but that’s because all the best sightseeing is here. Museum Ludwig is located just behind the Cathedral and the main streets nearby are full of both typical High Street shops and smaller, kitschier ones.
  • Rudolfplatz — In the blocks around Rudolfplatz you’ll find hipsters, gays and lesbians, students, families and locals. It’s a casual area full of shops, bars, cafés and restaurants.
  • Belgian Quarter (Belgisches Viertel) — This is one of the more trendy neighborhoods of Cologne. There are shops selling everything from used records to high-end fashion, with street art murals painted on the walls outside. It’s gritty but clean, crowded but quiet.
  • Ehrenfeld — Slightly further outside the main areas of Cologne, this neighborhood is a lively and popular residential area. Shops, artists studios, cafes, clubs and theaters are scattered throughout the Ehrenfeld neighborhood. Look out for the huge street art murals at Ehrenfelder Bahnhof!

Sightseeing & Activities – Things to Do in Cologne

Cologne, Germany

Trust me. There’s more to Cologne than just a really big church.

  • Cologne Cathedral — Cologne’s claim to fame is the massive Cathedral in the center of the city. The Kölner Dom is a World Heritage Site and is apparently one of Germany’s most popular tourist attractions. Construction of the Cathedral began in the 13th century but wasn’t completed until 1880. Today it’s northern Europe’s largest Gothic church and has some of the world’s largest church spires. It’s an impressive sight to take in and if you manage to get a photo of the whole church in one photograph, kudos to you!
  • Hohenzollern Bridge 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.
  • Street art in Ehrenfeld Ehrenfeld is one of Cologne’s coolest neighborhoods. Many street artists from around the world have left behind murals and other public art pieces. Check out the streets around Ehrenfelder Bahnhof for 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.
  • Museum Ludwig A large and spacious contemporary art museum, Museum Ludwig has an impressive permanent collection and gets some of the best international exhibitions.
  • Chocolate Museum Fun for anyone who has even the slightest interest in chocolate, the Chocolate Museum (partnered with Lindt chocolates) is a fun way to spend an afternoon.

Cologne Nightlife & Bars in Cologne

Hipster Guide to Cologne - Travels of Adam -

There’s quite a bit of nightlife in the Cologne Old City (Altstadt), but don’t think that’s all you’ve got. Visit the Belgian Quarter, Ehrenfeld and around Rudolfplatz for more interesting bars and clubs.

  • Sixpack — Cologne’s most hipster nightclub. It’s an after-hours club, full of trendy (& trashy) young crowds. Take note: there’s no sign on the door but you’ll spot it because of the giant streetside, reflective glass mirror and the sixpack symbol above the door. Aachener Straße 33
  • Barracuda Bar A club for your techno music fix, plus live music shows. Bismarckstraße 44
  • Theater im Bauturm While it’s a theater for shows and plays, there’s also a bar & cafe out front often full of hipsters. Aachener Straße 24-26
  • Früh Brewery Maybe it’s a bit touristic, but when you’re in Cologne, you’ve got try the local brew. And what better place than in the brewery itself? Order a Kolsch! Am Hof 12-18
  • Herr Pimock With a logo that’s got a top hat and a mustache, you can’t really find a more hipster bar if you tried. Aachner Straße 52
  • Grünfeld Yet another bar along Aachner Straße, but this one’s got an outdoor beer garden. Brüssler Straße 47

Cologne Gay Travel Guide

Hipster Guide to Cologne - Travels of Adam -

Cologne is allegedly home to one of Germany’s largest LGBTQ (ie, gay/queer) populations and if you ask any German about Cologne, almost inevitably the first thing out of their mouth is that it’s “the gay city.” Somehow it’s just gotten this reputation and it’s stuck! The annual Christopher Street Day pride (in June) is one of the largest in Germany, but probably the city’s biggest gay event is the Carnival in February.

Approximately one million people visit Cologne for Carnival and the costumes are really a sight unto themselves! Regardless of the gay events and festivals, however, Cologne has some decent gay nightlife and a welcoming and friendly atmosphere. Much of Cologne’s gay culture centers around Rudolfplatz and the Belgian Quarter, with some of the more legendary and historic gay bars around Heumarkt (which is also where the summertime CSD pride festivities take place).

  • Schaafenstraße — This is the street where you’ll find most gay bars and clubs in Cologne.
  • Bastard — This trendy, backyard bar and cafe is best visited on a summer evening. Friesenwall 29
  • Bruno’s Shop — Located on the Kettengasse street, Bruno’s is Germany’s most popular store for gay books, magazines, DVDs and fashion…plus brochures and information on local LGBT initiatives and hotspots. Across the street is a small but friendly art gallery, OsperKettengasse 20
  • Ex Corner Popular most nights of the week with a regular happy hour each evening, Ex Corner is best visited before midnight. Schaafenstraße 57-59
  • Iron Bar With a daily happy hour, tapas & cocktails, this is supposedly one of Cologne’s more stylish gay bars (despite its rather tough name). Unfortunately they were under renovation when I visited. Schaafenstraße 45
  • Katt-Winkel Where to go when you’re looking for a fun drag show! Greesbergstraße 2
  • Die Mumu A gay bar and club for a younger crowd, the visitors here might get described as “campy,” which matches the outrageous decor. Schaafenstraße 51
  • Rosa Winkel Mahnmal This memorial to gay and lesbian victims of National Socialism sits alongside the Rhine River just near the Hohenzollern Bridge. It was built in 1995, shortly after Frankfurt’s similar monument went up. The location was once a meeting point for queers in Cologne and the design of the monument reflects the famous “Pink triangle.”

Cafés & Restaurants in Cologne

Hipster Guide to Cologne - Travels of Adam -

Kaffee und Kuchen (coffee and cake) is a German past-time throughout the country, but in Cologne they seem to have perfected the afternoon treat.

  • Salon / Metzgerei Schmitz — This cafe and deli next door to one another is probably the best place to spot Cologne’s local hipsters. With wifi and spacious seating, quality coffee and a budget-friendly lunch menu, you could easily get lost for a few hours in Cafe Schmitz. Aachner Straße 28
  • Hallmackenreuther This bar, cafe & restaurant is über-hip! With a giant Pan-Am logo on the outside, and just on the corner of the always popular Brüssler Platz, the clean design on the inside and the good drinks make it a popular stopping point in the Belgian Quarter. Brüssler Platz 9
  • Cafe Sehnsucht — This bio restaurant and cafe is famous for being a part of the slow food movement. Körnerstraße 67, Ehrenfeld
  • Café Rico — Popular hangout on the corner of Rudolfplatz with a reputation as one of Cologne’s best brunches. It’s very gay-friendly and a great place for an afternoon coffee on the outdoor patio as well. Mittelstraße 31-33
  • Beef Brothers A small burger joint on the popular Aachner Straße, the meals are cheap and tasty. There’s only a small room in the back for seating, but if the weather’s good you can sit out on the patio out front. Aachner Straße 12
  • Ständige Vertretung Köln — Located in the Altstadt (Old Town), this bar & restaurant along the Rhine has hundreds of historic photographs hanging on the inside and a comfortable outdoor patio for the summertime. The Brauhaus was once a meeting point for local political leaders. Tip: drink the local Kölsch beer! Frankenwerft 31
  • Krua Thai A fast but tasty Thai restaurant with take-away options. Perfect for a quick but flavorful meal in the Belgian Quarter. Brüsseler Straße 40-42

Shopping in Cologne

Hipster Guide to Cologne - Travels of Adam -

Schildergasse is Cologne’s main shopping street in the central, downtown area, but in fashion-friendly Cologne, the best finds are found out in the boutiques around Brüssler Platz and throughout the Belgian Quarter. There are also some small shops in Ehrenfeld where you’re sure to find something unique.

  • Magasin 2 Part of a trifecta of boutique fashion shops in and around the Belgian Quarter, the Magasin 2 location has clothing for both men & women (one of their other boutiques sells just mens fashion + has a record store in the basement). Many European brands on display and they have a small sale rack for better bargains. Brüsseler Strasse 48
  • The Good Will Out Sneakers and cool kicks, selling brands from Nike & Adidas to New Balance and Puma. Prices are reasonable. Händelstrasse 41, near Rudolfplatz
  • Ciuciu — Candy store selling handmade sweets! You can see how they’re made in person at their shop in the Altstadt. Rothenberg 9a-11
  • Parallel Record store selling used and new “schallplatten.” Brabanter Strasse 2-4
  • Taschen Bookstore — The international art design bookseller has a small shop in the Belgisches Viertel. It’s crowded with art and photography books! Hohenzollernring 28

Where to Stay in Cologne

Hipster Guide to Cologne - Travels of Adam -

Cologne is fairly easy to get around and you’ll probably find most hotels and hostels nearby the central downtown area. The major tourist attractions in Cologne are also near the main railway station, and the hipster neighborhoods around Rudolfplatz and the Belgian Quarter are just a short tram ride away (or maybe a maximum 20-minute walk).

Best Hotels in Cologne

  • Hotel Chelsea — Boutique art hotel started by a local artist, Marin Kippenberger. The hotel was created and designed by artists and all rooms have contemporary art hanging on the inside (many from local artists). Originally the collection was developed by allowing aritsts to provide art in exchange for a place to sleep! Jülicher Straße 1

Best Hostels in Cologne

  • Pathpoint Cologne Backpackers — This chain of backpacker hostels across Germany are pretty basic, but the staff at the Köln location are friendly and outgoing. Allerheiligenstraße 15
  • Die Wohngemeinschaft Hostel — I didn’t stay here but I did walk by and it looked super cool!

Cologne Travel Tips

Hipster Guide to Cologne - Travels of Adam -
  • Go for a mid-afternoon coffee break at Cafe Rico in Rudolfplatz
  • Visit the book & clothing swap in Ehrenfeld 
  • Shop for costumes and Carnival attire at Deiters
  • Visit Brüssler Platz in the Belgian Quarter during the early evenings in summertime, where young people gather after work for drinks and fun
  • Watch the sunset at Deutzer Brucke to have a view of the city with the Kolner Dom (weather permitting!)

Local Cologne Travel Resources

  1. Cologne, Germany is More Cool Than You Think says:

    […] Ultimate Hipster Guide to Cologne […]

  2. Rob says:

    Boom! Heading to Cologne soon Adam, will come back for more tips when we go on our boys holiday! Cheers :)

  3. Robin says:

    Just found your blog! Great to have so many options for places to go besides museums-I particularly like street art so that’s a must.

  4. William says:

    Metzgerei & Dalon Schmitz does not have wifi. I went there today based on your recommendation and brought my laptop with me but when I arrived the server told me that they do not have wifi.

  5. belinda says:

    hi rob heading off to cologne after difficulty on deciding on my shortlist of cologne, budapest & bucharest! cologne wins it after your really accessible and informative blog! Thanks for that! If you are ever in the UK and visit an ancient town called Winchester, pop in and see us at Nibble cafe – hence thewebsite. My partner & I run it but are taking a break in Jan. I am a lapsed graphic designer too but now looking to create again. Great job!

    • Adam says:

      Hey Belinda – sounds cool and glad my Cologne guide convinced you to visit. I’m sure you’ll have a great time. There’s an incredible cafe culture in Cologne :)

  6. Emma says:

    Hi, I’m heading to Cologne later this month and I was wondering if you came across any shops that sell cool teaware or tea cups?

  7. Daniel says:

    Hey, if you like to have a good overview over the city take the tour with Peter from Colonia Aktiv. It´s a 3 hours guided bike tour and it´s really good to start with visiting Cologne.

  8. Going to spend a long weekend in Cologne this spring and I had been having trouble coming across resources from the travel blogosphere—so this is perfect!! Thanks so much for making this free :) You rock!

  9. Mareile says:

    I live in Cologne and here are my “insider tips” (in case you’ve already seen the main highlights):

    1) Kölntriangle – a skyscaper on the other side of the Rhine with a great view

    2) Melaten-Cemetery – quite a few famous people from Cologne are buried here. The cemetery is a true oasis of peace.

    3) Bonbonschmiede – sweets in all flavors are made by hand in this small shop near the Cologne Cathedral.

    P.S. The “Praetorium” is a must for archaeology-fans.

    Have a great time in Cologne and try to sleep over in a real German Jugendherberge (hostel) if you can!


  10. GHAZALA says:

    Hey , I have just moved to Cologne and have really enjoyed reading your travel tips.
    I was wondering however if there was any way of keeping up with all the smaller events that happen all the time? I seem to find out too late that something interesting is on!

    • Adam says:

      Hey! I’m a big fan of Facebook groups to find out about events. When you find out where these events take place that you keep missing, check their Facebook pages and subscribe to their events… Enjoy!

  11. Aysha says:

    Hello.. so far this is the beat guide and tips! Im visiting for a very short trip any reccomendations for a whole sale furniture store?? And artsy places to visit?
    Thank you

  12. Kate H. says:

    Thanks for the ample advice! I may be placed here for a semester to teach English, so this has been a helpful find. I don’t know if I can see all of that in a short time, but the Chocolate Museum will definitely be at the top of the To Do list!

  13. Filip says:

    Hi Adam,

    Great guide!
    Any ideas for Art Nouveau style bars or early 20th century?
    Thank you!

  14. Rich says:

    Guys can anyone help me out,

    Been given the task of organising a weekend here in 12 hours, I will be met by my group later today.

    Any good ideas for food and a night out?

  15. Aida says:

    Hey Adam, great advise & great blog. I’m in Cologne for today and going to make a little little of special things to do. You really helped me there.
    One question- do you know if any good cafés to work in? Nice atmosphere, wifi, relaxed..?

  16. Aida says:

    A little list. Oo #autocorrect

  17. Ashlin says:

    hey Adam!
    Great blog! however I can’t find any more information on the book and clothes swop in Ehrenfeld, could you please give ne some more details about it?
    many thanks!
    Ashlin x

  18. This is handy. We plan to hop over to Cologne this weekend and I think we’ll be visiting quite a few places on your list! Thanks Adam.

  19. Hey! This was excellent! One of the few I have loved to read otherwise most blogs just lose interest of person in half way. This was helpful and I’m going to make most out of it. Good job mate!