What better way to kick off the festive season than with a wintry weekend in the 2000-year-old city of Cologne? With numerous galleries and museums, an imposing gothic cathedral and kolsch (delicious cold ale served in tall 200ml glasses) at every turn, Cologne made for the perfect German escape.

Pre trip spending 

Flights: We managed to find return flights for €35 from London Stansted. As well as being cheap, timings were ideal, flying Friday morning and returning Sunday evening.

The Cologne cathedral lit up at night.
Cologne's most famous sight © Louis Austin/Lonely Planet

Airbnb: €199 (€99.50 each) for two nights' stay in a cosy apartment close to the city centre. It was located close to Hansaring metro station, walking distance to the river, Old Town and the lively Belgium Quarter. 

Train: Return ticket to London Stansted airport with a 26-30 railcard, at €22.50.

Total: €157
 

On the ground

Friday

Total: €76.50

10am: We arrived at Cologne airport late morning and purchased a single train ticket to Cologne Central Station for €3

The author stands on a bridge wearing a thick blue jacket with his hood up. In the background is a river with canal boats on it.
Louis at Hohenzollern Bridge © Louis Austin/Lonely Planet

11am: Once in the city, we mooched around to get our bearings using the impressive two-spired cathedral as a reference point. We spent €9.40 (€4.70 each) at Kamps Backerei, a German bakery chain, treating ourselves to ham and cheese croissants, a marzipan raisin bun and two coffees.

12pm: We couldn’t check-in to our Airbnb until 3pm and with it being cold and having our bags with us, we thought it was a perfect opportunity to soak and rejuvenate at a German spa. Adopted from the Romans, German bathhouse culture is relaxing and freeing. We went to Cladius Therme, a five-star thermal spa with both indoor and outdoor heated pools, numerous hot tubs dotted around and roughly eight different saunas, each with a different aromatherapy. Entry for two hours, including towels and robes, came to €31.25 each and it was money well spent. 

Two plates of mushroom schnitzel with fried potato and small glasses of beer on a wooden table.JPG
A hearty German meal to kick off the holiday © Louis Austin/Lonely Planet

3pm: We left the spa feeling peckish so stopped off at a traditional brauhaus (traditional beer hall) for some food and refreshments en route to the apartment - the first of many we visited. We went to Brauhaus Em Kölsche Boor, near to where we were staying, and ordered two kolsch, shared a halve hahn (very large slice of emmental cheese with bread, butter and onions) which is a traditional pairing with kolsch, and shared a bockwurst with potato salad. The bill came to €22.50 (€11.25 each).

6pm: After arriving at the AirBnb and settling in, it was time to explore the city by night. First stop, an Irish pub opposite the apartment where we enjoyed a quick kolsch (€2.20), before heading over to Brauhaus Pütz in the Belgium Quarter. We ended up spending the whole evening at this cosy yet lively spot, enjoying upwards of ten kolsch each (they’re small!) along with a very hearty mushroom schnitzel served with potatoes. The locals were friendly and as it’s common to be seated on a table with others, we mingled and quickly made friends. The bill came to €48.20 (€24.10 each) and after a long first day, we headed home to settle in for the night. 

Saturday 

Total: €81.94

10am: Making the most of our time in Cologne, we were out and ready for a day of exploring by 10am, and first headed back to the Belgium Quarter to a bakery that came recommended, Bäckerei Zimmermann. I ordered a pastry and coffee for €4.70. The rest of the morning was spent wandering this charming city, where new buildings have been built on the ruins of old ones destroyed in the war. We visited Christmas markets near the chocolate museum and went inside the towering Cathedral known as Kolner Dom, which in 1996 was declared a World Heritage Site. All of this came free, except for two key-rings we bought as souvenirs from the Lego Store for €4.99 each.

Two men stand on grass. In the background are typical narrow German buildings.
Exploring Cologne's Old Town © Louis Austin/Lonely Planet

1pm: Lunchtime arrived, so we headed to another brauhaus called Brauhaus Sion, this time in the Old Town, and again shared a halve hahn and a bratwurst and washed down with two kolsch. The bill came to €10.75 each.

3pm: For the afternoon we’d organised a brewery tour for the price of €24 each. It was a two-hour tour whereby our tour guide, Zoe, took us to four kolsch breweries to taste their house ales and teach us the history of kolsch culture. At the end of the tour, we enjoyed an extra beer each for €3.60, paying with €10 and leaving the change to Zoe as a tip.  

Two small glasses of beer
Proof that kolsch are really small! © Louis Austin/Lonely Planet

6pm: For dinner we visited another brauhaus called Früh am Dom, this time recommended by our AirBnb host as being one of the best in the centre of Cologne, and each enjoyed another bratwurst and a couple of kolsch, for €31 (€15.50 each).

9pm: After spending several hours in the warm and cosy brauhaus and with full bellies, we decided to experience the nightlife Cologne has to offer. Zoe recommended Schaafenstraße, a street of bars in the Belgium Quarter that are open late. Being ten years younger and a student, we didn’t know what to expect from Zoe’s recommendation but embracing it anyway, we had a great time and ended up going to two bars, drinking a further five kolsch each over the course of the evening. That, along with a currywurst we picked up en route home, came to €34 (€17 each).

Day 3

Total: €52.15

11am: We woke up on Sunday feeling slightly jaded from the night before, and had a lazy morning at the apartment. Check-out was 11am, so bags packed and gloves on, we headed out for the day. First things first, breakfast. We went to a cafe near the apartment called Café Schmitz, enjoying a delicious buffet full of German spoils for €13.50 each. We fuelled up on fresh fruit, continental brekkie and sweet waffles, which cured the sore heads and set us up nicely for the day. 

A series of colourful paintings with gold frames hang on a grey wall of a museum. There is a sculpture of a man in the foreground
Sunday was the perfect day for the museum © Louis Austin/Lonely Planet

1pm: A city full of history, there are many museums in Cologne displaying world-renowned art and we decided to visit Wallraf-Richartz Museum, which is one of Germany’s finest art collections from the medieval period right up to the 20th century. Tickets were €13 each and highlights were a Rembrandt exhibition, as well as seeing work from impressionists Cezanne, Van Gogh and Sisley.

4pm: After spending several hours in the museum we had time for one last meal in Cologne before making our way to the airport. We thought it only fitting to visit a brauhaus one last time. We went to Peters Brauhaus and enjoyed two kolsch each, along with bratwurst, fried potatoes and sauerkraut and a bottle of water, coming to €34.90 for both of us (€17.45 each).

6pm: We purchased single train tickets from Cologne Central Station to the airport for €3, and I spent a further €5.20 on airport snacks to see me through, leaving Cologne very full but very content nonetheless.

A sausage and fried potato on a plate with a small beer next to it.
One last bratwurst and kolsch for good measure © Louis Austin/Lonely Planet

The final tally

Total: €367.59

(€210.59 spending money + €157 on pre-trip expenses)

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