With a world-famous cathedral, museums and murals, plus a unique local beer scene, Cologne is the perfect European city break. There’s so much going on from exceptional fine dining to late night clubbing, making Cologne a great alternative to other, more touristed German cities. Here's how to spend a perfect few days in Cologne.

Lofty arches, columns and stained glass windows of the Gothic Cologne Cathedral (Kolner Dom)
The incredible arches of the Unesco listed Kölner Dom (Cologne Cathedral)  © Getty Images/Lonely Planet Images

Day one in Cologne


Any trip to Cologne (Köln in German) has to begin with exploring Germany’s most visited landmark – the magnificent Kölner Dom. A Gothic architectural masterpiece and Unesco World Heritage site, the cathedral dominates the skyline and is the historical and spiritual heart of the city.

Access to the cathedral is free and, once inside, you’ll be rewarded with its glut of treasures, such as the Shrine of the Three Kings and its impressive range of medieval stained-glass windows, as well as one from modern times; a beautiful abstract design by contemporary artist Gerhard Richter. Those with a head for heights can climb the 533 steps up the Dom’s south spire for panoramic views over the city and the Rhine. It’s also worth seeking out Cologne’s 12 Romanesque churches, including the Church of St Ursula, Church of St Gereon and the Church of Gross St Martin.

Behind the cathedral you will find the impressive Hohenzollern Bridge. Spanning the Rhine, the bridge has become a pilgrimage for lovers affixing love locks to its iron railings. Walk across to reach the Köln Triangle – one of Cologne’s tallest buildings with an observation deck offering dramatic views of the cathedral and the city. If heights are not your thing, hop onto one of the many riverboat cruises that offer sightseeing trips along the Rhine.

Tray of Kolsch (specialty beer from Cologne) beer served on a wooden table at a Cologne bar.
Taste test the local specialty Kölsch at a Cologne beer hall © Bjoern Wylezich / Shutterstock


Cologne is famous for its Brauhaus culture. These traditional beer halls, or breweries, serve food and the Old Town is home to some of the best. Enjoy local delicacies such as Halve Hahn (thick slices of Gouda cheese served with raw onion, butter and bread), Mettbrütche (raw minced pork served with onions and bread) and Himmel un Ääd (fried black pudding, chunky apple puree and mashed potato) paired with a glass (or three) of Kölsch beer. This speciality cold ale is only brewed in Cologne and served in traditional 0.2l glasses. For an authentic experience, check out beer halls like Peters Brauhaus or Früh am Dom.

After lunch get lost amongst the narrow alleyways of Cologne’s picturesque Old Town or book yourself onto one of the many Kölsch tours to learn more about the history and culture of this local beer. The Kölsch Crew offers two-hour tours, visiting up to four beer halls


Discover the lively atmosphere of the Belgian Quarter, one of the trendiest neighbourhoods in Cologne. Gorge yourself on Belgian food before dancing the night away at clubs such as Gewölbe and the long-standing Sixpack.

Schaafenstraße is the epicentre of queer culture in Cologne with a collection of LGBTQIA+ bars and clubs. Let your hair down at Die Mumu and see where the night takes you. 

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Day two in Cologne


Kickstart your day with the perfect coffee at Espresso Perfetto or, for those looking for a more leisurely breakfast, try out cafe-bars such as the hip Waidmeister, the gay-friendly Café Rico, or Funk Haus which is near the main train station. 

Since you’re on holiday, why not do as the locals do and unwind at one of Cologne’s spa and wellness centres? Claudius Therme is one of the best with thermal pools, outdoor saunas, massage and beauty treatments and an outdoor terrace. Influenced by Scandinavian-style bathing, German bathhouse culture is relaxing and particularly freeing, and the relaxed attitude to nudity might take some travellers by surprise.

Cologne: Wonderful flower beds with tulips and other spring flowers in the Rhine Park Cologne
Cologne blooms with color in the Rheinpark – a large green oasis with river views © iStockphoto / Getty Images


Fully revived, meander back to the city through one of Cologne's many parks, such as the Rheinpark – a large green oasis with stunning views of the Rhine – or Cologne’s free Sculpture Park, which has a range of sculptures by famous artists such as Anish Kapoor.

Continue your day of pampering with a visit to the Schokoladenmuseum, where you can learn about the 5000-year-old history of chocolate, create your own bespoke chocolate bar and sample the delights of the enormous chocolate fountain. 


Cologne’s food scene is much more than Brauhaus fare, and it’s worth treating yourself to one of its highly regarded restaurants. For innovative fine dining there’s Amabile or Ox und Klee; the sumptuous Italian food at Alfredo or Da Damiano; and don’t forget Café Feynsinn, which kick-started Cologne’s slow-food movement. Book ahead to avoid disappointment. 

But for those keen to sample more hearty German staples, head straight to family-owned Bei Oma Kleinmann, or spend the night drinking Kölsch with the locals at Brauhaus Pütz in the Belgian Quarter. Here you'll find a top quality classic schnitzel.

Day three


First, load-up on pastries from the long-established Bäckerei Zimmerman, a treasure-trove of home-baked goods, before setting out to explore Cologne’s wealth of museums. 

Museum Ludwig has one of the largest Picasso collections in Europe, while those more interested in classical works should hear to the Wallraf-Richartz Museum. Due to its Roman foundations, there are also notable historical sites including the Römisch-Germanisches Museum and the Kolumba building, which spectacularly encases the ruins of the late-Gothic Church of St Kolumba.

If you want to get some fresh air, walk over to the arty Ehrenfeld district, renowned for its huge street-art murals.


Finally, head back to your favourite Brauhaus for one last Kölsch and Halve Hahn to soak up the jovial, laid-back atmosphere of this beautiful Gothic city.

You might also like: 
Top 12 things to do when you visit Germany
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This article was first published Dec 27, 2019 and updated Feb 21, 2022.

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