Cologne is a thriving, vibrant and welcoming city full of big clubs, stylish bars and trendy restaurants. Everywhere you go, you'll find a broad mix of people drinking, eating and socialising together. In fact, the bustling city has more pubs per capita than any other German city and beer-drinking has become an essential part of the day to day living.
It’s the land of beer, breweries and beer gardens - they even make their own Kolsch beer, a light hoppy beverage that is exclusively made in Cologne. In local restaurants, the waiters will continuously keep replacing your empty glasses of Kolsch, until you signal defeat by putting a beer mat on top of your glass.
If the beer culture hasn’t convinced you enough, then check out the flight prices to Cologne. If you book far enough in advance the flights from the UK are a steal - so what are you waiting for, get booking!
Explore the city
Explore the old town
Altstadt is the historic Old Town and home to the iconic Cologne cathedral (a UNESCO world heritage site), elegant shops, and some of the best bars in the city. It’s a thriving area, full of life and definitely shouldn’t be missed.
For the best view of the city
Catch the Kölner Cable Car over the beautiful river Rhine to enjoy aerial views over Cologne and the surrounding landscape - there isn’t another view in the city that comes close. Unfortunately, it’s closed during the winter months, so make sure you visit the cable cars between March and November.
Get your mates on a conference bike and take in the top sights of Cologne - it’s the quickest and easiest way to see the city as a group. An expert tour guide will lead you around and show you some of the city's sights, including the beautiful Hohenzollern bridge. Plus, you’ll get a complimentary beer at the end, what more could you want?
Rhine river rafting
If you have mates that are up for a challenge, then why not book a day trip of river rafting down the scenic Rhine river? Get kitted up, hop into your raft, and get ready for the ride of a lifetime. Plus, its the perfect way to get everyone pumped up for a night out later in the day.
The hilarious twist on a 5-a-side match is one of the most popular activities in Cologne and once the whistle blows, you’ll soon find out why. You’ll be knocking each other to the floor in seconds whether you’ve got the ball or not, and trying to stay on your feet long enough to get a shot away.
In this city, there's always something going on, with The Ring being one of the busiest and best nightlife areas. With over 70 places to go out, plus live gigs, comedy events and beer gardens, it’s the number one destination to party. There’s also the famous Zülpicher Straße, the Party Mile that’s home to more late night venues than you could handle in one night.
Traditional beer halls
Sample the best beer the city has to offer at a traditional German beer hall. You’ll get to try a huge selection of brews, listen to an oompah band and immerse yourself in the German way of life. Make sure you try the famous local kolsch beer, it can only be brewed in Cologne by law!
Fancy a special double-decker bus that's made for partying? Bring your own booze and let your chauffeur for the night worry about getting you and your mates from place to place. All you need to do is decide which club to hit first and, with VIP entry, you'll skip all the queues!
Set in the centre of the city, Flamingo Royal is one of Cologne’s most famous party destinations. It’s the place to see and be seen. Plus, the internationally renowned club is known to be the classiest destination in Cologne, so make sure you dress to impress for this stylish nightclub!
Eat like a local
Cologne is a multicultural city, so you’ll find almost every type of cuisine served in the city centre. That said, the real gems of the city are the local German restaurants, which serve hearty traditional dishes that will warm your soul.
Rievkooches are a local favourite - you’ll find the delicious potato pancakes in restaurants all over Cologne and in many stalls at German Christmas markets. Enjoy with applesauce for a sweet treat or salmon for a savoury indulgence.
Set right on the Rhine river, this interactive chocolate museum is a must-see attraction for any chocoholic. Discover the world of German chocolate, have a nibble on some tasters and drool over the giant chocolate fountain flowing with litres of mouth-watering melted Lindt chocolate.
If you want a little taste of Bavaria, then Schnitzels are a must try. They’re pork chops that are pounded with a meat tenderiser before being breaded and fried. The result is crispy, golden and delicious and usually served with potatoes or chips - it's a gem of a German dish.
Where to stay
There are plenty of affordable places to stay in Cologne. If you’re travelling in a large group, it’s always worth getting a dorm to save cash. Or, if you prefer something a little more private, there are loads of trendy hotels dotted around the city. Try and stay in the city centre, so you are within walking distance of the city’s nightlife and attractions.
One of Germany greatest locations
Cologne is one of the friendliest cities in Europe. Having been a major trading port on the mighty Rhine for centuries, so it’s used to visitors and doesn’t come up short on ways to entertain. It’s also the land of the beer garden, beer cellar and brewery and its talent for taking all three and turning them into a party is the stuff of legend. Nobody forgets a night out in Cologne and there aren’t many people who wouldn’t go straight back and do it all over again.
At a glance:
• Forget about elbowing your way to the bar, just take a seat and wait to be served – or get a beer tower and serve yourself • More bars per head than any other German city • Mild, sunny and pleasant weather in the summer, good chance for picture perfect snowfall in December and January • Traditional Christmas markets turn it into a winter wonderland, complete with lashings of mulled wine Köln Golf & Country Club in Refrath is one of the best championship courses in German
Things not to miss:
Cologne Cathedral The city’s most famous landmark is technically medieval, but wasn’t fully completed until the 19th century. The immense cathedral towers are the second tallest in the world and the view from the top is spectacular. But it takes 509 steps to get there, so if you’ve had a hard night partying, have plenty of breathers.
Bierturm Can’t wait for your beer to be served? Ask for a Bierturm (beer tower) to be brought to the table and you can pour your own.
Carnival Cologne Cologne always likes to party, but in the week before Lent the city really goes all out. Carnival Cologne style is all the usual parades and excess but without the commercialism that’s taken a bit of the shine off some other Mardi Gras celebrations.
City Bike Tour Cologne is a great city to cycle and one of the best ways to see all the sights is on a specialist guided bike tour. It takes around three hours and you cover 2,000 years of history over 15km.
Rhine Party Cruise You can’t visit Cologne without going on the river, it’s a rule. But if a candlelit dinner cruise sounds a bit sedate you might be more in the market for one of the famous Rhine party cruises.
Brauhaus Früh am Dom If you only visit one beer hall, make it Früh Brewery’s. Styled like a traditional Brauhaus and spread out over three floors, this is the best place to celebrate one of Cologne's most famous beers and eat like a local. fruh.de
Kölner Haie Ice Hockey is huge in Cologne and Kölner Haie (Cologne Sharks) games at Lanxess Arena are the stuff of legend. lanxess-arena.de
FC Köln Home games for the local team at Müngersdorf ‘RheinEnergieStadion’ are huge events and capacity crowds are pretty much the norm. There’s also a fantastic stadium tour if you’re not there on a matchday.www.fc-koeln.de
If you’ve never visited Cologne before, you may well be surprised at what you find. It’s one of Germany’s biggest cities but somehow manages to feel intimate and local. Districts exist to gently direct you and they’re never exclusive because almost everywhere you go in Cologne you find a broad mix of people drinking, eating and playing together. Our advice is to take this liberal, exciting and fascinating city as you find it, wander about, learn a few words of German and you’ll fit right in.
The Belgian Quarter – where Cologne’s coolest hang out This is where cool Cologne shops during the day and hangs out at night. It’s the city’s creative quarter and where you’ll see the beautiful people. You’ll find it between Venloer Straße and Roonstraße und Moltkestraße.
ALSTADT – historic sights and dedicated shopping This is Cologne’s historic Old Town and home to the immense and iconic cathedral. It’s also where you’ll find the city’s oldest and busiest streets, Schildergass and Hohe Strasse. These are the routes you want for sleek department stores, international designers and high-end German brand names. And if small and specialist is more your thing head for the elegant shops on Ehrenstrasse. Modern art lovers can take a break from shopping to visit the renowned Ludwig Museum, just one of Alstadt’s many historic museums and galleries.
RING – Cologne’s night-time playground Whether you’re looking for clubs or gigs, comedy or beer gardens, Ring has what you want. This is where Cologne congregates in the early evening and stays ‘til late. The city doesn’t really do downtime when it comes to nightlife so most places have long hours and there’s always something happening somewhere. Pick up a copy of Stradtrevue when you arrive and check out what’s on and where. There are more than 70 clubs and bars in Ring so you need all the help you can get.
EHRENFELD – the city’s rising star This used to be one of the more run-down areas of Cologne, not any more. With its reputation for individual designer shops, indie clubs and interesting restaurants and bars, Ehrenfeld is a great alternative to Ring for nightlife and easily competes with Altstadt for great shopping.
Best of Cologne for beer:
Brauhaus Sion If your idea of a perfect German evening centres on a beer garden, big tables and a crowd of friends, pick Brauhaus Sion. There’s inside seating but the garden’s where you want to be so go early. brauhaussion.de
Peters Brauhaus Chilled atmosphere and lots of places to hang out, this is a popular brauhaus for people who like a bit of individuality with their beer. peters-brahaus.de
Gaffel am Dom German beer and right next to the cathedral – pretty much perfect for the total Cologne experience. There’s also a great view of the city’s Old Town to keep you entertained while you work through your Biertrum.www.gaffelamdom.de
Päffgen Brauhaus Authenticity on tap is guaranteed in this brilliant brauhaus, it’s the only one in Cologne with a brewery on the premises and the beer garden is a city favourite for summer afternoons. paeffgen-koelsch.de
Em Krützche The one thing Germans love more than beer is great food that goes with beer, enjoy the best of both here.www.em-kruetzche.de
Cologne's best nightclus:
Alter Wartesaal Event-centred club close to Cologne Station and loved by hordes of hens for their wild and wanton approach to everything from salsa nights to Over 30s parties. wartesaal.de
Diamonds A staple on Cologne’s R’n’B and house scenes, Diamonds will reserve you VIP space and shower you with attention all night if you book ahead. club-diamonds.de
Luxor If you want to dance and don’t care about being too cool, the pop-focused mix at Luxor is made for you. luxor-koeln.de
Goldfinger Even when it was a table-dance club, Goldfinger was a go-to in Cologne. Tables are for drinks now but it’s still one of the biggest club draws in the city. goldfinger-koeln.de
Einundfünfzig Difficult to pronounce, hard to forget, Einündfunfzig is all things to all people. Comedy nights, live gigs, events and regular club nights make this one of Cologne’s most popular party places. einundfuenfzig.com
Food: Eat like a local
Traditional German food is mighty meaty and in Cologne that means schnitzel. It might just be flattened pork, veal or chicken, battered and fried but that description doesn’t even come close to the delights of this local favourite. Schnitzel is to Cologne what deep-fried chicken is to Kentucky. Eat with potato dumplings and wash down with beer, it’s the rule. Bei Oma Kleinman is the temple of all that is schnitzel, this is one of the cosiest restaurants in the city for a real German evening. Unsicht-Bar is Cologne’s first pitch-black restaurant, the theory being that if sight is removed all other senses are heightened and the entire eating experience is intensified. Not for everyone but, if you’re game then book in advance, it’s very popular. Feel like dressing up and being all five star for the evening? Book a table at Hanse Stube and all your efforts will be rewarded. One of the smartest (and most expensive) restaurants in Cologne but worth every penny. Start the day with a proper breakfast and everything else will work out fine. Bastian’s does coffee like you’ve never tasted it and they even have an English Breakfast Menu if it’s too early to test your German. For comforting pub grub and a really warm, welcoming atmosphere then Brauhaus Sünner im Walfisch is where to cosy down and look after yourself if you’ve been partying too hard.
Good to go:
Spring and summer weather in Cologne is mild and sunny. This is the time to make the most of the city’s beer gardens or take a tour of one of the historic breweries and sample some beer on-site. Visit in July for Kölner Lichter, Germany’s biggest firework display. It lights up the entire city, everyone gets involved and, with the river and cathedral as a backdrop, it looks sensational. It’s one of the biggest cities in Germany, so Cologne is not shy on winter traditions. If you’re not up for elves and eggnog, you can try outdoor ice-skating in the Old Town. Or leave magic wonderland behind completely and hit the stands at Lanxess Arena for some raucous ice-hockey – and more beer, obviously.
The best view of the city:
Catch the Kölner Cable Car over the Rhine and there isn’t another view in the city that even comes close. It runs between late March and early November and costs €6,50 return. Watch out for the weather, if it’s windy day the ride can be a little more adventurous than you might like.
Like all great European cities, Cologne’s very walkable and that’s always going to be the best way to see stuff. But if you want to get from A to B and fast, use the KVB tram and bus network. Buy a €1,90 ‘Kurzstrecken Ticket’ for 4 stops or less and a €2,80 ‘Zone 1B Ticket’ if you’re going further. A ‘Tagesticket’ day pass is €8,10 for 1 person and €12,10 for a group of five. You’ll see ticket machines at most tram stops.
Pickpockets haunt busy cities and Cologne is no exception. Watch out for crowded areas round big-ticket attractions like the cathedral and Old Town.
When in Cologne:
It’s traditional to automatically refill customers’ beer glasses when they’re empty, if you’ve had enough let your server know by putting your beermat over the top of your glass. Don’t be surprised when you aren’t asked to pay per-drink, staff mark up your orders on your beermat and total them at the end of the night, so keep a hold of yours.
5 Useful phrases:
Hello = Hallo
Thank You = Danke
Yes = Ja
No = Nein
Maybe = Velleicht
Did you know?
If you’re saying ‘cheers’ with beer, a loud shout of ‘PROST’ is expected, but if you’re having wine it’s, ‘ZUM WOHL’. And, don’t break eye-contact until glasses are clinked and a sip taken.