Cologne is Germany’s fun-loving, bohemian, good time city, with a striking spire and the world’s most famous perfume. Here’s how to spend48 hours in Cologne through an itinerary written by locals. Prost!
How to Spend Two Days in Cologne
Cologne is the fourth largest city in Germany but compared to Munich, Berlin and Hamburg it gets considerably fewer visitors. Which is a great shame.
The largest city on the Rhine river and the home of the Karneval charms with its friendly people, rich history and plenty of opportunities to have some German-flavoured fun.
So, please find these tips from Cologne locals to make the best of two days in Cologne! They call it 48 hours in “Italy’s northernmost city!” Read the itinerary to find out why….
48 Hours in Cologne Itinerary
Day one in Cologne
On the first day, you’ll stay more or less in Cologne city centre, around the Old Town.
Most of the Old Town and the area around Cologne’s landmark Dom was destroyed during World War Two. But today, you wouldn’t be able to tell, as much of it was painstakingly rebuilt. That’s the thing about Cologne: it’s always looking to the future as well as the past.
Breakfast in Cologne
Fuel up at Bäckerei Zimmerman with one of its 50 or so amazing German breads, especially the amazing “schwarzbrot”, or black bread. Then head over to Espresso Perfetto for a quick pick-me-up before starting your adventure.
The KÖLNER Dom
Let’s begin at the Dom, Cologne’s indomitable cathedral. This UNESCO World Heritage monument is a highlight of the city but locals also know a trick or two.
Look out for the Fenster stained glass window, designed by a random number generator – and creating controversy to this day.
- See also Berlin in 24 Hours Itinerary
Skull and crossbones
While you’re in the area, don’t miss the morbidly fascinating Golden Chamber at St. Ursula.
“Its four walls are covered in bones,” says local Marcel. “Arranged in design patterns or Latin words, you’ll also find shrines and altars covered with bones and skulls, most of them in elaborate silver or gold relic holders.
“A fascinating place”, he adds.
Since we’re on the topic of gruesome history, you won’t have to walk far to get to the EL-DE-Haus. Used as a prison and execution centre by the Gestapo, today the building hosts Cologne’s Nazi documentation centre and temporary exhibitions about the 3rd Reich.
“A sobering place, but one that remains immensely important these days”, adds Marcel.
Take in the Cologne skyline
Back to light. One might think that the Dom’s spires would be the best place for a sky view, but of course, that misses the cathedral itself.
Stephan recommends you cross the river and climb up KölnTriangle. This way, you can get the best views over the cathedral, the river, the promenade, the train station and the bridge you just crossed – all in one neat frame.
In the distance, towards the south, you’ll see these peculiar commercial-residential buildings in Rheinauhafen that seem to perfectly embody this neighbourhood’s industrial past.
The Rhein Boulevard
Time to go back and explore what you just saw on foot by walking along the beautiful Rhein Boulevard — you may also come here around sundown to hear the cries of the thousands of ring-necked parakeets zipping along the river back to their nests.
Lunch in Cologne
Hungry yet? There are plenty of options. You can go for Lea’s favourite inexpensive but quality pizza in the centre, Pinocchio; Gol’s hidden gem of a Lebanese restaurant in touristic Heumarkt, Beirut, and Julia’s tip for a restaurant in the commercial centre that is neither a chain nor inside a mall: Funkhaus, a meeting place for journalists working in nearby WDR’s broadcasting studios and whose decoration looks like it could’ve been lifted straight from the ‘50s & ‘60s.
The Shop with 50 000 Postcards
Pop by W. Königs Postkartenladen in the pedestrian zone of Neumarkt, a shop with an alleged 50,000 postcards.
Some cards may have been sitting there for decades just waiting for you.
A quick craft beer?
If you’re thirsty, you can try Craftbeer Corner Coeln.
At the city’s first proper taphouse and with over 15 (daily changing) craft beers from all over Germany and the world, you’ll be sure to find something that suits your taste (as long as you like beer, of course).
Kölsch: the secret liquid of Cologne
And now: time for some Kölsch! No weekend Cologne itinerary would be complete without it.
First things first: Kölsch isn’t served like other beers; instead, it arrives in 0.2L glasses with automatic refills unless you cap your glass with your coaster.
A word of warning: Kölsch is cheap, light and easy to drink, so it’s easy to have at least a couple more glasses than you were planning on…hic!
All about the schnitzels
So, with the basics covered, let’s move on to food. At Bei Oma Kleinmann ,it’s all about the schnitzels. It’s a restaurant with a long history but a modern concept – just choose your schnitzel (there’s vegetarian & vegan options, too), wash it down with plenty of Kölsch and you’re good. Keep in mind that the “children’s portions” are what you’d normally get at any other restaurant, so be prepared – and don’t be embarrassed to ask for a doggie bag.
Let’s go for a drink
You can already just cross the street and land in Stiefel where you can get a couple more glasses of Kölsch.
Alternatively, go to neighbourhood park and meeting point Rathenauplatz, where you can do as the locals do: stock up at the nearest corner shop and enjoy the vibes at the “best public meeting square in town.” In this part of Germany, drinking in public is legal.
You can also grab a book from the public bookshelf while you’re at it. And if you’d rather sit inside, there’s also romantic, candle-lit Meister Gerhard am Rathenauplatz where you can have a glass of wine.
Day Two In Cologne
On the second of your two days in Cologne, we’ll move a further away from the centre. Get a day pass – you’ll be using public transport a lot!
- Top Tip: the S-Bahn is the light rail and U-Bahn is the metro.
Breakfast in Cologne
Your Cologne itinerary continues at Cafe Buur, which serves all-day breakfast (well, from 9am to 6pm at least).
“Whatever kind of breakfast you can think of, they have it”, writes local Lea.
Most of it “is served in little pans and is decorated with lots of love. It’s one of the places where you see other people’s food and want to have all of it.”
Just two blocks away you’ll see the iconic Reissdorf-Männchen, an animated neon advertisement for a brand of Kölsch that’s already more than half a century old.
Wild geese and open spaces
Next stop: the Aachener Weiher, a park in the middle of the city with a pond with its own population of wild geese. There’s a small beer garden next to the pond where students gather, especially in the summer.
The Museum for East Asian Art
For an alternative taste of Cologne, visit the Schmitz in the MOK (the Museum for East Asian Art). Locals love to sit in the museum’s hall or on the terrace right next to the water, having a good cappuccino and soaking up the artsy urban atmosphere.
The concrete church
If you admire quirky buildings then walk a little further to reach the Johannes XXIII church, built in 1968.
Little Italy & Lunch
For a quick neighbourhood snack, you can try Pizza Pizza and enjoy a quick Italian-inspired meal in “Little Italy”.
Alternatively, snap up a quick snack at the kiosk Büdchen am Nikolausplatz, a central meeting point of the neighbourhood.
It’s open every day (except Mondays) and you can enjoy a pastry or beer in the park. If you’re lucky, you might even catch a small concert, lecture or art exhibition!
A curious hardware shop
Since you’re in the area, you can also stroll by Eisenwaren Edmund Bosen, a hardware shop that has simply frozen in time since the owner passed away in 1998. Nothing has changed since then, and rumour has it that the current owners do open for friendly visitors. Brave enough to ring that bell?
Bohemian Nightlife in Cologne
By now, your two days in Cologne are nearly over. Ready for more Kölsch or ready for a change?
Wohngemeinschaft, close to Aachener Weiher, is an all-time classic bar in Cologne’s nightlife scene. It’s actually a hostel that’s made to look like a WG – a shared residence. It’s one of the city’s international community’s preferred hangouts, so you will find lots of travel-themed events. Also: where else are you going to find a whole VW hippie bus inside a bar?
Keep your appetite for Ehrenfeld, our final stop and one of Cologne’s most bohemian, alternative, oriental, Berlinesque neighbourhoods.
Gol recommends Kebapland for dinner – it’s on Ehrenfeld’s most central street, Venloerstrasse; follow your nose and you’ll find it! Don’t let the fact that it’s in a container keep you away; this is the alternative quarter, remember?
Bookmark Now – Two Days in Cologne Itinerary
Since you’re in the area, you can discover the story of the Edelweißpiraten, a loosely knit youth-group that had organised as part of the resistance against the Hitler Youth. Be warned that the story, although inspiring, does not have a happy ending, but there are lots of memorials about their story around the Ehrenfeld train station, even an annual music & culture, the Edelweißpiratenfestival.
Finishing 48 Hours in Cologne
So, are you ready to celebrate your final hours in Cologne with some music? Marcel recommends Sonic Ballroom or Live Music Hall (if there’s a band on) for some alternative fun. Finally, if you’re in the city when it’s not the Karneval and would like to experience some of its famous spirit, try Flotte. We did mention that Cologne’s known as Italy’s northernmost city, didn’t we?
Yes. Cologne is the place that gave us the name cologne. See house 4711 for the story…
More than two days in Cologne?
- Cologne City Hall, between Rathausplatz and Alter Markt, looks grand at first. But take a closer look at those statues to see some rather dubious behaviour going on…
- Come back for the Christmas Markets! Famous across Germany, Cologne turns its passion for hospitality into a festive offering.
- Visit the Chocolate Museum on the Rhine River. Yes, you get to taste some…
- Take a bike tour along the river and see the Old Town, the Dom and the Hohenzollern Bridge from a different angle.
- Museum Ludwig serves up contemporary art in a building worth a visit in its own right.
- The Original Eau de Cologne in 4711 – step back in time to the invention of cologne itself in this original shop.
Where to stay in Cologne?
Find the right place to stay from you from this choice of Cologne hotels. If you book through these links, we may earn a small commission at no extra cost to you.
- Excelsior Hotel Ernst – classical five star luxury hotel in an excellent location near the train station and Old Town.
- Qvest Hotel – Romantic hideaway in a 19th century building with clean, bright interiors and close to fashionable nightlife.
- Hotel im Wassteturm – Luxury five star hotel in a bare brick water tower. Member of Small Luxury Hotels of the World.
So, what did you think of this two days in Cologne itinerary? Bookmark and save for now, enjoy later. Prost!