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 spend a weekend or two days 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 - if you exclude its world-famous Cathedral.
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...
For more local favourites in Europe, the Middle East and North America, check out Spotted by Locals.
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 what you would call the Old Town on the Rhine 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.
Before going out for a walk, fuel up with a breakfast pastry at Bäckerei Zimmerman or one of its variety of 50 amazing German breads (you know you want some of its amazing “schwarzbrot”, or black bread). Head over to Espresso Perfetto for a quick pick-me-up before starting your adventure.
The KÖLNER Dom
Let’s begin from the Dom, the Cologne cathedral itself. You can find all the information about how incredible this UNESCO World Heritage monument is with a simple Google search, but there's something else that locals don't want you to miss.
Local Stephan wants you to take a look at this particular stained-glass window. The surprise behind the Richter Fenster? It was designed by a random number generator -to the chagrin of the cardinal at the time.
- See also Berlin in 24 Hours Itinerary
SKULL AND CROSSBONES
While you’re in the area, you might also want to see the morbidly fascinating Golden Chamber at St. Ursula, if you’re the goth type.
“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.
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: TRAVEL BACK IN TIME
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 - it’s one of Julia’s favourite shops in the commercial centre.
A QUICK CRAFT BEER?
If you’re thirsty by now, you can try Craftbeer Corner Coeln. Here it’s not just the ubiquitous lcoal beer Kölsch that’s on offer, but don’t worry, we’ll cover that in a second.
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! That didn’t take long, did it? No weekend Cologne itinerary would be right without it.
Let us take you through the rough basics first: Kölsch isn’t served like other beers; instead, you can expect 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, we hope you’ve worked back your appetite by now, because 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 in. Stephan actually recommends it as a pub to cap the night off at, but its shabby chic atmosphere and sociable atmosphere can draw you in any time of the evening.
If you’d rather see it “the way it’s meant to be seen”, way past your bedtime, that is, you can keep it for later and first go to neighbourhood park and meeting point Rathenauplatz, where you can do as the locals do, stock up at the nearest corner shop (remember, drinking in public is legal) and enjoy the vibes at the “best public meeting square in town.”
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.
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. If you’re here in the morning, you won’t see it light up, but you can always come back later if it manages to hypnotize you the way it has so many locals, including Rabea!
WILD GEESE AND OPEN SPACES
Next stop: the Aachener Weiher, a park in the middle of the city and a pond with its own population of wild geese. Stephan reckons it’s nothing special per se, but the atmosphere can remind him of the RheinBoulevard on the best of days, and there’s even a small beer garden next to the pond around which students gather, especially in summer (the university is right across the avenue bordering the park).
MUSEUM FOR EAST ASIAN ART
But probably the most important reason to drop by is the Schmitz in the MOK (the Museum for East Asian Art). Julia loves 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. Julia also loves the museum’s brutalist architecture.
THE CONCRETE CHURCH
If you admire buildings adorned with little more than exposed concrete, you won’t have to walk far to get to the Johannes XXIII church, built in 1968. Julia lives just around the corner in Sülz and often comes here to admire one of the city’s architectural gems from that era.
LITTLE ITALY & LUNCH
For a quick neighbourhood snack, you can try either Kafé Local, Pizza Pizza or deli Savoca and enjoy a quick Italian-inspired or actually Italian meal. It’s no coincidence that locals have already started calling this neighbourhood “Little Italy”.
By now, Julia’s kiosk must have opened for the afternoon, so you can head over to this community-run kiosk. The old Büdchen am Nikolausplatz was recently given a new lease of life and has become a central meeting point of the neighbourhood.
“For more than two years now, I find myself selling sweets, ice-cream and coffee and chatting with people on Wednesday afternoons”, says Julia.
But you can come here any day (except Mondays) and 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?
By now, your two days in Cologne are winding to their end - ready for another Kölsch or a different drink yet?
Wohngemeinschaft, close to Aachener Weiher, is an all-time classic bar in Cologne’s 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?
If you’re hungry, you can cross the street to authentic Vietnamese restaurant Bonjour Saigon , one of Lea’s favorites (try the Bun Gha Gio Chay if it’s available). Or you can 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?
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.
THE LAST NOTES
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?
For more local favourites in Europe, the Middle East and North America, check out Spotted by Locals
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!