Fun and Tasty Things to Do in Cologne, Germany

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Cologne, Germany is known for its gothic cathedral and its unique Kölsch beer. It's also the birthplace of the world's first eau de cologne and home to some of the best shopping in the country. Bring a big appetite and good walking shoes when visiting this German city because there's lots to eat and explore. Here are my tips for 7 fun things to do in Cologne, Germany.

Fun & Tasty Things To Do in Cologne, Germany from

1. Climb to the top of Cologne Cathedral.

Located in the center of Cologne's Old Town, it'd be hard to miss the behemoth Cologne Cathedral with its two massive towers. Construction on the gothic structure began in the 13th century and it can hold more than 20,000 people. It is said to house the remains of the biblical Three Wise Men, making it an important pilgrimage site for devout Christians. It was named a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1996. Pay a small fee to climb the 533 steps to the top of the highest spire for a panoramic view of the city.

A Cologne Cathedral selfie

A Cologne Cathedral selfie with my hubby (Photo credit: Travel Mamas)

2. Taste Kölsch Beer.

When you envision drinking beer in Germany, images of dirndl-clad, sturdy women wielding giant mugs of beer in raucous beer gardens may spring to mind. In Cologne, however, the city's signature Kölsch beer is served in elegant thin glasses. The light, slightly fruity brew is cool-fermented and then aged and mellowed (or “lagered”) near the freezing point. It's Germany's only true, all-barley, pale ale and is difficult to find outside of the country.

Every brewhouse in town makes their own version of Kölsch, making brewery tours a popular activity for visitors. My husband and I signed up for an optional Cologne Beer Culture shore excursion during our Viking River Cruise and had a ball sipping cold beers with our fellow cruisers. Not cruising? You can book a Pub Crawl Cologne tour with Viator.

Traditional Kölsch beer served in Cologne, Germany

Traditional Kölsch beer served in Cologne (Photo credit: Tim ‘Avatar' Bartel,

3. Stop and smell the eau de cologne.

Have you ever wondered why perfume is sometimes called eau de cologne, or simply cologne? It all started with a very spendy scent created in this German city by the Italian Farina family. The perfume was named originally named Eau de Cologne, or “Water from Cologne” in French. One of the oldest fragrances in the world that is still produced today, Farina's perfume was created in 1709. It was originally sold exclusively to royalty and the extremely wealthy for an exorbitant price tag. Sign up online in advance for a historical tour of the Farina Fragrance Museum in English (or German or other languages). Or simply pop in to the on-site store to buy a souvenir bottle of the unisex citrus-scented fragrance, now affordably priced so mere commoners can make the purchase.

The most well-known eau de cologne is 4711 Eau de Cologne, so named for the parfumerie's original street number. Today you can attend a fragrance workshop and purchase the 4711 original scent and many newer perfume options at the flagship store in Cologne.

Farina's Eau de Cologne shop in Cologne, Germany

Farina's Eau de Cologne shop (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

4. Eat German specialties.

Pork knuckles are all the rave in Cologne and THE place to try this delicacy is at Haxenhaus (or Knuckle House). Expect river views, singing and dancing, cold Kölsch beer, and tender pork knuckles served with dumplings and cabbage. Although I didn't partake in this specialty, my Viking cruise friends raved about the dish.

Hearty German fare in Cologne , Germany

Hearty German fare in Cologne (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

A Viking River Cruise tour guide pointed us to Sion Am Ring for lunch, where we enjoyed huge sausages served with a heaping plateful of potato salad for me and sauerkraut and French fries for my husband. I was shocked by the large portion sizes. So, I asked the waiter if we were supposed to order one serving between the two of us. When he said no, I inquired if most diners actually finish their meals. He laughed and said, “Of course, we're German!” Even the table of German diners sitting next to us found our meager appetites laughable. Although we weren't able to clean our plates, the food was delicious. We also decided that Sion was home to the tastiest Kölsch from our samplings in town.

You must eat a pretzel while in Germany, of course!

You must eat a pretzel while in Germany, of course! (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

Hungry for a little snack? Nothing in Germany is small, so indulge in a massive handmade pretzel to tide yourself over between sausage and pork knuckles.

If you're craving something sweet, grab a berliner (jelly-filled doughnut). Although this is a specialty of Berlin, hence the name, these sweets were ever present in Cologne. Our Viking River Cruise tour guide pointed at this tempting display of goodies and said, “Look! It's the Berliner Wall.” Get it?!

The Berliner Wall...get it?!

The Berliner Wall…get it?! (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

5. Shop in Cologne, Germany.

Whenever we mentioned shopping to Viking staff during our Rhine Getaway cruise, they would become almost giddy with the prospect of making purchases in Cologne. Indeed, this city will delight any shopping lover. Expect everything from souvenir shops and well-known name chains to high-end clothiers and jewelry stores. Cologne is home to the self-proclaimed best-loved shopping streets in all of Germany, Hohe Straße and Schildergasse.

Fountain of the Elves in Cologne, Germany

Fountain of the Elves (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

6. Relax at Fountain of the Elves.

When you're ready for a break from shopping, eating and drinking, head to Heinzelmännchen Fountain, or Fountain of the Elves. It is named for the mythical house gnomes of Cologne. According to legend, miniature elves did all of the work of the citizens of Cologne during the night. This allowed the city's inhabitants to relax during the day. A curious housewife accidentally scared off the industrious gnomes, forcing Cologne residents back to work. The fountain depicts the housewife searching for the elves with a lantern.

Tünnes and Schäl bronze statues

Tünnes and Schäl bronze statues (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

7. Find good fortune.

Be sure to get a dose of good luck before departing Cologne, Germany. Just outside the city's popular Hänneschen puppet theater, you'll find bronze statues of Cologne characters, Tunnes and Schal. It is said that rubbing the bulbous nose of Tunnes will bring good luck. His proboscis has been shined from the many hands of those seeking good fortune.

Read more about the Viking River Cruises Rhine Getaway in my round-up post. Learn more about Viking River Cruises and earn booking bonuses with now!

Which of these tasty and fun things to do in Cologne, Germany appeals most to you? Want to share other great Cologne attractions? Let us know in the comments below!

A Note from The Travel Mama: Our cruise and optional excursion in Cologne, Germany were hosted by Viking River Cruises. All opinions are mine, as always.

About Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama

Colleen Lanin, MBA, is the founder and editor-in-chief of the popular travel blog, She is an expert in travel with kids and without. As the author of the book, "The Travel Mamas' Guide," she teaches parents how to make the most of traveling with babies and children. Colleen loves sharing tips on hotels, cruises, spas, theme parks, and global lifestyle topics. When she is not traveling the world, she lives in Arizona with her husband and two kids.

  1. Looks like an incredible day!

  2. Samiya selim says

    We have only been to Berlin and Frankfurt and enjoyed a lot, cologne seems like a great place to visit as well!

  3. I haven’t visited Cologne since high school. This so makes me want to go back!!

  4. Jessie Voigts says

    yum, yum, yum!! you’ve made me hungry AND miss German food!

  5. I love visiting Germany. The country has really grown on me over the years, though I’ve yet to set foot in Cologne. I’m inspired!

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says

      I can relate in that Germany’s food has really grown on me over the years – I am surprised by how much I love their cuisine!

  6. We have cheap flights now from providence to Germany on Condor Air so I’m contemplating a trip to Cologne in the future!

  7. So cool and YUMMY! It’s a neat coincidence because I just went to an event this week about Germany hosted by a German airline, and Cologne appeared on my radar for the first time after talking with a German fellow who said it’s one of his favorite cities in the country!

  8. You’ve brought back memories of our trip to Cologne last summer! Sadly, we didn’t get a chance to climb to the top of Cologne Cathedral. We were saddened to learn that 95% of the population was lost during WWII, but the city has bounced back and is a great destination.

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says

      Dana – It’s amazing how Cologne Cathedral survived 14 bombings and has been rebuilt to its current glory. War is so horrible all the way around.

  9. John @ Pretravels says

    This location does look interesting 🙂 I honestly loved the images, but the one with the beers is more appealing to me.

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says

      That’s the one photo I didn’t take! But I totally understand why…those beers look pretty tasty right about now!

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