Best Free Things to Do in Cologne, Germany

Cologne Cathedral on the Rhine River
Linda Garrison

Traveling to Cologne? Germany’s fourth-largest city, one of the oldest in the country, features awe-inspiring old-world medieval Gothic architecture, stunning cathedrals, and beautiful views of the Rhine river.

While there are plenty of great museums and attractions with admission fees like the Ludwig Museum and the Cologne Zoo, there are fantastic things to do in Cologne that won't cost you a single euro.

01 of 09

Climb the Cologne Cathedral

Cologne Cathedral

Jorg Greuel/Getty Images

Domkloster 4, 50667 Köln, Germany
+49 221 17940555

The Cologne Cathedral or Kölner Dom is one of Germany's most important architectural monuments and one of the top 10 sights in Germany. This UNESCO World Heritage Site attracts an average of 20,000 people a day and is among the most visited sites in Germany.

This Gothic masterpiece, situated in the heart of Cologne, is the tallest twin-spired church and the fourth tallest cathedral in the world at 157 meters (515 feet) tall. The unique spires give it its iconic look and create the largest façade of any church in the world.

Visitors can climb the over 500 steps to a viewing platform about 98 meters (322 feet) over the city, providing an unparalleled view over the Rhine.

02 of 09

People Watch by the Historic City Hall

The City Hall (Kölner Rathaus) is a historical building in Cologne, western Germany.

 Ventura Carmona/Getty Images

Rathaus, 50667 Köln, Germany
+49 221 2210

Visit the oldest Rathaus (city hall) in Germany at the Alter Markt (old square) in Cologne. This is a prime people-watching spot as city life takes place in this central meeting point.

The building dates back to the year 1150 and has over 130 statues adorning its elaborately decorated façade. The loggia is a quintessential example of the Renaissance era. Don't miss the grotesque wood-carved Platzjabbeck; when the clock strikes the hour, it opens its mouth and rudely sticks out its wooden tongue.

03 of 09

Walk Across the Deutzer Bridge

Cologne Cathedral and Skyline
Robert Harding/Getty Images
Rheinufer, 53179 Bonn, Germany

The Rhine river is a defining geographic feature of the area. For a spectacular view of the cathedral and the cityscape, leave the Altstadt (Old Town) of Cologne and cross the Rhine to the other side of the river. Young people gather on basketball courts, musicians busk and strollers stroll. Walk down the Rheinuferpromenade, then cross back over the Deutzer Bridge which offers stunning views of the city, especially at sunset.

04 of 09

Window-Shop on Schildergasse Street

Cologne shopping street

GettyImages/Walter Bibikow

Schildergasse, 50667 Köln, Germany

Go window-shopping on Schildergasse, one of the busiest shopping streets in Europe. This bustling car-free pedestrian zone boasts international department stores and modern architecture. An estimated 13,000 people pass through every hour, admiring the high-priced designer brands and landmarks like Antoniterkirche, the oldest Protestant church in Cologne, and the impressive Peek & Cloppenburg's Weltstadthaus designed by Renzo Piano.

It is not all modern shopping, however. This is the second oldest street in Cologne, dating back to ancient Roman times. Once known as Decumanus Maximus, Roman soldiers marched along it as an important trade route to Gaul.

It was also home to artists painting coats of arms in the Middle Ages. Their work gave the street its current name of "shield street." Along with Hohe Straße (High Street), these two streets create the main pedestrian area in Cologne.

Continue to 5 of 9 below.
05 of 09

Smell Eau de Cologne

4711 Cologne House
Maurer and Wirtz House of Perfume
Zweifaller Str. 120, 52224 Stolberg, Germany
+49 2402 8901

What better to do in a city called "cologne" than follow your nose to the birthplace of modern perfume? Eau De Cologne 4711 on Glockengasse was named when Cologne was occupied by the French. Napoleon ordered his soldiers to count all the houses and the Eau de Cologne building was number 4711, giving the famed perfume its name.

Every hour the French anthem is played and inside there is a shop, a small historic exhibition with fragrance workshop, and even a fountain where you can dip your hands in pure Eau de Cologne.

06 of 09

Stroll the Flora and Botanical Garden

Flora und Botanischer Garten Köln

Aniket Mone /Flickr/CC BY 2.0

Alter Stammheimer Weg, 50735 Köln, Germany
+49 221 560890

Cologne’s Flora und Botanischer Garten is the oldest public park in the city. Located on the left bank of the Rhine, the site covers almost a 1/2 mile and has more than 10,000 species of plants like magnolias, rhododendrons, coniferous trees and maples. It is visited by more than a million people every year.

The Flora, set at the center of the garden, is an event building that hosts concerts, dances, and parties. Following a 3-year renovation, the site reopened in 2014 with upgraded facilities that make it a perfect respite for tourists needed a break from walking.

07 of 09

Find Medieval Gates and Walls

Hahnentorburg in Cologne

Von Hpschaefer/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 3.0, 

Rudolfpl. 1, 50674 Köln, Germany
+49 221 9131049

The city once boasted up to twelve gates from 50 AD, but only a few remain today. Luckily, the few that remain are well- preserved and decorated in natural materials like limestone, sandstone, greywacke and trachyte.

Visit the massive 13th-century Hahnentorburg at Rudolfplatz. More impressive examples include Severinstorburg, Ulrepforte and Eigelsteintorburg.

08 of 09

Climb Saint Gereon's Basilica

Saint Gereon's Basilica

 Wikimedia Commons/CC BY 3.0

A magnificent example of one of the 12 Romanesque churches located in the city, St. Gereon's has impressive views from the decagonal arched rooftop. The site is dedicated to the Roman officer, who died along with legionnaires, in the belief of his Catholic faith and earned the designation of a basilica in 1920.

On the east side of the church is awaits a quaint park that is a perfect location to appreciate the outside beauty of the structure. For art fans, don't miss the giant sculpture inside the enclosure of the head of the decapitated Roman soldier created in 2002 by artist Iskender Yediler.

Continue to 9 of 9 below.
09 of 09

Drink a Beer in Old Town

Wallraf-Richartz-Museum in Cologne


After a long day of sightseeing, there is no better place to grab a "Brauhaus" —also known as beer— than in Old Town. The area was painstakingly rebuilt after the majority of Old Town was destroyed during World War II to maintain the visual aesthetic. Take a walk through the narrow, cobblestone alleys that lead to a variety of local pubs waiting to serve guests a wide selection of draft options and classic German fare.  

Nearby are plenty of cultural options like Romano-Germanic Museum, the Wallraf Richartz Museum, and the Museum Ludwig when you a ready to get back to checking out Cologne's culture.

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7 Free Things To Do in Cologne