How to Travel from Frankfurt to Cologne by Train, Bus, and Car

ICE train Koln

Joshua Brown / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

If you want to travel from Frankfurt to Cologne or vice versa, you can rent a car and drive or take the bus or train direct to the city center. Cologne is a German city on the Rhine River just 118 miles (191 kilometers) northwest of Frankfurt. The cities are already very close to each other, but they feel even closer thanks to Germany's high-speed trains and the Autobahn, the country's highway system that's famous for not imposing any speed limits. Because travel between the cities is so easy and fast, you won't find any direct flights between their respective airports.

If you are determined to travel from Frankfurt to Cologne by plane, you could hop on a direct flight to Dusseldorf, which is 37 miles (60 kilometers) north of Cologne and a 45-minute drive on the Autobahn. Lufthansa is the only airline that offers non-stop flights between these two cities and one-way flights typically cost between $84 to $180.

The train is the fastest way to get to Cologne, but the bus can be significantly cheaper. Driving is the middle option, because it's faster than the bus but slower than the train. If you've got time to explore, renting a car is a nice way to see the German countryside and landmarks like Eltz Castle or the Rhine town of Braubach.

How to Get from Frankfurt to Cologne
  Time Cost
Train 1 hour, 30 minutes  from $27
Bus 2 hours from $9
Car 2 hours 118 miles (191 kilometers)

By Train

The fastest way to get from Frankfurt to Cologne is by train. The journey from Frankfurt (either from Frankfurt Central Station or Frankfurt International Airport) to Cologne will take you a little more than an hour, and there are plenty of trains going in both directions.

Every hour, there are up to three Intercity Express (ICE) trains available, which reach speeds up to 300 kilometers per hour. The Eurocity (EC) train has more stops, but should be less expensive. Depending on the time of day you travel and whether you opt for a direct train or a route where you have to change trains, one-way tickets are between €24 and €80. You can buy your tickets online or at the railway station.

Besides being efficient, modern, and reliable, the train has another advantage: It will bring you right into the heart of Cologne, and the first thing you’ll see when you step out of Cologne’s Central Station is the grand Cologne Cathedral, one of Germany’s most famous landmarks.

By Bus

The cheapest option is by bus, but it's not all bad; the journey can cost as little as $9. There are many bus companies that operate this route, but the most popular is FlixBus, which is known throughout Europe for its cheap fares. Buses to Cologne can be boarded either in the Frankfurt Central Station or at the airport.

If you find a low fare and don't mind the extra hour you'll spend traveling, the bus is a worthy option. Plus, most modern coaches are just as comfortable as European trains with on-board Wi-Fi, toilets, electrical outlets, and air conditioning. They typically arrive on time too, barring any traffic issues, which occur intermittently on the German Autobahn.

By Car

Going by car from Frankfurt to Cologne will take about 2 hours. The fastest route is the Autobahn A3, which goes directly to both cities. Note that signs to Cologne will say Köln, the city's German name. If you'd prefer to take the scenic route, many travelers recommend driving along the Rhine River, which takes about 20 minutes longer and measures 126 miles (203 kilometers). To get on this route, take the A3 from Frankfurt for 88 miles (142 kilometers), continue onto the B48, and then take Exit 11 to merge onto the B42. After driving through the town of Neuwied, this highway travels right along the river until you pass Drachenburg Castle on your right and B49 changes to A59. Stay left at the fork to continue onto A559 and follow signs to Cologne.

Renting a car can be the best option for families to comfortably travel together. Or it can just be your excuse to enjoy a high-speed drive on the Autobahn. Before driving in Germany, make sure you read up on some tips and the rules of the road.

Base rates vary wildly depending on the time of year, the duration of the rental, the age of the driver, destination, and location of rental. Shop around to find the best price. Note that charges usually do not include the 19 percent Value Added Tax (VAT), registration fee, or any airport fees (but do include the required third-party liability insurance). These additional fees may equal up to 25 percent of the daily rental.

What to See in Cologne

Despite being almost totally destroyed during World War II, Cologne today is a completely rebuilt city and the fourth largest in Germany. Much has been preserved and the city has a lot to explore, like the UNESCO-recognized Cologne Cathedral, which took over 600 years to build, and the medieval gates and walls. Next to the cathedral, visit the Romano-Germanic Museum to learn more about the city's beginnings as an outpost of the Roman empire. Cologne is also home to one of Europe's oldest universities, the University of Cologne, established in 1388.

If you've had enough history for one trip, Cologne has other museums to tingle your senses like the Cologne Chocolate Museum and the Eau de Cologne House, the birthplace of the famous perfume that the city was named after and has since become a generic name for perfume marketed to men. You should also consider taking an hour or two for a casual stroll along the beautiful Rhine River or maybe even hop aboard a boat and see the city from the water.

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