Guide to the Cologne Cathedral

The facade of the Cologne Cathedral

Christopher Larson / TripSavvy

The Cathedral of Cologne (or Kölner Dom) is one of Germany's most important architectural monuments and is a must-see attraction and it's free. This Gothic masterpiece, situated in the heart of Cologne, is the fourth tallest cathedral in the world and once boasted the highest church spires ever built (now surpassed by Ulm's Minster). Today, the cathedral is Cologne’s second-tallest structure after the telecommunications tower.

History of the Cologne Cathedral

The construction of the Cologne Cathedral began in 1248 in order to house the precious relict "Shrine of the Three Holy Kings". It took over 600 years to complete the cathedral and when it was finished in 1880, it was still true to the original plans.

In World War II, the city center of Cologne was leveled by bombings. Miraculously, the cathedral was the only building that survived. Standing tall in an otherwise flattened city, some said it was divine intervention. A more matter-of-fact explanation is that the Cathedral of Cologne was a point of orientation for the pilots.

Since 1996, it has been a designated UNESCO World Heritage site.

The inside of the Cologne Cathedral
Christopher Larson / TripSavvy

Treasures of the Cologne Cathedral

  • Shrine of the Three Holy Kings - The Cathedral's most precious work of art is the Shrine of the Three Kings, a golden sarcophagus studded with jewels. Dating back to the 13th century, the shrine is the largest reliquary in the Western world; it holds the crowned skulls and clothes of the Three Wise Men who are considered city patrons. This impressive work of medieval gold is 6 hundredweight, 153 cm high, 220 cm long, and 110 cm wide.
  • Gero Cross - The Gero-Kreuz is the oldest surviving crucifix north of the Alps. It was carved in oak in 976 and hangs in its own chapel near the sacristy. It was named after its commissioner, Gero (Archbishop of Cologne), and is unique in that the figure appears to be the first Western depiction of the crucified Christ on the Cross. It stands at an intimidating six feet tall, making it one of the largest crosses of its time.
  • Milan Madonna - In the Sacrament Chapel, you find the Mailänder Madonna ("Milan Madonna"), an elegant wooden sculpture from the 13th century. It depicts the Blessed Virgin Mary with the infant Jesus and is the oldest representation of the Madonna in the cathedral. Give it a long, appreciate look as it is said to have miraculous powers.
  • Modern Mosaic Glass Window - In the south transept, marvel at the modern stained glass window created by German artist Gerhard Richter in 2007. Composed of more than 11,000 identically sized glass pieces, it offers the modern interpretation of a stained glass window.
  • South Tower - The platform of Cologne Cathedral’s south tower offers an impressive view at 100 meter high, 533 steps up. While the view at the top is the highlight, watch for the bell chamber as you march by. There are eight bells, including the St. Peters Bell which is the largest freely swinging church bell in the world at 24,000 kg.

Getting to the Cologne Cathedral

If arriving by metro or train, get off at the "Dom/Hauptbahnhof" stop. The Cologne Cathedral looms over the central railway station of Cologne. You can't miss it even within the station as it stands, massive and immovable, right next door.

Tips for Your Visit

  • You can not explore the main hall of the Cathedral during mass or services.
  • The altar and choir area are closed during confession.
  • The view from the Cathedral tower is breathtaking, but you will have to climb 509 stairs to reach the viewing platform.
  • If you decide to visit both tower and treasury chamber, buy a combined entrance ticket.