Travel Guides Crafted by Experienced Archaeologists & Historians

Archaeology Travel Guide Cologne

Cologne City Icon
Once the provincial Roman capital of Germania Inferior, Cologne today is the fourth largest city in Germany. Cologne is home to the tallest cathedral in the world and Germany’s most visited landmark, the unmissable, in every sense of the word, Cologne Cathedral with its shrine to the three kings. Despite having been severely destroyed during World War Two, the restored old town has retained its medieval charm where the old rubs up against the new. Whether you only have a day to see the highlights or are thinking about staying for a few more days, this ancient Roman city, with its extraordinary tradition of Romanesque churches and impressive collection of museums and art galleries will not disappoint.

Reasons to Visit Cologne

The Golden Chamber in the Church of St. Ursula, Cologne.

Cathedral & churches,

Bust of Emperor Augustus, Roman Museum in Cologne.

Romans & Emperors,

Kolumba Museum Cologne

Museums & Art Galleries,

Cold beer (koelsch) glass with carnival decoration at the rhine river with Hohenzollern bridge and cathedral in cologne.

… and Cologne Carnival.

Interesting Things to Know About Cologne

Colonia Claudia Ara Agrippinensium was founded by the Romans around 39 BC, making Cologne one of the oldest cities in Germany. What had been the settlement of a Germanic tribe became the capital of Roman Germania Inferior and the headquarters of the military in the province. There are still many traces of the Roman town throughout the historic centre of the city. And the Römisch-Germanisches Museum is one of the finest local collections in Germany.

With over 6 million visitors annually, the UNESCO listed Cologne Cathedral is the most visited site in Germany. The church, the third largest in the world, is not only a popular tourist attraction it is also an important European pilgrimage site. Visitors come to see the extraordinary medieval artwork, including one of the most spectacular collections of stained glass. Although the building suffered considerable damage during the Second World War, the artwork had been removed to safety before the bombing of Cologne started.

Eau de Cologne, literally water of Cologne, is indeed named after the German city. It was created and named in 1709 by the Italian perfumier Giovanni Maria Farina who was living in Cologne at the time.  It is different to perfume in that it contains 2 – 5 % essential oils in a base of dilute ethanol. One of the most well known is 4711, produced in Cologne since at least 1799 and named after its location at Glockengasse Number 4711. House Number 4711 not only still sells Eau de Cologne, there is a museum wit the option of guided tours.

On the night of 30 May 1942 Cologne was the target for the first 1,000 bomber raid of World War II. During the war the city was subjected to 262 separate air raids, all by the Royal Air Force. Over 20,000 of the city’s inhabitants were killed as a result of these air raids. And around 90% of the buildings were destroyed. The Hohenzollernbrücke was not destroyed by the falling bombs. As Allied troops began their assault on Cologne on 6 March 1945, the retreating German engineers blew up the bridge. By May 1948 pedestrians were once again able to use the bridge, but it was not until 1959 that the bridge was fully reconstructed. Today the bridge is a popular place for visitors to add their ‘love locks’.

Taking place in February or March each year, the Cologne Carnival, the ‘fifth season’, is one of the largest street festivals in the world. Thought to have its roots in Germanic and Roman traditions, the earliest recorded mention of the folk festival is from the 14th century. Only in the last 200 or so years, however, has the event been as organised as it is today. The six days of festivities starts with Weiberfastnacht – 27 February 2025.

What's On in Cologne 2024

ramessses II statue of the luxor temple by night in upper egypt
Ramses: Gold of the Pharaohs
13 July 2024 – 6 January 2025
Drone view of Cologne Cathedral and the Rhine River during sunset.
Night of the Museums
2 November 2024
Cologne Cathedral lit up by the lights of the Christmas market.
Christmas Markets
18 November – 23 December

Find Places to Visit in Cologne

Five Popular Attractions in Cologne

The cathedra in Cologne from the side lit up at night.

Cologne Cathedral

The glass viewing deck of the Chocolate Museum in Cologne overlooking the Rhine River.

Chocolate Museum

The steeple of the Church of St Ursula.

Church of St. Ursula

Doors to the former Gestapo prison cells in the El-De House in Cologne.

NS Documentation Center

Hohenzollern Bridge, Cologne.
Hohenzollern Bridge

Inspiration & Itineraries

An artists impression of what the Roman town of Cologne looked like.

Roman Cologne

A view of the Philharmonie is a symphonic concert hall with Cologne Cathedral in the background.

Via Culturalis Cologne

Explore Cologne more deeply

What to See in Cologne

Cologne - Colonia Claudia Ara Agrippinensium

Colonia was always an important town for the Romans; the capital of the province of Germania Inferior and later the capital of Germania Secunda. The regional headquarters of the military in the region was based here. There are a number of features to see in the city, including sections of the wall and towers. The Roman museum, exhibitions are currently in a temporary location, was built on the foundations of a townhouse and displays its mosaic floor of Dionysius.

Cologne Cathedral

Construction of the cathedral began in 1248 and was completed in 1880. Despite the passing of seven centuries, the building stayed true to the original plans. Besides being known for its majestic qualities, it is the 3rd largest church in the world, the cathedral is also home to exceptional examples of Christian art, including numerous altars, the Shrine of the Magi, which is the largest reliquary shrine in Europe, and the 14th century stained glass windows. Visitors can enter the treasury, climb the towers and see the bell chambers. A number of themed guided tours are offered.

NS Documentation Center - EL-DE Haus

From 1935 to 1945 EL-DE Haus was the headquarters of the Secret State Police for the administrative district of Cologne. It was from here that the Nazis orchestrated their reign of terror on the city. A permanent exhibition outlines the history of Cologne during the National Socialist era. In the cellar is the ‘Gestapo Prison’; with more than 1,800 wall inscriptions that bear witness to persecution, torture and murder, this is one of the best preserved detention sites of the Nazi era. The NS Documentation centre is Germany’s largest regional memorial site for the victims of Nazism.

An exterior view of the east side of a Romanesque church in Cologne at sunset.

Romanesque Churches

Besides the imposing Gothic cathedral, Cologne is also known for its Romanesque heritage. In particular an extraordinary collection of churches that are typically Romanesque with obvious Ottonian features. Built from the 10th century to the early 13th century, before construction of the Gothic Cathedral began, there are 12 churches in the city that stand out as some of the finest examples of religious architecture of this period. A number of smaller churches and former parish churches can be found beyond what was the extent of the medieval city.

The north bank of the Rhine River with a number of museums and major tourist attractions creating Cologne's skyline.

Museums & Art Galleries

Cologne has an enthralling selection of museums. Covering every aspect of the city’s archaeology and history, with displays of objects and images from the early Stone Age to the 20th century. As well as art and artefacts from around the world. Whether you want to see one of the finest collections of Roman glass or the largest collection of Pop Art outside of the USA. Exquisite art works from China, Korea and Japan or the history of Carnival in Cologne, visitors to Cologne are spoilt for choice.

Plan Your Trip to Cologne

Tickets, Tours & Passes