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I love planning cheap trips. Even ones that I may never take. That’s why I started the ‘A Cheap Trip to…’ series. This time around it’s a cheap trip to Cologne.
To begin planning this trip I went to Skyscanner, a website that allows you to pick a departure point without a destination or set dates. One of the cheapest destinations was Cologne, Germany. If you’re interested in the cheapest check out a cheap trip to Birmingham.
Flights to Cologne from Dublin are as cheap as €34 per person round trip on Ryanair. During a good sale, you could certainly find the flight for much cheaper as well.
To get that price we (my husband and I) would be traveling in Cologne April 19th-24th. This is a little bit longer than you would normally consider for a cheap trip but there are plenty of things to do and Ryanair only flies to Cologne on certain days from Dublin. The flight to Cologne lands just slightly after 4 PM. Unfortunately, this means that most of that day is wasted.
When picking a hotel you are spoiled for choices in Cologne. For this stay, I picked the XII Apostel Albergo. It isn’t the cheapest option but the location more than makes up for that as it is in the heart of the historic district which has an amazing nightlife. For a five night stay, the price is €645. Again, there are cheaper places to stay in Cologne but it is an expensive city compared to others. For instance, the 4-night stay in my Birmingham article was €211.
Day 1: Arrival – April 19
Once you’ve picked up your luggage it’s time to leave the airport and head into the city. You will have several train options, most notably the S19 train leaves every 20 minutes. You will want to head to Köln Hauptbahnhof, the main train station in Cologne. It takes the train just 15 minutes to get to there from the airport.
From here Google will suggest a very direct route that takes you through the modern shopping district and some of the historic district, but there’s a much nicer walk to be had. First, you will want to head to the Cologne Cathedral which you would have seen as you pulled into the station. There’s a large set of stairs leading up to the Cathedral, along with a not so pleasant smelling elevator next to it.
Go upstairs and take a left, going around the back side of the cathedral. Slip between two buildings, following the red brick. Once you get past the buildings you’ll have the train bridge on your left and a ramp and stairs leading down to the river. Go down to the river and make a right turn. Continue until you come to a building in the middle of the path. At this point, you want to head into the Historic district. Follow that road until you come to a large square. This is Heumarkt, where your hotel is located.
For dinner, I recommend heading back out to the riverfront to go to Beirhaus am Rhein. If you’re feeling up to drinking a very light alcoholic drink be sure to give Kolsch a try. It’s the local beer and an absolute must try while you’re in Cologne. After dinner head back to Heumarkt for the night. You’ll be able to get drinks in the square until quite late and there’s also some great gelato to be had.
Day 2: Roman Around – April 20
Pardon the pun, you see, Cologne has been around a very long time, so long in fact that you can find Roman-era ruins in a few different places. Right about now you may be wondering why I haven’t suggested marching straight up to the Cathedral first thing. The truth is, the Cologne Cathedral is by far the biggest highlight of a trip to Cologne. So don’t peak too early!
Begin your trip back in time with a trip to the Roman-Germanic Museum which is right next to the Cathedral. Admission is €9 per person and it will likely take you about 2 hours to see it all. The museum is almost entirely in German, but there is a guidebook you can get that will help.
Once you’ve finished with the museum you’ll want to go around the Dom (Cathedral) to the front. If you like you can go inside now. In front of the doors to the Cathedral is a rather unassuming little arch. In fact, I will freely admit that I’ve passed it dozens of times and never given it more than a moment’s glance. This arch is called the Roman North Gate and if you didn’t know its ancient history already you would just assume it’s a random bit of modern art. There are no signs or anything suggesting its history.
At this point, I recommend going into the Cologne Tourist Information Center which is on the other side of the arch from the Dom. Here you can ask about some of the unique tours of the Cathedral. Also be sure to ask about the Römergrab Köln-Weiden. This is a small Roman vault that has only recently been opened to the public for limited tours. At this point, if you haven’t already done so I recommend grabbing some lunch. There are a number of places to pick from and if you’re wanting to try some German fast food head into the train station where you’ll be spoiled for choice.
After you’ve had lunch head back to the Tourist information office. From there you’ll walk to travel along the road going away from the Cathedral. While you can take the busy road the McDonalds is on the one on the other side of the tourist office is better. Follow this road until it turns. Instead, take the stairs down to an intersection. From there cross the street, continuing away from the Dom. After a little bit of walking on your right side, you’ll see Roman columns. This is Römerbrunnen Köln. Be sure to go down the stairs to see it from the other side, you’ll get to see some gorgeous art.
But that isn’t all on this street! The main attraction is just a couple of blocks further down the road on the left side. A beautiful little unassuming Roman Tower. If you need a break, after all, that walking just around the corner from the tower is a café.
Once you’ve taken a few photos with the Roman Tower go back to the last road you crossed, Auf dem Berlich and take a right and follow this road to the end. This is Neumarkt, home a lovely Christmas market if you’re there at the right time. On the right, you’ll see a Romanesque church. This is St. Aposteln. The outside is far more impressive than the inside.
The final stop on the Roman adventure around Cologne is the Roman Praetorium and the associated archaeological sites. As of writing this a new museum is being built and as a result, the Praetorium, Roman Sewer, Mikwe, and Porticus may be closed when you visit. Check this website for more information.
Now you’re close to your hotel spend the rest of the day relaxing and exploring the historic district or sitting down by the river with the locals. For dinner I recommend pizza. Not just any pizza though! This may just be the best pizza I’ve ever had in the entire world. Songs need to be written about this pizza. It’s just around the corner from the XII Apostle Albergo, taking the street you would to go back down to the river. Order the pizza from a window facing the street.
Day 3: The Traditional Sights – April 21
Today is the day you can officially, properly, visit the Dom! I suggest getting that out of the way first thing. Between the inside of the cathedral, the Treasury, and climbing the tower you could easily end up spending all morning there. If you want more information about visiting Cologne Cathedral I suggest checking out my article on that very subject.
After you’ve finished with the Cathedral don’t eat yet! You’ll be making a couple of stops on the way to the Mexican restaurant for this trip, Café Especial. Behind the Cathedral is that big train bridge you would have crossed on your first day. This bridge also has a path for walking and taking your bike. The main attraction is the bridge itself. This bridge is home to thousands of love locks.
Your next destination is the rather large tower that’s easily seen from the bridge called KölnTriangle. For just €3 you can go up the tower to the observation deck for some of the most amazing views in the entire city. It closes anywhere from 8 to 11 depending on the time of year, so you may want to consider making a second trip here one evening to watch the city turn its lights on.
After you’re done in the tower it’s time for lunch! Head downstairs and out. In front of you on the left side a train station. On the left, just a few buildings down is Café Especial. Take some time here to relax as you have a 25-minute walk ahead of you next.
Now, before I get into this next part, you do not have to walk the full 25 minutes. You can shave about 10 minutes of walking time off this by going into the station across the street and getting the number 1, 7, or 9 trams to Heumarkt. But if you do this you won’t be able to stop on the bridge it crosses for some great photos of the Cathedral and the bridge with all the locks.
Either way, you decide to do it once you’re across, go along the path at the river’s edge heading away from the Cathedral. You’re on your way to the Schokoladenmuseum, the Chocolate Museum. If you’re interested in finding out more about visiting the Cologne Chocolate Museum check out my article on the subject.
With the rest of your day relax a bit more and enjoy the historic district. If you haven’t already done so check out the Heinzelmännchenbrunnen, Fragrance Museum, and Historic City Hall. Also be sure to check out the Basilica of St. Ursula which has an impressive collection of bones. The story goes that they are the remains of St. Ursula and 11,000 virgins. If you feel like going a little further afield head to the other side of the main train station to visit the Botanic Gardens, Flora und Botanischer Garten Köln and Chandelier Hall which is a chandelier hanging in a sewer that is now an event hall.
If you feel like splurging a little bit on this trip have dinner at Wein am Rhein. It’s a Michelin star restaurant that serves wine from the region. If you’d rather stick to your budget try out Gilden im Zims, just across from the hotel in Heumarkt. This is a great opportunity to try more traditional German foods, don’t forget the Kolsch!
Before you turn in for the night go back to Cologne Cathedral. It’s gorgeous at night and a popular spot to sit on the stairs to people watch. This is one of my favorite things to do in the evening in Cologne.
Day 4: Beethoven’s Birthplace in Bonn – April 22
As it turns out one of the greatest composers of all time was born just 20 minutes away from Cologne in Bonn. From the main train station in Cologne head to Bonn Hauptbahnhof. Depending on which train you get this could take anywhere from 18 to 30 minutes.
Once you leave the train station head straight down the road in front of you with the station at your back. You’ll come to a gorgeous square called Munsterplatz. Here you’ll find a statue of Beethoven. This is also where you’ll find one of the most impressive churches in Bonn, Bonner Munster.
Head back towards the statue when you’re finished. Just past the Starbucks, you’ll be able to see an old brick structure. This is the Sterntor, a piece of the old city wall. It’s a great little photo op. If by now you’re hungry keep going down that road, you’ll come to yet another Starbucks. Nearby you’ll find Brauhaus Bönnsch, the place to go if you want German food. Personally, though, I’m tempted by all the Mexican places I see on the map. I found at least three.
You’re just a couple of blocks away from Beethoven’s House. Admission is €6 per person. The audio tour is 90 minutes and recommended if you don’t speak German as the museum is entirely in German.
Now you have a couple of options. You can go check out Poppelsdorf Palace and the gardens next to it or you can go to the Haribo Factory. Personally, while I do think the palace is beautiful I’m a huge Haribo fan. Both of these are a little further out from the train station than everything else. If you like though you can stay in Bonn until quite late and enjoy the local nightlife before heading back to Cologne. Trains continue running late into the night.
Day 5: UNESCO – April 23
If you’re like me you’re a sucker for UNESCO World Heritage Sites. If you are then congratulations! You’re going to be able to mark two off your list from this trip. The first one you saw was the Cologne Cathedral. The second one is the focus for today. They are Augustusburg and Falkenlust Palaces located in Brühl, just 15 minutes to the south of Cologne by train. You’ll want to take the RB26, RE, or RB48. If you happen to be going to Cologne in December or January you should skip this day entirely as the World Heritage Site is closed those months.
Admission is €6.50. This gets you access to both locations. Going inside Augustusburg Palace is by guided tour only. All tours are in German but there are English audio guides. Falkenlust can be explored at your own pace and there are audio guides available. The gardens, which are massive, can be explored at your own pace so long as the gardens are open. There is no photography allowed inside the Palace. Even selfies are banned.
Just to see the palace you can expect an hour and a half long tour. It’s recommended that you give yourself at least 3 hours to see the whole thing, depending on how fast you want to go. For lunch enjoy some German cuisine in the local train station. They’re rated the number one restaurant in the entire town on TripAdvisor.
If you’re a fan of theme parks Brühl is also home to Phantasialand, one of the best amusement parks in Germany. This will easily take up the rest of your day. If this doesn’t interest you, then I recommend moving on to the next paragraph.
If you’re feeling really wild Aachen is only an hour to an hour and a half by train from Brühl, via Cologne. Aachen has a UNESCO World Heritage Site too! This one is the Aachen Cathedral. Unlike Brühl, Aachen has quite a bit more to see. But since this is a whirlwind trip I’ll just list a couple, Rathaus Aachen (City Hall), Lindt Factory, and the border of three countries. You may decide that Aachen is a better way to spend your day than Brühl. It’s completely up to you.
Day 6: Departure – April 24
This is your last day in Cologne. Depending on when your flight is you may not have a lot of time left. Remember to get to the airport early. This is a great day to pick up any souvenirs and revisit some of your favorite spots. If you want to see something new there’s a gorgeous cemetery called Melaten-Friedhof. It’s a little bit out of the central part of Cologne but it is gorgeous. You could also spend some time exploring the Kölner Grüngürtel, a strip of park that is popular with locals.
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And that concludes our cheap trip to Cologne! I’d love to know what you think of the plan. Have you been to Cologne and know of something that’s missing? Let me know! I’d love to see it next time I’m there and add it to the schedule.