How to Spend 48 Hours in Cologne

Olivia Leaves | 48 Hours in Cologne

How would you spend 48 hours in Cologne?

What if you didn’t know you were going to Cologne until 48 hours before your flight departed?

This was the case for myself and 12 others who came together to take a WowTrip. What’s that, you ask? WowTrip is a company that builds your trip for you, takes care of all the details, and doesn’t tell you anything about it until you’re about to go!

Here’s how it works: you visit the WowTrip website with a few dates for a trip and adventure on your mind. Depending on the length of your trip and the dates you choose, the site will tell you the cost of the trip. Before you finalise, you’re able to remove cities from your list of options. The first is free and others are £5 each. Hit purchase!

Olivia Leaves | 48 Hours in Cologne

48 hours before your flight you can log in to the WowTrip portal to check on the weather so you know what to pack. At the same time, you can find out where you’re going, or you can wait until you get to the airport. You’ll already be checked in, so you can easily wait until you’re standing in the terminal to download your boarding pass and head to the gate!

The only downside here is for those of us needing to print out boarding passes beforehand in order to complete the visa check for Ryanair flights (which I did)!

Soon enough we touched down in Cologne, Germany, where it was a balmy 29° Celsius. It’s a beautiful town, famous for Carnival in February, and great for a weekend city break.

Here’s your itinerary for what to see and do in Cologne.

Climb the 533 steps to the top of Cologne Cathedral

Olivia Leaves | 48 Hours in Cologne

You can’t not climb to the top of something so beautiful! Once you’re done staring up at it, and then walking through it, pay the €4 to climb all the steps to the very top. The spiral staircase is narrow, and you’ve got people coming up and going down at the same time, but it’s not too small that you’d get claustrophobic. There are also small windows every couple turns for you to see how far you’ve gone!

Olivia Leaves | 48 Hours in Cologne

The last stretch is a set of metal stairs that you can see through. They’re all enclosed, and inside the tower itself, but they still made me feel a bit wobbly. Thankfully though, they’re only to go up. The way down is also in a stone, spiral staircase that won’t bring out your fear of heights.

Take a walking tour 

Olivia Leaves | 48 Hours in Cologne

I think walking tours are the best way to see a city. We booked this tour through Koeln Tourism and were escorted around by a local for 90 minutes. Aside from showing us the rich history and gorgeous architecture of the city, he also was able to answer questions, provide restaurant recommendations, and direct us to the most famous bierhaus at the end!

Walk across the train bridge

Olivia Leaves | 48 Hours in Cologne

For the best views on the ground, walk from the cathedral across the train bridge. You’ll recognize it as it’s covered with love locks. It’s a beautiful walk early in the morning before things get too crowded, and there’s a great place at the far end of the bridge to take photos with the Cathedral in the background.

Take photos of the colourful houses in the Old Town

Olivia Leaves | 48 Hours in Cologne

Along the river you’ll find colourful buildings housing every kind of restaurant. Many are German, but you’ll also find a lot of Italian restaurants thanks to the high number of Italians living in the city. Spend some time wandering through the Old Town and of course, taking photos in front of the famous colourful houses and squares.

Have a picnic along the river

On the far side of the river, facing the cathedral, there are rows of built-in benches that people can perch to eat, chat, visit, or relax. We grabbed some snacks and a few bottles of prosecco and made a dinner of it! It’s a great place to watch the sun set over the Old Town.

Olivia Leaves | 48 Hours in Cologne

Take in the view from the top of KölnTriangle

This one has the best of both worlds: a view and a lift! For €3 you can hop in an elevator to the top of a tower overlooking the city. It will give you 360° views and is great in the evenings. The only thing missing at the top is a bar.

Olivia Leaves | 48 Hours in Cologne

If you’re a serious photographer it wouldn’t hurt to bring some glass cleaner, because the fingerprint reflections on the windows in the sun are difficult to hide in photos!

Drink Kölsch in a Bierhaus

Olivia Leaves | 48 Hours in Cologne

There are a million and one places to drink beer in Cologne, many of which can hold 1000+ people. Früh am Dom is well known, and the service we received was fantastic. They keep tally of your drinks on your beer mat and you pay at the end! Make sure you have some cash on you, as with beer as cheap as €2.50, places were often pushing for cash only.

I’d also like to point out that I drank a decent amount of beer during my visit to Cologne, and I’d still classify myself as “not being a beer drinker.” Kölsch is their local beer and has a very light taste, perfect for us non-beer drinkers.

Olivia Leaves | 48 Hours in Cologne

Try a Sweet Pretzel

You have to do it, even though I’m going to say I was a bit let down. I ate both the regular salty pretzels (okay, I had a few) and Cologne’s specialty sweet pretzels. These look like cinnamon pretzels covered in flaked almonds, and you’ll find them hanging gracefully in the window of most bakeries.

Olivia Leaves | 48 Hours in Cologne

I think I was expecting a regular pretzel with a sweet twist, covered in almonds. What it was, however, was hard pastry shaped like a pretzel, covered in cinnamon and flaked almonds. It’s probably good if you go in to it knowing that!

Have a Schnitzel (even though Schnitzel isn’t German)

“Everyone comes to Germany and eats schnitzel even though it is Austrian. We have other German food you know,” one waiter told us as we ordered one schnitzel after another. I couldn’t help it, they’re so good! They’re also a pretty good deal if you’re travelling on a budget, and always come with fries.

Olivia Leaves | 48 Hours in Cologne Olivia Leaves | 48 Hours in CologneOlivia Leaves | 48 Hours in Cologne

And of course, always leave room for ice cream..

Olivia Leaves | 48 Hours in Cologne

Have you been to Cologne? What other things did you get up to on your visit? 

Pin this guide for later!

Olivia Leaves | How to spend 48 hours in Cologne, Germany



  1. August 30, 2018 / 12:49 pm

    What an interesting concept! I find it so thrilling not to know where you’re going. I once surprised my husband with a trip for his bday and he didn’t know until the day before. It was so fun!

  2. August 30, 2018 / 3:04 pm

    This looks like the most perfect 2 days! I love your photos and insight. Next stop Cologne anyone?

    • Olivia
      September 3, 2018 / 10:56 pm

      I’d go back! You should definitely check it out 🙂

  3. August 30, 2018 / 5:12 pm

    The pictures you took from the top of the cathedral are so gorgeous! I haven’t been to Cologne (yet) but it’s definitely on the bucket list!

  4. August 30, 2018 / 5:55 pm

    It looks like such a beautiful place full of rich culture! The love lock bridge is definitely something I want to see one day!

  5. Mary
    August 30, 2018 / 9:23 pm

    WOW! I had no idea! I’m going to Germany next Spring, and may have to add Cologne to our plan!

    • Olivia
      September 3, 2018 / 10:55 pm

      Definitely! And it’s great because it’s so close to Dusseldorf as well. Enjoy your trip!

  6. August 30, 2018 / 10:24 pm

    That’s so cool that you let someone else do the planning! I also love that you can control some of the factors haha. It looks like you had an amazing and busy time!

    • Olivia
      September 3, 2018 / 10:55 pm

      It was such a strange feeling not knowing where we were going, but I’d definitely do it again!

  7. August 31, 2018 / 5:53 pm

    What a beautiful city! Your photos are great, the weather looks good, and so does the food!

    • Olivia
      September 3, 2018 / 10:54 pm

      The food was the surprise!

  8. August 31, 2018 / 7:37 pm

    I absolutely love your photos! It looks like you had an amazing time in Cologne (these photos are definitely making me want to visit!)

    • Olivia
      September 3, 2018 / 10:54 pm

      Thanks! We had an unbelievable time. You should definitely add it to your list!

  9. August 31, 2018 / 9:03 pm

    Absolutely loved this post, Olivia! You’ve craftily distilled some key highlights of a city with so much to offer into a compact 48 hour vacation.

    Located along both sides of the spectacular Rhine River, Cologne is one of the oldest cities in Germany. It is the cultural heart of the Rhineland, with a vibrant arts scene, celebrated opera house, more than 30 museums and hundreds of galleries, which is why it is such a popular port of call on many river cruisetour itineraries of the Rhine River Valley. Cologne was the recipient of the “2016 Top-Rated European River Destinations” Cruisers’ Choice Destination Awards.

    Most river cruise ships moor right in the heart of the Old Town – perfect for popping out for a pre-dinner drink or after meal stroll along the riverbank. Since Cologne is quite compact, it’s easily navigated on foot, making it the perfect destination to explore from a cruise ship, including those attractions you mentioned above in your post.

    As you mentioned, Cologne is celebrated for its locally brewed beer, called Kolsch, with about 30 traditional brewing houses creating their own versions and selling them on-site in lively beer gardens and cellars. Kolsch is also the name for the local dialect, resulting in the joke that Kolsch is the only language one can drink.

    As you alluded to in your blog, whether you visit Cologne during the summer to make the most of the beer gardens and pretty landscaped riverbanks or during winter for the raucous Carnival or magical Christmas markets, river cruisers will discover an intriguing, cosmopolitan city with tons of character.

    I’ve already pinned your post to share with clients interested in experiencing a Rhine River Cruise. I’ll also share your insightful article in my Facebook travel group. Thanks for making my job easier!

    • Olivia
      September 3, 2018 / 10:54 pm

      Thanks for this! Some great info about the history of the city (my favourite!).

      • September 4, 2018 / 10:17 pm

        You’re welcome, Olivia! Your post in my travel group has already gotten some likes. I’m sure you’ve picked up a few new fans and followers! I’ll periodically give it’s thread a little “bump” as needed.

        • Olivia
          September 20, 2018 / 10:32 pm

          It has! Thanks so much for your support 🙂

  10. August 31, 2018 / 9:18 pm

    That looks so amazing, I want to go!

  11. Christa
    August 31, 2018 / 9:31 pm

    One of my favorite authors is Heinrich Boll, and most of his books take place in Cologne. I’ve always wanted to go and wander around the streets of the stories. These pictures are great (and I need that sweet pretzel in my life).

    • Olivia
      September 3, 2018 / 10:53 pm

      That’s the best link to a city I’ve heard in a while! I’m going to look him up and see if I can picture it. Thanks for sharing!

  12. August 31, 2018 / 10:37 pm

    All your beautiful photos make me want to go to Cologne!

    • Olivia
      September 3, 2018 / 10:52 pm

      Thank you! I’d definitely recommend it 🙂

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