Cologne (or Kӧln to locals) is one of Germany’s largest cities, but it often gets overlooked by more touristy places like Munich, Berlin, and Hamburg. If you’re taking the time to see Cologne – which you definitely should – you’ll be treated to some spectacular architecture, museums, and if you’re lucky, one of their world-famous carnivals.
There’s also a rich history to this city, one that dates back over 2,000 years, and you can even see some well-preserved Roman ruins in various locations around town. Today, Cologne is a city that feels like a fairytale thanks to the massive medieval cathedral and sweeping river views.
Although you could spend weeks exploring every nook and cranny of this historic city, Cologne is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to culture, food, beer, and wine in this area. From castles, national parks, and booming metropolises to tiny German villages, don’t miss your chance to imbibe in a number of unforgettable day trips while you’re in town.
We’ve rounded up the 20 best day trips from Cologne to make planning your trip a breeze.
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The closest day trip and one of the most popular from Cologne is the city of Bonn, located just 30 minutes south along the Rhine River.
Bonn was the former capital of West Germany and is home to some important museums and architecture. Perhaps the most noteworthy is Bonn Minster, one of the oldest churches in the country, built over Roman ruins back in the 11th century.
The city is full of colorful architecture, cozy cafes and restaurants, and fun festivals that you can enjoy no matter what time of year you visit.
Spring is arguably the best time to visit, as this is when the annual Beethoven Festival is held. You can also see the beautiful cherry blossoms bloom along Heerstrasse near the old city at this time of year, which is truly a sight to behold.
If you’re visiting in the summer you’ll have the ambiance of beer gardens to look forward to, and in the winter the famous Christmas markets are in full swing.
Don’t miss the Haribo Candy Company and their outlet factory store where you can buy your weight in their world-famous gummy bears and other sweet treats.
Located just a few miles further down the Rhine than Bonn, the town of Kӧnigswinter is definitely worth a stop.
The most popular sites actually lie outside of the city in the surrounding Siebengebirge (Seven Hills). The Drachenburg Castle was constructed in the late 19th century and was actually used as a private villa. You can take a tour of the estate and enjoy breathtaking views of the river and town below.
Further up the hill, you can see the ruins of Drachenfels, another castle, and more sweeping views over the city. The hills are hike-able, but you can also take the train up to either site if you’re not looking for a cardio workout.
Wine lovers will not want to miss the AHR Valley, one of the best (and closest) wine regions near Cologne. Terraced vineyards make up most of the landscape of this verdant valley, which is famous for their red pinot noir varietals – including the well-loved Spätburgunder.
The best way to experience this region is via the 35 kilometer Red Wine Trail. Aptly named, the trail connects multiple towns and wineries, many of which have tasting rooms where you can take a break and enjoy a drink. There are even some pop-up tents along different points of the trail, so there’s no need to step a foot off the path to enjoy a nice glass of local wine.
The trail also offers access to views of the towns’ breathtaking monasteries, churches, and castle ruins.
The tiny town of Cochem is often overlooked, but this scenic fishing village is packed with beautiful old architecture, sweeping river views, and a castle on top of the hill.
Spend some time wandering along the Mosel Promenade and pop into the Market Square once you’re ready for a bite to eat or for a bit of window shopping. If you’re in town during the months of November and December, you’ll be treated to the town’s magical Christmas market.
Another must-stop is Reichsburg, Cochem’s castle on the hill. The iconic landmark offers tours and exceptional views over the surrounding landscape and town.
Cochem is located within the Mosel Valley wine region, so don’t miss your chance to enjoy a crisp glass of Reisling while you’re in this charming city.
Another must-stop for wine lovers visiting Cologne is the Rhine Gorge, specifically the town of Rüdesheim am Rhein. This is the area where Romans started growing wine grapes over 1,000 years ago, and it has since been dubbed a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The area was the heart of the Roman Empire during its heyday, a fact that is evident in the 40 castles along this breathtaking stretch. You could spend days driving or hiking along the gorge, with tasting rooms awaiting you around every corner.
The town of Rüdesheim am Rhein boasts a plethora of historic buildings, a wine museum, and a cable car that offers incredible panoramic views of the valley. There are also various river cruises that depart from this city, the most popular being a castle cruise tour.
The bustling metropolis of Düssesdorf is just a few hours away from Cologne, making it a great option for a day trip.
This city is the perfect confluence of old and new, and Düssesdorf truly has a unique vibe that is all its own. It’s located along the Rhine, so a stroll along the riverwalk is a great place to start exploring and take in some great views of the city.
The old town of Altstadt is where we recommend spending the most time, as it’s filled with historical architecture, sweeping views of the Rhine, and beautiful churches. Don’t miss your chance to try a Düssesdorf-style altbier while you’re in this part of town!
The Carlsplatz Markt is also a must-see while you’re in the city; this bustling market is filled with stalls full of fresh flowers, fruit, cheeses, meat, and more. This is a great place to grab lunch or simply sit back and relax.
For a more urban experience, head up to the Rheinturm for the best view of the city.
Located on the German-Dutch-Belgian border, the town is a crossroad for culture and history. Like many other cities in the area, Aachen has a long history that dates back to the Roman Empire. You can see history’s influence in the magnificent architecture, the most famous being the Aachen Cathedral, where over 30 German kings and Charlamagne are buried.
Another draw to this city is the renowned Carolus Day Spa. You could easily spend your whole day here soaking in the eight different pools, enjoying the saunas, or pampering yourself with a spa treatment.
Not far from Aachen, you can cross over the Dutch border and spend a day in the lovely town of Maastricht. This university city boasts medieval architecture. Nearly 2,000 buildings are considered national heritage buildings.
Spend the day walking along the charming, cobblestoned streets. Spot old merchant houses, take a look inside the Basilica of St. Servatius, or enjoy a river cruise where you can learn more about the history and culture of this ancient city.
One of the oldest cities in Germany sits on the confluence of the Rhine and Moselle, and makes for a great day trip from Cologne. Koblenz has been an important outpost for millennia, and the city’s history dates all the way back to 8 BC!
There’s a lot to see in this historic city, including the Basilica of St. Castor, the Festung Ehrenbreitstein Fortress, and the Romanesque Church of Our Lady. Of course, the city wouldn’t be complete without a castle, though the Alte Burg does admittedly look more like a big mansion.
Koblenz has its fair share of museums, but you could also get a history lesson on one of the many river cruises that depart from the city.
The Eltz Castle is one of the most iconic in Germany, and looks like it popped straight out of a fairytale. Located about an hour and a half from Cologne, the castle is a bit hard to get to – but it’s well worth the hassle.
The Eltz Castle dates back to the 9th century, and is perpetually surrounded in a misty fog that just adds to the fairytale-like ambiance. It’s been privately owned by the Eltz family for over 33 generations, but they do provide guided tours of the estate. You’ll be shown through medieval-style rooms filled with original artifacts, furniture, and art while you listen to the fascinating history of this enchanting castle.
The town of Monschau is one of the most beautiful and fun day trips from Cologne. Located on the Belgian border about an hour and a half drive from the city, this small village is steeped in medieval architecture, from half-timbered houses to narrow cobblestone streets.
You could spend the whole day wandering around this picturesque town and taking Instagram-worthy snapshots of the river from one of the many bridges. But there’s actually more to do than just admire your surroundings.
Monschau is full of cozy cafes, shops, and museums. More adventurous travelers can take a boat tour or even spend the afternoon white water rafting. The town is also situated just on the edge of Eifel National Park, which warrants a full day trip all on its own.
Those looking to find some peace and quiet would be hard-pressed to find a better day trip from Cologne than the Eifel National Park. The park sprawls over 150km through mountain ranges, verdant forest, and beautiful blue lakes and streams.
No matter your hiking experience, you’ll find it easy to locate a path that suits your skill level. There’s even a driving route that will lead you to various lakes, waterfalls, and geysers.
If you don’t want to venture too far away from Cologne, the city of Brühl is a great spot to spend the day. The main attraction is the stunning Augustusburg Palace, which was once home to the archbishops of Cologne.
The palace is an extraordinary piece of architecture dating back to the 18th century. Bedecked in marble, gold, massive hand painted murals, and other stunning details, this Rococo-style edifice is simply a masterpiece. You’ll have to pay for a guided tour of the interior, but you won’t be disappointed – this place is simply breathtaking.
The grounds are nearly equally as impressive, with French gardens, fountains, and tree-lined walking paths. You can explore this area of the estate free of charge all year round.
Located just north of Dusseldorf, the Kaiserpfalz Kaiserwerth is the remains of what was once one of the oldest castles in Germany, and is still an impressive sight to see. You can check out the ruins free of charge.
Completed in the 12th century, the fortress was meant to be the seat of the King. The site is a great place to look out over the Rhine River.
If you plan your trip well, you could even catch a classical concert here, and the acoustics are really amazing.
Another good day trip for those looking to explore some of the bigger cities in the area is Frankfurt. This international city is modern and full of energy, with plenty to see and do on a day trip from Cologne.
The city was destroyed and rebuilt after the second world war, which accounts for all of the contemporary architecture, but there are still parts of the city that remain from the pre-war era or were at least reconstructed in the same style.
The Altstadt is home to some charming architecture and marketplaces, and you could easily spend the whole day here just strolling around. If you’re in town during the months of November and December, check out the annual Christmas Market that takes place in the square.
Frankfurt is also a noteworthy cultural destination thanks to its wide assortment of museums, theatres, and fairs.
If you need some R&R during your time in Cologne make your way to Bad Homburg. It’s located just outside of Frankfurt, and hosts one of Germany’s best spa parks.
You can start by exploring the city’s 14th-century castle, or head straight for Kurpark – the spa park. Known for the healing waters of its hot springs, the park has played host to royalty from around the world since the 19th century. Today it’s open for everyone, and a relaxing soak will leave you feeling rejuvenated for the remainder of your trip.
Michelstadt is another one of those German cities that feels like it belongs in a fairytale. Michelstadt is a bit far from Cologne (about 3 hours by car) but those who make the trip will find the journey to be well worth it.
Its town hall is one of the oldest and most photographed in the country, and the charming streets simply beg to be ambled along. Take in the views of half-timbered houses along the winding cobbled streets of the old town, or head to the town museum for an in-depth account of this historic place.
There’s a ton of ancient and picturesque architecture to be seen in Michelstadt, including churches, a 13th-century wall, Roman ruins, and of course, a few castles.
The medieval town of Marburg is a bit closer to Cologne, about two hours east. It has the classic winding cobblestoned streets and half-timbered houses that you’d expect from an ancient German city, along with the compulsory castle on the hill.
Bars and restaurants line the old Marktplatz Square, and you shouldn’t miss your chance to try some classic German fare while you’re in town.
Münster is a university town in northern Germany known for its overabundance of bicycles and museums. Those looking for an educational day trip from Cologne could hardly find a better place to learn something new.
The city also has some impressive architecture that makes the two-hour trek worth it, most of which can be seen in Prinzipalmark, the historical square, or the Domplatz Münster, the main square.
You’ll also find fun and lively nightlife in this small city, along with a swath of hip restaurants and cafes.
Luxembourg is not usually a bucket list item on most people’s travel wish list, but when you’re this close it’s definitely worth a visit. In just three hours you can be in this little country’s capital city, having a cup of coffee or sipping a glass of wine – both of which this area is famous for.
The city is built into the hillside, and the medieval architecture is truly a sight to see. Some of the top attractions here include the Vianden Castle, the Cathedral Notre-Dame, and Bock Casemates – a series of 18th-century tunnels and WWII shelters.
There’s a lot more to see here, so much so that you might consider turning this day trip into a weekend getaway.