Cologne is the fourth largest city of Germany and home to one of the most famous cathedrals in Northern Europe. Besides the cathedral, the city is nothing to write home about but it’s a nice place for a short stopover before heading on to your next destination. So in case you find yourself passing through here on your eurotrip, here is a useful and comprehensive guide on backpacking Cologne on a budget.
What You’ll Find in This Guide
- How Much to Budget for Cologne
- How Long to Visit Cologne
- Cheap Places to Eat in Cologne
- Cheap Places to Stay in Cologne
- Top Things to Do in Cologne
- Popular Events & Festivals in Cologne
- How to Get Around in Cologne
- Day Trips from Cologne
How Much to Budget for Cologne
How Long to Visit Cologne
To be honest we weren’t too impressed with Cologne. The city just didn’t have much charm and it looked very industrial, which makes sense if you consider that city was completely destroyed during World War II.
In our opinion, 1 day is more than enough time to see all the highlights of Cologne.
Cheap Places to Eat in Cologne
Cologne has an abundance of cheap street food stands and shops selling fast food for next to nothing. Most cheap places can be found just north of the main station at Zülpicher Platz and along Zülpicher Straße. Popular fast food include, but are not limited to: Curry Wurst, Döner Kebabs, Falafel Wraps and filled Pita Bread.
There are also many German and Non-German restaurants in Cologne that have a daily lunch special for around €7.00. Just by walking around you will find restaurants advertising them.
Below are a few cheap place to eat in Cologne:
Habibi | Zülpicher Str. 28, 50674 Köln
Habibi is a Middle Eastern shop that sell delicious falafel wraps with hummus and tabouli for around €3.00. You also get a free cinnamon tea with every order.
Buffet Chen | Hohenstaufenring 13, 50674 Köln
Buffet Chen is the go to place for cheap all-you-can-eat buffet around lunch time. For less than €9.00 you can stuff your face with as much Asian food as you can handle.
China Wok | Böckingstraße 44, 51063 Köln
China Wok is another cheap Chinese restaurant where you can get a yummy rice or noodle dish for less than €5.00.
Borsalino | Zülpicher Str. 7, 50674 Köln
Borsalino serves some really tasty Italian pasta dishes and pizzas for around €5.00 – 7.00. The portions are big and it’s a great spot to eat lunch.
Signor Verde | Otto-Fischer-Straße 1, 50674 Köln
Signor Verde is a vegan restaurants that offers vegan baguettes, soups, salads and burgers at a very reasonable price. If you are in Cologne on a Thursday make sure to try their famous vegan Döner Kebab.
Cheap Places to Stay in Cologne
1.) Hostels & Budget Hotels
A bed in a hostel dorm will cost around €15.00 – 25.00 per night and a private room in a budget hotel around €50.00+. Make sure to pre-book your accommodation on weekends in the summer months as beds usually sell out quickly.
Our favorite hostel in Cologne is:
Die Wohngemeinschaft is like an attraction in itself as the atmosphere and interior design of this place will have people mesmerized for years. It’s not your typical hostel as both, dorms and private rooms, are uniquely themed and filled with charming details. For example we stayed in the Juri room, i.e. the spaceship room while a friend of ours embraced his inner child in the Lego room.
Beside the uniquely designed rooms and the retro themed living room (common area) there are other things that make Die Wohngemeinschaft stand out from the other hostels in Cologne, such as the living room bar on the ground floor and the delicious breakfast buffet with organic and locally grown food.
We would without question stay here again when in Cologne, even if it’s only to sleep in each room once. Dorm beds start at €20.00 and double private rooms start at €59.00.
If you have your own tent or travel with a car, consider staying at one of the camping grounds outside of the city center. It’s a good way to save a couple of euros while still being close to the city center.
Camping Berger is situated along the banks of the Rhine river and has top notch facilities, friendly staff and is very close to public transportation. Prices start at €8.00 per person.
Campingplatz Stadt Köln is also situated near the Rhine river but a little bit further away from public transportation (~15 minutes walk). The facilities are basic but clean and the owner speaks English. Prices start at €7.00 per person.
We love using Airbnb as sometimes you can find a private room, and even a whole apartment, for less than a private room in a hostel or budget hotel. Airbnb prices in Cologne start at €20.00 for a private room.
Top Things to Do in Cologne
1.) Cologne Cathedral
Cologne Cathedral is one of Germany’s most famous landmarks and a beautiful example of gothic architecture. The cathedral took over 600 years to be build and was considered one of the tallest buildings in the world until 1884. Visiting the church is free unless you want to climb to the top, in which case they charge a small fee of €3.00. It takes about 45 minutes to climb the 500+ steps to the top.
2.) Roonstrasse Synagogue
The Roonstrasse Synagogue was the only synagogue in Cologne that was rebuilt after the Nazi’s destroyed it during the Kristallnacht. Today the synagogue not only serves as a religious center but also as a culture center with exhibits on the history of the Jewish community in Cologne.
Take a tour through the Schokoladenmuseum to learn more about the history of chocolate and how it made its way from the Mayan villages of Guatemala and Belize to Europe. The museum also offers a wide variety of tours and hands-on classes.
4.) Museum Ludwig
Museum Ludwig is a modern art museum with a large collection of Pop Art, Abstract and Surrealism. It also houses one of the largest Picasso collections in Europe.
5.) Roman-Germanic Museum
The Roman-Germanic Museum is an archeological museum that houses a large collection of Roman artifacts from early Roman settlements in Germany.
6.) Thermal Baths
Thermal baths are kind of a big thing in Central Europe, so visiting at least one should be a must on your Eurotrip. One of the most famous spas in Cologne is the Claudius Therme, which has beautiful indoor and outdoor thermal baths, saunas, massage therapy facilities and relaxation rooms. If you have never been to a thermal bath make your first visit this one. You won’t regret it.
No visit to Cologne is complete without trying a nice cold Kölsch at a traditional “Brauhaus” (a German pub where the beer is brewed). A good place to get some original Kölsch is at the “Brauhaus” Gaffel am Dom, located right next to the Cologne Cathedral.
Popular Events & Festivals in Cologne
1.) Cologne Carnival
The carnival, also called the “fifth season of the year”, begins on November 11th at 11:11am but the real party doesn’t start until Fat Thursday. The highlight of the carnival is on Rose Monday when the official parade is happening and thousands of people walk down the streets in their colorful costumes.
2.) Christmas Markets
If you are in Cologne during December you have to visit one of the beautiful Christmas Markets around town, and drink some hot punch and eat some Lebkuchen. The most famous Christmas Market is the one next to the Cathedral.
How to Get Around in Cologne
The best way to get around Cologne is by bike as there are bike lanes everywhere. You can rent a city bike just outside the central station from a place called Radstation. They charge €5.00 for 3 hours and €10.00 for 1 day.
It takes about 30 minutes to walk from one end of the city center to the other, so if you want to save some money and work those leg muscles, you can definitely walk from one sight to the next.
3.) Public Transportation
Cologne has a very good public transportation network with trams, subways and busses going all around the city. A single ride within the city limit (Zone 1b) is €2.80. If you are only taking a short trip of up to 4 stops, purchase the ticket called “Kurzstrecke” for €1.90 instead.
Cologne also has one day pass which costs €8.50 for one person and €12.90 for up to 5 people. The day pass for up to 5 people is a really good deal, even if you only travel with one other person. Don’t make the mistake of getting multiple single day tickets.
Insider Tip: Ticket machines at most stations don’t take bills or credit cards, so always carry some coins with you. You don’t want to get stuck asking for change on a Sunday when everything is closed (yes that happened to us ;D).
Day Trips from Cologne
- Bonn: The old capital and birthplace of Ludwig van Beethoven.
- Brühl: Home to the beautiful Augustusburg Palace which is one of the first examples of Rococo creations in Germany .
- Düsseldorf: Famous for its nightlife, shopping and events such as the carnival.
- Aachen: A spa city packed with historic sights and medieval architecture.
Get Insured Before Backpacking Cologne
No matter how long or short your trip, don’t forget to purchase travel insurance. You never know what will happen and trust us, you don’t wanna get stuck with thousands of dollars in medical bills. As a wise man once said, if you can’t afford travel insurance, you can’t afford to travel. So don’t leave home without it. We recommend World Nomads.
Even if you don’t get travel insurance with World Nomads, please make sure to get travel insurance from somewhere.
Other Travel Guides
If you are more of a book person and would rather carry a physical guide with you while backpacking Cologne, we recommend Lonely Planet Discover Germany. Remember though, don’t follow it step by step, use it as a guide instead.
If you enjoyed our backpacking Cologne on a budget guide, please share it on social media and consider coming back to plan your next trip with our other detailed backpacking guides.