If you are traveling to Germany, you might wonder whether you should stay in Cologne or Düsseldorf for a few days. Cologne and Dusseldorf are two of the most important cities in Germany.
Cologne has a population of 1.1 million and is the 4th most populated city in Germany. Düsseldorf is a smaller city with a population of 612,000. When walking in the Altstadt (old town) and on the Rhine River, however, it has a much bigger feel.
Cologne is more historical with the famous Cologne Cathedral and a good number of interesting museums. Düsseldorf is more modern and stylish but with a mix of traditional German culture. It offers the beautiful Rhine River Promenade and high-end shopping.
If you are only going to see one city, Cologne’s best attractions are mostly within walking distance of the central train station and cathedral. In Düsseldorf, there are multiple areas of interest to explore.
Since they are connected by only a 30-minute train ride it is possible to visit sites in both cities during a short stay.
What travelers say
- Düsseldorf has a beautiful riverfront and the luxurious Königsallee boulevard for shopping. The Carlstadt district is lined with warm gaslamp streetlights. Like the Altstadt (old town), it’s full of bars and restaurants.
- is a much larger and older city with more significant sites to visit like the cathedral and Roman monuments. There are also many old churches near the cathedral, great museums, and Roman history. The Cologne Cathedral should not be missed
- Walking along the Rhine River in Düsseldorf is quite pleasant as well as seeing the lovely trams passing through the city.
- Düsseldorf is a better starting point if you would like to see a football match in Dortmund or visit other places in the Rhine-Ruhr region.
- Some travelers may find Cologne a little dull or low-end compared to Düsseldorf which has more places to go out at night for food and drinks.
- Cologne has a large number of world-class museums with many different types of exhibits. Museums in Düsseldorf are more centered around 20th-century art and are less expensive.
- The hotels in Düsseldorf tend to be cheaper than in Cologne.
Vibe & people
Düsseldorf is the better city for designer shopping and people-watching, with many trendy advertising agencies located there. On the other hand, Cologne’s nightlife is more welcoming and is great for meeting outgoing locals and students.
The important sites in both cities are within walking distance of each other and the old town areas are pedestrian friendly.
Just outside the train station in Cologne, you will see the remarkable Cologne Cathedral. The Altstadt (old town) and much of the shopping and restaurants are within walking distance of the Hauptbahnhof (main train station) which is very convenient.
Most of Cologne is modern and attractive, due to being rebuilt after the damage from World War II. The Belgian Quarter and Alstadt (old town) have charming cobblestone streets and traditional houses.
The people of Cologne are warm and friendly, and the vibe is more lively and energetic than in Düsseldorf.
Cologne hosts many international trade fairs throughout the year in the large Koelnmesse exhibition center.
The riverfront and the old town part of Düsseldorf are more interesting and pedestrian-friendly than Cologne.
Düsseldorf is known for being more modern and posh, with many high-end fashion boutiques and fine-dining restaurants. Sitting in any of the restaurants in the “Kasematten” part of the Rhine Promenade is a pleasant experience.
In the city, you will find trendy neighborhoods and bustling nightlife. Düsseldorf mixes charming traditional culture with a modern vibe.
In Düsseldorf, the people are multicultural, friendly, and open-minded. There is a distinct expat community. For a large city, it feels smaller and more close-knit, with a laid-back vibe.
In Düsseldorf, the Gehry buildings, Neuer Zollhof, and the Rheinturm are modern marvels of architecture, especially in contrast with the traditional German high-rise buildings of the city.
The S-Bahn train in Cologne runs every 20 minutes from the airport to the central station (Köln Hauptbahnhof). The ride takes around 15 minutes.
In Düsseldorf, the SkyTrain monorail connects the airport terminal to the airport station where you can take a regional train to Düsseldorf’s main train station (Düsseldorf Hauptbahnhof) or other destinations in that area. It’s a 15-minute ride to the city center.
Both Cologne and Düsseldorf have convenient and affordable public transportation with a network of buses, trams, and trains.
Both cities are fun to explore by bicycle. There are dedicated bike paths and rentals available at shops, KVB (public transport) stations, and through bike-sharing programs like Call-a-Bike and Netbike.
The quickest way to go from Düsseldorf to Cologne is by train. The trip is 20-30 minutes, and there are frequent trains.
Sights & culture
In Cologne, you can walk to most of the major sites right from the central station (Hauptbahnhof aka HPF).
The Kölner Dom (Cologne Cathedral) is the largest Gothic cathedral in Germany and is one of the most visited places in the country. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site and contains the Shrine of the Three Kings, which is said to contain their remains. Gerhard Richter designed the abstract stained glass window in the cathedral dome.
The small Altstadt (old town) of Cologne is quaint and pleasant with many traditional German pubs and small shops. It’s not as authentic as other German old towns due to much of it being rebuilt after the war.
Some great museums to visit are the Wallraf-Richartz Museum with the largest collection of medieval paintings in the world. The Museum Schnütgen is mostly dedicated to medieval Christian artwork.
The Kolumba Museum has a modern facade and houses religious art from the 6-7th century to the present. You can walk to all three museums from the central station.
Other good museums in Cologne are the Rautenstrauch-Joest Museum with an intriguing ethnographic collection, and the Museum for Applied Arts, or MAKK, showing modern decor designs, both within walking distance from the cathedral.
The Flora Botanical Garden is just outside of the city, a wonderful place to relax and be surrounded by beautiful flowers and water features. It is accessible by subway from the city center.
The Museum Ludwig contains a great collection of modern art, displaying works from famous artists like Pablo Picasso, Andy Warhol, and Roy Lichtenstein.
The famous Roman-Germanic Museum is located near the central station. Cologne was a very important Roman city centuries ago. Below the streets, you can explore tunnels, an underground tomb, and the Praetorium.
Schokoladenmuseum (chocolate museum) offers chocolate tasting, exhibits, and the history of chocolate making.
The Medieval Mikveh or ”Jewish ritual bath” was used during medieval times by the Jewish community in Cologne, one of the oldest and most important Jewish communities throughout the Holy Roman Empire.
Cemeteries outside of town are quite impressive with large life-size statues of angels and elaborate decorations on gravestones.
The Bone Room at the Church of St. Ursula is for fans of the occult. The upper walls are oddly decorated with human remains, including Latin words written with bones. You can walk there from the cathedral.
The Rhine River Promenade offers fantastic views of the river and the city skyline. You can stop at one of many restaurants, bars, and cafes along the way.
Hohenzollern Bridge by foot is a wonderful way to see the layout of the city and the Rhine from above, and it’s covered in love locks.
The Farina Dufthouse, or Fragrance Museum, is dedicated to the history of perfume and the famous Eau de Cologne. It’s inside the house where fragrance was created.
The Cologne Zoo is one of the oldest and most popular zoos to visit in all of Europe. It’s home to over 10,000 diverse species of animals.
St. Gereon’s Basilica is a Romanesque church whose construction dates back to the 4th century. It has an impressive dome ceiling and stunning stained glass.
Düsseldorf’s Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen art institute contains a large collection of contemporary art, including works from Picasso, Matisse, Pollock, and Andy Warhol.
Visit the Schloss Benrath, an 18th-century palace with beautiful gardens, great for picnics and walks. The interior of the palace is equally impressive.
Rheinturm is the tallest structure in Düsseldorf at a staggering 240 meters above the city. There you can see panoramic views of the Rhine River and the city from the observation deck, or while you have dinner in the rotating restaurant.
The Altstadt (Old Town) is one of Düsseldorf’s more popular areas. Enjoy the city’s famous beer, the Altbier, at many pubs and restaurants on narrow cobblestone streets. Düsseldorf is famous for its beer culture.
The Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen museum houses an impressive collection of modern and contemporary art.
The Carlsplatz Market is a popular food market with fresh meats, fish, cheese, etc. It also offers ready-to-eat German lunches.
MedienHafen is an iconic part of Düsseldorf with modern organically styled architecture designed by Frank Gehry and David Chipperfield. It’s an area with trendy restaurants, cafes, and a vivid nightlife.
The St. Lambertus Church, a famous landmark of Düsseldorf, has a unique twisted tower at its peak.
Aquazoo Löbbecke Museum combines an aquarium, a zoo, and natural history museum. It contains over 500 species of aquatic animals.
Food & nightlife
The breweries in the Altstadt are not fancy or expensive and normally attract tourists. The Kolsch brewery outlets with terraces on the riverfront offer a better experience.
The Gaffel am Dom restaurant, is next to the central station and can be a bit touristy, but the dining room has a classic traditional charm.
Two great brewery pubs to visit in Cologne are the Schreckenskammer and the Mainzerhof Koeln.
Bei Oma Kleinmann is well known traditional German restaurant and is loved by the locals and tourists of Düsseldorf. It’s lively and fun and a great place to have a Schnitzel or try other traditional German food.
Biergarten and Aachener Weiher have nice outdoor seating and are perfect during warm weather.
Visit the Studentenviertel or “students quarters”. Have a Dürüm Döner at Oruç Kebab, then walk down Zülpicher Strasse for a beer at a pub.
The Ehrenfeld area is where you can find interesting street art and Turkish food. Near the Helios “landmark lighthouse” you can find excellent charcoal grilled lamb at the Kebapland restaurant.
The Altstadt (old town) is where you will find the best restaurants. You can stroll pleasantly along the Rhine and sit at one of the many outdoor cafes and bars along the riverfront.
A great place for a coffee outside is Zicke. On the Königsalle the Confiserie Heinemann offers delicious cake and coffee and a selection of chocolates.
Uerige is a nice place to stop and have a beer outside. For dinner try Zum Schiffchen near the central station.
Pub crawling in Altstadt (old town) is fun but not fancy. Many pubs in other areas of Düsseldorf are more upscale.
Düsseldorf is known for its Altbier dark beer served in .3 liter glasses.
One popular pub for fun is Oberbayern on Bolkerstrasse. Downstairs has German ski hut party music, and the upstairs area plays dance and pop.
Many of the top clubs in Düsseldorf are in Schloesser Quartier Boheme on Ratinger Strasse. Other notable places include Nachtresidenz and The Attic on Koenigsallee, and the Rudas Studis in Media Harbor
The Theater an der Kö is Düsseldorf’s famous theater. It’s a great place to see plays, musicals, and comedy shows.
Schildergasse is the most popular shopping street in Cologne near the city center. It has many department stores featuring international brands, local shops, cafes, and restaurants.
Near the Cologne Cathedral, Hohe Straße is another popular shopping street in Cologne, with a mix of high-end stores and affordable brands, souvenir shops, etc.
Schildergasse is a modern shopping mall with over 60 stores.
Königsallee, or what the locals call the “Kö” is a beautiful shopping area that runs alongside a canal. There are many high-end luxury shops, fashion boutiques, and restaurants for fine dining. It’s like 5th Avenue in New York City. Great place if you have expensive tastes. The side streets also offer interesting small private shops.
Schadowstrasse is one of the busier shopping streets in Düsseldorf with affordable international brands and small boutiques for budget shopping.
The Excelsior Hotel Ernst am Dom is a world-class hotel right next to the Cologne Cathedral and the central train station. It features a Michelin-star Asian restaurant and a classy piano bar with live music.
Hopper Hotel St Josef is situated near the chocolate museum in a great location in the city. It offers cozy rooms with wooden floors and accents in a modern tone. This unique hotel is set in a former chapel.
The Savoy Hotel located just north of the central station has elegant and beautifully decorated rooms. It’s as if you were spending the evening in a modern art museum with a classy touch. The roof terrace has a panoramic view of the city.
The 4-star Pullman Cologne is a great option for visiting the city. It’s near the best shopping areas and has panoramic views of the city skyline. It has a good restaurant, an outdoor terrace, and a spa.
The Radisson Blu Media Harbour Hotel is cozy and modern in the center of the Medienhafen part of Düsseldorf, next to the Rhine River Promenade. It is a 10-15 minute walk to get to the Köenigsalle and to the Altstadt.
The Intercontinental Hotel is directly on the Köenigsalle, the epicenter of luxurious shopping. This 5-star hotel is refined and modern with a great location.
Moxy Duesseldorf City is for the hip and trendy. It’s well-located near the Altstadt with easy access to other parts of the city.
Stage 47 is both quirky and elegant with spacious rooms and interesting decor. It’s very close to the Köenigsalle and the Altstadt. It has easy access to public transportation.
4 Points by Sheraton Hotel is a great option if you are on a budget. It’s a business hotel not too far from the city’s main attractions.
In Aachen visit the Aachner Dom Cathedral, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the final resting place of the emperor Charlemagne.
Bonn is the birthplace of Beethoven, and once was the capital of West Germany. Visit the Beethoven Museum, and discover many other related sites to this master of classical music.
In Essen visit the Zeche Zollverein, a coal mine that has now been turned into an industrial park. The town has an art museum, festivals and concerts, and sporting events.
Dortmund is the home of the German Football Museum, which contains the history of the league, players, and trophies. You can also attend a game at the Westfalia stadium (Westfalenstadion).
Boppard is a town located in the Rhine Gorge. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site because of its rich history. It’s also a renowned wine-growing region in Germany. It’s a 1.5-hour drive from Cologne.
Take a pleasant trip on the Rhine and see Koblenz. You can rent bikes at the station and then take a local train up the Rhine. Get off at any stop and ride back along the river, and visit the castles.
Zons is a small and charming medieval walled town with a few cafes and restaurants on cobblestone streets. Neuss is another good place to take a stroll. It’s a small city, with lots of interesting historical buildings, small restaurants, and cafes. Both are quite beautiful and very close to Düsseldorf.
The Burg Eltz is a picturesque medieval castle in the middle of the forest above the Moselle River. The castle has been remarkably preserved and the guided tour through the interior rooms is quite interesting. It’s about 2.5 hours away by car or bus, or you can take a train to Moselkern or Cochem, then a taxi and hike to the castle which takes between 1-2 hours.
Maastricht is a charming Dutch city 2 hours away by train. Wander through the Old Town, walk along the Maas River, or visit the Bonnefanten Museum.
Amsterdam is only 2 hours and 15 minutes by train from Düsseldorf. Be sure to book ahead for better prices.