The place to visit in this German city, the Cologne Cathedral really is the number one attraction you can’t miss if you’re exploring here.
UNESCO-listed since 1996 (I’ll go into why a little later on), with a whole heap of accolades to its name (including the world’s tallest twin-sphered church and the largest Gothic Cathedral in northern Europe!), this giant religious structure is quite the sight to behold.
And that’s even more apparent when you step inside it, not to mention when you climb the hundreds of steps to its impressive South Tower outlook.
With an incredible array of historical artefacts and offering amazing views over the historic centre of this city, there’s no question that visiting Cologne Cathedral needs to be on your list if you’re spending any time in this German city.
And here’s all you need to know to do just that…
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Why Visit the Cologne Cathedral?
The icon of this city, if I didn’t make it clear in the introduction, then the Cologne cathedral is the number one attraction you need to see here!
Boasting up to 20,000 visitors a day, it’s hardly a secret.. and quite frankly, how could it be?!
Absolutely huge, and looming large as soon as you exit Cologne’s main train station (Koln Hbf) if, by some miracle, you do happen to miss it at first, then you’ll quickly see every trinket in this city, from postcards and keyrings to waffles, stamped with the Cathedral’s unmistakable outline.
Dating back to the 12th century, the Cologne Cathedral is not only huge therefore, but also ancient.
It’s also the winner of such prestigious titles as ‘the world’s tallest twin-sphered church’, ‘the largest Gothic Cathedral in Northern Europe’ and ‘the largest swinging bell in the world’, not to mention it’s home to one of the oldest Biblical-themed stained glass windows in Europe.
Enormous and impressive, hopefully I’ve convinced you that the Cologne Cathedral is a must during your time in this city!
Where is It?
As I mentioned briefly, Cologne Cathedral is located right outside the city’s main train station.
And when I say right outside, I mean it!
Exit the station and you’ll see this Gothic gem towering above just to your right.
For those not arriving into this city by train, the Cathedral is still easy to locate!
Its huge towers are visible from just about anywhere in the city and its entrance can be found right in the heart of the historic old town – the place where you’ll likely be spending most of your time in Cologne.
If you’re still confused, then the Cathedral’s official address is Domkloster 4, 50667 Köln, Germany!
If you see the phrase Kölner Dom flagging up on your Google maps, then you’ve got the right spot. This is just the German name for the Cologne Cathedral.
The entrance of the Cathedral can be reached by walking up the steps to the left side of Cologne’s train station exit.
To reach the entrance to the Cathedral towers, you’ll have to walk around the outside of the building to the opposite side, aka the riverside of the Cathedral.
Here you’ll find the ticket office, a small museum and steps that lead up to the observation deck.
Costs, Access & Opening Times
The Cathedral, as a whole, is open from 6am to 8pm every day, although visiting hours for tourists are generally Monday to Saturday from 10am to 5 pm and Sundays from 1pm to 4pm.
This is to accommodate Sunday mass and other services.
Entering the Cathedral itself is free.
I’ll discuss the highlights of this area more in the next section of this article.
The only part you need to pay to access inside the Cathedral is The Treasury, where entrance costs 6€ full price and 3€ for concessions. There’s also family tickets available for 12€.
The Treasury is open from 10am to 6pm.
Away from the interior of Cologne’s Cathedral, it’s also possible to climb the Southern Tower of this huge religious structure – again, I’ll go into this more later on.
Access to the Tower is available between 9am and 4pm in the winter months, 9am to 6pm in the summer months and 9am to 5pm in the Spring and Autumn months.
It costs 6€ for adults, 3€ for concessions and family tickets are available for 12€.
Guided tours of the Cathedral and Treasury are also available.
Groups are capped at 20 people and tickets can be bought up to 7 days in advance here.
Tours last 45 minutes, cost 10€ for adults (8€ for children and students) and are run every day except Saturday at 3pm.
Special tours of the Cathedral roof, excavation area, the bells and Cologne Cathedral at night are also available and bookable using the above link too.
Group sizes for special tours are capped at 12 people.
For guided tours of Cologne as a whole, which include a visit to the Cathedral, check out this recommended option, which also features a brewery visit and 2 free kolsch!
Inside the Cathedral
Now that you know where to find the Cathedral and what you can do there, it’s time to discuss some of its highlights, starting inside the Cathedral itself.
Enter the Cathedral using the main street level doors and prepare to be amazed!
Another accolade incoming… this is the second tallest church in Europe!
The nave’s ceiling reaches over 40m tall and is 144m long, making it the longest nave in Germany – BOOM!
Don’t forget to check out the Gothic structures here, including the flying buttresses and spitting gargoyles, as well as the impressive stained glass windows.
Amazingly, the stained glass was removed before the bombing of Cologne during WWII, meaning all these windows are original and some even date back as far as the 14th century, making them some of the oldest in Europe too.
The shrine of the 3 wise men (the guys from the Nativity story) can also be found inside Cologne Cathedral.
Thought to be the original reason this religious building was constructed, the relics of the 3 Biblical Magi were bought to Cologne in 1164.
Now located in a gold case that sits on the High Altar, this is the jewel in Cologne Cathedral’s crown.
And finally, we have the Cathedral Treasury.
Containing holy relics, as well as bronze, silver, and gold artworks – there’s an additional fee to get into the Treasury as I mentioned in the section above.
Climbing the Cologne Cathedral
But now we come to the most fun part in my opinion, climbing the Cathedral’s Southern Tower!
As mentioned, you’ll need to exit the Cathedral’s main doors and walk around to the opposite side of the building to find the tower access point.
There’s toilet facilities here too, as well as a small gift shop and exhibition space.
Enter and pay for your tower access at the desk… and then begin the climb!
But be warned… it’s a hefty 533 steps up to the viewing platform via a tiny spiral staircase. And there’s only one point to rest about 2 thirds of the way up!
Do not attempt this climb if you are not in good health or suffer from claustrophobia.
If you do decide to go for it, then strap in for at least 15 minutes of going up and up, round and round, as you make your way up to the 157m summit.
The final part of the climb involves walking on a constructed wooden staircase, rather than stone steps, so if heights aren’t your thing either, you may want to reconsider too!
And then, you’ve finally made it, up to the Tower for great views across Cologne’s skyline.
Sadly, safety netting does obscure the view in part, but it’s still a pretty impressive outlook.
Because the walk here is narrow and one-way, it does make sense to not rush your time at the top, so you can ensure you take in the whole 300 degree view and stop for any snaps to avoid doubling back on yourself.
I highly recommend climbing Cathedral Cathedral in the morning if possible, as this will give you the best lights for your photos.
If you’re hoping to climb the Cathedral Tower for a great sunset view, then you might want to know there’s definitely a better spot.
Head to my article about how to catch the best sunset views from the Cologne Triangle to learn more.
When climbing down, you have to use the same staircases to navigate on the way out too.
Prepare to get dizzy!
History of Cologne Cathedral
And now, for all you keen beans out there, here’s a brief word about the history of Cologne Cathedral… I’ll keep it snappy because no one like a boring history lesson do they!
Construction began on the Cathedral you see today in 1248 (although there had been a church on the same site since the 4th century).
The impetus behind this was believed to be the 3 Wise Men relics, which had been bought from Italy to Cologne by Archbishop Rainald von Dassel.
After all, 3 kings deserve a decent home right?!
Work started soon after this, but a fire burnt the building down, so work began again in 1248.
However, it was not until 1880 that the whole Cathedral was finally complete, with the 2 Towers being the last finished parts.
Such delays were caused by a multitude of hiccups, including lack of funding and rumours of one architect making a deal with the devil, but things finally smoothed out and the 19th century Romantics eventually got their act together and finished the job!
WWII caused a bit of havoc, with Cologne’s Cathedral being bombed no less than 14 times, but thankfully the stained glass windows had been removed as I’ve mentioned.
Renovation work on the Cathedral is ongoing and even to this day, a team of around 80 to 100 people work consistently on the building to keep it safe and secure for future generations.
Cologne Mini Travel Guide
When to Visit?
I definitely recommend visiting Cologne in the summer months of June through September, when the warm weather will give the best take on this city and the views from the Cologne Cathedral.
The other great time to visit is during December, when the famous Germans Christmas markets of this city are in full flow!
How to Get to Cologne?
The international Cologne Bonn Airport is the best place to fly into if you’re travelling from further afield.
As always, I use Skyscanner to find the cheapest flight deals.
Otherwise, if you’re travelling to Cologne from across Germany, or a nearby country such as Belgium, the Netherlands, France, the Czech Republic or Austria, trains and buses will likely be easier.
Trainline is my go-to website for booking rail travel across Europe, because they allow you to easily compare a huge range of journeys based on duration, number of changes and price. You can also pay for tickets in GBP USD or EUR.
Otherwise, when it comes to budget bus travel to Cologne, it has to be Flixbus.
I’ve used this company a ton myself in Europe and know that it’s hard to beat their incredible prices.
How Long to Spend There?
Cologne has a small city centre that you should be able to cover in a day or 2.
This top-rated Cologne & Limburg full day tour is a great option if you want a guide to show you around.
Otherwise, this street art tour in the Ehrenfeld District is another winner.
Where to Stay?
For a list of recommended places to stay in Cologne, check out these great options.
Travel Insurance for Germany
World Nomads offers simple and flexible travel insurance. Buy at home or while travelling and claim online from anywhere in the world.
Alternatively, if you’re a long-term traveller, digital nomad or frequent remote worker seeking travel health cover, check out Safetywing’s Nomad Insurance policies.
Travel Money in Germany
When it comes to getting paying for things in Germany, you want to ensure you’re not being charged overseas transaction fees or getting poor exchange rates when using your card abroad, which is why I always take my Wise card away with me wherever I travel.
The easy way to spend when you’re travelling with real exchange rates, no markups, no sneaky transaction fees and a free Euros account, you can use your Wise card just like a debit card here.. and it links easily with Google and Apple pay – sold! Grab yours here.
SAVE THIS TO PINTEREST!
So that’s my full guide to the Cologne Cathedral and all you need to know about visiting and climbing it!
Have you checked out this impressive German landmark?
Have any other top tips that could help a fellow Cologne traveller out?
Then please drop them into the comments box below…