Cologne is a fascinating city in North Rhine-Westphalia in Germany and a great base for exploring the Rhine Valley. We lived in Cologne for one year and explored everywhere we could in the surrounding region. In this guide, we’ve compiled all our favorite day trips from Cologne. All of these destinations can be reached by public transit.
Best Day Trips from Cologne
- Linz am Rhein – if you love half-timbered houses and vista points
- Ahr Valley – if you love wine
- Brühl – if you love palaces
- Carolus Thermen in Aachen – if you love bathhouses and saunas
- Düsseldorf – if you love modern architecture
- Bonn – if you love history
- Schloss Drachenburg – if you love castles
- Maastricht – if you love vintage and boutique shopping
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1. Linz am Rhein
– If you love half-timbered houses & vista points –
Linz am Rhein is a small town in Rhineland-Palatinate, located about 55 km south of Cologne. The town is situated on the right bank of the River Rhine in the Romantic Rhine Valley. You can reach Linz in one hour from the Cologne Central Station via a Regional Express (RE) train, or take a KD day cruise.
Linz am Rhein’s historical old town (historische Altstadt in German) is delightful, with its many colorful half-timbered houses, charming Marktplatz and Rathaus (town hall). We came to Linz in order to hike part of the RheinSteig, which is the 320 km trail that goes through the Siebengebirge, Lower Middle Rhine Valley, Upper Middle Rhine Valley, and Rheingau.
What to see and do in Linz am Rhein
- Option #1: Explore Linz in the morning. Hike Stage 19 of the Rheinsteig Long Distance Trail to Bad Honnef. The hike takes 6-7 hours. End your day with dinner in Bad Honnef and take the regional train back to Cologne. Learn more about this hike: Rheinsteig Stage 19.
- Option #2: Arrive in Linz. Take a short hike to Burg Ockenfels (25 minutes) to enjoy the view of the Rhine River. Return to Linz for lunch.
Traveling by public transit? Find out your best connection here.
2. Ahr Valley
– If you love wine –
The Ahr Valley (in German: Ahrtal) is a wine region in Rhineland Palatinate known internationally for its spätburgunder (pinot noir) wine. It’s also Germany’s largest red wine growing region. The narrow Ahr Valley is characterized by a deep gorge framed by steeply terraced vineyards. Red grapes are able to grow and ripen here, because of the warm microclimate created by the volcanic slate cliffs and soil.
The best way to explore the region is by hiking the Rotweinwanderweg, the Red Wine Trail. The trail is easy, mostly flat, and clearly signed with a red grape motif. As you weave through vineyards, you’ll see castle ruins, a magnificent monastery, churches, and quaint winemaking villages. Whenever you’re ready for a break and more wine, simply walk down to the next town. Red wines to drink: Spätburgunder, Portugieser, Dornfelder, and Frühburgunder.
We recommend starting the hike in the town of Altenahr. You can reach Altenahr in 1 hour and 45 minutes from Cologne via public transit.
Learn More: Arh Valley Travel Guide
– If you love palaces –
Brühl is a town in the Rhineland located about 17 km southwest from Cologne. The main reason to come to Brühl is to visit the Augustusburg and Falkenlust Palaces, both of which are listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Augustusburg is a beautiful and ostentatious 18th-century Rococo palace. You can only visit the interior via a guided tour. After the tour, enjoy the palace gardens and take a 25-minute walk to the hunting lodge Falkenlust. Falkenlust can be toured at your own pace with an audio guide (available in 12 different languages). For more info on the palaces and visiting hours, check out the Schösser Brühl website.
After visiting the palaces, head to Brühler Wirsthaus. This rustic yet modern tavern is located directly next to the Brühl train station. Address: Max-Ernst-Allee 2, 50321 Brühl
4. Carolus Thermen in Aachen
– If you love bathhouses and saunas –
Carolus Thermen is the ultimate day trip from Cologne when you want to spend a day relaxing and soaking up German spa culture.
German spa culture is a tradition adopted from the ancient Romans. During the time of the Roman Empire, Roman soldiers would bathe in mineral-rich waters after a battle to accelerate healing. Spa resort towns like Baden-Baden in the Black Forest are built on 2,000-year-old Roman bath ruins.
In Aachen, it was the Celts and Teutons and then later the Romans who first discovered the healing properties of the Aachen spring water (learn more here). Today, mineral thermal water of the “Rosenquelle” spring fills up the many thermal pools of Carolus Thermen.
So the tradition of bathing is one of the oldest traditions in Germany and a wonderful insight into German culture.
Carolus Thermen in Aachen is hands down one of the best Thermen complexes in Germany. And, we’ve visited a few. The Carolus Thermal Bath complex is divided into three main sections:
- Thermalbad (Thermal Baths): indoor and outdoor pools.
- Saunawelt (Sauna World): adults only sauna area with pools.
- Spa: an area for massage and wellness treatments.
Pricing is tiered, based on when you visit (weekdays, weekends and holidays), how long you stay (3.5 hours, 4.5 hours, or all day), and whether you want access to the sauna area (you definitely do). See pricing here.
The best part of visiting Carolus Thermen is the artfully-designed sauna area. In fact, it’s so epic that we recommend spending most of your time in the Saunawelt. You can easily spend the whole day hopping between steam and dry saunas, indoor and outdoor pools, and relaxation rooms. And, when you’re hungry, the Saunawelt’s restaurant serves delicious Asian-fusion meals and snacks.
The Sauna World
The Saunawelt is divided into 3 main sections. Upon entering the sauna zone, you’ll be on the upper indoor level, known as the Baltic Sauna Landscape. Here, you have direct access to several dry saunas, a footbath area, a cold bath, showers, and a fireside lounge.
To access the outdoor sauna garden (“Saunagarten”), follow the stepping stone walkway across the pond. In addition to the Finnish-style saunas housed in log cabins, there’s a cold dipping pool, a warm swimming pool, and a hot tub. There are also lovely places to sit and rest.
One of the most arresting areas of the Saunawelt is the “Orientalische Badewelt,” the Ottoman-style sauna complex on the lower level. You’ll feel transported immediately to a different time and place. It’s splendid! A large relaxation pool dominates the circular space. As you wrap around the pool, you’ll see doors to different wellness areas including a Balneum, a Hamam, Bingül, Tepidarium, Odorium, and Halvet.
For those that want to add a spa treatment to your day of relaxation, don’t hesitate. Kati received a full-body sports massage and I received an anti-stress head massage. The massages were fantastic. Here’s the massage menu, but you can see all the treatment offerings here.
What you should bring
- Bathing Suit (for the Thermalbad area)
- Bathrobe. It’s possible to rent a bathrobe for 7 EUR.
- 2 Towels. It’s possible to rent towels.
- Waterproof Sandals
- Shampoo/Body Wash
Visiting a sauna complex in central Europe is a bit of a learning curve. Here are some rules to keep in mind during your visit.
- Saunas are textile-free areas. For hygienic reasons, no one is permitted to wear bathing suits.
- Phones and taking photographs are strictly prohibited.
- Showering is mandatory before entering any pools or saunas.
- In dry (wooden) saunas, you must sit on your towel. Your body and feet should never touch the wood.
- In the sauna restaurant, you must wear a bathrobe.
– If you love modern architecture –
Düsseldorf is the capital city of North Rhine-Westphalia. It’s located on the Rhine River about 45 kilometers north of Cologne. From the Cologne Central Station, it only takes 30 minutes via train to reach Düsseldorf.
We recommend walking around the MedienHafen to see the architecture of Frank O. Genry (Neuer Zollhof, 1998), William Alsop (Colorium, 2001), and Claude Vasconi (Grand Bateau, 1998). The modern architects were given creative license to construct buildings for future tenant usage. The result is a remarkable skyline of organic shapes, colorful facades, and unpredictable structures.
What to see and do in Düsseldorf
- Grab a pastry at Manufactum. If you’re walking from the main train station to the city center, you’ll likely walk by this gorgeous shop, selling premium home products. Housed in this store is a bakery that has delicious Franzbrötchens & Croissants. Address: Steinstraße 4, 40212.
- Drink Altbier in Düsseldorf’s Altstadt (old town). The old town is dressed in cobblestone streets, chocolate and mustard boutiques and over 300 bars and clubs. The Altstadt has been nicknamed “the longest bar in the world,” making it prime pub-crawl territory. To learn more about beer traditions in Düsseldorf, take this informative tour.
- Explore Carlsplatz Markt. There is a permanent market (open everyday but Sunday) at Carlsplatz, selling fresh fish, spices, fresh juice, flowers and fruits & vegetables.
- Eat at Dreas & Dendas. This small lunch eatery in the Unterbilk neighborhood offers a unique menu of 2 to 3 items Monday through Friday. Address: Neusser Strasse 129.
- Ackerstrasse in the Flingern Quarter. The Flingern neighborhood is home to beautifully curated shops containing fresh designs and tempting house items.
– If you love history –
Bonn is a delightful city on the Rhine River about 30 kilometers south of Cologne. We enjoyed coming to Bonn via train and bike (long ride but doable) to enjoy the relaxed atmosphere and baroque architecture. As a Roman settlement, the former capital of West Germany and the birthplace of Ludwig van Beethoven, Bonn has a lot to be proud of.
What to do and see in Bonn
- Take a relaxing walk in the Botanical Gardens of Poppelsdorf Palace. Free Entrance. Address: Meckenheimer Allee 171, 53115 Bonn.
- Visit the 18th-century Beethoven-Haus Museum. Address: Bonngasse 20, 53111 Bonn.
- Eat at Brauhaus Bönnsch. Their beer is delicious and they make a Käsespätzlepfännchen to die for. Address: Sterntorbrücke 4, 53111 Bonn
7. Schloss Drachenburg
– If you love castles –
Schloss Drachenburg is an enchanting villa, situated above the town Königswinter in the Siebengebirge. You can spend the day hiking to and around Drachenburg. The Schloss has a long history of changing ownership and restoration, which you can learn about on a guided tour. When we visited, guided tours were only conducted in German.
Visiting Schloss Drachenburg
- The fastest way to reach Schloss Drachenburg is by taking a regional express train (RE) or regional train (RB) from Köln Hbf to Königswinter Bahnhof. The train ride takes 40 minutes.
- When you reach the Königswinter Bahnhof, follow the Eselsweg pathway to the castle. On route, you’ll pass the restaurant Felder’s am WInzerhäuschen where you can grab a bite to eat and drink. The walk takes 30 minutes to the castle.
- You can also enjoy a round trip Rhine River cruise from Cologne to Königswinter.
- Schloss Drachenburg is open from March through November. In December, the Schloss is only open on the weekends. Opening Hours.
- After visiting the castle, you can continue walking to the old castle ruins of Burgruine Drachenfels. Near the ruins, there’s a viewing platform and restaurant with sweeping views of the Rhine River.
– If you love vintage and boutique shopping –
Not every day trip from Cologne needs to be about seeing historical sites and monuments. When you want to plan a care-free day full of café hopping and vintage shopping, get on an early train to Maastricht.
Maastricht is a quintessential Dutch city, nestled between the Belgian and German borders. With its lovely cobbled streets and narrow buildings, you’ll be charmed right away. Here are some shops you shouldn’t miss:
- Retro & Chic – vintage store
- We-ar Vintage & Design – vintage store
- Vintage Island – vintage store
- Secondhand4All – second-hand clothing store
- Traders Pop – alternative women’s / men’s clothing
- By – bar Amsterdam – women’s apparel
- Nina’s Boutique – women’s apparel
And, before you leave, make sure to visit the Bookstore Dominicanen, a gorgeous book shop housed in a medieval stone church. Address: Dominicanerkerkstraat 1, 6211 CZ Maastricht, Netherlands
Insider Tip: With Love Burrito is a small self-service burrito restaurant. The space is tiny and a bit cramped, but the burritos are mouthwatering. Address: Markt 4, 6211 CH Maastricht, Netherlands
Our Favorite Places to Stay in Cologne
Budget | Cologne Downtown Hostel is a budget-friendly accommodation located in Cologne’s city center. It takes 7 to 9 minutes to walk to major destinations like Neumarkt, the Cologne Cathedral, the Cologne Central Station and Heumarkt.
Mid-Range | 25hours Hotel Koeln The Circle is the most stylish and imaginative hotel in Cologne. Each room features a unique concept. You’ll love the rooftop bar and restaurant. And, the breakfast is fantastic.
Luxury | Excelsior Hotel Ernst occupies the most enviable piece of real estate in Cologne, as it’s situated across from the Dom (Cathedral). Flaunting 5 stars, a Michelin star restaurant, a piano bar, and a wellness area, this is the finest place to stay in Cologne for a luxurious getaway.
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