6 Day Trips from Cologne

Cologne is a great city to base yourself for a week in Germany. Though the city itself is not known for being beautiful, there are some lovely neighbourhoods. It’s also very conveniently located for lots of great day trips. Here are 6 day trips from Cologne – all no more than 90 minutes away by train.

I spent 7 days in Cologne, and 5 of those days I left the city on the train. There is so much to do, and the transportation is really easy and pleasant.

Train Travel in Germany

When you go to the train station, you can buy your ticket at one of the red self-serve kiosks or from the DeutscheBahn ticket office. The kiosks will communicate in English and several other languages, but sometimes there is (I felt) a degree of… confusion about what trains are available. When in doubt, you can always buy a ticket from a real person – who will also speak English.

There are three main ways to day trip out of Cologne on the train:

Tram/Underground: This is the within-the-city mode of transit, the equivalent of the Paris Metro or the London Underground. This will always be the cheapest option, but might take a bit longer and only operates within a certain radius.

Regional Trains: Regional train lines stop often at lots of cities and towns. The view is quite nice, and you can travel short distances for not too much money. You don’t have to choose what time you travel; just validate your ticket at the orange boxes before approaching the platform.

ICE High Speed Trains: Some routes are not available on regional trains, and other routes are just too long. I took a high speed train from Frankfurt to Cologne, and I wasn’t offered any other option. I also took the ICE from Cologne to Liège, I think because it was going across national borders. The ICE trains can travel up to 275 kilometers an hour – a bit like the TGV in France – and not surprisingly, they cost more. However, if you book ahead online you’ll save money. The ICE train tickets are like VIA Rail in Canada – you book a time and date, and you can reserve a seat if needed.

Aren’t there deals?

Yes, if you know for sure what you’re doing, or you have a better sense of it at least. You can get various train passes that might save you money, but you need to know what your plan is in terms of travel and dates. If you plan to travel both ICE and Regional train lines, then there likely isn’t a great option other than a Eurail pass – which is really expensive. You want to make sure you’re getting your money’s worth out of any pass you purchase, because it’s a big expenditure up front.

Personally, purchasing these kinds of passes stresses me out. I worry that I will spend more on the pass than I will end up using it, or that it won’t cover certain types of travel. So I rarely commit. This may mean I end up paying a bit more by purchasing individual tickets, but I’m not stressed all the time. It’s a trade off (anxiety wins in this case).

Brühl, Germany – 36 minutes from Cologne

Brühl is only about half an hour from Cologne on the train. You can take the Regional Train system, or – even easier and cheaper – take the Cologne tram/underground (Route 18). The tram is about half the price of the train, and doesn’t take any longer. Plus, it feels more ‘local’ to ride the tram.

Brühl’s claim to fame is the Augustusburg Palace, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is also home to the Max Ernst museum, and a delightful downtown. It’s a much smaller city than Cologne, and while the palace is, of course, full of tourists, the town didn’t feel touristy at all. It’s a great escape from being in the big city.


I’ve got a whole post here about how to spend your day in Brühl. You could also consider basing yourself in Brühl if you want to avoid staying in the bigger cities.

Bonn, Germany – 23 minutes from Cologne

Bonn is accessible from Cologne on both the ICE high-speed train, and the regional trains. The regional train will always be cheaper, and I would usually opt for this if it’s available. In this case, the regional option doesn’t take any more time than the ICE. The regional train cost €8.50 one way.


Bonn is a beautiful city. It has a fully pedestrianized downtown core, and several nice neighbourhoods to explore. It’s bit hit is the Beethoven Haus museum, home to the composer’s history and life story. The Sudstadt neighbourhood is particularly lovely, with lots of green and cute shops and cafes. It quickly takes you out of the tourist district and into the ‘real life’ of Bonn. Bonn is also home to a university with a large garden for exploring, and the path along the Rhine has been fully developed for bikers and walkers.

Düsseldorf, Germany – 30 minutes from Cologne

Ah Düsseldorf – beautiful, charming, lush. So good. So much better than Cologne (I think). Lovely little shops, loads of places to eat and drink, a nice walk along the river, and a great market square. People in Düssseldorf look like they really know how to live a good life. The bars were full – at 4:00pm on a Wednesday! – and the park benches are always occupied with Germans admiring the geese and reading. In fact, a professional-looking German man stopped me to comment and laugh at the geese and goslings – first in German, then in English. What a life! The city is full of great museums, but you can also easily spend the day wandering the main street – Königsallee – and people watching in the fashion district.

Düsseldorf is accessible via regional train or ICE train. The regional is – again – the same length, so save your money and choose that one. Regional trains will be noted at the station, and on Google maps, with “RE” in front of the train number. (ICE trains will be in red – reminding you of the state of your bank account once you’ve taken too many).

Liège, Belgium – 1 hour, 2 minutes from Cologne

Europe is cool when you’re Canadian because you can just hop a border to another country and everyone thinks that’s totally normal. I’d never been to Belgium, so when I saw Liège as an option on the train line, it seemed like the natural thing to do.

The trip to Liège doesn’t require the ICE – there is a regional train but you have to plan ahead as it seems to go infrequently. I took the ICE since that’s what was available. As a solo traveler, I didn’t book a seat, which was fine, but it was a little nutty. If that kind of thing stresses you out, or if you’re traveling with others, you may wish to reserve seating.

Liège train station

Liège is a nice little city, with a couple of highlights. Head to the Museum of Walloon Life to get the complete history of this part of Belgium. The exhibits are primarily in French however, so bring your Google translator or phrasebook. Or, hop across the river to the Museum of Public Transport. There is also an aquarium if you’re traveling with kids, and some great parks.

One of the highlights of a trip to Liège is to climb the Montagne de Bueren – 374 stairs up the hill to get a great view of the city. When you’re finished and hot and exhausted, head to Brasserie C to sit on the shaded terrace and have a drink and some lunch.

374 Steps in Liège

To get back to the train station – which in itself is a design marvel – hop on La Navette Fluviale, a little river boat to tour the river and avoid the long walk. The city is in the process of constructing a tram which will make the trip from station to downtown much more convenient, but for now the boat is a pretty good option.

Aachen – 1 hour from Cologne

Cologne is known for its cathedral, but the cathedral in Aachen really blew my mind. And, it gets none of the glory! Aachen was definitely touristy, but not to the point of being frustrating (unlike some other cities). The cathedral is a must-see. The museum of media and news was a good choice, and the little narrow streets in the old town are delightful. I would have happily stayed longer.

Frankfurt – 90 minutes from Cologne

Frankfurt wasn’t a day trip for me; my next stop after Cologne was this funky, slightly gritty city. But at only 90 minutes from Cologne, you definitely could visit in a day, or make it a one-night stop before heading to the airport. (The airport is only minutes away from downtown on transit.)

I didn’t love Frankfurt. It was super, wildly touristy in the main square – though much better in the evening. Go after 8pm and the whole situation cools right off. I judge a city generally on two things: the food and the vibe. I didn’t love either. It was oddly hard to find a restaurant that felt comfortable for a solo, vegetarian traveler, and the service was not as kind as it was in other cities. And vibe-wise … I’m not sure it’s Frankfurt’s fault (that’s hard to say) but it didn’t seem as carefree and jovial as some other cities. It is clear that many newcomers have arrived in Frankfurt in recent years, so the diversity is great, but the poverty level and degree of homelessness was a bit disconcerting. It was also surprisingly hard to hear German being spoken – I kept running away from Anglophones. But the architecture is definitely the most striking of any of the cities on the list.

6 Day Trips from Cologne

A whole week in Germany, done and dusted and planned for you! Any of the cities above could also serve as your base, and you could head out on day trips from there. Cologne was a nice spot for a base, because when I arrived back late at night, there was lots of life on the streets, and it didn’t feel at all unsafe walking back to my neighbourhood. The general consensus from Germans was also that people in Cologne were kind – so that’s always a good place to start.

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