Cologne (Photo:S.Borisov/Shutterstock)
5.0 / 5.0
Cruise Critic Editor Rating

By Gabriella Le Breton
Cruise Critic Contributor

Port of Cologne

Cologne, the Rhineland's largest city and Germany's fourth-largest, dates back to 38 B.C., when the Romans first started to settle in the area. By 50 A.D., "Colonia" was a major city, which would later become one of the most important trade and production centers in the Roman Empire. Significant Roman ruins can still be found in Cologne today, especially near the city's wharf area, in addition to 12 Romanesque churches.

About Cologne


Art and history buffs will find more than 30 museums and hundreds of galleries


The cost of living in Cologne has exploded, meaning tourists could face sticker shock

Bottom Line

Cologne is the largest city in and cultural hub of Germany's Rhineland

Find a Cruise to Europe River

Cologne's location on the river Rhine placed it at the intersection of the major trade routes between east and west, which was the basis for its continued growth through the Middle Ages. Construction of the famous Kolner Dom, the city's Gothic cathedral, started in 1248, consolidating its position as a place of great religious significance, as well as a trade hub (despite the fact that work stopped on the cathedral in 1473, leaving it unfinished until the 19th century).

Today, Cologne is the cultural heart of the Rhineland, with a vibrant arts scene, celebrated opera house, more than 30 museums and hundreds of galleries. The city has spread to both sides of the Rhine River, with the cathedral and Altstadt (Old Town) both located on the left bank. The cathedral is the largest Gothic church in Northern Europe and became a poignant symbol of the city's survival of the Allied aerial bombing during World War II. While some 95 percent of the city center was destroyed during the war, much of its medieval heart and churches were rebuilt according to original plans. Because of this, Cologne retains an authentic feel, with attractive open squares, pretty beer gardens and cozy wine taverns lining narrow, cobbled streets and the attractive riverfront.

Cologne is celebrated for its locally brewed beer, called Kolsch, with about 30 traditional brewing houses creating their own versions and selling them on-site in lively beer gardens and cellars. (Kolsch is also the name for the local dialect, resulting in the joke that Kolsch is the only language one can drink.) Considerable quantities of Kolsch are consumed each November, when carnival season transforms the city into one of Europe's biggest street festivals, with the numerous bars and pubs on Neumarkt square, Heumarkt and Zulpicher Strasse packed with people in costumes, dancing and drinking.

Whether you visit Cologne during the summer to make the most of the beer gardens and pretty landscaped riverbanks or during winter for the raucous Carnival or magical Christmas markets, you'll discover an intriguing, cosmopolitan city with bags of character. Furthermore, Cologne has a compact heart, which is easily navigated on foot, making it the perfect destination to explore from a cruise ship.

Where You're Docked

The precise mooring point given to river cruise ships arriving in Cologne is determined by the local port authorities upon arrival, but the locations basically stretch about a mile along the embankment between the Chocolate Factory and the city's central railway station. This location ensures the cathedral will be about 5 to 10 minutes' walk from your ship's berth and places you in the heart of the Old Town, perfect for popping out for a pre-dinner drink or post-prandial stroll.

Good to Know

The tradition of Love Locks is said to have originated on the Ponte Milivio in Italy. Sweethearts stroll across a bridge together, afix a lock inscribed with their names to the structure and then toss the key into the river. Indeed, the Hohenzollern Bridge is so covered with padlocks that the bridge's operator threatened to saw them off until public outcry forced a change of heart. Local lads will often tug on the padlocks as they cross the bridge, so if you and your sweetheart do fix a Love Lock to Hohenzollern, make sure it's well attached, or your heart will be broken!

Currency & Best Way to Get Money

Germany's currency is the euro. Visit for current rates. ATMs and banks are plentiful, particularly around the cathedral, which is within walking distance of most river cruise mooring points, and credit cards are widely accepted in restaurants, bars and shops.


German is the local language, but English and French are widely understood and spoken in this multicultural city. A few handy phrases in German will always enamor you to the locals though, so try these:

  • Hello / good afternoon: Guten Tag (GOO-ten tahg)
  • Please / Thank you: Bitte / Danke (BIT-tuh/DAHN-kuh)
  • Yes / No: Ja / Nein (yah/nine)
  • Excuse me: Entschuldigen Sie (ent-SHOOL-de-gen zee)
  • Beer: Bier (beer)

  • Shopping

    Buy a bottle of the original Eau de Cologne, the citrusy perfume first launched in the city in 1709 by the Italian perfumer, Giovanni Maria Farina. Today, Farina's eponymous shop on Julich's Square is the world's oldest fragrance factory and still sells bottles of what used to be called its aqua mirabilis (Latin: miracle water). Fortunately, while vials of Farina cost half the annual salary of a civil servant back in 1709, you can pick up little sample bottles today for a just few euros.

    Cologne Awards

    Cruisers’ Choice Destination Awards

    2016 Top-Rated European River Destinations