Day Trips from Cologne (14 Destinations By Car and Train)

Cologne is a 2000-year-old city in Western Germany with a rich, storied history. Cologne, renowned for the fragrance named after it, stands as Germany’s fourth-largest city. The city spans the Rhine River and is home to many wondrous sites. With its strategic location in the heart of Western Germany makes it an exceptional base for day trips. Nestled along the banks of the Rhine River, it is well-connected by a robust network of highways and railways, offering easy and efficient travel to numerous nearby destinations. Here are our top recommendations for the best day trips from Cologne via car and train.

1. Aachen

Traditional Aachen Printen cookies displayed on a wooden table.
Authentic Aachen Printen cookies, a famous German delicacy.

Time and distance from Cologne:

  • By Train: 40 minutes
  • By Car: 1 hour 15 minutes
  • Distance: 43 miles

Top Destinations and Attractions:

One of the best day trips from Cologne is to Aachen, a city well-known for being the home to the first Unesco World Heritage Site in Germany – the Aachen Cathedral.

Situated near Germany’s border with Belgium, this spa city makes for the perfect day trip from Cologne.

Be sure to check out the incredible, ancient thermal baths that Aachen is known for. Among the top choices is the Carolus Thermen, named after the First Holy Roman Emperor Charlemagne.

While the thermal springs in Aachen were discovered by the Romans over 2000 years ago, this modernized destination was opened in 2001, maintaining the historic atmosphere of the original Roman baths.

Complete your trip to Aachen by trying the local delicacy – Aachen Printen cookies!

These delectable, traditional holiday cookies are chewy and packed with flavorful spices such as cinnamon, licorice, and clove. Aachen Printen cookies have a delightful crunchy almond coating, making them a true delight.

You can also find Aachen Printen cookies at the Markt on Tuesdays and Thursdays for freshly baked local delicacies in the square in front of the Aachen City Hall building.

Learn more about the top things to do in Aachen Germany here!

2. Monschau

Monschau Castle by a bridge.
Historic Monschau Castle

Time and distance from Cologne:

  • By Train: 1 hour 25 minutes
  • By Car: 2 hours 5 minutes
  • Distance: 58 miles

Top Destinations and Attractions:

Monschau is best known for its beautiful city center, half-timbered houses, cobblestone streets, and imposing Medieval castle.

Monschau Castle, known in German as Burg Monschau, dates back to the early 13th century. It is currently used as a youth hostel and hosts concerts and operas in the summer months.

This charming town is full of natural beauty with awe-inspiring hiking trails. Our favorite is the Perlbachrunde trail in North Rhine Westphalia, an 8.5 mile (13.6 km) loop which takes approximately 3 hours 45 minutes to traverse.

We found this trail to be moderately challenging but entirely worth the effort for nature lovers.

Don’t forget to check out Rotes Haus (or Red House in English) during your stay in Monschau. It is the former headquarters of the Scheiblers, a family of textile-industrialists, and is now a museum that holds the top spot for the most famous landmark in Monschau. While it’s 18th-century red-brick façade stands apart from the more common half-timbered houses which surround it, the simple exterior does not do the lavishness of the castle-like interior. It is a must-see!

What to Eat in Monschau

You’re in for a culinary delight when you visit Monschau for a quick day trip. Try Eifel-style sausages and Schnitzel, a thin, breaded meat cutlet that is lightly fried.

For the authentic flavor of Monschau, stop by the Historic Mustard Mill for some German mustard to add to your dish.

The mill, which was originally powered by a water wheel, has been family-owned and operated for over 100 years in this charming old town.

3. Heidelberg

Panoramic view of Heidelberg with the Old Bridge and cityscape.
Heidelberg’s picturesque landscape with the Old Bridge.

Time and distance from Cologne:

  • By Train: 2 hours 15 minutes
  • By Car: 2 hours 45 minutes
  • Distance: 155 miles

Top Destinations and Attractions:

Just over two hours from Cologne Central Station, Heidelberg is home to Germany’s oldest university, established in 1386.

To this day, Heidelberg University is one of the strongest research universities in all of Europe.

Heidelberg Palace, also known as Schloss Heidelberg, is a Gothic architectural masterpiece of the Renaissance era.

Part of the castle is in ruins, but the main body is still used today. Consider booking a ticket to tour the castle and its grounds during your day trip from Cologne.

The Karl Theodor Bridge, affectionately referred to as the Old Bridge, is an arch bridge crafted in the baroque style that crosses the lovely Neckar River. It connects the Old City with the eastern portion of the city’s district on the opposite bank – Neuenheim. It makes for a picturesque post-dinner walk.

4. Brühl

Historical building in Brühl, Germany, with intricate architectural details.
Architectural elegance of a historical building in Brühl.

Time and distance from Cologne:

  • By Train: 20 minutes
  • By Car: 45 minutes
  • Distance: 11 miles

Top Destinations and Attractions:

Just a quick train ride away, Brühl makes for the perfect day trip from Cologne. Immerse yourself in the local culture at one of their festivals and classical concerts.

During our time in Brühl, we attended a concert for their famous Capella Augustina – the internationally acclaimed resident orchestra of the Brühl Palace Concerts.

Located near the River Rhine, the old town of Brühl is home to several Unesco World Heritage Sites, such as Brühl Palaces Augustusburg and Falkenlust Hunting Lodge, which connect through the gorgeous gardens – which are open to the public year-round. However, note that the Palace and Hunting Lodge are closed in winter.

For those craving an adrenaline rush, buy a ticket for Phantasialand. This whimsical theme park attracts approximately 2 million visitors per year and was opened in 1967 by Gottlieb Löffelhardt and Richard Schmidt. It began as a family-oriented theme park, but in recent years has expanded to include some exhilarating thrill rides.

5. Cochem

Aerial view of Cochem Castle with the old town nestled below.
Cochem Castle towering over the quaint old town.

Time and distance from Cologne:

  • By Train: 2 hours 11 minutes
  • By Car: 1 hour 30 minutes
  • Distance: 71 miles

Top Destinations and Attractions:

When contemplating options for day trips from Cologne, consider adding Cochem to your list.

With its quaint streets and darling half-timbered buildings, this small town packs a bigger punch than you might imagine – it is Germany’s second smallest district seat with just over 5200 residents.

Spend some time strolling along the lovely river promenade, or visit Cochem’s exceptional vineyards.

Our favorite is Weingut Kloster Ebernach, which offers a unique tour of its steeply sloped vineyard.

Once you reach the top of the hill, you will be rewarded with a spectacular view of Cochem and an equally delicious glass of wine in one of their tasting rooms.

Take a Day Trip to the Most Beautiful Castle in Europe

No visit to Cochem is complete without stopping at what might be the most stunning castle in all of Germany – Reichsburg Castle.

Resting atop a lush green hill, this breathtaking castle sits in a place of prominence overlooking the city.

You can even feast like royalty at the Castle Tavern after your tour. Take a seat on their patio, which boasts a panoramic view of the entire village, while you sip on a hot beverage or delight in a hearty schnitzel.

6. Maastricht

Time and distance from Cologne:

  • By Train: 1 hour 45 minutes
  • By Car: 1 hour 30 minutes
  • Distance: 65 miles

Top Destinations and Attractions:

Cologne is more than a key to explore nearby cities in Germany. Many visitors travel to and from the Netherlands from Cologne.

Maastricht is an excellent choice for a day trip from Cologne, as it is only a 1-hour 45-minute ride via regional trains. This city in the Netherlands is full of life and culture.

Check out the incredible modern contemporary art collection at the futuristic Bonnefanten Art Museum.

If you prefer your art to lean more towards the classical, stop by the Romanesque Basilica of St. Servatius, which contains a significant collection of religious-based artworks.

For a unique insight into Maastricht’s history, adventure at the Saint Pietersburg Hill Caves.

You will journey back through time, 30 meters below the city, on a guided tour of the 60-kilometer-long tunnel system.

Tour Fort Sint Pieter, where your guide will balance historical tales with humorous anecdotes that will make you laugh while you learn.

This magical city truly shines in the winter with its enchanting Christmas markets.

Marvel at the twinkling lights as you enjoy the warm holiday hospitality of the people of Maastricht.

7. Brussels

Street view of Brussels city center with historic buildings.
The heart of Brussels

Time and distance from Cologne:

  • By Train: 1 hour 50 minutes
  • By Car: 2 hours 30 minutes
  • Distance: 130 miles

Top Destinations and Attractions:

Brussels, Belgium’s capital and historical city center is by train less than a two-hour day trip from Cologne. It strikes the balance between timeless elegance and sleek, modern appeal.

There are pockets with a quiet, relaxed atmosphere, but if you walk a few blocks, you’ll find another bustling part of the city with a louder, more exciting personality.

There is so much to see and do in Brussels, so we will keep this list to a few of our personal favorites.

The city’s heart is the main square, which boasts the impressive La Grand-Place, or grand palace in English.

The palace is a stunning example of Gothic and Baroque architecture, surrounded by the city’s old town hall and other ornately decorated buildings.

For something slightly off the beaten path, make a pit stop at the delightful Comics Art Museum, where you will learn about the history of Belgium’s most famous comic – the Smurfs!

Brussels is well-known for fostering the talent of comic artists and has been home to over 700 incredible artists.

Speaking of oddball sites, Manneken Pis (otherwise known as the peeing boy) is the quirky symbol of Brussels. This cheeky statue is a must-see for first-time visitors. While the statue is in the buff, he is occasionally dressed in one of thousands of silly costumes befitting of the season. Even funnier than the costumes are the stories behind the statue. Legend has it that a young boy stopped a fire from spreading through the town by urinating on it.

8. Wuppertal

Wuppertal Suspension Railway train moving above the river.
The unique Wuppertal Suspension Railway in operation.

Time and distance from Cologne:

  • By Train: 30 minutes
  • By Car: 1 hour
  • Distance: 34 miles

Top Destinations and Attractions:

Wuppertal has been made world-famous for having the world’s oldest electric suspension railway.

The Wuppertal Suspension Railway, born in 1901, gives riders the feeling of floating through the air as they travel on this monorail.

It is more than a tourist attraction, as over 80,000 riders commute to work via this exciting mode of public transportation each day.

While the Wuppertal Suspension Railway is the first thing that comes to mind when you think of this city, it is not the only exciting site to see when you visit on your day trip from Cologne.

The Von der Heydt Museum, opened in the 1950s, has one of the world’s most extensive collections relating to timekeeping.

After you visit the clock museum, take things at your own pace as you explore the old town area for a bite to eat or a leisurely walk.

9. Limburg

Time and distance from Cologne:

  • By Train: 2 hours 15 minutes
  • By Car: 1 hour 30 minutes
  • Distance: 65 miles

Top Destinations and Attractions:

Just over two hours by train, Limburg is an exciting city to explore on one of your day trips from Cologne.

Limburg Cathedral is a must-see in the city. It is located above the city, atop a large rock that overlooks the town. It was created in the 11th century and is a marvel of architecture, resembling a fairytale castle.

Perhaps the most famous home in Limburg is Haus der Sieben Laster or the House of the Seven Deadly Sins.

This intriguing example of half-timbered houses was built in 1567 with a startling facade that features sculpted faces representing the Seven Deadly Sins.

The building remains privately owned, but you can explore the attached museum and gift shop.

Step back in time as you board the Miljoenenlijn Steam Train for a nostalgic ride in one of its charming carriages. This long-running steam train takes you through the sprawling, hilly countryside between Landgraaf and Simpelveld. You may even choose to arrange a high tea to enjoy during the ride.

10. Ghent

Traditional buildings along the canal in Ghent, Belgium.
The charming canal-side architecture of Ghent.

Time and distance from Cologne:

  • By Train: 2 hours 40 minutes
  • By Car: 3 hours 15 minutes
  • Distance: 164 miles

Top Destinations and Attractions:

Just under 3 hours from Cologne by train, Ghent is a beautiful Port city in Belgium that is very worthy of a day trip.

During the Middle Ages, Ghent was a prominent city-state that now operates as a university town that attracts young folk to this cultural hub.

Perhaps the most famous attraction in Ghent is the 12th-century Castle of the Counts, known as Gravensteen. This impressive castle, built in 1180, boasts a moat and towering turrets and looms over the Lys River. Previously the home of the Counts of Flanders, the castle was subsequently used as a court, a cotton mill, and even a prison.

The true charm of Ghent lies in its large public squares and bustling marketplaces – the most prominent of which is the popular Vrijdagmarkt or “Friday Market.”

While perusing the markets, pick up Ghent’s most famous confection, Cuberdons.

These conically-shaped sweet treats are raspberry flavored and have a syrupy filling surrounded by a candy-coated crust. We couldn’t resist these candies on our day trip to Ghent.

For a unique perspective, try viewing the city from the water via a cruise on the canal. Take the opportunity to rest your tired feet while the boat captain provides a guided tour and a deeper look into the history of the city. The tour is quite accessible, with several different language options to choose from.

Learn more about the top things to do in Ghent here!

11. Schloss Drachenburg

Schloss Drachenburg Castle on a hillside with panoramic views.
The majestic Schloss Drachenburg Castle, a fairy-tale vision.

Time and distance from Cologne:

  • By Train: 1 hour 20 minutes
  • By Car: 45 minutes
  • Distance: 25 miles

Top Destinations and Attractions:

Schloss Drachenburg, or Drachenburg Castle, is actually a private villa that was created in the style of a palace. It was constructed in the late 19th century and was completed in two years.

Located on the bank of the Rhine River, this gorgeous estate was opened to the public in 1963 and has been a must-see destination since the days of Lord Byron.

12. Bonn

The Electoral Palace in Bonn, Germany, with its baroque architecture.
Majestic view of the Electoral Palace in Bonn.

Time and distance from Cologne:

  • By Train: 20 minutes
  • By Car: 40 minutes
  • Distance: 18 miles

Top Destinations and Attractions:

Bonn is the closest German city to Cologne, just 30 kilometers and a 20-minute train ride away.

This former capital city centre of the Federal Republic of West Germany is a former Roman settlement, much like Cologne.

It is also the home of Ludwig van Beethoven. If you are a fan of classical music, then you must stop in Bonn to pay homage to the man who brought us the “Ode to Joy.”

You can even tour the composer’s family home while you visit his dedicated museum and memorial site.

This lovely city, located on the bank of the Rhine River, has a more relaxing vibe these days, with tons of wonderful cafes and beer gardens to discover.

Public transportation is plentiful, as the ICE train departs more than once per hour from Bonn to other cities in the area.

13. Frankfurt

Time and distance from Cologne:

  • By Train: 1 hour 20 minutes
  • By Car: 2 hours 30 minutes
  • Distance: 118 miles

Top Destinations and Attractions:

Frankfurt is one of the more modern cities in Germany, boasting a robust financial center and towering skyscrapers, and is home to the third largest airport in Europe.

That said, it also has a long history and is more traditionally known for its local delicacy – Frankfurters!

Frankfurt is the birthplace of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, the writer whose former home is now the Goethe House Museum – which, though damaged during World War II, has been rebuilt and is open for visitors.

While Frankfurt is home to many art museums, the most prolific may be the Städel Museum. It contains over 700 years-worth of history encompassed in its extensive art collection. You can easily spend the entire day taking in the work of Matisse-Bonnard, Monet, Rembrandt, and Renoir.

14. Dusseldorf

Night view of Dusseldorf city skyline with illuminated buildings.
Dusseldorf’s skyline glittering under the night sky.

Time and distance from Cologne:

  • By Train: 45 minutes
  • By Car: 1 hour
  • Distance: 25 miles

Top Destinations and Attractions:

  • Check out the art and fashion scene
  • Ride up to the observation deck of the Rheinturm
  • Stroll along Dusseldorf’s best shopping street – Koenigsallee

Dusseldorf is best known for its art and fashion scene. Split by the Rhine River, this lively city center perfectly blends its rich, storied history with the cutting-edge art and fashion of the present times.

One of the coolest things that we did during our time in Dusseldorf was riding up to the observation deck of the Rheinturm. If you are feeling particularly brave, you may press up against the glass and check the view from 240 meters above ground in this slowly rotating attraction.

Don’t forget to stroll along Koenigsallee, which is Dusseldorf’s best shopping street, to snag some designer goodies.

While you’re here, be sure to try the Dusseldorf-style pot roast of beef and mustard, known as Sauerbraten. It is absolutely delicious!

15. Giethoorn

Giethoorn, Netherlands - the perfect Dutch Day trip from Cologne.
A boat ride through Giethoorn’s idyllic canals.

Time and distance from Cologne:

  • By Train: 3 hours 30 minutes
  • By Car: 3 hours
  • Distance: 230 miles

Top Destinations and Attractions:

  • Explore the canals by boat
  • Visit the quaint Museum De Oude Aarde
  • Enjoy local Dutch Cuisine at a canal-side cafe

While Giethoorn is one of the farther day trips from Cologne, it is a stunningly picturesque location that is definitely worth a visit! Giethoorn, often referred to as the “Venice of the North,” is a charming village in the Netherlands and a fantastic day trip destination from Cologne. This picturesque village is renowned for its beautiful canals, quaint thatched-roof houses, and the peaceful absence of road traffic.

Traveling to Giethoorn from Cologne, you can immerse yourself in a serene, almost fairy-tale-like world. The journey, though a bit longer than other day trips, is well worth it for the unique experience that awaits.

One of the best ways to enjoy Giethoorn is by exploring its labyrinth of canals. Rent a boat, or join a guided tour, and glide along these tranquil waterways. The experience of navigating through these canals, with charming houses on either side, is truly magical.

Another highlight is the Museum De Oude Aarde, which showcases a fascinating collection of gemstones and minerals. This quaint museum adds a touch of historical and cultural significance to your visit.

Don’t miss the opportunity to sample local Dutch cuisine at one of the many canal-side cafés. These cozy spots offer a perfect view of the canals and are ideal for enjoying a leisurely meal or a cup of coffee, making your visit to Giethoorn even more delightful.

Navigating Your Day Trips From Cologne

The convenient Cologne Central Station will help to facilitate all of your chosen day trips from Cologne with its plethora of the most popular train routes and plentiful public transport options.

It is so simple to find your way around other cities in Germany from Cologne, whether you’re driving yourself or taking regional trains from the main train station.

Take in the luscious scenery and rolling hills from the comfort of your seat as you make your way towards your next stop.

How Long Should You Stay In Cologne

While day trips from Cologne are incredibly fun, it is also a great idea to spend some time exploring the city itself. From our experience, we recommend that you spend three days visiting Cologne to delve into the city’s history and see its must-see attractions, including the famous Cologne Cathedral. This incredible city in West Germany has so much to offer and is well worth taking the time to explore on its own.

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Hey there – we’re Majd and Victoria, and we are so excited to share our adventures with you! 

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