Dominating the skyline of Köln (a.k.a. Cologne in English) in Germany, the Köln Cathedral is one of the few structures that remained standing after the vast majority of the city was flattened by aerial bombs during World War II. While construction of this gargantuan Gothic church begun in 1248, the building (including what is today much of the façade) was not actually completed until around 1880 due to a series of wars and lack of funds. Standing in front of this immense and powerful Gothic church is enough to make anyone feel like a tiny church mouse. Given its status as Germany’s largest Gothic church, designation as a UNESCO World Heritage site, and being a long-held important stop on the Roman Catholic pilgrimage route, it is not surprising that Köln Cathedral is the most visited landmark in all of Germany. We’ll share all the basic information you need to visit the cathedral as well as our own experience paying a visit to this magnificent church.
Basic Information on Visiting Köln Cathedral
Once you make your way to downtown Köln, there is really no way to miss this giant cathedral. For GPS purposes, the church is located at Domkloster 4, 50667 Köln, Germany. For English speakers, the church may be noted as Cologne Cathedral or Köln Cathedral on maps, guides, or your GPS, whereas in German you will see it noted as Köln Dom. Don’t worry these are all the same place.
There are a number of fairly easy ways to get to Köln Cathedral, making Köln an easy day trip if you are staying nearby or driving near the city. Closest airport is Köln-Bonn Airport where you can take a bus or train to Köln.
By train: Just stop at the Köln train station and the church is located only a few blocks away within easy walking distance.
By car: Once you are in Köln, follow signs to the town center (“Zentrum”) and then find a parking garage (parkhaus) nearby. The closest to the cathedral is the giant “Parkhaus am Dom”. The fee was about 2 euros/hour during our visit.
By boat: If you are taking a Köln-Düsseldorfer (K-D) Line boat along this section of the Rhine River, just get off at the Köln boat dock and turn right to follow Frankenwerft along the river towards the Hohenzollern Bridge and eventually you’ll see Köln Cathedral on your left before your reach the bridge. Just follow a street to the left to head to the Cathedral.
A visit to the main areas of the church is free!
Want to visit some extra areas at Köln Cathedral or do a guided tour?
Guided Tours, Literature, & Video: Visit Domforum, the Cathedral Visitors Center, which contains people to help answer your questions, literature in 16 languages, information about the guided tours, refreshments, and a video about the cathedral. It is located in a separate building across from the entrance to the church. You can sign-up for 1-hour guided tours of the Cathedral in English or German. Guided tours in English are normally given Monday-Saturday at 10:30am (10:30) and 2:30pm (14:30) and on Sundays and holidays at 2:30pm (14:30). English tours are 7 euros for adults and 5 euros for students. The video at the Domforum is about 20 minutes and is available for 2 euros (or free with a guided tour) in English, French, and German.
Do the Cathedral Tower Climb: You’ll find on the right side of the outside of the church another entrance where you can pay to climb the over 500 steps to get a good city view and inspect the church bells up close. Cost is 3 euros (or 6 euros if combined with Treasury visit).
Visit the Cathedral Treasury: If you are standing outside in front of the main entrance of the church, you can find the Treasury entrance on the left side of the church on the far end from the main entrance. You’ll find a gold pillar marked Schatzkammer in front of the entrance to the church’s Treasury. Once in the church cellar, you’ll be able to visit several rooms filled with medieval vestments, jewels, and reliquaries. Cost is 5 euros (or 6 euros if combined with a climb of the Church Spire).
Köln Cathedral is open daily year round. It is open from 6:00am to 7:30pm (6:00 – 19:30) from November to April and from 6:00am to 9:00pm (6:00 – 21:00) from May to October. However, visitors are not allowed to walk around during masses (although visitors can sit and attend) or special events, so be sure to check the cathedral’s website’s calendar for the list of masses (messe) and any other events during your visit.
The Domforum is open Monday-Friday 9:30am to 6:00pm (9:30-18:00), Saturdays from 9:30am to 5:00pm (9:30 – 17:00), and Sunday from 1:00pm to 5:00pm (13:00- 17:00). Check the cathedral website concerning hours for the Church Tower and Treasury as the hours are more limited than the church and vary by season.
Want to know more?
You can find out more information about the church from the Köln Cathedral’s office website, including history, mass service schedules, special events, and the opening times for the Treasury and Tower. You can also visit the Domforum’s official website or call the visitors center at 0221 925-84720. The UNESCO and Wikipedia webpages on the cathedral also provide great background information.
Our Experience Visiting the Köln Cathedral
We visited Köln Cathedral as a stop on our way between the Düsseldorf Airport and the Mosel Valley. After our flight, we picked up our rental car in Düsseldorf and then drove to Köln. As we approached, we noticed from the bridge a series of cable cars that cross over the Rhine River. Maybe we’ll consider these on a future trip.
Once in the city, we had some difficulty finding the parking garage due to road construction and had to circle around a couple of times to get here. But the “Parkhaus am Dom” parking garage is conveniently located near the Köln Cathedral and some of the major museums. It is impossible to miss the Cathedral once you approach the city given the size of the church and the height of the giant church spires. We did think that visiting by train would have been easier than driving, but we didn’t have a choice as we needed the car for our next stop.
Standing in front of this big and important church makes you feel very tiny. I had a very difficult time getting the full church into my camera’s viewer even from quite far away. If you want to check out one of the church spires up close, there is a life-size replica of the spire tip in the Cathedral Plaza across from the main church entrance.
We wandered around a bit around the church exterior to try to take it all in. We also inspected some fountains and the excavation site a bit before heading inside.
Once inside, you’ll enter into the 140-foot tall nave which is filled with expensive stained glass windows. Some of the stained glass windows on the south side of the church were expensive gifts from King Ludwig I. The “swallows’ nest” organ above on the side was built into the gallery in 1998, to celebrate the cathedral’s 750 year anniversary. The church follows the normal cross layout with many of the most important shrines and treasures being placed in the end furthest from the entrance.
Among the church’s many treasures are the carved Gero-Crucifix (large cross carved out of oak dating from the 970’s), the Shrine of the Magi which is believed to contain bones of the three Biblical magi (a.k.a. kings or wise men), and the Madonna of Milan sculpture. A good comprehensive listing of the major monuments, artworks, and architectural treasures are listed on the Cathedral’s website along with descriptions and photos. We would actually use this information to identify one of our many photos from the cathedral. Turns out the photo below is of the tomb and effigy of Count Gottfried of Arnsberg, a wealthy man who left his entire estate to the archiepiscopal state of Cologne. He was the only layperson to be buried in the choir of the Gothic cathedral among a number of archbishops and saints during the Middle Ages. He is dressed in medieval knight’s clothing and armor and an iron grid surrounds the effigy, making this monument stand out during our visit.
If you notice the pretty “rainbow” window in the south transept, this is one of the most recent additions to the church. In 2007, this stained glass window was inserted to replace one that was destroyed during World War II. Designed by German artist Gerhard Richter, the window is composed of 11,500 identically sized pieces of colored glass, randomly arranged by a computer and they resemble pixels. Seems pretty modern for a Gothic church!
Perhaps one of our favorite sculptures in the church is the carved medieval statue of Saint Christopher. If you’ve been to pilgrimage sites before, you’ll recognize him with his staff and baby Jesus on his shoulder. He is a welcome sight for pilgrims as he is their patron saint.
OK, so that was our tour of Köln Cathedral in Germany. We spent about an hour and a half wandering around the plaza and inside the church before heading back to the parking garage to race to our hotel in the Mosel Valley before the check-in time ended. Ideally a person would spend a full day or at least a full afternoon exploring Köln. Those with more time might consider a visit to one of the city’s museums such as the nearby Roman-Germanic Museum (Römish-Germanisches Museum) for Roman artifacts, Kolumba Diocesan Museum for more art from the cathedral, Museum Ludwig for modern art, Wallraf-Richartz Museum for art by old masters, or the Imhoff Chocolate Museum for those who prefer chocolate over art. There is also the oddly-named Archäologische Zone – Jüdisches Museum where you can see excavations of Roman sites as well as parts of the old Jewish Quarter as this gradually becomes a planned museum complex. We didn’t have the time for a museum visit or much wandering around the city, but hope to do so on our next visit.
Feel free to ask us questions about our visit. If you’ve been to Köln Cathedral, what did you think of your visit? Any additional tips? What else would you do with a day in Köln?