The first thing that strikes you from the outside is how big it is. The first thing that strikes you from the inside is… well, how big it is.
Cologne Cathedral is enormous. That’s part of the reason why it took more than 600 years to build – although, to be fair, there was a break in the middle where nothing was done to it for a few centuries.
When Cologne Cathedral was finally finished in 1880, it was the world’s tallest structure (at 157 metres high) until it was overtaken by the USA’s Washington Monument just four years later.
Today it is still the largest Gothic church in northern Europe and one of the most important landmarks in Germany.
Why is Cologne Cathedral important?
Cologne Cathedral is a Gothic masterpiece, an enormous church that took about 600 years to build. As well as being an incredible piece of architecture and housing a huge number of treasures, it’s also a simple of Christianity in Europe.
Is Cologne Cathedral the biggest in the world?
Cologne Cathedral is the largest cathedral in Germany, but not in the world. That title goes to the Cathedral Basilica of Our Lady Aparecida in Brazil.
Is it worth visiting Cologne Cathedral?
Visiting Cologne Cathedral is a highlight of the city and one of the most important landmarks in Germany. It’s worth visiting to see both the building and the amazing treasures it holds.
I start my visit to Cologne Cathedral by experiencing its dazzling height firsthand. Step by step, I climb up one of the spires which forms the façade of the cathedral.
There are 509 steps and as I spiral around inside, I lose track of how far I’ve climbed and the end seems so far away. Until I suddenly pop out into the sunshine again.
Looking up, I can see the intricate detail that makes the lattice style of the tip of the spire above me. Through the gaps are the panoramic views of Cologne and the Rhine River which runs through it.
509 steps later, back down on the ground, I head through the front doors into the main part of the cathedral.
You can get a discount for the entrance fees when you visit Cologne Cathedral, plus lots of other benefits, with the (very affordable) KölnCard.
With the interior stretching out in front of me, stained glass windows and artworks lining the walls, it takes more than ten minutes just to walk down the cathedral’s length as I take it all in!
It’s an interesting comparison to one of Germany’s other famous churches – Aachen Cathedral – which is so much smaller!
Within the walls of Cologne Cathedral are priceless pieces of history, incredible creations and artefacts from centuries of Christianity in Europe.
So how did Cologne Cathedral come to be so important and what is there to see here? Let me explain.
History of Cologne Cathedral
The story of Cologne Cathedral begins with three of the famous characters from the Nativity – the Three Wise Men (or the Magi).
In 1164, the relics of the Three Wise Men were brought to Cologne from Milan by the Holy Roman Emperor, making the city a popular pilgrimage site.
To give this important trophy an appropriate home – and to accommodate the new influx of visitors – the decision was made to build a new church.
Construction on Cologne Cathedral began in 1248 with a design modelled on several of the major cathedrals in France. But the work to build the church was slow.
Bit by bit it started to come together until construction stopped in 1473, with the eastern arm finished but the western part incomplete. The south tower was only built to the belfry level, and later on a crane sat on top of it for years.
It wasn’t until 1842 (almost 300 years later) than work restarted. It was seen as a patriotic project by the Prussian rulers at the time, partly inspired by a cultural trend that was making the Middle Ages cool again.
In the end, Germany’s largest cathedral was completed and opened to the public with a huge event in 1880.
It was named a World Heritage Site in 1996.
Things to see at Cologne Cathedral
When you visit Cologne Cathedral, you really are spoiled with what’s on offer. There are so many things to see at Cologne Cathedral, it’s easy to be overwhelmed by its size.
While there’s much more than I can talk about here, I want to recommend a few of the highlights of Cologne Cathedral that you shouldn’t miss.
The first is obviously the nave, the central section of the church that has an inner height of about 43 metres. At 144 metres, it’s the longest in Germany and the Gothic vault over it is one of the tallest in the world.
With the row of columns on either side separating it from the side aisles, the nave leads your eye down to the altar, where many of the treasures are.
Between the altar and the high altar are the choir stalls, carved at the start of the 14th century, with 104 seats including reserved spots for the Pope and the Emperor.
Beyond the high altar is one of the most important spots in the whole cathedral. This is where you’ll find the Shrine of the Three Kings (or Shrine of the Magi), said to hold the relics of the Three Wise Men.
It’s an incredible piece of art, 2.2 metres long and weighing about 300 kilograms. It’s made from wood with gold and silver overlay, covered in decorations including about 1000 jewels and beads.
It’s not the only artwork inside the cathedral. Amongst the dozens you’ll see, a few key pieces are”
- The Gero Crucifix: Made around 970, it is carved in oak with some gilding and painted areas. The figure is 1.8 metres high and it is the earliest known Western depiction of Christ dead on the cross (previously he had always been alive).
- The Milan Madonna: This statue of the Virgin Mary and the infant Jesus is made from wood and painted in vibrant colours. It was carved in about 1290.
- The Dombild Altarpiece: This enormous painting was done in about 1440 and is considered one of the best works by Stefan Lochner. It was commissioned by the city council and shows the city’s saints along with the Virgin Mary and the Three Wise Men.
And while you’ll see plenty of art in the chapels, don’t forget to look up at the outer walls, because the stained glass windows in Cologne Cathedral are some of the most beautiful in the world and show an evolution in styles from the 13th century right up to the 19th century.
I’ve already mentioned the western towers above the entrance, but they are of course another highlight of Cologne Cathedral. Each about 157 metres tall, they are engineering marvels.
Climbing to the top of one of the towers gives you an incredible view and a close-up look at the design.
And then there’s the Treasury, with its collection of important items. Originally intended to house relics in the Middle Ages, it now has a huge number of objects like chalices, reliquaries, manuscripts and artworks.
Visiting Cologne Cathedral, Germany
Cologne Cathedral is one of the most popular tourist sites in Germany. This is partly because of how spectacular it is – but also because of its location.
It is literally at Cologne’s main train station which means that even people just passing through can easily pop in and have a look.
To see the site properly, though, it is worth giving yourself about an hour for the interior and another hour if you want to climb to the top of the spire.
While it’s possible to walk through the front doors, look around, and then walk out five minutes later – what would be the point? There is so much detail and so many pieces of art that deserve your attention.
There is this guided tour of Cologne that will tell you a bit about the cathedral from the outside (it’s worth doing to see a bit more of the city).
And there are some other cool options for exploring Cologne here too:
But I quite enjoyed walking around the Cathedral at my own pace and exploring all the little details myself. There are a few other options to consider:
- You can go on a special tour of the belfry on working days if you would like to experience the ringing of the bells. Visitors taking this tour will be provided with professional hearing protection devices.
- There’s also a 60-minute guided tour that is run on certain days.
- There are also guided tours on the roof and in the excavations. (The minimum age is 16.)
- pictures are allowed but without flash
- Download the free Cologne Cathedral app containing a spiritual tour of Cologne Cathedral: spiritual thoughts at ten different locations in the cathedral. The app also includes mass times and opening hours, information on the cathedral’s works of art, topical issues, events, and much more…
Photography is allowed at Cologne Cathedral without a flash.
And there’s even a free Cologne Cathedral app containing a spiritual tour of Cologne Cathedral at ten different locations in the building (as well as details like mass times).
Where is Cologne Cathedral?
Cologne Cathedral is located at the heart of Cologne, mere steps away from Cologne’s main train station.
Cologne Cathedral is located at Domkloster 4, 50667 Cologne, Germany.
You can see it on a map here.
How do you get to Cologne Cathedral?
To get to Cologne Cathedral, catch the train to Cologne’s main train station and it is right in front. You can’t miss it!
When is Cologne Cathedral open?
The cathedral is open daily: 06:00 – 20:00 but access for tourists is limited to 10:00 to 17:00 (Mondays – Saturdays) and 13:00-16:00 (Sundays). You can still access the Tower narthex when the evening Mass is finished.
NOTE: opening hours may change depending on masses held.
The Tower has slightly different opening hours. It’s typically open daily, expect for certain holidays and festival days. The last admission is 30 minutes before closing time.
March – April: from 9:00 to 17:00
May – September: from 9:00 to 18:00
October: from 9:00 to 17:00
November – February: from 9:00 to 16:00
The Cathedral Treasury is open daily from 10:00 to 18:00.
What is the Cologne Cathedral entrance fee?
Entry to the cathedral is free. However, there is a charge to climb the tower and see the treasure chamber.
Either the tower climb or the Treasury costs: €6 for a standard ticket and €3 for a concession. A family ticket costs €12.
A combo ticket to the tower and the Treasury costs: €9 for a standard ticket and €4.50 for a concession. A family ticket costs €18.
Are there tours of Cologne Cathedral?
There are regular guided tours inside Cologne Cathedral, which you can book here. The public guided tours cost €10 (regular ticket) and €8 (concession). Kids under 6 can join for free.
Another option if you’re interested in the building but can’t reach it is a virtual reality tour of Cologne Cathedral.
For more information, see the official website of Cologne Cathedral.
Cologne Cathedral is at the heart of Cologne and there are plenty of places to explore. Nearby highlights include the modern art museum Museum Ludwig and the Hohenzollern Bridge, full of love locks.
It’s also easy to use Cologne as a base to visit another nearby World Heritage Site, the Castles of Augustusburg and Falkenlust.
THE BEST ACCOMMODATION IN COLOGNE
Cologne is not a particularly cheap city, but there’s a good range of accommodation and some lovely options at the top end.
With a central location and great atmosphere, Cologne Downtown Hostel is a great backpacker choice.
For something a bit budget, Hotel Weber is a good choice in the centre of Cologne.
With cool modern design, I would highly recommend 25hours Hotel The Circle.