Cologne or Dusseldorf: Which German City to Visit?

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by Paola Drexler


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With so many places to see in the world and not enough time on your hands, you might be forced to cut a few cities off your German trip, which can leave you contemplating whether you should visit Cologne or Dusseldorf.

Being so close to each other, the two urban centres on the Rhine have competed against each other in various categories for centuries. However, these days their friendly rivalry focuses on the local sports teams and on who has the wildest carnival and best-tasting beer.

For visitors, you might find Cologne to be the better choice if you want to see beautiful cathedrals while Dusseldorf is more suited if you have a slightly higher budget and also want to enjoy some nature on your city break.

However, there are a lot more factors to consider so let’s find out which rival city will win your visit.

Cologne

As the largest city of the North Rhine-Westphalia state and the fourth largest in Germany, Cologne is a popular city to visit. Along with its rich culture and history, the city and its people pride themselves on having a positive attitude and knowing how to party.

Accessibility

Like most cities in Germany, Cologne is widely accessible from all around the world and navigating through the city can be easily done by different modes of transportation, including the handy tram network. Thus, accessibility concerns probably won’t play a major role in deciding between Cologne vs Dusseldorf.

For travellers flying in, your closest airport will be the Cologne Bonn Airport and it is only about 15 minutes away from the city centre by preferred private transfer or train. If you prefer driving on your own, then no problem, you’ll be sure to find rental services at the airport but just be sure to make your reservations in advance.

If you’re instead travelling by train, Cologne can be reached from most cities (such as London, Bruges and Copenhagen) by international train, bus or plane. You can view train schedules here.

When using public transportation, whether by bus, tram or train, you can buy a single-ride ticket to your destination or you can buy a Köln Card in advance or at many bus or train stations in the city.

Additionally, the Köln Card comes with the added perks of unlimited rides and discounted prices, sometimes even free entry, to restaurants, museums, shops and main attractions all around the city.

One of the best ways to explore and immerse yourself in the culture and people of a new city is to simply explore it on foot either independently or on a walking tour.

This is especially true in a city like Cologne where most of the main attractions are within walking distance from each other. So now that you’ve learned how to get around in Cologne, let’s find out whether it’s affordable.

Historical Cologne
Historical Cologne

Affordability

Depending on the individual, any city can be as affordable or luxurious as you wish, even Cologne or Dusseldorf. In general, even though it’s a big city and all, Cologne can be moderately affordable.

For people looking to travel on the more budget-friendly side, you can stay in a hostel or Airbnb instead of a hotel.

Instead of eating at a sit-down restaurant for every meal, you can opt for quick takeout foods, buying snacks from a grocery store or even cooking your own food if your accommodation allows for it.

If you’re walking through a market, you’ll be sure to smell your way to a delicious wurst (German sausage) with fries or bread that’ll only set you back about €3.

If you buy a Köln Card, you’ll be covered on transportation but also get discounts and free entry to many interesting attractions and places already on your list of things to see.

So while you might expect Cologne to be expensive, you’ll be pleasantly surprised to find out it can be quite affordable, depending on your desired budget and how you choose to spend your money.

Town Hall Tower on Alter Markt
Town Hall Tower on Alter Markt

Things To Do In Cologne

For travellers looking to see a more historic and traditional side of Germany, Cologne will deliver with all its Romanesque cathedrals, especially with the iconic and most recognisable landmark — The Kölner Dom.

With over 500 stairs, the Cologne Cathedral is magnificent in not only its height or beauty but also in its resilience to stand so tall throughout time. Cologne has various cathedrals scattered all around the city including St. Kunibert, St. Apostein, St. Gereon and St. Ursula.

Just a short walk away from the Kölner Dom, you’ll come across another famous spot in Cologne. Similar to the lock bridges in Paris, you’ll find the Hohenzollernbrücke which holds countless locks and love promises from couples who have visited the locking bridge.

While you follow the Rhein river towards the harbour, you can take a detour to visit the Ludwig Museum and admire painting masterpieces that date back to 1900, including some pieces from Picasso, Erich Heckel, August Macke and Avant-Garde.

Cologne at night from the Rhine River
Cologne at night from the Rhine River

After the museum, you can make your way to Cologne’s vibrant Old Town, which was rebuilt after the war but still shows the true essence of the original buildings.

From the park in front of Old Town, you’ll spot the Groß or Great St. Martin which has been a part of the city since the 12th Century but had to be restored after the war. You’ll be able to see the church’s crossing tower and its three apses.

As you reach the southern part of the Old Town, you’ll find yourself in the Rheinauhafen, or harbour of Cologne. Here is where you’ll see how the new and old beautifully mixes while enjoying the magnificent view of the river and the new district that houses the creative and digital companies in the city.

Interestingly, it is believed that Jews have been in Cologne longer than in any other German city, dating back to the year 321. Out of the five synagogues in Cologne, only one remains today – the Roonstraße Synagogue. To learn more about the history and its significance, you can walk between Roonstraße and Beethovenstraße to visit the impressive and active synagogue.

If you’re visiting in February, you might get lucky to experience the Kolner Karneval, which is one of the biggest and oldest carnivals in Germany. During these festivities, people dress in costume or fancy wear to drink and eat traditional German festival foods, while enjoying the fun parades and music.

However, if you plan to visit a couple of months sooner, you’ll get a nice slice of the Christmas cheer in December at the Weihnachtsmarkt or Christmas markets. You’ll be able to warm up with a hot mulled wine or hot chocolate with the best view of the Cologne Cathedral and the Neumarkt.

Cologne Cathedral
Cologne Cathedral

Where to Stay in Cologne

Motel One Köln-Neumarkt – Mid-range visitors to Cologne will love this 3-star hotel. Centrally location, it is filled with hip decor and they have a range of lovely rooms to choose from. They also have a number of other amenities to ensure you have a great stay.

Savoy Hotel – This luxury hotel is perfect for those with a higher budget when visiting Cologne. Excellently located in the city centre, they have a myriad of luxe rooms on offer and there is also a restaurant/bar on site.

CGN Apartments – Altstadt – This cosy 1-bedroom apartment is a great option for those looking for their own space in Cologne. It comes fully equipped with everything you may need during your stay and it has an excellent location for exploring the city.

Die Wohngemeinschaft – If you’re travelling solo or on budget, this hostel is an excellent choice. They offer both dorm beds and private room options, are very well-located and there is also an on-site cafe/bar for a great social atmosphere.

Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse more Cologne hotels!

Cologne skyline
Cologne skyline

Dusseldorf

Dusseldorf is just one-hour drive north of Cologne. With both the Rhine and Dussel flowing through the city, Dusseldorf is known for being the capital of North Rhine-Westphalia, second largest city in the state and the seventh-largest in Germany. It is not only the country’s fashion capital but prides itself on its famous art and music.

Accessibility

Similar to Cologne, Dusseldorf can be accessed with ease by all the various forms of transportation, whether you prefer flying or driving, riding a train or catching a taxi ride. If you’re travelling around Europe you can reach Dusseldorf from most European cities by train, such as Copenhagen, Hamburg, Berlin or Munich. You can look up the train schedules here.

If you’re flying in, the closest airport to the city is Düsseldorf Airport, located about 20 minutes away by train or 10 minutes by car from the centre of the city. For an alternative airport, there’s Cologne Bonn if you don’t mind the slightly longer drive.

While in the city, getting around is also easy. You can walk to most must-see sights, but you also have the option to jump on a bus or train when necessary. You can purchase a Düsseldorf Card for one day and can save the more days you decide to use it.

The Düsseldorf Card is helpful since you’ll receive free rides on public transportation, along with free or discounted entries to city attractions, tours, museums and even restaurants.

Since a majority of the main attractions are near the river, and if you’re in need of a break from walking, you can treat yourself to a ride down the river by boat. You’ll get the added bonus of sitting back to relax while experiencing the city from a different perspective.

Modern Dusseldorf
Modern Dusseldorf

Affordability

Now that we know how accessible Dusseldorf is, you might be wondering whether it’s affordable.

Compared to other big cities in Europe, Dusseldorf is not at the top of the list for the most expensive, although the city tends to be a bit pricier than Cologne. But like its rival, you can also control how affordable your trip ends up being.

If you’re looking to get your travel budget on the lower side, there are a few things you can do while not cutting into your fun. As mentioned before, you have full control of what and where you eat.

You can still experience the city’s culinary magic by eating local “fast food” or at markets. If you are taking advantage of a Düsseldorf Card, then you are already actively saving by having unlimited rides on public transportation and using the extra perks that come with the card.

To save in accommodations, you can oftentimes save by booking a room in a hostel. Although in some places in the world, hostels might have a bad rep, in Europe and especially in Germany, hostels are totally safe and equipped to provide what you need. Booking well in advance and during off-peak seasons also helps.

For those wanting to treat themselves on vacation, you can always make the trip as expensive as you wish, for example by visiting one of the city’s Michelin-star restaurants. Either way, just remember to enjoy your time in Dusseldorf.

Castle Tower and St. Lambertus Church
Castle Tower and St. Lambertus Church

Things To Do In Dusseldorf

Those in search of experiencing a mix of old and new in one German city will greatly enjoy Dusseldorf. Here you’ll find bankers busily walking around in suits right next to people from all kinds of walks of life.

Dusseldorf is a big hub for international business and finance but has also thrived for decades as Germany’s fashion capital. While visiting the city, you can find time to shop along the river on the Konigsallee and enjoy the region’s traditional cuisine at the restaurants on this street or refuel at any of the cafes to continue your exploration of the city.

The Konigsallee is often referred to by locals as “Ko,” so if you need help with directions to find one of Germany’s most elegant streets or just to fit in you can use that tidbit. 

While walking alongside the Rhine River that runs through the city, you’ll see the Altstadt or Old Town of the city. Here you’ll come across two landmarks that date back to the 13th century — the Schlossturm or Castle Tower and St. Lambertus Church. You can also book a walking tour of the area.

In the same area, you can continue walking on the Rhine Embankment Promenade, where you can get a little pickup drink or snack at any of the cafes lined up near the river.

Venturing slightly outside the city, just a short 10 km (6 miles) from the city you can visit the classy Benrath Palace. Its construction started in 1756 and was completed in 1773.

You can stroll around its interiors along with the ground’s gardens and parks. South of the city centre, you can explore Dusseldorf’s botanical garden, where you can learn about its 6,000 different species.

Back in the city, Dusseldorf’s harbour allows your imagination to run wild with the extraordinary buildings surrounding it. The city is also home to beautiful parks and gardens, as well as museums, concert halls, nightlife and much more. There are all sorts of fun activities and adventures for you to explore.

Benrath Palace near Dusseldorf
Benrath Palace near Dusseldorf

Where to Stay in Dusseldorf

the niu Tab – Located in the centre of Dusseldorf, this 3-star hotel is perfect for mid-range travellers. They have clean, bright and comfortable rooms on offer, an on-site terrace, restaurant and bar and there is even breakfast available daily.

Carathotel Düsseldorf City – If you’re after a luxury stay in Dusseldorf, you can’t go wrong with this swish hotel. Situated in the centre of the city close to all of the top attractions, they have lovely rooms to choose from and countless amenities to ensure you have a wonderful stay.

Centerapartments Marienstrasse – These centrally located apartments are perfect for those wanting their own space while visiting Dusseldorf. There are a couple of different flats available and they all come fully equipped with everything you may need during your stay.

City Youth Hostel Dusseldorf – Those travelling on a budget, solo or who are looking for a great social atmosphere will love this hostel. Offering both dorm beds and private rooms, they have an excellent location for exploring all Dusseldorf has to offer.

Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse more Dusseldorf hotels!

Dusseldorf at dusk
Dusseldorf at dusk

Cologne vs Dusseldorf: Which is Better to Visit

Of course, both cities are special in their own way and worth the visit. However, if time or circumstances don’t allow for both, then let’s decide if Dusseldorf or Cologne is right for you.

If you’ve dreamed of visiting the numerous historical cathedrals while also sticking to a budget-friendly travel plan then Cologne will accomplish that.

For those with a slightly higher budget, in search of impressive architecture mixed with nature all along the river, then Dusseldorf is for you. Dusseldorf brings a more modern twist to a typical big German city.

Choosing between visiting these two cities can be a bit tricky, but both cities have something different to offer visitors.

Are you trying to choose between visiting Cologne and Dusseldorf? Have any questions? Let us know in the comments!

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Paola

Paola is a writer for The World Was Here First. Originally from the state of Arizona in the USA, she lived in Germany before moving to the United Kingdom. Paola loves spending her free time travelling in Europe and sometimes ever further afield.

Comments

  1. I am in Düsseldorf now enjoying my vacations so I went to Cologne also to make a comparison, although is cheaper and more cosmopolitan. I prefer Düsseldorf because it has an extraordinary life style, elegant boulevards and tasty food. People is nice and posh. It looks cleaner and safer.

    Reply
  2. I will be going to Dusseldorf tomorrow on vacation. I hope to come back here and write my experience. I hope it will be worth it.

    Reply

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