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Practical tips for guests

Eating & Drinking

Tips are usually expected in Germany if you are served at the table. Around ten percent is considered most appropriate, but there’s no real pressure if you choose not to tip or forget to. Tipping is usually done simply by verbally specifying the amount you want to pay while handing cash to your server or indicating you want no money back. Note that cash is still very much the preferred method of payment – whether a place accepts credit or debit cards is usually indicated on the door.

Cologne’s specialty beer, Kölsch, is traditionally served in small, skinny glasses called Stangen to prevent it from going flat. This has the added effect of making it very tempting to stay for “just one more round of beers”. Unless you protest (traditionally by placing a beer mat on top of your empty glass), you will get continuous refills from the Köbes (server) and/or Zappes (master of the tap). Kölsch is a protected geographical indication and the pride of the city – the brewing style has even caught on in the United States due to its light and refreshing taste. But some New York City bars even have original Kölsch on tap.

LGBTQ Nightlife

Cologne is Germany’s queer capital: the Cologne Pride parade is attended by tens of thousands each year. Gay and lesbian nightclubs are strewn all across the city, but the most popular strip is on Schaafenstraße near Rudolfplatz. Of course, straight/hetero friends are also allowed to tag along.


The Siebengebirge mountain range is very popular for outings – highlights include Löwenburg castle and the summit of the Größer Ölberg, which commands impressive views in all directions and also offers a restaurant where hikers can rest their weary feet. For a short trip, you can take the no. 66 train from Bonn Hauptbahnhof to Königswinter Fähre and hike up the steep but often busy trail to the Drachenfels, passing Schloss Drachenburg and the Nibelungenhalle (where you can see Nibelung-themed murals and even visit miniature dragons in the attached reptile zoo) on the way!

If you’re feeling a need for nature but would prefer to save your feet the ordeal, KD (Köln-Düsseldorfer Rheinschifffahrt AG) offers a variety of trips and cruises up the breathtaking Rhine valley with its castles and vineyards. The MRB26 regional train (stopping at Cologne, Bonn, Remagen, Koblenz and going as far as Mainz) takes the same riverside route and is a thrifty alternative.

Public Transport

Cologne provides a closely-woven net of busses, subways and commuter trains (S-Bahnen). Additionally, the regional train service will take you to neighboring towns such as Bonn and Düsseldorf. Tickets for a single trip anywhere within Cologne are 2,90€ and can be purchased in every bus or subway and at major stations – make sure you get a ticket, as getting caught without one during a random inspection will land you a 60€ fine. As of 2017, you can pay using your debit card, as well as cash. If you’ve arrived by express train (IC or ICE), you may already have a one-day ticket for the Cologne area included in your boarding pass: look for the indication Köln + City on your ticket.

The Cologne transport authority also offers a rental bike service: After a brief sign-up procedure, you can pick up on of these bikes pretty much anywhere around town!


You can get free city WiFi at many locations throughout the city. Many restaurants, bars etc. offer free WiFi as well, especially franchises and chains. The University of Cologne offers free WiFi for guests called UniKöln-WEB. Note that, like most free WiFi options, this network is unencrypted and should not be used for banking transactions etc.

Of course, if you are employed by a university within the EU, you can use eduroam.


In summer, Colognians like to flee the city for a dip in the lake, such as Fühlinger See to the North, Naturfreibad Vingst to the East or the lakes around Brühl (such as Bleibtreusee, Liblarer See) to the South. The state of Northrhine-Westphalia’s lakes were certified as having excellent water quality in 2018! Many swimming pools, such as the Höhenbergbad, Stadionbad and Claudius-Thermen, also offer open-air swimming.


More, carefully compiled tips are to be found here in a pdf document.