If you find yourself drinking an Altbier next to a table full of tattooed and mustachioed locals in the Belgian Quarter, you may have figured out one of the hipster hotspots of Cologne.
Read the full Hipster guide to Cologne on Travels of Adam.
As Germany’s fourth-largest city, Cologne is big but not overwhelming. The population is diverse and while the city is spread out, it’s a completely manageable city to discover with easy public transportation or even on foot. One of the best areas to spot Cologne’s many hip cafes and trendy bars is around Rudolfplatz and the nearby Belgian Quarter. Apart from that, much of Cologne is actually pretty cool. Here’s a peek into the hipster hotspots in what might just be Germany’s most under-rated city.
Top bars and nightlife in Cologne
There’s quite a bit of nightlife in the Cologne Old City (Altstadt), but don’t think that’s all you’ve got. Visit the Belgian Quarter, Ehrenfeld and around Rudolfplatz for more interesting bars and clubs.
- Sixpack, Aachener Straße 33: Cologne’s most hipster nightclub. It’s an after-hours club, full of trendy (and trashy) young crowds. Take note: there’s no sign on the door but you’ll spot it because of the giant reflective glass mirror and the six-pack symbol above the door.
- Barracuda Bar, Bismarckstraße 44: A club for your techno music fix, plus live music shows.
- Theater im Bauturm, Aachener Straße 24–26: While it’s a theatre for shows and plays, there’s also a bar and cafe out front often full of hipsters.
- Früh Brewery, Am Hof 12–18: Maybe it’s a bit touristic but you’ve got try the local brew. And what better place than in the brewery itself? Order a Kolsch!
- Herr Pimock, Aachner Straße 52: With a logo that’s got a top hat and a mustache, you can’t really find a more hipster bar if you tried.
- Grünfeld, Brüssler Straße 47: Yet another bar along Aachner Straße, but this one’s got an outdoor beer garden.
Top cafés and restaurants in Cologne
Kaffee und Kuchen (coffee and cake) is a German pastime throughout the country. In Cologne, they seem to have perfected the afternoon treat.
- Salon / Metzgerei Schmitz, Aachner Straße 28: This cafe and deli, which are next door to each other, is probably the best place to spot Cologne’s local hipsters. With wifi and spacious seating, quality coffee and a budget-friendly lunch menu, you could easily get lost for a few hours in Cafe Schmitz.
- Hallmackenreuther, Brüssler Platz 9: This bar, cafe and restaurant is über-hip. With a giant Pan-Am logo on the outside, and just on the corner of the always popular Brüssler Platz, the clean design on the inside and good drinks make it a popular stopping point in the Belgian Quarter.
- Cafe Sehnsucht, Körnerstraße 67, Ehrenfeld: This bio restaurant is famous for being a part of the slow food movement.
- Café Rico, Mittelstraße 31–33: Popular hangout on the corner of Rudolfplatz with a reputation as one of Cologne’s best brunches. It’s very gay-friendly and a great place for an afternoon coffee on the outdoor patio as well.
- Beef Brothers, Aachner Straße 12: A small burger joint on the popular Aachner Straße, the meals are cheap and tasty. There’s only a small room in the back for seating. If the weather’s good, you can sit out on the patio in front.
- Ständige Vertretung Köln, Frankenwerft 31: Located in the Altstadt, this bar and restaurant along the Rhine has hundreds of historic photographs hanging on the inside and a comfortable outdoor patio for the summertime. The Brauhaus was once a meeting point for local political leaders. Try the local Kölsch beer.
- Krua Thai, Brüsseler Straße 40-42: A fast but tasty Thai restaurant with take-away options. Perfect for a quick but flavorful meal in the Belgian Quarter.
Gay Cologne travel tips
Cologne is home to one of Germany’s largest LGBTQ populations. If you ask any German about Cologne, almost inevitably the first thing out of their mouth is that it’s ‘the gay city’. Somehow it got this reputation and it stuck.
The annual Christopher Street Day pride (in June) is one of the largest in Germany. Probably the city’s biggest gay event is the Carnival in February. Approximately one million people visit Cologne for Carnival and the costumes are really a sight unto themselves.
Regardless of the gay events and festivals, however, Cologne has some decent gay nightlife and a welcoming and friendly atmosphere. Much of Cologne’s gay culture centers around Rudolfplatz and the Belgian Quarter. Some of the more legendary and historic gay bars around Heumarkt (which is also where the summertime CSD pride festivities take place).
- Schaafenstraße: This is the street where you’ll find most gay bars and clubs in Cologne.
- Bastard, Friesenwall 29: This trendy, backyard bar and cafe is best visited on a summer evening.
- Bruno’s Shop, Kettengasse 20: Located on the Kettengasse, Bruno’s is Germany’s most popular store for gay books, magazines, DVDs and fashion, plus brochures and information on local LGBT initiatives and hotspots. Across the street is a small but friendly art gallery, Osper.
- Ex Corner, Schaafenstraße 57–59: Popular most nights of the week with a regular happy hour each evening. Best visited before midnight.
- Iron Bar, Schaafenstraße 45: With a daily happy hour, tapas and cocktails, this is one of Cologne’s more stylish gay bars. Unfortunately, they were under renovation when I visited.
- Katt-Winkel, Greesbergstraße 2: Where to go when you’re looking for a fun drag show!
- Die Mumu, Schaafenstraße 51: A gay bar and club for a younger crowd. Visitors here might get described as campy, which matches the outrageous decor.
- Rosa Winkel Mahnmal: This memorial to gay and lesbian victims of National Socialism sits alongside the Rhine River near the Hohenzollern Bridge. It was built in 1995, shortly after Frankfurt’s similar monument went up. The location was once a meeting point for queers in Cologne. The design of the monument reflects the famous ‘Pink triangle’.