Bonn doesn’t get much love from the tourist community. It seems to always be passed over for the larger Cologne, about thirty minutes north by train. Well, that’s a shame. Bonn, while smaller than Cologne, has a lot going for it, and the price differential between staying here versus in Cologne itself makes it – for me – a no-brainer to use Bonn as a base when exploring this region of Germany.
The city is charming, easily walkable, and has some world-class sights. This guide will attempt to do justice to Bonn, and to give you the tools you need to plan a trip here. Links throughout the guide will give you more in-depth looks at specific aspects and attractions of Bonn and the region. Make sure to click on them!
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While there is a Bonn/Cologne airport, it is relatively small and expensive to fly in and out. Hence, if you arrive, it will likely be by train. The Bonn hauptbahnhof (central train station) only consists of a few tracks, and is connected to both the city’s light rail (which is underground here in the city center) and the bus and tram systems on the street.
Unless you are staying in the south of the city near the United Nations campus, you’ll be within a half hour walk of pretty much anywhere in the city when you arrive at the station. And anywhere, including the UN, is less than fifteen minutes by transit.
The central portion of Bonn is very walkable. It is flat, just about totally flat, and has large sidewalks when zones aren’t pedestrian-only. There is some uneven cobblestone, but that’s just any old city center in Europe for you.
If you want to take transit, fares are by zone, though it’s a single zone pretty much anywhere in the central part of the city. The light rail is your best bet. It is underground through the center, and above ground outside of that corridor. Be sure to pay attention to destinations listed on the train (and the digital board with the next few trains listed) as not all trains of a given route will travel the entire way. Some will stop at the central train station, or end at a point other than the “normal” end of the line.
The light rail system can take you outside the city, as well, even as far as Cologne, although to get there you’re better off taking a normal Deutsche Bahn train, again from the central station.
Uber does exist here, but rides seem to be both limited and expensive, so it should be avoided if you can help it.
What to Do
The most important thing to see in Bonn is the Beethoven House. Beethoven was born here, and the house is now a museum that houses some amazing artifacts. The free audio tour is awesome. And if you have time, the house also has a concert hall connected for some amazing classical music. (Click here to read more about the Beethoven House.)
Perhaps you are interested in the fact that Bonn was the capital of West Germany before reunification in 1990. If so, the House of the History of the Federal Republic of Germany is a truly awesome – and free! – history museum, tracing both East and West Germany from 1945 through reunification. (Click here for a history of Bonn and West Germany.)
Bonn has a museum mile, of which the aforementioned history museum is part. There are art museums and the beautiful (from the outside, at least; I didn’t get a chance to go in) Museum Koenig.
Both the old town and riverfront are incredible to walk. Check out the Bonner Munster, a beautiful church, or the old city hall. Or have a beer or coffee at a riverfront cafe or beer garden. The entire riverfront here is a bike and pedestrian path and park.
There are a couple day trips you’ll want to do from Bonn. First, let’s start with Cologne. It is about a half hour by train, and trains run at least twice an hour. When you arrive at the Cologne central station, you’ll immediately be caught up by the beauty of the Cologne Cathedral. Go inside. (Click here to read about the Cologne Cathedral.) Other attractions include a chocolate museum, a Roman museum, and a museum dedicated to the ruins beneath the city, but I recommend a totally unique experience at Farina House, the place that originated eau de cologne. Yes, perfume. You’ll get to try a scent that has remained unchanged since 1709. (Click here to read about Farina House.)
For another incredible day trip, take Bonn’s light rail line 66 to Konigswinter, a small town on the Rhine south of Bonn. While the town itself is cute, the main attraction is two castles (one old and in ruins, the other newer and beautifully restored) accessible by funicular. (Click here to read about Drachenburg Castle.)
What to Eat
There is little special about the cuisine in Bonn, but there are some lovely places to dine. One of my favorite meals in Germany was at Gasthaus im Stiefel, just up the street from the Beethoven House. The kasespaetzel (basically German mac and cheese) is incredible.
My go-to coffee house here was Kaffeesaurus, just across the street from the central train station. It has a huge outdoor patio, great coffee, and healthy food options.
Along the Rhine, the Biergarten am Alter Zoll has good beer (get a radler for a mix of beer and either lemonade or lemon-lime soda) and a gorgeous view.
When in Cologne, make sure to order a kolsch, a tiny beer served literally everywhere. It’s just a must-do cultural experience.
Where to Stay
While I opted for an Airbnb (at literally half the price of a similar flat in Cologne) near the train station, there are also hotel options. If you choose American brands, the Hilton is along the Rhine in the old city, while the Marriott is adjacent to the UN campus. There is also a Best Western in the old city.
Other Useful Information
Bonn still has a number of government ministry offices dating back to the period it was the West German capital, as well as one of the largest UN campuses, and the World Conference Center. This gives the city a feel of importance, and there are some beautiful homes that arise from these things being based here.
As with other German cities, it is important to note that people here rarely jaywalk. Waiting for the green signal is the norm, although you are unlikely to be cited for not doing so.
When in the old city center, watch out for bikes. While on the more modern streets there are dedicated bike lanes, here on the cobblestones they will just try to dodge you with no warning.
English is a bit less common here than in Berlin or Frankfurt, but it is still relatively easy to get around without German. Most cafes or shops will have at least one decent English speaker, though I had to resort to my broken French when at a pharmacy.
Bonn doesn’t get much love from tourists, but it really should. My week spent here was incredible, both locally as well as getting out of town on a couple awesome day trips. At the price point relative to Cologne, it is an easy thing to recommend Bonn as your local jumping off point for the region.
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