This guide to using Cologne's main railway station will help make sense of navigating a space which is constantly busy - it also provides insights into what to look out for when arriving and departing by train.
It also explains how to travel between Köln Hbf and both Koln/Bonn and Dusseldorf Airports by train, as well as how to access the city's Christmas markets from Cologne's main station.
Köln Hbf, the main train station in central Köln/Cologne, has a stunning location adjacent to the city's magnificent cathedral - complimented by the splendid glass roof which runs the length of the station.
However, Köln Hbf is smaller than many other hbfs in Germany (hauptbahnhof = main city station) which makes for an always busy location; both in terms of people using the station and the constant coming and going of the trains.
Nearly every time SMTJ takes a rail trip around Europe, we find ourselves at Köln Hbf.
That's because Cologne's central train station functions as a gateway when travelling across northern Europe by train.
The high speed trains from Belgium to Germany only take routes heading towards Dortmund or Frankfurt.
So if you want to head anywhere else in Germany, you'll usually need to change trains in Koln/Cologne.
Five things worth knowing about Koln Hbf - Cologne's central railway station:
(1) It isn't a terminal station, so most trains are pausing fairly briefly at Köln Hbf/Cologne Hbf on their way to other destinations.
So all of the gleis (platforms/tracks) have multiple departures per hour - it is this that can make the station a bewildering space to navigate for first time users.
(2) The entrances/exits at Köln Hauptbahnhof/Köln Hbf are at street level, but the gleis (platforms/tracks), which the trains arrive at and depart from are at an upper level.
(3) There are two passage ways beneath the railway lines that provide the access from and to the trains.
*You won't see 'A' and 'B' on the signage at the station, but these passage ways are marked A and B on the station map/diagram.
(4) So if you will be using the main entrance to access the station and have heavy luggage etc, don’t use the passage that will be ahead of you to reach the gleis (platform/track) that your train will be departing from.
Instead turn to the left on the main concourse, go passed the main ticket hall and then turn right into the other passage way; along its length you'll find the elevators (Aufzufgs) up to each pair of gleis (platforms/tracks) .
(5) Both passage ways have entrances to a food court, the ‘Markthalle’.
It houses a plethora of options for having a meal/snack before your journey, or for purchasing food/drink to take on to trains.
When you step off a train for the first time at Cologne's main station, Köln Hbf, it can be a good idea to take your time and avoid following the crowds.
What may not be obvious when arriving by train at Köln Hbf Hbf is that there are TWO main exits points from the gleis/platform track.
Both give access to;
However, if you DO have luggage etc - there is no need to follow the crowds and use the stairs.
By one* set of stairs there are elevators down to one of the passage ways beneath the railway tracks that leads to the exits.
These elevators may be behind you when you step off the train - or you may need to walk farther down the platform, passed the set of escalators to reach them.
*The other set of stairs lead down to the main passage way, which also has escalator access.
If you will be changing trains at Koln Hbf - before you exit the gleis (platform/track) that your train has arrived at, find the yellow 'Abfarht' departure posters that will be on the platform.
You may have to seek it out, but it will list all subsequent departures, including the next train you will be taking - and most importantly it shows the gleis (platform/track) number that the trains will be departing from.
If you're lucky your next train may be departing from the same gleis that you have just arrived at
Köln/Cologne’s metro system is called the U-Bahn, and it has two stops that are directly linked to Köln Hbf:
U-Bahn lines 16 and 18 call at Dom/Hbf AND Breslauer Platz/Hbf, but line 5 only calls at Dom/Hbf.
The U-Bahn entrances at Köln Hbf give access to both stops:
Eight Things Worth Knowing When Departing From Cologne's Central Station By Train:
(1) The majority of trains calling at Köln hbf are passing through the station - so each gleis (platform/track) has multiple departures per hour.
So try not to rush, it can be comparatively easy to board the wrong train at Koln hbf.
(2) If your train isn’t yet listed on the electronic departure screens, you can use the yellow departure 'Abfarht' posters - to check which gleis your train will be departing from.
(3) When you reach the gleis, your train may not be the next to depart - so don’t worry if a different train is shown on the electronic departure indicator on the gleis (platform/track).
(4) Double check that you’re waiting on the correct gleis, by looking at the poster the 'Wagenreihungsplan' - which will have all the departures from that particular gleis (platform/track) listed on it.
It also shows the zones, in which each coach of every train which uses that particular gleis, will be located when the trains arrive.
(5) However, before your train arrives it’s worth confirming this zone information on the electronic indicator on the gleis – the 'Wagenreihungsplan' poster indicates what is SUPPOSED to happen, but trains can arrive back to front.
If you have a reserved seat:
(6) You can use the Wagenreihungsplan poster, to check which /zone of the platform you need to be waiting in; for easy access into the coach/carriage in which your reserved seat is located.
If you haven’t reserved:
(7) The zone information will show you where to wait for easy boarding into 1st and 2nd class.
(8) It can also be a good idea to wait in the zone your train will use, that's furthest from the entrance(s) to the platform.
Getting away from the crowds not only makes boarding a busy train less stressful - it can also increase your chances of finding a spare seat.
Some of the long distance express ICE trains to/from Köln/Cologne DON'T call at Köln Hbf.
The easiest means of accessing Köln Messe-Deutz station from Köln Hbf, is to take a S-Bahn (local train).
They will depart from platform/gleis 10 and it's a 2 minute one station hop to Köln Messe-Deutz.
However, make sure your ticket is valid for the S-Bahn train.
On arrival at Koln Messe-Deutz station, the access down to the gleis (platfiorm/track) which the ICE trains will be departing from, is by the rear of the S-Bahn train.
However, at Koln Messe-Deutz the access to the ICE trains from the S-Bahn trains is not step free; there is no alternative to using a staircase.
Usually use Köln Messe-Deutz
The train services which typically depart from Köln Messe-Deutz station are the ICE trains on these routes:
Usually use Köln hbf
These train services typically depart from the city's main station.
Not that the fast ICE trains to Frankfurt Flughafen/Airport, Frankfurt (Main), Munchen and Stuttgart depart from both stations, but by entirely separate services; no ICE trains call at Koln Hbf and Koln Messe/Deutz.
Take U-Bahn line 16 (direction Wesserling or Bonn-Bad-Godesberg)
OR line 18 (direction Brühl or Bonn Hbf)
from either the Dom/hbf u-Bahn station or the Breslauer Platz hbf U-bahn station.
Take the lines 16 and 18 to Neumarkt as above and connect there for lines 1 (direction Weiden West or Junkersdorf) or line 7 (direction Frechen)
However, there are also direct U-Bahn trains to Rudolfpltaz from Koln Messe-Deutz station on line 1 (direction Weiden West or Junkersdorf) and line 7 (direction Frechen).
So if you’re heading to Rudolfplatz and your train calls at Köln Messe-Deutz make the connection there.
As Cologne’s Central Railway station (Koln Hauptbahnhof) has a great city location, it shouldn’t be too difficult to find a hotel within a 5–10 min walk.
What can be harder to find are hotels with above average guest ratings, that are also located adjacent to U-Bahn/S-bahn stations that have direct trams and trains from Koln Hbf/Haupbtbahnhof.
There are some good hotel options along U-Bahn Line 1 around Severinstr and Rudolfplatz, but line 1 connects with main line trains at Koln Messe-Deutz station and not Koln Hbf.
Hotels within 5 min walk of Cologne Central Railway station/Koln Hbf:
Excelsoir Hotel Ernst
Sandmanns am Dom
Pathpoint Cologne City
Money saving options with direct public transport links to/from Koln Hbf:
Hotel Merlin-Garni (near Koln Messe-Deutz station)
Spend a couple of days or more in Köln/Cologne and use the city as a base for exploring multiple other great destinations by train.
There are direct trains, that operate at least hourly to multiple other popular German towns and cities including Aachen, Koblenz (take a cruise down The Rheine or Mossel Rivers), Trier and Wuppertal.
Take international ICE trains, returning to Köln/Cologne late in the evening, and day trips between the city and the likes of Amsterdam, Bruxelles/Brussels and Utrecht are also feasible.
Every 20-30 mins local S-Bahn trains on line/route S13, which call at Köln/Bonn Flughafen station, will depart from platform/gleis 10 at Cologne's central station.
Look for trains heading to Troisdorf, it's a 15min journey to Köln/Bonn Flughafen station from Koln Hbf.
There is also an hourly Regio train on line/route RE8 that calls at Köln/Bonn Flughafen station on route to Koblenz.
(Though not all trains terminating at Koblenz call at the airport).
There are two options for travelling to Düsseldorf Flughafen/Airport by DIRECT trains from Köln Hbf:
(1) Taking the Regio trains to Düsseldorf Flughafen station
(2) Taking S-Bahn (local) trains to Düsseldorf Flughafen Terminal station; though worth knowing is that these Flughafen stations are in different locations.
By Regio Train:
The Regio trains depart to Dusseldorf Airport depart from the main station in Cologne every 30mins.
They're the services on line RE1 to Hamm or Paderborn and line RE5 to Emmerich.
There is a people mover at Düsseldorf Flughafen station that links it to the airport terminals.
The journey time by these trains from Köln Hbf to Düsseldorf Flughafen station is around 43mins.
By S-Bahn Train:
The S-Bahn trains depart from platform/gleis 11 at Köln Hbf every 20 - 30mins.
Line S11 terminates at Düsseldorf Flughafen Terminal station, which is located at the airport.
But the journey time from Köln Hbf = 1hr 23mins.
OR By Changing Trains at Dusseldorf Hbf Station:
Another more expensive option is to take an ICE or IC train from Köln Hbf to Düsseldorf Hbf; there are usually 1 or 2 x trains per hour.
The journey time to Düsseldorf Hbf will be around 25mins.
At Düsseldorf Hbf you can then transfer to the S-Bahn line S11 trains heading to Düsseldorf Flughafen Terminal.
Note that tickets valid for the Regio and S-Bahn services can't be used on the ICE trains.
Cologne/Koln isn't just a convenient location for changing trains, it's also one of the most interesting cities in Germany, so it can be worth spending a night or two here.
25 Best Things To Do (TheCrazyTourist)
Top Things To Do (Lonely Planet)
Best Free Things To Do (Tripsavvy)
Where To Eat, Drink and Stay (The Independent)
10 Things To Do And See (The Culture Trip)
This is one of more than 300 station guides available on ShowMeTheJourney, which will make it easier to take the train journeys you want or need to make. As always, all images were captured on trips taken by ShowMeTheJourney.