Now what does a South African know about the former capital of West Germany, you might ask? Well this South African (and her British hubby) spent almost four years living in Bonn and – trust us – we did nearly every activity that you can think of in this slightly sleepy city. So, if you’re looking for a tried-and-tested list of the best things do in Bonn, Germany, you’re at the right place.
Why choose Bonn?
Now we’re not sure of your motivations to visit Bonn. Perhaps you’re planning a side-trip to neighbouring Cologne, or have a few days in Frankfurt. Maybe you’re a total Beethoven fiend, and want to see the birthplace of this German maestro. Regardless of your motivation, here are a few good reasons you should pick this riverside town for your next trip:
- It’s a great base for anyone remotely outdoorsy. Think amazing hiking trails, time spent biking along the river or just fishing, kayaking or picnicking in the huge botanical parks.
- Bonn is a museum-lover’s dream. They even have a street called ‘Museum Mile’ because there are just so many of them available to visit
- It gives you a great base to explore much of the surrounding region – from fantastical castles like Burg Eltz, or the first towns of the Moselle wine region, or up to cool, trendy Cologne.
- It’s a big city with a small town feel. You have all the major amenities – great public transport and infrastructure, all the key shops you need, but yet it’s small enough to walk to most places.
Top 10 things to do in Bonn
In case you’re not keen to read this entire (painstakingly researched and much-loved) article on what to do in Bonn, here are ten of the best attractions to add to your Bonn itinerary.
- Hang around the Beethoven Haus
- Hike up to the Drachensfels castle and ruins
- Take a riverside bicycle ride
- Check out the beer gardens
- Cruise along the Rhein (Rhine) river
- Saunter the streets of the old town
- Hike in the Siebengebirge
- Go museum hopping
- Try the local brews at Bonnsch
- Go to the Botanical Gardens and the Poppelsdorf Palace
Hang around the Beethoven Haus
Now you might not have known this since Beethoven’s life just seems so entwined with Vienna, but he started his life in Bonn! The house where he was born in 1770 has been beautifully preserved and turned into a museum celebrating his music and his life, with heaps of different fascinating artefacts.
Dog-eared music books, old instruments and fascinating letters are encased in glass around the different rooms of the building, where you can walk unguided. It’s a fantastic look into the German wunderkind’s humble beginnings.
It also has frequent shows, and a music room to transport you into a sonata-fuelled trance.
Location: Bonngasse 20, 53111 Bonn, Germany
Open: 10.00am – 18.00pm daily (including Sundays)
Hike (or take the train) up to the Drachensfels castle and ruins
This recommendation is an absolute winner. Whenever we had guests – young or old – we would take them up the hill to the spectacular viewpoints up top at the Drachensfels (Dragons Rock) ruins.
Essentially you can either hike (it’s a pretty steep 45 min walk) or take the world’s oldest rack railway up to the top of the Drachensfels hill, located high above the hamlet of Konigswinter (on the far banks of the river). At the top you’ll have the chance to walk a little further up and see some old ruins of a Romanesque castle, or sit in the restaurant (it has indoor and outdoor seating) to have a bratwurst and chips, or simply stand at the railings, looking out at the amazing vistas of the Rhine Valley laid out before you.
If you walk down a little, you can also visit Schloss Drachenburg, a castle that looks pretty old but was actually only constructed in the 19th century by German stockbrocker Stephan van Sarter. It’s a slightly eclectic place but worth a visit, especially around Christmas where it has amazing light shows and sometimes a small Christmas market!
We usually prefer taking the railway, the Drachensfelsbahn, since it feels so fun and vintage, and you get some great views from the windows. That said, you could always buy the one way ticket up and walk down, since there are a few small local restaurants where you could stop for a hot chocolate or a glass of local Riesling (white wine).
Location: Drachenfelsstraße 53, 53639 Königswinter, Germany
Cost: Adults 10 EUR (11.10 USD /8.35 GBP) per way / Children 5 EUR one way (5.50 USD /4.15 GBP)
Read next: 21 iconic landmarks in Germany.
Take a riverside bike ride
The Rhein (or Rhine) river is really the lifeblood of the region, as it runs through so many towns in the North Rhine Westphalia area. For Bonn, so many things happen on the shores of the river itself.
You’ll find people fishing, you’ll find the best beer gardens, young couples canoodling in the forests alongside it and so many people cycling along the length of it; either for sport, enjoyment or just to commute.
You can easily hire a bike at the central Radstation for a small fee of 10 EUR (11.10 USD /8.35 GBP) per day and ride your bike all the way to Linz.
Check out the many (many!) beer gardens
Beer is the tipple of choice for most locals in Bonn; just like Cologne they are incredibly passionate about their brews, and also how they relax while drinking them.
This means that Bonn has some amazing beer gardens (or biergartens), dotted all over the city but particularly with sweeping views of the Rhine. We’ve listed a few of our favourites below.
However, a few things to keep in mind. Firstly, people like to share tables at German beer gardens – don’t be surprised to be paired with some random strangers who want to chat to you. Then, it’s usually self-service – you’ll pay a deposit for your glass (pfand), which you get back when you return it.
And, lastly, in some beer gardens or beer houses (brauhaus), the waiters will come round and fill your glass unprompted! Usually they’ll put a little mark on your coaster to identify how many you’ve had. Don’t want any more of the golden stuff? Just put your coaster atop your glass.
Alter Zoll: One of the most famous, this beer garden is right by the university building in town, so quite convenient for most. It has lots of tables, quick service and has some basic food like salads and sausages.
Am Schaumburger Hof: Now, disclaimer: We lived at Am Schaumburger Hof for 2 years! Yes, our apartment was directly behind the beer garden so we spent an extraordinary amount of time there. That said, the place has the best flammkuchen (tarte flambee) in town – try the fig and cheese variant – and an epic view over the river.
Bastei: Just a hop, skip and a jump (okay, maybe 200m) further down the road from Am Schaumburger Hof is the more upmarket Bastei. Bastei has a few different sections – the downstairs beer garden, the indoor high-end restaurant and the upstairs pizzeria. All of them are fantastic. Chow down on a pork schnitzel and a glass of cold Bonnsch and you could easily stay there for hours…
Cruise along the Rhein river
While we’re on the subject of beer gardens, it’s well worth clubbing your beer garden and cruising experience together. The main ticket offices for the river cruise liners are based at Alter Zoll and then the Bastei, making it easy to drop your glass and get onto the boat…
We’d probably recommend you try a round trip too. One of the best routes is to buy your ticket at the ticket office near Alter Zoll, and cruise down the river to Konigswinter. From here, you disembark and can take the railway up to Drachenfels, ticking off most of your Bonn bucket list items in one shot!
The only caveat is that you either need to take the boat back to the start, or call a taxi to return you to your hotel.
Alternatively, buy an all-day pass on the Koln Dusseldorfer, which lets you get on and off at over 40 stops along the Rhine and Moselle Rivers. You can buy that in advance here.
Head out to the Burg Eltz Castle
It’s a bit of a day trip out of Bonn (an hour or so) but it’s well worth the chance to see one of Instagram’s new favourite castles and former Germany Hidden Gem, Burg Eltz. Well, we loved it before it was famous on the ‘gram; nowadays it does get a little busy because of its fame…
850 year old Burg Eltz is one of the huge remaining castles near Bonn, at the start of the Mosel wine valley. It is still held by the same private family (their picture is even on display in one of the rooms), and so they rely on the tourism to keep the estate running.
The 40 minute tour of Burg Eltz is pretty fascinating – it shows you most of the rooms (except the one wing where the family still lives!), and keeps much of it as it was in more medieval times. We particularly love the kitchen, and the detailing on the childrens’ rooms.
Even if you’re not a fan of tours, you can just walk out to see Burg Eltz from outside. It’s a wonderful stroll of about 15-20 minutes through lush, leafy forests before you turn a corner and the castle is just suddenly before you, displayed in all its glory!
The tours run every 10-15 minutes in German and English, with French or Dutch tours sometimes taking place. Other languages like Chinese or Portuguese are catered to with a translation handout.
Viewing the castle from outside, or from the beer garden is entirely free, but the tours cost 11 EUR (12.25 USD / 9.15 GBP) for adults.
Location: 56294 Wierschem, Germany
Open: Please check their website for the latest times – Burg Eltz is often closed for winter, and also operates different hours in spring and summer.
Bonus tip: If you have the time, head over to nearby Cochem. The ‘official’ start of the Mosel wine route, this delightful riverside town is a great place to have lunch and walk along the water.
Saunter the streets of the old town
The city of Bonn is eminently walkable, and you really can see most of the key sights by just wandering around.
Go see the magnificent Catholic Church of the Bonn Minster (built in the 13th century) – it sometimes has guided tours if open. Then, walk around the corner to check out the soaring figure of Beethoven on Munsterplatz, before heading a few streets over to the main market square, Markplatz.
Here you’ll find the pristine white façade of the Altes Rathaus (town hall), and some food and produce stalls dotted around the perimeter. You’ll be able to get fruit and veg for an absolute steal but if you want our recommendation? Try the Indian plate at the Taste of India stall – your stomach will thank you for it!
The market is open every day from 8.00am to 18.30pm except Sundays.
Hike in the Siebengebirge
Now Bonn is a hiker’s paradise. As avid hikers ourselves, we spent many a weekend tramping the trails around the city and also further afield. You can attempt some easy ones in the Siebengebirge (Seven Mountains) or head a little further out of town if you’re looking for a challenge.
We would use the Komoot app, pick a trail and head out!
Actually our favourite is the Red Wine Trail, which you do from nearby Altenahr. And yes – you stop along the way to sample red wine from different vineyards. Bottoms up!
Try the local brews at Bonnsch
It’s really the best brauhaus (brewery) in town so a) don’t miss it and b) book ahead! This very lively restaurant is a great way to meet other people in Bonn, since you’ll find German locals and expats mixing at the bar and downing their pints.
Bonnsch’s service can leave a little bit to be desired, but the food and the atmosphere are well worth it!
Location: Sterntorbrücke 4, 53111 Bonn, Germany
Go museum hopping
Bonn loves museums so much that one of its major streets is dubbed ‘Museums Mile’! If you’re a history or art buff, you’ll be spoiled for choice in the city and there are even specialist exhibitions and events taking place, so it’s worth checking the relevant museum websites for your stay. Here are a few of the best:
Haus der Geschichte
Loosely translated as the ‘house of stories’, this museum is a showcase of modern Germany history, kicking off from the end of the Second World War. It’s a fascinating look at impact of the war on German society, but also really delves into more social and popular culture; like a 1950’s cinema and former Chancellor Adenauer’s old Mercedes. Actually, to keep the museum current they update it quite frequently.
A little different to your standard museum, this museum focusses on zoology! Named after Bonn scientist and explorer, Alexander Koenig, it looks at different environments and its fauna and flora, including the arctic, rainforests and the African plains. This museum is great for kids as the main exhibit, Our Blue Planet, explains difficult ecological concepts in a pretty simple way.
Another slightly off-the-wall museum, the Arithmeum focusses on mathematics, science and technology. There are nearly 5, 000 adding machines and 500 old computers that were used to run mathematical equations. If you love numbers, you will love this museum; especially the very historic Enigma cipher, used during World War II.
Rheinisches Landesmuseum Bonn
This one looks at the artistic history of the middle Rhineland, starting at the Neanderthals and coming to current day.
Keen for even more? Other notable stops include the Deutsches Museum Bonn, the Bundeskunsthalle and the modern art and work of August Macke at the Kunstmuseum Bonn; all neatly tucked away in the same area!
Take a day trip to Cologne
It’s almost like Bonn’s big brother, although there isn’t too much rivalry between the two cities (unlike Cologne and Dusseldorf)!
Cologne or ‘Koeln’ as it’s known to German speakers, is a cool, bustling city to the north of Bonn that you can reach within 30 minutes by car or fast train. It’s definitely one of the best day trips from Bonn.
There is quite a bit to do in the city – shopping down the huge shopping streets of Breite or Hohestrasse, checking out the Chocolate Museum, or doing a Cologne Brewery Tour.
We’ve actually written a comprehensive article on what you should do on your day trip to Cologne – read it here. But, if you want the highlights, it would include a trip to the very famous Koelner Dom, a quick stop at the Love Lock Bridge, a wander around the Fischmarkt area and visiting the home of cologne itself, 4711.
Go to the Botanical Gardens and the Poppelsdorf Palace
We’ll be honest here: these are not the world’s most fascinating botanical gardens. Perhaps we are a little jaded, since we’ve seen the epic gardens of places like Singapore, or Cape Town, and the Bonn ones just don’t measure up.
That said, the botanical gardens are not to be sniffed at – you’ll stroll around five greenhouses crammed with beautiful ferns, cacti and even tropical plants. There are also some smaller flower beds with orchids that, when in bloom, are magnificent.
The gardens are in the grounds of the Baroque-style masterpiece, the Poppelsdorf Palace. The palace only dates back to 1715 because the previous castle that stood there was bombed during the 1580’s war. Take a look at the central courtyard, or get a few shots outside this French-style building.
Location: Meckenheimer Allee 171, 53115 Bonn, Germany
Want to see a ‘real’ palace? You just need to head a few kilometres outside of Bonn to neighbouring town, Bruhl. Here you’ll find the Rococo-inspired Augustusburg Palace. It’s a great place to walk around or, if you time it right, you can watch a classical concert in action in the central nave!
Bonus: Seasonal Bonn attractions
See the cherry blossoms in bloom
Bonn is pretty Insta-famous for having some of the most beautiful cherry blossom trees in the world. If you head over to Heerstrasse in the Altstadt (Old Town) around springtime, you’ll see towering trees above the streets, absolutely creaking with the amount of candyfloss pink cherry blossoms on their branches.
It’s a very festive time in Bonn since all the locals also come out to see the trees in bloom – some years there is even a local festival where residents bring out old clothes and furniture, to have a huge second-hand sale on the streets, along with delicious food and crafts to purchase.
Wind your way around the Weihnachtsmarkt
Now Germany is really the epicentre of winter European Christmas markets, and Bonn is no different. The entire city centre is taken over by a massive Christmas market from the beginning of the December, with mulled wine, zimtbrezeln, churros and so much more on offer. There are fairground rides, lots of people making merriment and a super festive atmosphere.
If you’re able to go a little further afield, there is an even better Christmas market in nearby Siegburg.
Siegburg is a medieval market, not only hawking wares from a more traditional time but even boasting the authentic dress and costumes from this era. There is no electricity (everything is lit by candlelight and lanterns), it has traditional entertainment like jesters and all the wares use traditional methods from the Middle Ages.
How to get around Bonn
As we’ve said before, Bonn isn’t the hugest city so it’s relatively walkable. That said, if you want to venture out of the city centre, you’ll need to organize some transport.
By bus: Bonn has a very solid bus network, run by company SWB. You’ll find bus stops frequently, with the timetables clearly published. Not sure? The SWB app (available in English) give you accurate timings on the next bus and can help you plan your journey. Download it on the Play Store or the Apple iTunes Store.
By tram/metro: The tram is also run by SWB and is quite easy to navigate. Check out the timetable and plan here. That said, you can’t pay for tickets with credit card in the stations so either carry cash or buy them online.
By bike: The easiest way to rent a bike is to go to the ‘Radstation’ (Bike station) near the main train station and rent it for a day or two at 10 EUR a day (11.10 USD /8.35 GBP) You can also register with nextbike, which is a service allowing you to pick up a bike at various points, scan the QR code and pay through your mobile phone to unlock it.
By taxi: Bonn, like many other German cities, doesn’t have ridehailing apps like Uber or Grab. You’ll need to use more traditional taxis – either hailing them off the street (this is totally safe), calling their central number or using the FreeNow (formerly known as MyTaxi) App. Get it on the Play Store or Apple iTunes Store.
Getting to Bonn
The easiest way to get to Bonn is to fly into Cologne Bonn International Airport, which is handily based smack bang in the middle of these two cities! The airport is really modern, quick to navigate and well connected into the cities, by bus or train. James used to fly to London from here every week!
Where to stay in Bonn
Like many German cities, the hotels in Bonn can be a little dated at times. That said, here are a few good choices for this former capital:
Luxury: Probably the Kameha Grand is the most expensive, luxurious hotel in Bonn, albeit a bit of a unique one. Think huge red chandeliers in the reception area, black and white furnishings and a very modern take on historic buildings. If you have the cash to splash, we recommend eating in their sushi restaurant.
Mid-range: One of the old ‘favourites’ in Bonn is the Maritim Hotel. This is a good option in that it’s a huge hotel with many room options, but it can feel a little old school at times.
Budget: The Basecamp Youth Hostel is really the only passable option for backpackers and budget travellers.
What camera equipment and other gear do we use?
We’re living proof that you don’t need the most expensive gear to travel the world and take good photos. Here are some of our must have items that make it into the packing list for all our travels.
- Main Camera: Panasonic Lumix FZ1000
- Drone: DJI Mavic Air – Fly More Combo
- GoPro: Hero 7 Black
- GoPro Dive Case: Go Pro Housing
- GoPro Case: Smatree GoPro Carry Case – Small
- Packing Cubes: Eagle Creek Packing case
- Backpack: Osprey Farpoint 70
- Powerbank: Anker Powercore
- Phone: Xiaomi Mi 9
- Hard drive: Transcend Slim Storejet 2TB
- Laptop: Lenovo IdeaPad 720s
- Headphones: Bose Quiet Comfort 35
- Wifi Hotspot: GlocalMe G4
Frequently Asked Questions
Bonn or Cologne? Which should I choose?
Chocolate or Vanilla? No, we’re kidding. Bonn is better if you’re looking for a quieter, more historical city that is smaller and more relaxed. Cologne is party central with all the nightclubs and buzzing bars, plus, of course, the Cologne Cathedral.
When is the best time to go to Bonn?
Of course, this depends on what you want to see. The best weather is undoubtedly over the high season in summer, with temperatures soaring into the high 20’s (Celsius) for most of July and August. These months are great for chilling out at beer gardens and walking the city streets and along the river.
However, if you’re only looking to see those cherry blossoms, you’re better off in May or June. And if you want Christmas market flair, then early to mid December would be your perfect period.
What are some things to do in Bonn on a Sunday?
Like most German cities, Bonn almost closes down on a Sunday – all the shops are closed, and many of the restaurants too. On a Sunday, you could still head to the cinema, or bike along the Rhein river, or take a hike in the mountains. If you really need a shopping fix, just drive over the border to the Netherlands. The large outlet mall in Dutch town Roermond is buzzing on Sundays!
What did you think of our travel guide to the top attractions and best things to do in Bonn? Let us know if we’ve missed anything by leaving us a comment, or just get in touch!
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