With the spires of its impressive gothic cathedral towering above the cityscape, Cologne (or “Köln” as it’s known to locals), is a fantastic city to visit, particularly for a day trip when exploring the North Rhine Westphalia province and other points of interest. After living in the city for three years and in the surrounding area for over 6 years, and having had loads of friends and family visit us, we think we’ve now perfected the art of the one day in Cologne itinerary!
So, if you’re wanting to work out the best things to do in Cologne in one day, what you must see, maybe what you should give a miss, where to eat and most importantly, the best places to drink Kolsch, then read on…
And of course, if you’d like some other travel tips about Cologne or the surrounding area, then drop us a comment below or get in touch with us here – we’d love to hear from you.
Why go to Cologne?
We imagine that if you’ve landed on this article then you are already committed to spending at least one day in Cologne, but just in case you need a few more reasons as to why you should visit this city:
- Cologne has a huge amount of interesting history, from the old city gates, the beautiful old medieval houses, the fact that ‘Eau de Cologne’ was invented here, to the fascinating churches, including the Cologne Cathedral (Kölner Dom) which is the most visited tourist attraction in Germany! Although we won’t lie, don’t go to Cologne expecting the most beautiful city in the Germany, it was badly damaged during the Allied bombing raids of the second world war, but between the 50s and 60s buildings you’ll find some absolute gems.
- Our favourite thing to do in Cologne is to spend time in the German beer houses and beer gardens – wandering from quaint brauhaus to the next, with a belly full of bratwurst and the world famous Cologne beer, Kolsch, is the perfect way to spend a sunny day in the city… and of course that makes our Cologne one day itinerary but there’s so much more than that!
- Koln Karneval or Cologne Carnival is the most underrated street festival in the world (in our opinion). This week-long street festival that takes place every year in the build-up to Ash Wednesday, is essentially 7 days of fancy dress, alcohol-fuelled partying. We’ve no idea why more people from the UK don’t attend – everyone knows about Oktoberfest, but everyone should know about Karneval!
- And if you are looking for the perfect place to base yourselves for a few days of exploring the North Rhine Westphalia region, then there is no better home base to visit the likes of Bonn (the former West Germany capital), Dusseldorf, Aachen, the wine area of the Mosel Valley and so on…
The ideal one day in Cologne itinerary
- Morning – Cologne Cathedral and Ludwig Museum
- Afternoon – Love Lock Bridge, Lunch at the Fishmarkt and exploring Old Town
- Evening – Cologne Brewery Tour and dinner at Peter’s Brauhaus
Is 24 hours in Cologne enough?
In all honesty probably not quite enough, so if you can spare the time then we’d definitely suggest that you at least try to spend a couple of days or a nice long weekend in Cologne if you can.
Cologne isn’t the largest city at just over a million inhabitants – and although it’s the fourth largest city in Germany, the city centre is relatively small and so you can cram a load of things into a one day Cologne itinerary.
However, just in case you are able to spend a little longer than 24 hours in Cologne, then we’ve also added a bunch of bonus attractions and activities that you could add to your travel plans to create the perfect 2 days in Cologne itinerary. What’s more we’ve also suggested some of the best day trips that you can do from Cologne – so you have those as more ideas for ways to extend your trip.
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One day Cologne itinerary
Cologne Cathedral (Kölner Dom)
This UNESCO World Heritage site is the most visited tourist attraction in all of Germany, and for good reason. So, start your morning by visiting the beautiful Cologne Cathedral.
The gothic cathedral is one of the best things to do in Germany, and forms the epicentre of the entire city.
Touring the cathedral is free, and you’ll be astounded not just by the inspiring history, but by the beauty of the stained-glass windows and architecture. Considering most of Cologne was destroyed in World War II, it’s amazing that the cathedral is still standing today. Take your time here and, if the weathers good, spend time sitting on the steps, watching people pass by.
You can also climb up the tower of Cologne Cathedral from 9.00am to around 5.00pm which will cost you around €6 (6.50 USD/5.25 GBP). Although check out the times that you can access the tower as they alter slightly depending on the time of year.
Location: Domkloster 4, 50667 Köln
Open: Mon – Sat 6.00am to 9.00pm (May to Oct) and 6.00am to 7.30pm (Nov to Apr), Sundays – 1.00pm to 4.30pm
Top tip: If you visit in December then you may want to play around with your itinerary to make this the last stop of the day. There are some great Christmas markets around Kolner Dom at this time of year. And there is nothing like a glühwein (hot wine) and reibekuchen (fried potatoes with apple sauce) to keep you warm on a cold winter’s evening!
Your next stop for the morning is to visit the Museum Ludwig, which has one of the best modern art collections in Europe.
Founded in the 1970s by chocolate magnate Peter Ludwig, who donated 350 modern art works, this art museum moved into residence next door to the Cologne Cathedral in the 80s. It houses one of the largest Picasso collections in Europe and alongside this you’ll find countless works by household names like Lichtenstein and Warhol.
Tickets cost €11 per person (12.00 USD/9.50 GBP), but we believe it’s well worth it for the experience.
Location: Heinrich-Böll-Platz, 50667 Köln
Open: Tues – Sun 10.00am to 6.00pm, Mondays – closed!
If you’re not that keen on modern art and not sure that the Ludwig museum is for you, then why not check out the Roman-Germanic museum? Also set right next to the Cologne Cathedral, this museum is about the early beginning of Cologne, with a great collection of Roman artefacts.
Love Lock Bridge
Just before you grab a bite to eat, we’d suggest that you kick off your afternoon in Cologne with a quick visit to one of the most romantic spots in the city, Hohenzollern Bridge, also known as the Love Lock Bridge.
Yes, there are many of these all over Europe, but we particularly enjoy the ‘love lock’ bridge as it offers a great view back down the Rhine river too… and although you could do a Rhine river cruise (it’s actually a top suggestion in our bonus activities), there probably isn’t enough time to further enjoy the river if you’re only in Cologne for one day!
Buy your lock in the train station (next to the Cathedral) and have it engraved with your name, before attaching it to the bridge.
Location: Hohenzollern Bridge, Koln
The colourful facades of the Fischmarkt (Fish Market) are enough to inspire anyone visiting Köln and offers the perfect early afternoon stop.
The Fischmarkt as its name suggests was once the major fish market for Cologne, and set next right next to the Rhine river is only a few minutes’ walk from the Hohenzollern Bridge.
It’s also our recommended place for you to grab some lunch. Our suggestion; try the Herring Pot at Herings Im Martinswinkel, or treat yourself to an ice-cream cone at one of the nearby gelaterias, eating it on the river walls as you watch the boats go by.
Alongside the delicious food, this is also a great spot for the perfect Instagram shots! If you’re an Instagram fan like us, you’ll probably have seen these colourful houses before, with the imposing Great Saint Martin Church its backdrop – one of the twelve Romanesque churches in Cologne.
Location: Am Leystapel, 50667 Köln
Tour Old Town
Spend the rest of the afternoon wandering the cobbled streets of the Cologne old town (Altstadt), there are some really great medieval buildings and of course the remainder of the twelve Romanesque churches to check out.
Make sure that you visit the 14th century Cologne City Hall (Kolner Rathaus) – a highlight as you wander the streets.
If you’re interested in a guided tour of the Old Town, to help understand a bit more about the history of Cologne, check out this one.
Location: Rathauspl. 2, 50667 Köln
Do the Kolsch run
Like many cities in Germany, Cologne is known for its local beer, known affectionately as Kolsch and consumed in small 200ml glasses.
The city centre offers up a veritable feast of traditional breweries (brauhaus) – we recommend stopping at the Früh, Peter’s Brauhaus and Goffel Brauhaus, as a minimum! Although if you want to see a more detailed overview of all the best, we put together a full Cologne Brewery Tour guide.
For dinner, stop in at Peter’s Brauhaus for some traditional German dishes and a few glasses of the good stuff!
If you’d prefer a guided tour to show you some of the best Brauhaus in Cologne, then we’d recommend this brewery tour.
Peter’s Brauhaus Location: Mühlengasse 1, 50667 Köln
Open: Daily 11.00am to midnight
One day in Cologne interactive map
Where to stay in Cologne
There are some really great options for hotels and hostels in Cologne, but if you’re only spending one day in Cologne, we’d recommend looking at options that are close to the city centre. Here are a few of our best suggestions:
Luxury – Excelsior Hotel Ernst – an iconic hotel literally next to the cathedral, this is a lavish way to spend your time in Cologne and boasts two high-end restaurants, Taku (Michelin-starred) and French bistro Hanse Stube.
Mid-range – Hopper Hotel St Antonius – The Hopper group has a number of hotels in Cologne, all ideal options for a city stay. The St Antonius edition is a modern hotel in a historic building, close to the cathedral and city centre.
Budget – Die Wohngemeinschaft – Definitely the best hostel in all of Cologne, and ideally located within a stone’s throw of the hip Belgian Quarter district, and all its trendy restaurants and bars, ideal for your one day in Cologne.
How to get around Cologne
KolnCard + Public Transport
An absolute must buy ticket for visiting Cologne is the KolnCard. A little bit like an Oystercard or Travelcard in the UK, this Cologne one day pass will allow you to use the public transport during your one day in Cologne!
The trains, buses and metro (U-Bahn) in Cologne are fantastic. Easy to use, generally clean and a fast way about town.
Valid for either 24 or 48 hours, the KolnCard also gives you discounts to most of the major attractions, some of the brauhaus and restaurants in Cologne. And the best part… it’s not very expensive at around €10 per day (10.85 USD/8.75 GBP).
Most taxi apps (Uber, Ride) were not available in Cologne while we were living there. However, we understand that Uber is just launching in the region!
However, if you need to get a taxi, your best bet is to download the Mytaxi app, which is widely used across Germany. Although it’s good to note that taxis are not cheap!!
Or you could of course rent yourself a car in Germany! It’s definitely worthwhile looking at this option if you’re keen to check out the surrounding area as part of your itinerary. And of course, you can’t go to Germany and not try out the Autobahn!
For the latest deals on rentals, check out RentalCars.
Getting to Cologne
Travelling to Cologne is super easy and affordable with the number of low-cost airlines that fly to the Cologne Bonn Airport (handily smack in the middle between these two cities).
James used to fly from London to Cologne nearly every week for best part of two years, and with Eurowings flying between the two it’s a very reliable and easy route. Otherwise check out Ryanair as an alternative.
Wherever you need to fly from to Cologne, check out the best prices on Skyscanner.
The other alternative is to look at taking the train – from Paris and Brussels there are direct services to Cologne that take 3 hours 15 minutes and 2 hours respectively.
If you’re travelling from London, you can take the Eurostar to Brussels and then change – the full journey can be done in around 4 hours 15 minutes if you can time it right!
Getting from Cologne Airport
Our favourite, the easiest and a very cheap way to get from the Cologne Bonn Airport to the city centre is by taking the train.
The journey will take between 10 to 15 minutes, runs a few times each hour and will only set you back around €3 (3.25 USD/2.60 GBP).
Note: Make sure you get on the S13 or one of the RE regional services, tickets for the ICE trains are more pricey.
Alternatively, you can take a taxi from the airport, there is a well marked taxi rank just outside the arrivals terminal… but note that the journey will set you back around €50 (54 USD/44 GBP), so although more convenient it’s a LOT more expensive.
Bonus things to add to your Cologne itinerary
Rhine River Cruise
One of the best ways to see Cologne is from the beautiful Rhein river, the heart of Cologne. If it’s a lovely day there is no better way to enjoy the city than on one of the sightseeing boats that will showcase the modern buildings, Lindt chocolate museum and Cologne Old Town.
Alternatively, if you’re keen on exploring the UNESCO World Heritage site of the Middle Rhine – this is a great full day out, cruising the Rhine and Moselle rivers departing from Cologne. Check out that option here.
Do a Cycling Tour
Cologne is a very bikable city, and most of the key sights can be easily seen from the back of a bicycle. Rather than just renting one, we suggest doing a Cologne City bike tour!
If you’re keen to add a bike tour of Cologne to your itinerary, check out this one.
Visit the home of cologne, 4711
Over the next century, the 4711 fragrance became increasingly popular and alongside being part of the fabric of the famous city, is where the term cologne comes from. You can visit the flagship store, in place since 1792, near the Cathedral.
Try the ‘smelling history’ tour if you have the time. We actually really enjoyed it, a great rainy day activity to add to your one day in Cologne itinerary.
Location: House of Fragrances 4711, Glockengasse 4, 50667 Köln
Open: Mon – Fri 9.30am to 6.30pm, Sat 9.30am to 6.00pm, Sundays – closed!
Indulge at the Lindt Chocolate Museum
The Imhoff-Schokoladenmuseum, also known as the Lindt chocolate factory, is a museum dedicated to one of the best things on the planet… come on, who doesn’t love chocolate?!
Opened by Hans Imhoff in 1993, and in conjunction with Lindt since 2006, the museum takes you on a tour of the history of chocolate, from its earliest days when used by the Maya and Aztec people through to modern methods.
Entry to the chocolate factory for adults costs €12.50 on weekdays and €13.50 at weekends (13.50 – 14.50 USD/11.00 – 11.75 GBP).
Location: Am Schokoladenmuseum 1A, 50678 Cologne
Open: 10.00am to 6.00pm (Note: it can be closed at certain times of the year – check online first)
When to go to Cologne
Travel websites might tell you autumn (fall) is the best time to visit, but personally we believe that spring and summer brings Cologne into full bloom.
The beer gardens usually open around May, people start shedding their winter clothes and sunning themselves outdoors and the city comes alive. The advice from us (who were lucky enough to call this city home for three years) is to visit in May-July.
That is unless you are able to visit Cologne during the most fun time of year – during Karneval?! Dates for this change every year: Check here for this year’s Koln Karneval dates.
Alternatively, if you’re keen to soak up some of that Glühwein at the world-famous German Christmas markets, then you’ll definitely want to plan your visit for December.
Where to eat in Cologne
When in Cologne, it’s truly best to eat authentic German fare – think schnitzel, roast potatoes, pork and, of course, beer! Most restaurants have English menus but, in some cases, they might only offer German menus and limited English service.
It’s a tie for first place in the burger stakes, but we think Beef Brothers just edges out its competitor, Die Fette Kuh (The Fat Cow). Our favourite burger is the Ol’ Dirty Bastard, which includes homemade dill cream, Tyrrells crisps, red onion and gorgonzola, to name just a few of the ingredients.
Location: Aachener Str. 12, 50674 Cologne
Open: Sun – Thurs midday to 10.00pm, Fri & Sat midday to midnight
Many underplay the impact and significance of Turkish culture in Germany. However, there are some delicious Turkish options available across the city, most of them situated in the up-and-coming Mulheim area. Our favourite is – Bona’me. It’s an effortless concept – each guest gets a ‘card’ to load their food onto, and you visit different stations to order your pide or mezze.
There are a few Bona’me restaurants in Germany now (and 2 in Cologne), but we’d suggest that you go for the one located near the Rheinauhafen (riverside harbour) which offers fantastic views and houses some of the country’s biggest celebrities, including one of the cities’ most famous footballers.
Location: Anna-Schneider-Steig 22 · 50678 Cologne
Open: Mon – Fri 10.00am to midnight, weekends 10.00am to 2.00am
The most delectable (and budget-busting) restaurant in Cologne is undoubtedly French bistro, Le Moissonnier. Think haute cuisine with a twist; everything on the menu is cooked to perfection and accompanied by a cultivated wine list.
Every Cologne local will recommend this restaurant, and usually suggest you eat fish – turbot or tuna being high on the list. A little slice of Paris in Cologne, perfect to finish your one day in Cologne itinerary.
Location: Krefelder Str. 25, 50670 Köln
Open: Tues – Sat 12.00pm to 3.00pm and 6.30pm to midnight, Sundays and Mondays – closed!
No visit to Cologne is complete without lunch or dinner at a brewery. We highly recommend Peter’s – not only since it provides our favourite beer in the city, but since the traditional menu offers up a veritable feast of German cuisine.
Like many places, the service is very utilitarian, but the quality of food makes up for it. We’d recommend the “schweinshaxe” (pork knuckle, or ham hock) – go hungry, since the portions are huge.
Location: Mühlengasse 1, 50667 Köln
Open: Daily 11.00am to midnight
Amazing day trips from Cologne
We told you earlier that Cologne is a great base for exploring the North Rhine Westphalia area, and we didn’t lie – there are heaps of great day trips you can add to your Cologne itinerary. Some of our firm favourites include:
The former capital of West Germany, Bonn used to be a city teeming with politicians and diplomats, as well as the epicentre of the country’s trade. For this reason you’ll still find a city crammed with expats, all working at the large employers like Deutsche Post DHL and Deutsche Telekom (T Mobile).
We lived in Bonn for almost four years so can tell you that this smaller city really packs a punch. Sprawled on both sides of the mighty Rhein (Rhine) river, Bonn offers everything from some of the world’s most beautiful cherry blossoms each spring, to a plethora of fantastic beer gardens, great hiking in the Siebengebirge and castles and palaces galore.
This is a great day trip since most of the key attractions can be explored in a day, including a tour of Beethoven’s place of birth, the Beethoven Haus.
We love Bonn and so if you can make the time to visit, we highly recommend it! We’ve written an entire guide on the Best Things to do in Bonn here.
Cochem and Burg Eltz
Just 90 minutes from Cologne you’ll find one of the best hidden gems in Germany (although fast becoming an Instagram sensation), Burg Eltz castle. This soaring castle is only accessible by taking a quick walk through the woods making it quite the experience to tramp through the forest, turn the corner and see it in all its glory. Many people just go there to take a cracking photo or drink a beer (and eat a brotchen) at the castle’s terrace restaurant but you can do a very interesting tour which is available in English and running about every 20 minutes.
A further 20 minutes on from Burg Eltz is one of the first towns that form part of the Mosel (or Moselle) Valley: Cochem. Perched on the Mosel river it’s the first major town in this wine-growing region and a lovely little side trip as part of your Cologne itinerary. Cochem has an amazing castle, it has insane, almost perpendicular vineyards and its full of gorgeous little restaurants and shops. We love going to Cochem for a walk along the river on the promenade or heading to Café Germania or one of the small riverside restaurants to drink wine and eat zwiebelkuchen (onion tart!).
Maria Laach and the Laacher See
About an hour’s drive from Cologne you’ll get a two for one deal: a breath-taking Benedictine abbey (Maria Laach Abbey) and a volcanic caldera lake called the Laacher See or Lake Laach. It’s worth the drive just to walk around the abbey, which was built between the 11th and 12th centuries.
However, avid hikers can also do a round trip of the caldera – its about 8 km (5 miles), and relatively flat terrain although has a few hills that give you sweeping views across the beautiful lake.
It’s definitely very Instagrammable but, beyond that, it’s worth taking a trip to the Geierlay Suspension Bridge (Hangeseilbrucke Geierlay) in nearby Moersdorf for the thrilling heights. There’s even a stat that 20 percent of people who visit decide not to walk across due to their fear of heights!
Opened in 2015, the bridge spans over 360 metres and is strung up 100 metres from the ground. It’s a great experience walking across it and seeing the forest laid out before you but if you have the time, we’d also suggest you take a walk in the surrounding area since there are some great hiking trails in the vicinity.
Alright, perhaps Dusseldorf should be a little higher up on this list but if you ask any Cologne native they’ll tell you the two major cities hotly compete for ‘best city’ in the region! The intense rivalry is justified – both offer great shopping, lovely open green spaces and delicious restaurants. However, while Cologne boasts one of the busiest shopping streets in Europe, Dusseldorf’s Konigsallee (Kings Alley) probably pips it to the post. You can spend hours just walking down this lovely road, flanked by luxury stores and more quirky yet high-end boutiques.
Dusseldorf also has a large Japanese population (it’s known as Little Tokyo on the Rhine!) and so a number of fantastic high-end Japanese restaurants. Our absolute favourite, Sumi, is a little out of the way of the city centre but well worth the visit – try the volcano rolls or their avocado sashimi salad if you dare!
Hugging the border with The Netherlands, Aachen is one of the lesser-known cities in Germany but a great addition to your time in Cologne, and only an hour’s drive plus has direct train routes. The city is where Charlemagne built his imperial palace, making it his winter capital. While most of that structure has been destroyed, the chapel survived and stands pretty inside the exquisite Aachen Cathedral (Aachener Dom). Actually the building was the first in Germany to get that coveted UNESCO World Heritage site status!
Aachen also has a nearby town hall (Stadthaus) that’s worth a quick turn and some charming little restaurants dotting around the town centre.
Cologne Travel Tips
|Local Time||UTC +1 hour|
|Tipping||No need to tip in taxis and for restaurants it is acceptable to simply round up to the nearest euro or ‘ten’|
|Key Phrase||Danke (thank you) and Entschuldigung (I’m sorry or excuse me)|
Pickpockets! Unfortunately, while Cologne is a very safe city, you have to be very aware of pickpockets, particularly on the main shopping streets of Breite and Hohe strasse.
So what do you think of our one day in Cologne, Germany travel guide? Let us know in the comments below or get in touch with us if you’d like any more ideas for your Cologne itinerary.
Or if Cologne isn’t quite what you’re looking for in a European break, then why not check out:
- How to best spend 2 days in Paris
- London travel guide
- Spend a weekend in Budapest
- All the best things to do in Split, Croatia
- 2 days in Dubrovnik itinerary
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
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