One day in Cologne – a city guide

With the spires of its impressive gothic cathedral towering above the cityscape, Cologne (or “Köln” as known to locals), is a fantastic city to visit, particularly for a day trip when exploring the Northern Rhine province and other points of interest. After living in the city for two years, I think I’ve perfected the art of the ‘one day in Cologne’ tour! So here is my (I think slightly unbiased) guide to the best things to do in Cologne, Germany, particularly if only there for just one day.

When to go

Travel websites might tell you autumn (fall) is the best time to visit, but personally I feel 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 over two years), visit in May-July.

What to do

Cologne Cathedral (Kölner Dom)

It’s the most visited tourist attraction in all of Germany, and for good reason. This gothic cathedral is one of the best things to do in Germany, and forms the epicenter 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.

Cologne Cathedral

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! The specialists are Baja bikes, who do a highlights tour, a private tour or even a street art jaunt across the metro. Book it here.

Love Lock Bridge

Now there are many of these all over Europe, but we particularly enjoy the ‘love lock’ bridge; Hohenzollern. Buy your lock in the train station (next to the Cathedral) and have it engraved with your name, before attaching it to the bridge.

love locks on the Hohenzollern bridge

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 and Goffel Brauhaus, as a minimum!

But if you have a bit more time, why not check out our more detailed overview of where to get the best Kolsch beer here.

Fischmarkt

The colourful facades of the Fischmarkt are enough to inspire anyone visiting Köln and offers the perfect midday stop during one day in Cologne. If you have time for lunch, 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. Plus, it’s perfect for Instagram shots!

Visit the home of cologne, 4711

In the early 18th century, an Italian living in CologneGermany, created a fragrance, naming it Eau de Cologne (“water from Cologne”) after his new home. 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.

Logo of Cologne 4711

Want a tour of the city? Try the FREE walking tour of Cologne offered by locals.

Looking for a more artistic area? Try the Belgian Quarter.

Keen on museums? Cologne has them in spades – we recommend Museum Ludwig, which hosts some great modern art or the Roman-Germanic museum.

Where to eat

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.

Peter’s Brauhaus

No visit to Cologne is complete without lunch 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.

Bona’me

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. It’s also located near the Rheinauhafen (riverside harbor) which offers fantastic views and houses some of the country’s biggest celebrities, including one of the cities’ most famous footballers.

Beef Brothers

It’s a tie for first place in the burger stakes, but I think Beef Brothers just edges out its competitor, Die Fette Kuh (The Fat Cow). My 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.

Le Moissonnier

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.

Rheinaufen harbour buildings on the Rhein river

Where to Stay

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 center.

BudgetDie 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.

For other places to stay in Cologne you can check the latest prices here, or get €25 off your first stay with Airbnb.

Good to know

CurrencyEuro
Local TimeUTC +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 PhraseDanke (thank you) and Entschuldigung (I’m sorry or excuse me)

Some handy tips

  • 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.
  • Travelling by taxi? Most taxi apps (Uber, Ride) are not available in Cologne. Your best bet is to download the Mytaxi app, which is widely used across Germany.

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