Germany’s capital of carnivals, Cologne (or Köln) is a city whose history goes back all the way back to Roman times. However, it suffered extensive damage in World War II, and only a small part of the old town survived. Because of that, though, you can now find many modern museums, churches, galleries, and art venues all over the city. Along with Berlin, Cologne is one of the most modern, understanding and tolerant cities in Germany, and on top of that, everyone loves the Cologne original, the Kölsch beer! You can therefore be sure that one day in Cologne will be filled with interesting things to do and see.
GUEST POST BY ROMI R.
Plan your trip to Cologne
1. What’s the best time to visit Cologne
2. A few facts about Cologne
3. Top things to do in Cologne, Germany
3.1. Start Your Day With A Great Breakfast
3.2. Visit The Cologne Cathedral
3.3. Spend The Morning in The Botanical Garden
3.4. Pick One of The Museums
3.5. Tour The Churches
3.6. Cross The Hohenzollern Bridge to The Köln Triangle
3.7. Have Dinner at The Rhine Promenade
3.8. Drink Kolsch Beer in A Real Brewery
4. Where to Stay in Cologne
5. Best Day Trips From Cologne
6. Extra tips for visiting Cologne
What’s the best time to visit Cologne?
There are things to do in Cologne, Germany all year round. Experience the Cologne Carnival, one of the largest carnivals in Germany! This craziness starts on the last Thursday before Lent, which usually falls sometime in February or March. Carnival is a sensational time to be in Cologne as you’ll be a part of street festivities, processions, and parades and get to meet many new friends.
From May to October is a beautiful time to visit Cologne as the beer gardens open their gates and the weather is favorable. In July, you could be a part of Cologne’s Pride Festival, one of the largest in Europe! December, however, is a time for Christmas markets. Cologne is famous for its abundance of markets and if you’re looking for a magical winter feeling, this is where you need to be during Christmas time.
A few facts about Cologne
– With 1.1 million people, Cologne is the fourth biggest city in Germany. It is also one of the oldest cities in the country, being more than 2000 years old.
– This city is home to Germany’s only Palm Tree Alley at the Flora Botanical Garden
– The only airport in Germany that has a runway for emergency landings of NASA shuttles is Cologne / Bonn Airport
– Cologne University has mining tunnels underneath. The mines were built in the 1930s so the students could learn about the life of miners.
– “Eau de Cologne” comes from here. It literally means “water from Cologne” and has become a generic term for perfumes.
One Day in Cologne Itinerary – Top Things to do in Cologne, Germany
So, you are spending one day in Cologne and want to know what to do? There are so many things to see in Cologne that you will need a good itinerary to cover it all. Amazing sights abound, so there will be no time to waste. Luckily for you, you’ve come to the right place for tips about exploring this city! Follow these steps and you will have an absolutely magical time.
Start Your Day With A Great Breakfast
Whether arriving from the airport or by train, you will start your day at Cologne’s central station. You’ll be able to see the magnificent Cologne Cathedral as soon as you step out on the streets. And if you want to check into a hotel first, Excelsior Hotel is right next to it!
You can also have a quick pretzel at Merzenich Bakery or sit down and take some time at Funkhaus restaurant. Either way, before you start your 24 hours in Cologne, make sure to take care of your basic needs! That way, you’ll be fully prepared for what lies ahead.
See The Cologne Cathedral
As mentioned, the Cologne Cathedral is really hard to miss as it towers over the city! It is one of Cologne’s most famous symbols and contains what are said to be the relics of the three kings, also known as the three wise men who came to see Jesus immediately after he was born. With a legend like that, you simply have to go in and take a look!
Back in the day, the old cathedral was too small to take in all the pilgrims arriving to see the remains, so a new one was built. The Cathedral had to be large, so it could be seen from afar and it took 632 years until the incredible Gothic masterpiece was completed!
But don’t just stand outside – the interior is just as impressive! You can see various pieces of art inside, but prepare to be awe-struck by the sheer magnitude of this edifice. It should therefore be no surprise that this cathedral is also home to the world’s largest bell, the St. Peter’s Bell. The best part? The entrance is completely free.
Spend The Rest of the Morning Enjoying Nature
After the cathedral, hop on the number 18 tram from Central Station. After four stops, you’ll be at the Köln Zoo/Flora station. The Cologne Zoo and Aquarium are close by and an excellent choice for animal lovers. In fact, here you will find the largest elephant park in northern Europe.
If you’d like something more soothing, go for a stroll through the beautiful Flora Botanical Garden. You can see the only palm trees in Germany here or meditate by the lily pond! Dating back to the 1800s, the facilities are open all year long and they are well-maintained. It’s a Cologne must-see! If you’re in Cologne during the warmer months, do not miss a chance to take the cable car!
Pick One of The Museums
Cologne has more than 30 museums to choose from, so you’ll have to choose. Art lovers will enjoy the Wallraf-Richartz-Museum with a collection of medieval art or The Museum Ludwig for contemporary art. History buffs can learn about the city in the Römisch-Germanisches Museum, and if you’re interested in World War II history, visit the Documentation Center for National Socialism.
Almost everyone loves chocolate, and Cologne has its very own Chocolate museum – the Imhoff-Schokoladenmuseum. And if you’re looking for a unique experience, try the Farina Fragrance Museum – the birthplace of Eau de Cologne! In any case, at least one museum should be on your Cologne itinerary.
Find a restaurant that suits you perfectly
The busy morning of sightseeing will work up your appetite, so try the typical German cuisine at the Gilden Im Zims. Try a schnitzel or pork knuckle and don’t forget to top it off with Kölsch! Indian Restaurant Kamasutra is also a good choice, especially if you like this type of food, whereas Limani is an excellent Greek restaurant. Alfredo serves great Italian dishes, and Bangkok is the place to be for a Thai lunch.
As you can see, there are plenty of tasty options, so once you’ve had your fill, continue with your itinerary to work off your calories with a tour of the churches.
Tour The Churches
Other than the Cathedral, Cologne has numerous other churches. St. Martin Cathedral, for example, is the second-largest landmark in Cologne and rests on the remains of a Roman Chapel. Head down to the crypts and explore the Roman ruins!
On the other hand, St. Maria has wooden doors with impressive carvings dating all the way back to the 11th century. Finally, St. Gereon has a unique dome and a mosaic of David and Goliath. Try to see all three since they are all within walking distance from each other in Cologne’s Old Town!
Cross the Hohenzollern Bridge to the Köln Triangle
Next, take a walk along the Rhine promenade to the massive Hohenzollern Bridge. Over 1000 trains cross the Hohenzollern Bridge daily, which makes it one of the busiest in the world. Bask in a wonderful view, take your photos, and check out the love locks. Don’t bother attaching one yourself, though – Deutsche Bahn is planning to remove them all.
Cross the bridge to the Köln Triangle for the most spectacular view of the city, and all at just 3€ per person. All the best photos of Cologne on social media are probably from here! Take the elevator up and have a drink in the on-site Mongolian restaurant. Make sure to check the opening hours before you go, as they vary depending on the season, and if you wish to have dinner, reserve your table online.
Have Dinner at The Rhine Promenade
Head back over the bridge to the Rhine promenade. A perfect place to unwind along the river and people-watch. Take your photos at Fischmarkt Square, one of the rare places in Cologne with intact medieval architecture. Relax in a cafe surrounded by colorful houses or try the Kölsch beer in the promenade restaurants.
We recommend a Michelin-star restaurant that won’t break the budget – maiBeck FÜR DICH. If you’re looking for a top-of-the-line fine dining experience try Ox and Klee, the only place in Cologne with two Michelin stars! Make sure to reserve your table online, as you are spending one day in Cologne, you won’t get a chance to return if there are no tables.
Top your day off with a Kolsch beer in a real brewery
One of the most fun things to do in Cologne is bar hopping! You’ve seen the top things to see in Cologne, and now you’re ready to have fun. Real breweries are an important part of Cologne culture and the waiters are unique as well. If you stick to the old city you will find many. Some of our favorites are Sion and Peter’s!
If you’re willing to venture out just 5 minutes out of the old town, there is an awesome brewery called Päffgen! It has the best atmosphere even if you’re there in the winter, as they cover their beer gardens with glass and heat them up. One of the coolest hostels in the world is near the Päffgen brewery, the “Wohngemeinschaft”!
Where to Stay in Cologne
If you have an early flight there are a couple of options to stay near the airport, but if you’re spending 24 hours in Cologne, the city is close enough. Here are the hotels we loved.
Hostel die Wohngemeinschaft
Richard-Wagner-Str. 39, Neustadt-Süd, 50674 Cologne
Hostel die Wohngemeinschaft is spectacular! There are so many fun things to do – for example, on Wednesday evening there is an event called Mundolingo where it’s easy to meet people from all over the world. Each room is different and the bar downstairs is great to start your night of partying. Everyone is friendly, the hostel is close to the center and the value is incredible. No doubt, you definitely get your money’s worth here!
Excelsior Hotel Ernst am Dom
Domplatz / Trankgasse 1-5, Altstadt-Nord, 50667 Cologne
One of the best places to stay in Cologne, Excelsior Hotel Ernst am Dom is a hotel for those of you wishing to enjoy a luxurious stay. You will be located in Cologne’s city center with a spectacular view of the Cathedral. This exquisite place has a free mini-bar, a fantastic cigar lounge, and live piano music nights. The free gym and saunas are an added touch of luxury. For travelers who want the best of the best, Excelsior is a must!
Motel One Köln-Neumarkt
32 Cäcilienstraße, Altstadt-Nord, 50667 Köln
Affordable, comfortable and in a central location, Motel One is a perfect place for those who are not into hostels but don’t want to spend too much on a fancy hotel. The staff here is charming, and it is one of the best places to stay if you’re in Cologne during Christmas due to its proximity to all the markets! It has a nice bar, a great breakfast is served daily, and you will be reasonably close to all the main sights. An excellent choice!
25hours Hotel The Circle
Im Klapperhoff 22-24, Altstadt-Nord, 50670 Köln
25hours Hotel is a wonderful place to stay, not just because of its interesting architecture. It has a sauna and a great restaurant at the top where you can get some fantastic breakfast options. Furthermore, the rooms are fitted with real plants, plus you can enjoy a free minibar, too. The rooms are modern, well-equipped, and extremely comfortable. In short, you’ll love every minute of your stay here!
Best Day Trips From Cologne
Should you decide to stay more than one day in Cologne, this will be an excellent opportunity to explore this part of Germany. And there really are many wonderful options for a day trip, especially if you enjoy exploring charming towns and cities with rich histories. Here are some of the destinations you should definitely consider.
While Düsseldorf and Cologne have this historic rivalry, both cities are very much worth seeing. Less than an hour north of Cologne, you can spend a day in Düsseldorf walking through the old town, drinking the city’s dark Alt beer, and comparing it to Cologne’s Kölsch. See if you can make it for one of the Schneider Wibbel clock shows. Just like Cologne, Düsseldorf has its own Rhine promenade. If you’re in Germany during the Carnival festivities, you can party in Düsseldorf as they have their own festivities, just like Cologne. For the best views, go to the Rhein Tower!
Just an hour west, near the Belgian border, lies the cutest German town – Monshchau. Walk through the narrow cobblestone streets, explore the medieval center and don’t miss the regal Monschau Castle. Experience the beautiful landscape of the Eifel region and the Eifel National Park. If you like nature, Monschau is the perfect place for you. Christmas market lovers will especially enjoy it! The market snakes through the town streets and the market square, with an elegant Christmas tree in the center.
Bonn and Königswinter
Head south towards Bonn and stop by Beethoven’s birthplace where you can visit Beethoven’s childhood residence. Check out Bonn Minster, one of Germany’s oldest churches, or visit one of the countless museums. Enjoy a splendid lunch in Münsterplatz and head to Königswinter, just 15 minutes outside of Bonn. Königswinter is situated on the river, and it’s a popular summer resort.
The most transcendent part of Königswinter is the Schloss Drachenburg castle. You can get to a certain point with a car, and then you have to take a cable car or walk. Once you reach the top, you can see where Beethoven wrote his symphonies and experience the astonishing view of the mountains and the river Rhein!
Extra tips for visiting Cologne
– Don’t mention Düsseldorf – Visit Düsseldorf all you want but the rivalry between the two is very real. Try to stay out of it.
– You’ll keep getting beer– Unless you put a coaster on top of your glass, the wait staff will keep bringing you a new beer.
– Your beer will have a lot of head – Before you complain to the bartender, Kölsch is traditionally served in tall glasses with a lot of head.
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Romi is a llama coach from Split, Croatia. This sounds made up but it’s true. She lived in Toronto, Canada for about ten years, give or take, but she wasn’t working with llamas. She was working in PR, restaurants, daycares, one yoga clothing store. She doesn't know how she got that job as she has never done yoga at that point. She taught English in Colombia and Vietnam. Traveled the world for two years. Then she got into writing. Actually, she was always writing, but then someone paid her to write. Then more people paid because they saw she was making them money. Then it became a thing she does for a living. And here we are now. Specializing in travel, real estate, and digital nomad guides, familiar with SEO, and always ready to learn something new so she can branch out and take over the world.