One Day in Cologne Itinerary – Top things to do in Cologne, Germany

Germany’s capital of carnivals, Cologne or Köln is located on River Rhine with a history dating all the way back to Roman times. Cologne suffered extensive damage in World War II and only a small part of the old town survived, making Cologne a blend of traditional and modern architecture. Today, the museums, churches, galleries and art venues are the ones occupying the city. Cologne matches Berlin in being one of the most understanding and tolerant cities in Germany, and everyone loves the Cologne original, the Kölsch beer!

One Day in Cologne itinerary, Germany

GUEST POST BY ROMI R.
BLOG: Medium

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! The crazy Carnival days start 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, witness processions, parades, and meet many new friends.

Cologne Carnival
Cologne Carnival, Author: Harold R Cologne, Source: Flickr

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 is a time for Christmas markets. Cologne is famous for the abundance of markets and if you’re looking for a magical winter feeling, visit Cologne during Christmas time.

Cologne Christmas Market
Cologne Christmas Market

A few facts about Cologne

  • Cologne is home to Germany’s only Palm Tree Alley at the Flora Botanical Garden
  • Cologne / Bonn Airport is the only airport in Germany that has a runway for emergy landing of NASA shuttles
  • 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 means “water from Cologne” and has become a generic term for perfumes.
Botanical Garden, Cologne
Botanical Garden, Cologne, Author: glasseyes view, Source: Flickr

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. Seeing it all might take more than one day, however, here are some suggestions on the best things to do in Cologne, Germany in one day.

Start Your Day With A Great Breakfast

Whether arriving from the airport or by train, you will start your day at the Cologne central station. You’ll be able to see the Cologne Cathedral as soon as you step out on the streets. If you want to check in to a hotel first, Excelsior Hotel is next to the Cathedral! You can 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 the basic needs!

Downtown Cologne
Downtown Cologne, Author: Sergey Galyonkin, Source: Flickr

Visit The Cologne Cathedral

You can’t miss getting to the Cathedral as it towers over the city! The Cathedral contains what are said to be the relics of the three kings, the wise men. 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 around 600 years until the gothic cathedral was completed! 

The Cologne Cathedral
The Cologne Cathedral, Author: Leandro Neumann Ciuffo, Source: Flickr

You can see the history on the tinted windows, view the art and sculptures inside and the Cathedral is also home to the world’s largest bell, The St. Peter’s Bell. The best part? The entrance is completely free.

The Inside of Cologne Cathedral
The Inside of Cologne Cathedral, Author: Andrey Belenko, Source: Flickr

Spend The Morning in The Botanical Garden

Take the number 18 tram from Central Station and exit after four stops at the Köln Zoo/Flora station. You have a few options in the area, the Cologne zoo and aquarium are an option for those wishing to see animals, especially elephants since it is and the largest elephant park in northern Europe.

Elephants at the Cologne Zoo
Elephants at the Cologne Zoo, Author: Sergey Galyonkin, Source: Flickr

If locked up animals are not your thing, we recommend strolling through the beautiful Flora botanical garden. You can see the only palm trees in Germany 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!

Botanical Garden, Cologne
Botanical Garden, Cologne, Author: Jose A., Source: Flickr

Pick One of The Museums

Cologne has more than 30 museums to choose from so it can be a challenge to fit them all in your visit. Head back to the city and pick one! 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.

Philosophers mosaic at the Römisch-Germanisches Museum, Cologne
Philosophers mosaic at the Römisch-Germanisches Museum, Cologne, Author: Carole Raddato, Source: Flickr

Almost everyone loves chocolate, and Cologne has its very own Chocolate museum- the Imhoff-Schokoladenmuseum. If you’re looking for a unique experience, try the Farina Fragrance Museum – the birthplace of Eau de Cologne!

Imhoff, Chocolate Museum, Cologne
Imhoff, Chocolate Museum, Cologne, Author: dronepicr, Source: Flickr

Tour The Churches

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! Then continue to work off your calories with a tour of the churches.

Kölsch, Cologne
Kölsch, Cologne, Author: Jim Lukach, Source: Flickr

Other than the Cathedral, Cologne has numerous other churches. St. Martin Cathedral is the second-largest landmark in Cologne and rests on the remains of a Roman Chapel. Head down to the crypts and explores the Roman ruins! St. Maria has wooden doors dating all the way back to the 11th century. Check out the wooden carvings inside. St. Gereon has a unique dome and a mosaic of David and Goliath. Try to see all three, they are all contained within the walking distance in Cologne’s Old Town!

Great St. Martin Church, Cologne
Great St. Martin Church, Cologne, Author: Leandro Neumann Ciuffo, Source: Flickr

Cross The Hohenzollern Bridge to The Köln Triangle

Walk along the Rhine promenade to the Hohenzollern Bridge, the massive bridge crossing the river Rhine. Over 1000 trains cross the Hohenzollern Bridge daily, making 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, the Deutsche Bahn railway company is planning to remove them all.

Hohenzollern Bridge, Cologne
Hohenzollern Bridge, Cologne

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.

Köln Triangle View
Köln Triangle View

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 the Fischmarkt square. It is 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.

Promenade, Cologne
Promenade, Cologne, Author: ptwo, Source: Flickr

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.

Drink 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”!

A brewery, Cologne
A brewery, Cologne, Author: Sebastien Bertrand, Source: Flickr

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 and here are the hotels we loved.

Hostel die Wohngemeinschaft, Cologne

Hostel die Wohngemeinschaft

Richard-Wagner-Str. 39, Neustadt-Süd, 50674 Cologne

This hostel is spectacular! There is so many fun things to do, 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, you definitely get your money’s worth here!

BOOK A ROOM HERE

Excelsior Hotel Ernst am Dom, Cologne

Excelsior Hotel Ernst am Dom

Domplatz / Trankgasse 1-5, Altstadt-Nord, 50667 Cologne

One of the best places to stay in Cologne, this is a hotel for those of you wishing to enjoy a luxurious stay at the core of Cologne’s city center with the view of the Cathedral. The 5-star hotel 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!

BOOK A ROOM HERE

Motel One Köln-Neumarkt

Motel One Köln-Neumarkt

32 Cäcilienstraße, Altstadt-Nord, 50667 Köln

Affordable, comfortable and in a central location, the Motel One is a perfect medium for those who are not into Hostels but don’t want to spend too much on a fancy hotel. The staff here is absolutely lovely, 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!

BOOK A ROOM HERE

Best Day Trips From Cologne

Düsseldorf

While Düsseldorf and Cologne have this historic rivalry, both cities are worth seeing. Less than an hour north from Cologne, you can spend a day walking through the old town, drinking Düsseldorf’s dark Alt beer and compare 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!

Monschau

Just an hour west near the Belgian border resides 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.

Logistical Tips and Tricks

Organize your trip in five easy steps!

BOOK A FLIGHT!

Obviously, if you’re going on a trip somewhere far a way, you’ll need to book a flight. There is absolutely no need to worry about this, though, because with Skyscanner, you will be able to find a cheap flight anywhere in the world. And their website is extremely easy to use, so you will have your seat on a plane in no time at all!

BOOK A ROOM!

To easily find the best possible room in the city you’re visiting, just head to Booking.com. They have quite literally thousands of options, a reliable rating system and will always get you a great deal. On top of that, you can learn a lot from the comments people leave there, too. No matter if you’re looking for an apartment or an elite hotel, you’ll find what you need here.

GET A CAR!

If you want the ultimate sense of freedom while on your trip, a car is a must. Fortunately, there is a simple way to get one – just visit Booking’s Rentalcars and they’ll have your vehicle ready in a jiffy. Now you’ll be able to explore the new city thoroughly and, who knows, maybe even make a trip outside it.

INSURE YOURSELF FOR PEACE OF MIND!

Accidents, mishaps and other troubles happen to everyone. The key is to be prepared. That’s why getting a travel insurance is such a great idea: it can help you deal with any health issues, theft and even cancelled flights. World Nomads know full well about the problems that can arise on a trip because they are passionate travelers themselves. That’s why they can offer you the very best deals.

FIND SOMEONE TO HELP YOU GET AROUND!

Want to have some company as soon as you land? Through Welcomepickups.com, you can find a local to meet you at the airport and help you find your way around the new city. They can also set things up for you, give you some useful tips and be helpful in general. The whole project is a great idea and very well executed, so do go and see how these people can make your trip a more pleasant one.

MAKE SURE YOU HAVE EVERYTHING YOU NEED

Here are some of the top travel items you must bring to your next trip. These items will make your trip a lot more relaxing and you’ll surely get rid of some extra hassle.

Make sure to travel light, safe and stylish following our travel item guide for 2019.

Romi R
Romi R.
Travel Blogger at

Romi is a freelance writer originally from Split, Croatia, currently residing in Toronto, Canada. She started travelling at a young age but recently started travelling full time. She lived in three different countries and wants to spend her life living the nomadic lifestyle. She has previously worked in content marketing, lifestyle blogging, market research, PR and every writer's rite of passage-the service industry.

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