One day in Cologne itinerary – the ultimate travel guide to how to spend 1 day in Cologne (including where to stay and what to eat).
How to spend 24 hours of Cologne? What are the must-see attractions? Follow this detailed travel guide to get the best of the city in one day.
Is Cologne worth visiting
Is Cologne worth visiting? Should you spend a day or two?
Köln is a modern city with a vibrant nightlife and a centuries-old history. The city is known for its stunningly beautiful Gothic cathedral and the local beer called Kölsch. And for you chocolate lovers, there is a Chocolate museum!
How many days in Cologne
From 1 to 2 days.
Overall one day is enough to get an idea of the city. Most of the attractions are clustered around the cathedral. So, you can easily tour them on foot.
My first trip to Köln was a short one – only for one day and a half. However, there wasn’t enough time to see all the museums that I wanted. So if you’re a museum lover, better spend at least 2 days in Cologne.
I also took a day trip to Augustusburg Palace Brühl. It served as a summer residence of Clemens August, the Archbishop of Köln.
It’s just a few steps from the Central train station and the cathedral. Plus, the breakfast is exceptional, featuring homemade Nutella and jam.
Stern am Rathaus – Best for families
The hotel is located right in the heart of the Old Town, 300m away from the cathedral.
9.6/10 Rating – See hotel images and 370+ guest reviews
Hotel Sandmanns am Dom – Best for couples
A charming hotel just steps away from the Cologne Cathedral.
9.0/10 Rating – See hotel images and 840+ guest reviews
Haus am Dom – Apartments und Ferienwohnungen
Fantastic location, just a short walk to the cathedral.
9.3/10 Rating – See apartment images and 770+ guest reviews
For more great hotels, check out the best places to stay in Cologne.
How to save money on your 1-day Cologne itinerary
KölnCard costs €9 for 1 day (€18 for 2 days). It includes:
- free access to public transport for 24/48 hours
- 24% discount at the Chocolate Museum
- 15% discount at the shop and restaurant at Hard Rock Cafe Köln
- 10% discount for purchases at House of Fragrances 4711
- up to 50% discounts off many museums, restaurants and shops
Museum card is perfect if you’re visiting the city for two days and want to see at least 2-3 museums.
The Museum card costs €18 for two days. It gives you free admission to all municipal museums. In addition, you can use the public transport system for free within the city (only the first day).
One day in Cologne itinerary
Morning – The Old Town
08:00 AM – 09:00 AM
Start the itinerary 24 hours in Cologne with breakfast at Merzenich Bäckereien.
09:00 AM – 10:30 AM
The cathedral (Kölner Dom) is one of the superb achievements of Gothic architecture. And how it could not be, as its construction took more than six centuries to be completed.
The building of the cathedral started in 1248. However, there were few long interruptions in the construction due to the lack of money or interest. After its completion in 1880, the cathedral was one of the highest structures in the world. In 1884 it lost the title due to the Washington Monument. Yet, it still has the world’s largest church facade.
During World War II, Köln was one of the most heavily bombed cities in Germany. The war not only flattened the city, but it also didn’t spare the cathedral. The latter was hit by 14 large aerial bombs that caused severe damages. Luckily they didn’t turn it down. In the post-war years, the cathedral was reconstructed.
There are free organ concerts in the cathedral during the summer period. The concerts are held every Tuesday at 08:00 PM.
The Treasure Chamber is outside of the cathedral, on the left side of the main entrance. It houses a rich collection of church relics dating from the Middle Ages.
The treasury keeps the Shrine of the Three Kings. It represents a golden sarcophagus that holds the crowned skulls and clothes of the Three Wise Men. The relic was taken from Milan by Holy Roman Emperor Fredrick Barbarossa and given to the Archbishop of Köln, Rainald von Dassel in 1164.
Other notable treasure is the Gero Cross (Gero Kreuz), carved in 976. It is the oldest crucifix north of the Alp survived till present time.
Climbing the cathedral tower
Standing in front of its two 157m towers, you can feel yourself small and insignificant. Just imagine the magnificent panoramic view over the river Rhine from the top of the towers.
There is no admission for visiting the cathedral, but you have to pay if you want to climb the towers. You can climb the south tower and there are 509 steps to the top of it. There is no elevator, so be prepared for a long climb. During the climbing, you will pass along eight bells. One of them is the 24 tons heavy St. Peter’s Bell (Petersglocke).
The entrance to the tower is outside the cathedral, on the right side of the main entrance.
10:30 AM – 10:45 AM
Heinzelmännchenbrunnen is a fountain that tells an interesting story. According to the legends, the house gnomes (Heinzelmännchen) were doing all the housework at night. In this way, the people were free to do anything they want during the day.
Unfortunately, all this ended when one day a tailor’s wife succeeded to see them with a trick. The gnomes got grumpy because they were tricked and stopped helping.
10:45 AM – 11:00 AM
This is one of the oldest city halls in Germany with a history over 900 years.
Great St. Martin Church
11:00 AM – 11:30 AM
Great St. Martin Church (Gross Sankt Martin) is the most beautiful of the twelve Romanesque churches. It rises over the little colourful houses along the Rhine river. During Roman times the ground, where the church stands now, was a separate Rhine island with a storehouse on it. In time the island merged with the mainland and it no longer exists.
The church’s foundations rest on a Roman chapel from the 10th century. You can still see the remains of the structure in the crypt of the church. Unfortunately, the chapel was destroyed during a fire. The construction of the Great St. Martin Church began in 1150 and continued till 1250.
During the World War II Great St. Martin Church was heavily damaged: the tower and nave were burnt to the ground. The church was reconstructed in post-war years.
Visit a museum
11:30 AM – 01:00 PM
There are a few museums that worth a visit. If you’re an art lover go to Wallraf-Richartz-Museum or Museum Ludwig. To go deeper into the history of the city, visit Römisch-Germanisches Museum. And if you’re interested in the WWII, choose the Documentation centre for National Socialism.
01:00 PM – 03:00 PM
Stop for tasty lunch at Cafe Riese or Manufactum brot & butter.
Afternoon – Eau de Cologne and medieval city walls
House of Fragrances 4711
03:00 PM – 03:30 PM
House of Fragrances 4711 is the birthplace of the famous Eau de Cologne and the modern perfume. The perfume “Eau de Cologne – 4711” is produced since 1700. Its name means water from Cologne. 4711 is the house number of the factory at Glockengasse during the French occupation in the 19th.
At the entrance of the shop, there is a fountain filled with perfume and you can dip your hands in it.
Basilica of the Holy Apostles
03:45 PM – 04:00 PM
Basilica of the Holy Apostles (Basilika St. Aposteln) is located on Neumarkt. It is built in the 11th century. The church has three towers, one of them is about 67 meters high. This makes it the third highest tower among the twelve Romanesque churches.
Among the treasures of the church are the Heribert Chalice dating back to the 13th century and the Gothic monstrance from the 15th century. The basilica also contains modern paintings by Herrmann Gottfried.
04:15 PM – 04:30 PM
The city wall was built in 50 AD shortly after the creation of the city. Due to its growth, the wall was later expanded to twelve gates. Nowadays only a few towers and gates remained intact.
One of the most impressive and important gates was Hahnen Gate (Hahnentorburg). It still stands today and can be found at Rudolfplatz. It was built in the middle of the 13th century and it secured the western entrance of the city. The gate was probably named after a citizen Hageno, who owned the nearby land.
The other gates which still can be seen are Severinstorburg, Ulrepforte and Eigelsteintorburg.
Finish the day with a traditional German meal at Peters Brauhaus or Gilden im Zims.
Things to do in Cologne in one day – more ideas
Take a ride by the Rhine cable car
The cable car is a unique way to cross Rhine River. The 930m long wire rope connects Rhine park (Rheinpark) with the Zoo. Take a ride and enjoy the unforgettable panoramic views of the skyline over the river.
Take a boat cruise
Discover the city on a boat cruise along Rhine River.
Try some gelato at Ice Cream United
If you’re visiting the city in the summer months, don’t miss the gelato at Ice Cream United.
Roman-Germanic Museum is an archaeological museum just next to the cathedral. The museum reveals the Roman history of the city. It is built in 1974 on the site of an urban Roman villa, whose remains you can still see in the basement. The Römisch-Germanisches Museum contains objects from the Paleolithic period to the early Middle Ages.
This museum is a must for art lovers, especially for those of Picasso. It holds one of the largest Picasso collections in Europe.
In 1976 Peter and Irene Ludwig donated 350 works of modern art to the city of Cologne and this is how it all started. Museum Ludwig is named in their honour. The museum contains great collections of Expressionism, Surrealism, Abstract and Pop Art.
Wallraf-Richartz-Museum & Fondation Corboud
This museum is a dream for the impressionist art lovers. It holds masterpieces from the medieval period to the early twentieth century. The art museum features some of my favourite artists like Van Gogh, Cézanne, Renoir, Monet, Manet and Caspar David Friedrich.
The Wallraf-Richartz-Museum is opened in 1861. It is named after two noble citizens of the city – Franz Ferdinand Wallraf and Johann Heinrich Richartz. When Wallraf died, he left by will all his absolute collection of paintings and coins to the city. The merchant Richartz was the man who donated money for building the museum.
Documentation Centre for the National Socialism
If you are interested in the World War II this museum is a must. The EL-DE Haus (NS-Dokumentationszentrum) is named after its owner – the wholesaler Leopold Dahmen. The building served as headquarters of the Secret State Police (Gestapo) from December 1935 until March 1945. Gestapo kept and tortured the so-called enemies of the Nazi regime in the basement cells. From there the screams of the victims couldn’t be heard easily.
Today you can still see the inscriptions of prisoners on the cells’ walls. These inscriptions touched my heart. About one-third of them are written in the Cyrillic alphabet from Russians and Ukrainians. There are also inscriptions in French, Polish and Dutch. You can feel the horror and the pain of the prisoners while walking through the basement. The atmosphere was suffocating, dark and creepy. In the courtyard, hundreds of executions took place at the end of October 1944.
Today the building is both a museum and a memorial to the victims of the Nazi regime. If you want to learn more about World War II, get the audio guide. Keep in mind that it runs more than 3 hours.
Imhoff chocolate museum
If you don’t travel with kids you can skip this museum. However, don’t skip its shop. Imhoff-Schokoladenmuseum is a chocolate museum, that takes you through the history of chocolate. You can see the process of making chocolate in details. In the museum, there are a small Tropicarium with cacao trees and a chocolate fountain, whose height is 3m.
The museum shop is located at the entrance of the museum. This place is a heaven for chocolate lovers. It offers a great variety of high-quality chocolates.
Schnütgen Museum is a medieval religious art museum. It is housed in Church St. Cecilia, one of the twelve Romanesque churches. The museum collection contains wooden and stone sculptures, masterpieces of textiles, gold, ivory and stained glass. Among the treasures is the expressive Crucifix from St. George.
Ten thousand love padlocks cover the Hohenzollern Bridge (Hohenzollernbrücke). Lock your engraved padlock on the bridge and then throw away the key in the deep water of Rhine River. Your love will be locked for eternity. You can buy padlocks from the souvenir shops nearby.
Cross the bridge for great views of the cathedral.
Overstolzenhaus is a magnificent Romanesque house in the city centre. It is built at the beginning of the 13th century. The house belonged to a rich family of merchants, the Overstolzen family.
Roonstrasse Synagogue is a synagogue in Neo-Romanesque style and it is the largest in the city.
St. Gereon’s Basilica
Basilika Sankt Gereon is dedicated to Saint Gereon. He is a military saint, often represented as a Roman soldier or medieval knight. According to the legends, Saint Gereon was a Roman soldier who was beheaded for refusing to sacrifice to pagan gods.
The church was built around 380 AD. However, most parts of the present building date from the Romanesque period in 1067. In the crypt of the church, you can see the tomb of Saint Gereon. In the churchyard, a statue of his head lies on the ground to remind of the sacrifice of the saint.
Church of St. Ursula
St. Ursula Church (Basilika Sankt Ursula) has the most interesting history among the twelve Romanesque churches. It is erected in the early 12th century upon ancient ruins of a Roman cemetery.
According to the legends, Saint Ursula and her 11 000 handmaidens are buried in this cemetery. Saint Ursula was a Romano-British princess. On the way to her future husband Aetherius, near to Cologne, the princess was captured by the Huns.
Their leader, Attila the Hun, fell in love with the beautiful made. He promised to spare her life if she became his wife. Ursula refused to him. In his rage Attila the Hun sentenced her to death and the princess was killed with an arrow. Her handmaidens followed this doom.
The goal of the Huns was to capture the city of Köln. However the night after Ursula’s death, Attila had a dream. In this dream, Ursula and the dead handmaidens appeared to him. The legends don’t tell exactly how they frightened him, but on the next morning, Attila gathered his army and left the city.
To express their deep gratitude for saving the city, the citizens of Köln erected a church on the burial place of Ursula. The most important monument in the church is the Golden chamber. Here lies the black marble tomb of the patron saint Ursula. The walls of the chamber are decorated with the bones and the skulls of her handmaidens.
The remains of Ursula’s future husband, Saint Aetherius are engraved in a shrine, that is also kept in the church.
Church of St. Mary’s in the Capitol
Basilika Sankt Maria im Kapitol is the largest of the twelve Romanesque churches and it dates from the 11th century. The church was built on the site of a Roman temple from 50 AD. The temple was dedicated to the Capitoline deities Jupiter, Juno and Minerva. You can still see its remains in the crypt.
The door of the church is one of the most important medieval works of art in the city. The two wings are made of carved wood in high relief.
In the west wing of the church, you will find one of the most bizarre decorations. Four bones of whales from the Pleistocene hang there from unknown times. Yes, you read that correctly, bones of whales. Maybe they belonged to some kind of god. Who knows after all?
Church of St. Pantaleon
St. Pantaleon Church is one of the oldest Romanesque churches. It is built around 980 AD over the ruins of a Roman villa, whose remains can still be seen in the crypt. Basilika Sankt Pantaleon contains the shrines of Saint Alban and saint Maurinus. The archbishop Bruno the Great and Empress Theophanu are also buried inside the church.
Melaten cemetery (Melatenfriedhof) is the city’s central cemetery. In the 12th century, the ground of the today’s cemetery was home for lepers. It was the largest hospice in Germany at that time. Today only the name of the cemetery reminds of that. The origin of its name comes from the French word for sickness “malade”.
In the Middle Ages, the place became a public execution site. Many killers and criminals were hung or beheaded here. The executions continued in the following centuries. The only difference was that people also started to burn witches on stakes here.
In the early 17th century during the witch-hunt over 30 women and girls were burned. The last executed person in Melaten was the church robber Peter Eick.
Till 1829 they buried only Catholics in the cemetery. The Protestants were buried in the Geusen cemetery (Geusenfriedhof). You can find the graves of many famous people here. The cemetery is the eternal resting place of the Farina family, among which is the creator of “Eau de Cologne”.
Find out more about the history of the cemetery on this guided tour (only in German).
People’s garden (Volksgarten) is in the southern part of the city. The garden is built on the site of former fort Paul, part of a Prussian fortress. Its remains still can be seen in the park. In the People’s garden, you will find a nice beer garden next to the lake.
Flora and Botanical Garden
The botanical garden represents a great variety of plants and trees, nearly 10 000. It also houses a tropical, a subtropical and a cactus house. The garden is open daily and its entrance is free.
If you want to spend the day among nature, Kölner Zoo is the best choice. It is located on the left bank of the Rhine river. Founded in 1860 it is one of the oldest zoos in Germany. An aquarium is attached in 1971.
In the Zoo, you can find also a rainforest hall with tropical climate, palms and free-roaming birds. Don’t forget to check the feeding times in advance to get the most of your visit.
Getting around Cologne
If you’re visiting the city only for a day or two, stay in the area near the cathedral. In this way, you can pretty much walk everywhere. You’ll need the public transport only if you want to visit the Melaten Cemetery or the Zoo.
The city has an excellent public transport, that includes buses, trams and subway. You can choose from a single ticket or day card.
Find out more interesting places to see near Cologne in DK Eyewitness Travel Guide Germany.
If you have more time, take a day trip and explore some castles near Cologne.
Visitors often combine Cologne with:
- Koblenz – a charming small city at the confluence of the Rhine and Moselle Rivers. It’s a great base to explore the castles on the Rhine. For accommodation, check out these lovely hotels in Koblenz.
Flying to Dortmund Airport? Check out where to stay in Dortmund for one night.
If you’re planning to rent a car, compare the car rental prices in Europe.
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