A complete itinerary for one day in Cologne (+ a map with all must-see attractions, the best castles to visit and Rhine River Cruises to take).
Cologne (Köln) is the largest city in the North Rhine-Westphalia region in Germany. It’s a modern city with vibrant nightlife and centuries-old history.
Köln is known for its stunningly beautiful Gothic cathedral and the local beer called Kölsch. And for all chocolate lovers, there is a chocolate museum!
1 day in Cologne itinerary
How to spend 24 hours in Cologne? What are the must-see attractions? Follow this detailed travel guide to get the best of the city in only one day.
Find a map of this Cologne itinerary (with all attractions and restaurants’ websites) at the end of the article.
Already have a hotel booked? Check if your hotel is in a good area in my guide – where to stay in Cologne.
One day in Cologne (the perfect itinerary)
- Start the day with breakfast at Merzenich Bäckereien
- Visit the iconic Cologne Cathedral
- Enjoy the great views from Hohenzollern Bridge
- House of Fragrances 4711
- Admire the Rathaus
- Visit Great St. Martin Church
- Explore the city’s museums
- Eat some gelato at Ice Cream United
- Try a traditional German meal
- Taste the famous local beer
For my trip to Cologne, I used this DK Eyewitness Travel Guide. I love their travel guides, as they have practical information, walking tours and a durable map!
08:00 AM – 09:00 AM
Start the itinerary 24 hours in Cologne with breakfast at Kamps Bäckerei or Merzenich Bäckereien.
Visit the iconic Cologne Cathedral
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 a 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 damage. 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 (see all the concerts here).
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.
Another notable treasure is the Gero Cross (Gero Kreuz), carved in 976. It is the oldest crucifix north of the Alp survived till the present time.
Climbing the cathedral tower
Standing in front of its two 157m towers, you can feel 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.
Enjoy the great views from Hohenzollern Bridge
10:30 AM – 11:00 AM
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 the 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.
For the best city view visit KölnTriangle Panorama. It’s a public visitor platform on the roof of the KölnTriangle building.
House of Fragrances 4711
11:30 AM – 12:00 PM
House of Fragrances 4711 is the birthplace of the famous Eau de Cologne and 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.
12:00 PM – 02:00 PM
Stop for tasty lunch at Café Riese or Café Lichtenberg.
Admire the Rathaus
02:00 PM – 02:15 PM
This is one of the oldest city halls in Germany with a history of over 900 years.
Visit Great St. Martin Church
02:15 PM – 02:45 PM
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 World War II Great St. Martin Church was heavily damaged: the tower and nave were burnt to the ground. The church was reconstructed in the post-war years.
Explore the city’s museums
03:00 PM – 05:30 PM
There are a few museums that are 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 the Römisch-Germanisches Museum. And if you’re interested in WWII, choose the Documentation centre for National Socialism. For those travelling with kids, don’t miss the Imhoff chocolate museum.
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 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 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 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 the 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 by 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 for 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 is 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 heaven for chocolate lovers. It offers a great variety of high-quality chocolates.
Eat 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.
Try a traditional German meal
Finish the day with a traditional German meal at Peters Brauhaus or Gilden im Zims. I really liked the Brodwoosch mit Kartoffelsalat (sausage with potato salad) and the Apfelstrudel mit Vanilleeiscreme at Peters Brauhaus.
For the best pork knuckles in the city go to Gilden im Zims.
Taste the famous local beer
Cologne is known for its local beer Kölsch. It is a soft, pale yellow beer with a little fruitiness. Kölsch is served in small glasses of 0.2L, that are tall and cylindrical.
The person who serves you the Kölsch beer is called “Köbes”. The Köbes will bring you a new glass of this fantastic ale every time the old one is over without even being asked. So if you don’t want more just put the beer pad on your glass.
It is easy to lose track of how many beers you’ve had, so the waiter will mark each one of the beers with a line on your beer pad.
Taste the Kölsch at Brauhaus Em Kölsche Boor. It is one of the oldest breweries in Köln and their Kölsch is of superb quality.
More ideas for your 24 hours in Cologne
If you want to make any modifications to this 1-day itinerary for Cologne, take a look at the suggestions below.
Visit the Zoological Garden
To spend the day in 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 a tropical climate, palms and free-roaming birds. Don’t forget to check the feeding times in advance to get the most out of your visit.
Don’t miss the Flora and Botanical Garden, located right next to the Zoo. 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.
In addition, you can take a ride on the Rhine cable car. The cable car is a unique way to cross the 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.
See the old city walls
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.
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 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.
Explore the beautiful Melaten cemetery
Melaten Cemetery (Melatenfriedhof) is the city’s central cemetery. In the 12th century, the ground of 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”.
How to save money on your Cologne itinerary
The best way to save money is by KölnCard. It costs €9 for 1 day (€18 for 2 days) and 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
Another option is the Museum card. It 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 on the first day).
Getting around in Cologne
Find a detailed map of the itinerary here.
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 public transport only if you want to visit the Melaten Cemetery or the Zoo.
The city has excellent public transport, which includes buses, trams and metro. You can choose from a single ticket or day card.
How to get to Cologne
There are two major train stations: Köln-Deutz station and Cologne Central train station (Köln Hauptbahnhof). Both are within a walking distance from the Old Town. Yet, if you’re arriving by train, the Central train station is more convenient.
Check timetables and book tickets online at Deutsche Bahn official site.
Cologne-Bonn Airport is located about 15 kilometres from the city centre. You can easily reach it by bus or train. The most convenient option is by train. You can take the train directly from the airport and then get off at Köln Hauptbahnhof.
Day trips from Cologne
Rhine River Cruises
To enjoy the marvellous views of the Rhine Valley, take the Siebengebirge Cruise. Explore the spectacular countryside as you travel on a boat to Königswinter through the beautiful Siebengebirge.
You’ll pass along Bonn and the legendary Drachenfels on this tour. Drachenfels is a famous hill in Siebengebirge. Its name means the Dragon’s Rock. There is a ruined castle on the top of the hill, bearing the same name. You can reach the castle by taking the Drachenfels Railway and enjoy breathtaking views over the Rhine Valley.
Koblenz is a charming city situated at the confluence of the Rhine and Moselle Rivers. The most popular attraction is Deutsches Eck, the place where the Rhine meets the Moselle River. From there you can take the cable car to Ehrenbreitstein Fortress, a military fortress from the 11th century.
Find out why Koblenz is worth visiting.
How to get to Koblenz
Take a train from the Central Railway Station to Koblenz Hbf (about a 1-hour journey).
Rhine River Castles
Rhine River Valley is not only home to charming vineyards but also to tens of castles. Some of them lay in ruins, while others are turned into museums and hotels (like Hotel Schloss Rheinfels).
Find all the information you’ll need to visit each of them in my guide to the most popular castles on the Rhine.
Due to its hot springs, Aachen was the favourite winter residence of Charlemagne. Don’t miss to visit Aachen Cathedral, built in 796 AD. The City Hall and Elisenbrunnen also deserve a visit.
How to get to Aachen
Take a train from the Central Railway Station to Aachen Hbf (about a 1-hour journey).
Drachenburg Castle (Schloss Drachenburg) is a splendid castle from the late 19th century. Stephan von Sarter, a financial expert, built it to live here with the love of his life. However, this never happened. His mistress passed away before the completion of the castle. Due to her unexpected death, Stephan Sarter decided not to move into the castle. He spent the following years in Paris where he died in 1902.
Please note that the castle is open only during the summer season (27 March – 05 November).
How to get to Drachenburg Castle
Take a train from Cologne Central Railway Station to Königswinter (about 1-hour journey). The castle is about a 2km walk from the train station. You can walk or take the Drachenfelsbahn.
Augustusburg Palace (Schloss Augustusburg) is located in Brühl. The complex consists of a palace, huge gardens with a forest and a hunting lodge.
You can visit the palace only with a guide at certain hours, thus go early not to miss the tour before noon. No photos are allowed during the tour. The hunting lodge can be visited without a guide. There is an admission fee for visiting the palace and the hunting lodge, but the gardens are free.
The palace was built at the beginning of the 18th century over the ruins of a medieval castle. The French destroyed that castle in the 17th century during the Nine Years’ War. The new palace was meant to be a summer and hunting residence of Clemens August, the Archbishop of Cologne.
François de Cuvilliés built the Falkenlust hunting lodge from 1729 to 1740. He was one of the architects of the main complex. Clemens August, Prince-Elector of Cologne used the lodge to practise his favourite sport, falconry.
How to get to Augustusburg Palace
Take a train from the Central Railway Station to Brühl-Kierberg (20 min journey). The property is about 300m on foot from the train station in Brühl.
How many days in Cologne
Is one day in Cologne enough?
Overall one day is enough to get an idea of the city. You’d be able to see the cathedral, explore the Old Town and even visit the chocolate museum.
Most of the popular attractions are clustered around the cathedral and the train station. This makes it easy to explore the city on foot (and not lose time in transportation).
What if I have less than a day in Cologne?
If you don’t have one full day in Cologne, skip the museums and discover the Old Town and the cathedral. Don’t miss to cross the bridge to get the best views of the cathedral.
Best time to visit Cologne
Summer is the best time to enjoy the beer gardens. In July the famous gay parade for Christopher Street Day takes place. Also, in July you can enjoy the Cologne Lights Festival (Kölner Lichter). It is a stunning firework event – thousands of fireworks light up the skyline of the city in amazing colours.
During the winter Cologne looks like a fairytale with its many Christmas markets scattered around the city. Find all you need to know in my in-depth guide to the Cologne Christmas market. In February the well-known Cologne carnival takes place.
Practical information about Cologne
Germany is a part of the Schengen Agreement (the European border-free area). So you don’t need a German visa, but rather a Schengen visa. If your country is part of the Schengen Agreement, you’ll need only a valid passport or ID card.
The official currency of Germany is the Euro. Visa and Mastercard are accepted in supermarkets, museums and restaurants.
Yet, always carry some cash, as not all restaurants and shops accept credit cards. Some of them have a minimum amount (usually 30-40€) for credit card use. Also, most small merchants take only cash. American Express is accepted only in major stores and big hotels.
The official language is German. Yet, most of the people speak decent English. If you want to learn some German, check out this German phrasebook (it’s one of the best-rated).
Germany operates on a 230V supply voltage and 50Hz. The associated plug types are C and F.
If you’re from the US, this is the only travel adaptor that you’ll need.
If you’re from the UK, this is the best-rated travel adaptor.