Things to do in Cologne in one day – the ultimate itinerary how to spend 1 day in Cologne.
Cologne is one of the largest cities in Germany. The history of the city can be traced to the 1st century when it was founded by the Romans.
How many days to see Cologne
From 1 to 2 days.
Overall one day is enough to get a good idea of the city. The most famous attractions are near the Cologne Cathedral. You can easily tour the city on foot.
How much time I spent
During my first trip to Germany, I visited Dortmund and Cologne. I spared half a day for Dortmund and one day and a half for Cologne. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough to see all the museums that I wanted. So if you’re a museum lover, better spend at least 2 days in Cologne.
Where to stay in Cologne for sightseeing
Luxury option – Excelsior Hotel Ernst am Dom – a luxury hotel opposite the Kölner Dom (only 2 minutes away from the Central train station).
9.4/10 Rating – See hotel images and 850+ guest reviews
Mid-range – Stern am Rathaus – is located right in the heart of the Old Town of Cologne, 300m away from the cathedral.
9.6/10 Rating – See hotel images and 350+ guest reviews
Apartment – Haus am Dom – Apartments und Ferienwohnungen – fantastic location with an easy walk to Cologne Cathedral.
9.2/10 Rating – See apartment images and 700+ guest reviews
1 day in Cologne itinerary
Morning – Visit Cologne Cathedral and a museum of your choice
08:00 AM – 09:00 AM
Start the itinerary 24 hours in Cologne with a breakfast at Merzenich Bäckereien.
09:00 AM – 10:30 AM
Cologne Cathedral (Kölner Dom)
Cologne Cathedral is one of the superb achievements of the 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. There were few long interruptions in the construction due to the lack of money or interest. After its completion in 1880, the Cologne cathedral was one of the highest structures in the world. In 1884 it lost the title due to the Washington Monument, but it still has the world’s largest church facade.
During the World War II, Cologne was one of the most heavily bombed cities in Germany. The war not only flattened the city of Cologne, 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.
Cologne Cathedral Treasury
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 Cologne cathedral 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. This relic was taken from Milan by Holy Roman Emperor Fredrick Barbarossa and given to the Archbishop of Cologne, 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 Cologne cathedral tower
Standing in front of its two 157m towers, you can feel yourself small and insignificant. You can 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 Cologne cathedral 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 of 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 of Cologne 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
Cologne City Hall (Rathaus)
Every city in Germany has a rat house (Rat Haus). Wait, what? No, I am just kidding. But every time I read the word city hall in German (Rathaus) I am imaging this. In fact the word “Rat” in German means council, and “Haus” – house. The Cologne City Hall is the oldest in Germany with a history over 900 years.
11:00 AM – 11:30 AM
Great St. Martin Church (Gross Sankt Martin)
Great St. Martin Church 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. 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.
11:30 AM – 01:00 PM
Visit a museum
There are few worth visiting museums in Cologne. If you’re an art lover go to Wallraf-Richartz-Museum or Museum Ludwig. To go deeper in the history of Cologne, visit Römisch-Germanisches Museum. If you’re interested in the WWII, choose the Documentation centre for the National Socialism.
01:00 PM – 03:00 PM
Stop for tasty lunch at Cafe Riese or Manufactum brot & butter.
Afternoon – Find out more about Eau de Cologne and explore the medieval city walls
03:00 PM – 03:30 PM
House of Fragrances 4711
House of Fragrances 4711 is the place where it all started. It is the birthplace of the famous Eau de Cologne and the modern perfume. The perfume “Eau de Cologne – 4711” is produced since 1700. 4711 is the house number of the factory at Glockengasse during the French occupation in the 19th. In fact, Eau de Cologne in French means water from Cologne.
At the entrance of the shop, there is a fountain filled with perfume and you can dip your hands in it.
03:45 PM – 04:00 PM
Basilica of the Holy Apostles (Basilika St. Aposteln)
Basilica of the Holy Apostles 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
Hahnen Gate (Hahnentorburg)
The city wall of Cologne 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.
How to save money
KölnCard costs only 9 EUR (~11 USD, ~8GBP) and it includes:
- free access to public transport for 24 or 48 hours
- up to 50% discounts from numerous museums, restaurants and shops
If you plan to visit a lot of museums get a Museum card. It gives you a free admission to all municipal museums. The Museum card is for two consecutive opening days. On the first day, you can even travel for free within the city.
I recommend these Cologne tours
Tours in German
More things to do in Cologne
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 Cologne zoo (Kölner Zoo). Take a ride and enjoy the unforgettable panoramic views of the skyline over the river.
Take a boat cruise
Discover the city of Cologne on a boat cruise along Rhine River.
Take a day trip
Roman-Germanic Museum (Römisch-Germanisches Museum)
Roman-Germanic Museum is an archaeological museum just next to the Cologne 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. Museum Ludwig 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 Cologne – 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 center for the National Socialism (NS-Dokumentationszentrum)
If you are interested in the World War II this museum is a must. The EL-DE Haus 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 the World War II, get the audio guide. Keep in mind that it runs more than 3 hours.
Imhoff chocolate museum (Imhoff-Schokoladenmuseum)
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.
Hohenzollern Bridge (Hohenzollernbrücke)
Ten thousand love padlocks cover the Hohenzollern Bridge. 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 of Cologne. It is built at the beginning of the 13th century. The house belonged to a rich family of merchants, the Overstolzen family.
Roonstrasse Synagogue (Synagoge Roonstraße)
Roonstrasse Synagogue is a synagogue in Neo-Romanesque style and it is the largest in the city.
St. Gereon’s Basilica (Basilika Sankt Gereon)
The basilica 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. 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 (Basilika Sankt Ursula)
St. Ursula Church 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 Cologne. 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 Cologne.
To express their deep gratitude for saving the city, the citizens of Cologne 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)
St. Mary’s in the Capitol 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 Cologne. 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 (Basilika Sankt 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. St. Pantaleon Church 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)
Melaten cemetery is the central cemetery of Cologne. In the 12th century, the ground of the today’s cemetery was a 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)
People’s garden is in the southern part of Cologne. 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 (Flora und Botanischer Garten)
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.
Cologne Zoological Garden (Kölner Zoo)
If you want to spend the day among nature, Kölner Zoo is the best choice. It is located on the left bank of Rhine river. Founded in 1860 it is one of the oldest zoos in Germany. An aquarium is attached in 1971.
In the Cologne 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.
Things to do in Cologne in one day itinerary – map
What else is a must-see if you have only 1 day in Cologne?
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About the author
|I'm a travel blogger based in Sofia, Bulgaria. Travelling has always been my passion and I love to discover new places and cultures. I want to show you how easy it is to organize your vacation all by yourself.|
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