If you only have one day in Cologne, this guide will cover everything you must see, do, eat and enjoy during your 24 hours in this charming German city. There are so many fun things to do in Cologne that its an deal destination for couples on a weekend away, a family city break or backpackers on a budget.
Touring Cologne in one day allowed us to tick off the major attractions but left enough reason for us to return to this beautiful city. Our guide is perfect for first timers also after a whirlwind fling with the city or those who feel overwhelmed planning an itinerary as it will take you from breakfast until bed time with all the fun things to do in Cologne in between!
To prepare for your European adventure, we recommend taking a peek at our essential travel packing list. It covers all essentials we can’t travel without, but don’t forget comfortable shoes as one day in Cologne will incur ALOT of walking!
BEST TIME TO VISIT COLOGNE
Before you can plan your one day in Cologne, you need to decide when it will be.
February for Cologne Carnival
One of the best times to visit Cologne is in February as this is when Cologne Carnival ( Koln Karneval ) takes place. It is essentially a huge street party that lasts an entire week in the run up to Ash-Wednesday. It involves fancy dress, alcohol and partying – why have we never been!? Find out the dates for this year’s Cologne Carnival here.
May – July for Beer Garden Season
If like us, you LOVE beer (enough to visit a Beer Spa in Prague kinda love) then you should plan your Cologne itinerary for Summer. Between May until late July is beer garden season in Cologne and the perfect time to visit the city in “full bloom” as such.
November – December for Christmas Markets
Some of the most famous Christmas markets in the world take place in Cologne, so if this is the reason of your visit they take place from the last week in November until around Christmas Eve (for this year’s dates check here.) We stupidly planned our one day in Cologne just ONE day too early and although we saw the beautiful markets all set up and we could practically taste the Glühwein they were not open.
TRANSPORT IN COLOGNE
The Köln Card
We flew from Riga to Cologne and as usual we booked via Skyscanner as it provides the flight deals for Europe. As we only had one day in Cologne we wanted to get from the airport to the city as quick as possible and the best way to do this is by train.
In order to make the most of Cologne in one day, we recommend getting the Köln card because it includes 24 hours of unlimited travel as well as discounts at numerous Cologne tourist attractions.
Best of all, it is super cheap at just €9 do it is definitely worth the money and a fab wee investment for those backpacking Europe on a budget.
From the airport, we took the train to the main train station (Köln Hauptbahnhof) where we we started our 24 hours in Cologne with the star of the show – Cologne Cathedral.
WHERE TO STAY IN COLOGNE
If you are looking for a good base for your one day in Cologne, we have zero complaints about our accommodation – IBIS Budget Koeln Porz.
We paid £45 a night for a standard room – no frills, clean and cosy. Due to our bad timing with the Christmas markets, we feel this may have affected the price of our room as compared to our accommodation elsewhere in Europe, we found Cologne accommodation quite expensive during our trip.
Our hotel was slightly out of the city, which required a train journey, but this is another reason why our Koln card was great value for money.
HOW TO SPEND ONE DAY IN COLOGNE
Morning – Cologne Cathedral (Kölner Dom)
It goes without saying that your one day in Cologne would not be complete without a visit to Kölner Dom. Not only is it a UNESCO World Heritage site, but it is infact the most visited attraction in Germany.
It is the perfect way to spend your first hour or two as it is slap bang in the centre and as mentioned, opposite the Köln Hauptbahnhof station.
Not only is it an unmissable 157m high, but it can host 20,000 people inside, so the interior is just as impressive as the exterior. When you see for yourselves the sheer size of this striking building, it is no shock it took over 600 years to complete.
For a small fee of €3 you can climb the 533 steps to enjoy the impressive city views from the cathedral’s South Tower. Opening times vary depending on season, with it open 6am until 7:30pm from November until April and 6am until 9pm May to October.
As it is the most visited landmark in the city (apparently upto 20,000 visitors a day) we recommend starting your one day in Cologne here. That way it’s ticked off your itinerary early to avoid the crowds!
Kaffe & Kuchen Break
After the Cathedral (and those 533 steps) you may be in need of a sweet treat to boost those energy levels – eat like a local and indulge in the kaffe & kuchen (coffee & cake). Just steps from the Cathedral is Cafe Jansen, one of the oldest cafes in Cologne.
There are also numerous bakeries to entice you as you head towards the Fischmarkt where you can snap that postcard perfect snap of the colourful Fischmarkt houses. We could have spent hours wandering in this area, taking photos (and samping the beer) but with only one day in Cologne our visit had to be short and sweet.
Fischmarkt – Cologne’s Old Town
Although there are numerous top things to do in Cologne in one day, Fischmarkt was definitely my favourite. There is lots to see and do here, including photographing the insta-favourite Fischmarkt houses, wander the narrow cobbled streets or enjoy lunch by the Rhine at one of the many outdoor cafes.
As mentioned earlier, we visited Cologne in November and missed the Christmas market by a mere day or two. If only we’d done our research! They were setting it up when we visited, but if you have plans to visit the famous Christmas market in Cologne then it is only a few minutes walk from here at Alter Markt in front of the Town Hall.
Currywurst For Lunch
As we had been to Berlin previously we had become rather obsessed with Currywurst. If you only have one day in Cologne, then definitely add Currywurst to your bucket list, it’s the perfect quick bite to eat before your busy afternoon.
Nearly every restaurant we passed served it, but although beautiful by the river, the Fishmarkt cafes and restaurants are not budget friendly for us backpackers. Although many argue the price is worth it for a traditional treat with a memorable view.
If your one day in Cologne is on a budget (like us) there are even “fast food” style restaurants that serve it in the station super cheap! Once you are suitably fit to burst with wurst (and hopefully you loved it as much as Darren did) it’s time for a busy afternoon.
Afternoon Hohenzollern Bridge – The Love Lock Bridge
To work off the wurst we began walking along the Rhine, and came across the Hohenzollern Bridge. Little did we know just how famous this bridge is and it is definitely one of the best free things to do in Cologne. This is because it is the city’s very own ‘Love lock bridge’ just as beautiful as Paris, but far less crowded.
Experts believe the tens of thousands of locks weigh more than 2 tonnes, with the tradition being once your padlock is on, you throw the key in the Rhine and your love will last forever. I could have spent hours looking at all the names of the couples, but a less impressed Darren continually questioned just how many had probably since divorced or broken up. Who said travelling as a couple was a good idea?!
Köln Triangle – For The Best Views Of The City
Now your one day in Cologne is coming to an end, there is a fabulous spot to watch the sun go down over the city. Once you are across the river (after admiring the thousands of locks) head for Köln Triangle.
Köln Triangle is an observation deck open to the public on the roof of the European Aviation Safety Agency Head Quarters. If you want to see all of Cologne in one day, you can see the entire city in minutes as at over 103m high offers incredible panoramic views. After spending hours wandering the cobbled streets below it was epic to see the city from above.
It is the best place for a spectacular view of The Cathedral which is directly opposite the Rhine. Top tourist attractions such as this, usually are not cheap but we were pleasantly surprised – at only €3 entry fee it is one of the most fun things to do in Cologne if you’re on a budget!
For photographing the beautiful panoramic view, we definitely recommend the gimbal we use – it allows smooth, seamless 360 video. Capturing the best views without shaking hands or stuttering selfie sticks and it even has a built in charger!
Ending your one day in Cologne at a Brauhaus
If visiting in Summer then the best way to end your one day in Cologne would be in one of the numerous beer gardens that pop up all over the city. As we visited Cologne in November, during the Winter months the Beer Halls (known as Brauhaus) are where to spend your evening.
Tackling Cologne in one day clocks up ALOT of steps so you have definitely earned your share of the famous Kölsch beer. Fun fact, Kölsch is also the name of the dialect spoken in Cologne.
The beer itself is lighter than most German kinds and don’t expect an Oktoberfest sized stein, nor even a pint as Kölsch is usually served in smaller 200ml glasses called Stangen. End your one day in Cologne like a local – with an ice cold beer in a traditional beer hall.
Although each local would give a different answer for their favourite, here are our Brauhaus suggestions to end your day in Cologne:
- Peters Brauhaus: In a perfect location between the cathedral & Altermarkt, not only do they serve their signature Peters Kölsch but also superb food.
- Haus Töller: Not only is it one of the oldest surviving Brauhaus in Cologne, but it serves one of the best beers, Päffgen Kölsch and is renowned for it’s epic food portions – perfect after exploring Cologne in one day! Suprisingly, they close during the Summer so it’s perfect for those spending a day in Cologne in Winter.
- Haus Unklebach: If your one day in Cologne is during the Carnival then you MUST visit Haus Unklebach for their famous carnival party. However, get their early as queues start from as early as 9am, ready to enjoy their outdoor stage from 11am onwards. When it is not carnival, their courtyard is a peaceful place to sit and enjoy the sun shine with a Kölsch beer.
After a day of bratwurst, beer and bridges it is time for your 24 hours in one of our favourite German cities to end. Hopefully you have managed to tick off a few fun things to do in Cologne and haven’t enjoyed the Kölsch too much that you can remember it all! After our day in Cologne was over we flew to Bucharest where we recovered from our day of walking in the biggest thermal spa in Europe!