Germany | What to Do in Cologne for A Day

Cologne (or Köln in German) is the fourth largest city in Germany. The town with a distinctive historical charm lies along the Rhine River in West Germany. It is an excellent day trip destination from Dusseldorf, Brussels, and Amsterdam.

The historic city dates back to the Roman period. Cologne’s Old Town features charming architectural styles and historical landmarks. The area is also home to a beautiful Gothic Cathedral with twin towers (Cologne Cathedral) and world-class museums such as the Museum Ludwig, the Wallraf Richartz Museum and the Farina Fragrance Museum.

One day in Cologne can be tight if you want to see everything. But it is enough time to experience the city’s four most notable things: Cologne Cathedral, perfume, chocolates and Kölsch beer. Plus, the most popular sites are clustered near the train station in the Old Town area.

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>> Cologne City Card is a super affordable way to see Cologne (just €9 for 24-hour validation). With the 24 or 48-hour card, you get free rides on buses, trams and trains, and enjoy up to 50% discount on museums, guided tours, and cultural attractions.

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How to Get to Cologne

By Flight: Cologne has an airport and is also one of Eurowings hub airports. (Eurowings is a German low-cost carrier.)

By River Cruise: As the city is on the shore of the Rhine River, many Rhine River Cruise arrives at the town.

By Train: Cologne is well connected with other cities in Germany and Europe via train. There are many nearby stations with Köln in the name. Make sure you get off at Cologne Central Station (Köln Hauptbahnhof).

>> Run your search for all transportation (flight, train and bus) in one platform to compare and plan your ideal journey.

Day Trip to Cologne

From Dusseldorf: I made a day trip to Cologne from Dusseldorf. It was super easy to get on a local train, which only took about 40 minutes.

From Brussels: You may take an ICE train from Burssel-Zuid/Midi station and travel about 2 hours to get to Cologne. Or, enjoy the beautiful landscape over the Eifel mountain region by crossing the border with this affordable coach.

From Amsterdam: It takes about 2.5-3 hours from Amsterdam to Cologne. You can take a train or flight or, more conveniently, join a private day trip.

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How to Get Around Cologne

Cologne is a walkable city, especially if you want to stay in the Old Town. You also have the option to take a Hop-On, Hop-Off bus that takes you to all the key sites around the town.

Cologne Map

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When to Visit Cologne

Cologne has a temperate climate throughout the year, with cool winters and warm summers. Summer months are comfortably warm, with temperatures between the lowest 12℃ to the highest 24℃ on average. In winter, it mostly stays above 0℃ but can rain. Although it is difficult to predict the weather with global extreme weather trends nowadays, it is overall friendly for travel any time of the year.


Cologne Carnival

Cologne Carnival takes place in early spring (February 16 – 22, 2023). The Carnival has been celebrated as old as the city’s history since the Roman period. The ancient Germans celebrated the winter solstice in believing that the Greek gods of Dionysus and Saturn warded off the evils in winter. Today, this tradition still continues with parades, performances and masquerades. 

Cologne Christmas Markets

Another notable festival in Cologne is Christmas Market. The city celebrates the holiday spirit from late November to Christmas Eve with various Christmas markets. The best-known one is the Cologne Cathedral Christmas Market, lined with 150 stands in the Roncalliplatz

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Where to Stay in Cologne

Cologne is an excellent day trip location. But if you plan a layover on your Europe trip or spend more than a day, consider staying near the Old Town.

Best Cologne Tours

I love planning itineraries and enjoy traveling on my own term. But I like to take a walking tour on my first visit to a new city. It helps me get my bearings and learn about history. When I travel solo, it is a great way to interact with other travelers. More than anything, I love the storytelling part of these tours.

I strongly recommend taking a tour and spending the rest of the day exploring at your pace, especially if one day is all you got. 

>> Cologne Old Town Highlights Walking Tour 

>> Cologne Cathedral and Old Town Tour with 1 Kölsch

>> Private Walking Tour of City Center (Great for a family or a group)

One Day in Cologne Itinerary 

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Cologne Cathedral 

Cologne Cathedral (Kölner Dom) is the hallmark of the city and the most-visited attraction in Germany. You cannot miss this historically critical UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is right in front of the Cologne Train Station, so let’s make it our first stop.

The city’s medieval catholic church is the tallest cathedral in the world. It was constructed from 1248 to 1880 to house the remains of the Three Wise Men. The Shrine of the Three Wise Men has made this site one of Europe’s most critical pilgrimage destinations.

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The Cathedral has an impressive Gothic architecture with a grandeur facade. Be sure to take a look at the shrine of the Three Wise Men, gorgeous stained-glass windows and other artworks inside. You may also climb up the South Tower of Cologne Cathedral (533 steps) to enjoy a panoramic view of the city from 100 meters above.

I recommend getting there early. The site was not crowded when I arrived at 10 am. But in the afternoon, it was jam-packed with people.

Admission: Free. €6 for the tower. 

Hours: Mon – Sat: 10 am – 5 pm | Sun: 1-4 pm

English Guided Tour: €10 (€8 children & students) at 3-3:45 pm daily, except Saturdays.  

Location: [Open Google Map]

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Cologne Museum (Farina Fragrance Museum)

In a 5-minute short walk from the Cathedral, you can hop on over to Cologne Museum (Duftmuseum Im Farina Haus). It is the oldest fragrance factory still standing today.

Have you ever wondered if Cologne has anything to do with eau de cologne? Yep, Cologne is the city where perfume was all started. It wasn’t the French but technically not the German, either, who created eau de cologne. Hear me out.

Eau de cologne was invented in 1709 by Giovanni Maria Farina, an Italian perfume maker from Santa Maria Maggiore Valle Vigezzo. Back then, it was a sensational invention that he could control the formula to produce consistent fragrance using a mixture of essential oils. Trade between the city of Cologne and Paris flourished in the late 1700s, and the French nobles’ high demand for personal fragrance made the Eau de Cologne successful.

At the museum, you can take an interactive guided tour (available in English, 45 minutes) to learn all about perfume, from how Cologne became the birthplace of Eau de Cologne, brief history/background and how they keep the tradition of recreating the same scent over the years.

As a person who loves perfumes, I enjoyed the guided tour. I got to smell 4 different ingredients to make the original Cologne! I also liked that I got a sample-size original cologne as a gift at the end of the tour. There is a gift shop where you can buy perfumes, but no hard sell, which made the tour more enjoyable.

Admission & Guided Tour: Book your tickets here. Mon-Fri: €8 | Sat-Sun: €12 (historical costume guided tour)

Hours: 10 am – 6 pm

Location: [Open Google Map] 

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Lunch at Heumarkt

Heumarkt is a cobblestoned square lined with cafes and bars. This is also a spot for a Christmas market in December. Take a photo of the Equestrian Statue of Friedrich Wilhelm III, stroll around and grab a seat at any of the cafes for lunch.

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I went to Golden I’m Zims [Open Google Map], where I had a delicious Vienna-style schnitzel (made out of beef instead of pork). Make sure to try Kölsch beer, Cologne’s signature beer.

Location: [Open Google Map]

>> Brewery Tour with Three “Kölsch” Tastings: Prost for all beer lovers out there!

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Walk along the Rhine River Bank

After lunch, let’s take a walk along the Rhine River. When the weather is nice and sunny, the locals lie down on the lawn to bask in the sun or go picnic on the river bank. You will arrive at the next destination following a pleasant 10-minute stroll.

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>> Rhine River Cruise: Discover the city’s highlights from the riverboat and enjoy a Kölsch beer.

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Cologne Chocolate Museum

How lovely to enjoy some sweets in the afternoon! You will be delighted to know that chocolate is the last of Cologne’s four most famous things.

Cologne Chocolate Museum (Schokoladenmuseum Köln) by Lindt is an interactive museum for children and adults who love chocolates. You can learn about the history of chocolate via sensory learning (BTW, all buttons are at the kid’s eye level). And you can follow the chocolate-making process by glancing at the chocolatiers working inside a glass room. 

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But the best part is that you get to sample chocolates! You can even custom-make your chocolate bar with your chosen ingredients at the Chocolate Workshop upstairs. After filling out the order form, wait about 45 minutes to receive your chocolate.

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Finally, you will be in heaven at the souvenir shop. The store has a wide variety of chocolate bars, truffles, cocoa powder, etc. You will find all kinds of chocolates there. It was challenging to leave without anything on hand. 

Admission: Book your tickets here. Weekdays €14.50 (€8.50 up to the age of 18) | Weekend €16 (€10 up to 18) | Free under the age of 6.

Hours: 10 am – 6 pm (Closed on Mondays.)

Location: [Open Google Map]

Other Cologne Attractions

Consider checking out these landmarks below, depending on your interest and allowed time. I spent way too long hours at the Chocolate Museum (I’m telling you, they can get you hooked with millions of exotic chocolates!) and ran out of time before rushing back to hop on the train back to Dusseldorf.

Museum Ludwig

Museum Ludwig showcases 20th-century contemporary art, including masterpieces by Picasso. Adjacent to the Cologne Cathedral, the museum is easy to get to.

Admission: €11 (+booking fee) | Free under the age of 18

Hours: 10 am – 6 pm (Closed on Mondays)

Location: [Open Google Map]

Wallraf Richartz Museum

Wallraf Richartz Museum is the oldest museum in Cologne. The art gallery is home to fine art from the Medieval period to the early 20th-century Impressionist. Some highlights include a collection of Monet, Manet, Van Gogh, and Rembrandt.

Admission: €13 | Free under the age of 18

Hours: 10 am – 6 pm (Closed on Mondays)

Location: [Open Google Map]


Schildergasse is the city’s busiest, pedestrian-only shopping district. The area has department stores and many German, European and US brand shops. While shopping there, look for the Weltstadthaus. It’s an architectural delight resembling a whale with an impressive glass facade; currently, it houses the Peek & Cloppenburg store. 

Location: [Open Google Map]

Flora und Botanischer Garten Köln

The Flora und Botanischer Garten Köln is a municipal park and botanical garden. The park, designed by Peter Joseph Lenné in 1864, incorporates a blend of German, French Baroque, Italian Renaissance and English garden styles. The botanical garden presents diverse climate plants and flowers in the outdoor garden and greenhouses.

Admission: Free

Hours: 8 am – 9 pm

Location: [Open Google Map]

Bon Voyage!


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