You might be thinking it's impossible to see all the best things in Cologne in one day, but it's a great way to get a taste of the city. You won't be able to see everything, but you can still see the best highlights.
Having visited Cologne many times, we're well-acquainted with the city's top spots. With our experience, we've crafted the perfect one-day plan for you.
With this itinerary, you can make the most of your time without feeling rushed, and includes all the must-see places and things to do. So, let's dive into it!
Exploring Cologne In One Day
Have Breakfast at Bastian's
There are plenty of great German bakeries around, but I think Bastian's is one of the best bakeries in town. Plus it's just a 3-minute walk from Appellhofplatz station, and from there you can walk to nearly anywhere.
Find a seat at their beautiful inner courtyard, where you can enjoy your breakfast in a quiet little garden, away from the streets. They are known for their "Bienenstich" (Bee Sting Cake) a delightful German cake made with layers of honey and almonds, topped with a generous serving of cream.
But if cake isn't your idea of the perfect breakfast – Bastian's freshly baked goods, from bread to rolls, are to die for. And they make everything in-house.
If you're feeling extra hungry, I'd recommend going for the Bastian De Luxe. It's a massive breakfast basket packed with cold meats, salamis, cheeses, a hard-boiled egg, and even comes with honey and apricot jam. A hearty way to kick off your day in Cologne!
Bastian's, Auf dem Berlich 3-5, 50667 Köln, Germany
Visit The Cologne Cathedral (Kölner Dom)
After breakfast, make your way to the Cologne Cathedral (Kölner Dom). As the number one attraction in the city, snaking queues at its entrance are not uncommon. That said, you're likely to have an easier time in the morning.
The cathedral is hard to miss. Its 515 feet tall and dark gothic spires are an recognizable icon of Cologne's skyline. 
Plus, its right next to the main train station in the Old Town area. So either walk from Bastian's (10 mins) or take a tram.
As you step inside, you're greeted by the impressive Shrine of the Three Wise Men. A magnificent reliquary, it's said to house the remains of the biblical Magi. It's a stunning piece of craftsmanship and an important religious artifact.
Your eyes will also be drawn to the large medieval windows. These stained glass windows are a sight to behold, casting colorful light throughout the space.
Note that the cathedral is free to enter, but some spaces charge a fee:
The first is the treasury, known as the Domschatzkammer. It holds a collection of religious and ceremonial items, spanning the 4th to 20th century. Look out for a Gothic bishop's crozier from 1322 and a 15th-century sword, as well as St. Peter's staff and chains. Admission to the treasury ranges from €3 to €6.
If you're fit enough, consider climbing the stairs up the south tower. The tower ascent also has an admission fee, similarly from €3 to €6. Once at the top, you're rewarded with breathtaking panoramic views of the city and the Rhine River.
Kölner Dom, Domkloster 4, 50667 Köln, Germany
Peek Into A Roman Villa
Once you're done exploring the cathedral, make your way to the Römisch-Germanisches-Museum, conveniently located next door. If you peer through the large windows, you'll spot a massive (undamaged!) mosaic on the floor known as the Dionysus mosaic.
This impressive mosaic originally served as the dining room floor in a Roman villa from the 3rd century. It was uncovered in 1941 during the construction of the cathedral's air-raid shelter. 
Instead of removing it, they built the Roman-Germanic Museum around it. The mosaic features Dionysus, the god of the grape harvest.
As you look through the windows, you can also glimpse the tomb of Lucius Poblicius. This Roman legionary lived around 40 AD, and his nearly 15-meter-tall tomb is regarded as one of the best-preserved of its kind in the northern regions beyond the Alps.
NOTE: The museum is currently undergoing renovations, but you should still be able to view the Dionysus mosaic and Poblicius's tomb from the outside through the museum's windows.
Römisch-Germanisches-Museum, Roncallipl. 4, 50667 Köln, Germany
Walk Along The Love Bridge
Just a 5 min walk away is your next stop: the Hohenzollern Bridge. This bridge, with its three arches spanning the Rhine River, is an iconic part of Cologne's cityscape, much like the Cologne Cathedral.
Over the years, the Hohenzollern Bridge has been covered in padlocks. Couples attach these locks to the bridge's railings, and drop the keys into the river below, signifying their eternal love.
If you're with your significant other, you're welcome to bring your own padlocks and take part in this heartfelt tradition, joining other couples on the bridge.
To honor the bridge's name, which pays homage to the House of Hohenzollern, the rulers of Prussia and German Emperors, you'll also notice statues of and emperors from the Prussian dynasty on both riverbanks.
Hohenzollern Bridge, 50679 Cologne, Germany
Take A Walking Tour Of Old Town (Altstadt)
Strolling around the Old Town is a rite-of-passage for any tourist to Cologne. Here's some things we suggest you do here...
Spot Legendary Characters
In the Old Town, you'll encounter several monuments tucked away in various nooks and crannies. It does take a sharp eye, as many of them are blink-and-you-miss-it.
Try to spot the characters of the Hänneschen puppet theater to the mythical Heinzelmännchen fountain. If you're sharp-eyed, you might even catch the notorious Kallendrescher figures, who cheekily reveal their bums at onlookers.
RECOMMENDED: Old Town Highlights Walking Tour
Led by an amazing team of local guides, this affordable walking tour takes you through the historic Old Town. Discover ancient myths, stories & legends that only a local would know!
See The Historic Town Hall
Built from 1569 to 1573, the ancient Cologne Town Hall, known as Historisches Rathaus der Stadt, stands as unquestionably one of Cologne's most splendid structures.
You can enter for free, and its enchanting architecture often serves as a picturesque setting for weddings. Over the years, it has also hosted royalty, dignitaries, and famous personalities.
Historisches Rathaus der Stadt, Rathauspl. 2, 50667 Köln, Germany
Lunch At A Brewery In The Alter Markt (Old Market)
The Alter Markt is considered Cologne's most traditional square with a long history. The square and its nearby streets are made of cobblestones, which adds to the old-world charm. During the winter, the famous Heinzels Winter Fairytale Christmas Market is held here.
Delightfully, there's no traffic. Meander freely among colorful buildings, shops, cafes and traditional pubs. Peters Brauhaus is a restaurant-slash-brewery steeped in Cologne history, and your recommended lunch spot.
Peters is one of the few breweries (or brauhäuser) in the city that still makes its own Kölsch beer and has been around since 1847. It also serves up authentic regional dishes like Mettbrötchen (raw pork sandwich) and the Rheinische Soorbrode (beef marinated in raisin sauce with potato dumplings & stewed apples).
And don't forget wash it all down with a freshly-tapped glass of Kölsch beer made in-house!
Alter Markt, 50667 Cologne, Germany
Interested in local brewery culture? Brewery pubs, often referred to as "Brauhaus" in German, are a way of life in Cologne. This fantastic tour takes you around 4 famous breweries where you'll enjoy their delicious Kölsch beer, and learn about their fascinating history.
Admire The Great St. Martin Church
Groß Sankt Martin, one of Cologne's twelve Romanesque churches, has its roots dating back to approximately 960 AD when it was established above a former Roman chapel. Although the church suffered significant damage during World War II, it underwent restoration efforts spanning from 1948 to 1985.
Today, the church stands as an iconic Cologne landmark with its crossing tower and a unique triconch plan. If you can, visit the crypt below which preserves remains of the old Roman chapel.
An Groß St. Martin, 50667 Köln, Germany
Take A Mesmerizing Rhine River Cruise
Probably one of the best ways to see Cologne is boarding one of those city cruise boats. There's nothing quite like admiring this beautiful city while gliding along one of Europe's most historic rivers.
From the comfort of your seat on the deck (or below the deck) you'll gaze at the magnificent Cologne Cathedral, pass under the Hohenzollern Bridge, wave at the charming Old Town, and enjoy the river views as your boat sails to the other side of town and back.
Most of these cruises take around 1.5 - 2 hours, and depart from the promenade near the Hohenzollern Bridge. It's more convenient to book your cruise ticket online, although your hotel or the tourist office should be able to help you with a ticket too. Popular cruise operators are Kölntourist, KD Cruises, Dampfschiffahrt Colonia.
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Top Sights Rhine River Cruise
Have Dinner & Drinks At The Belgian Quarter
The Belgian Quarter (Belgisches Viertel) is one of the coolest parts of Cologne. It's a relaxed and enjoyable place to explore, especially in the evenings. As you stroll through its streets, you'll come across gorgeous street art, which adds to this already intriguing neighborhood.
The Brüsseler Platz, a square, happens to be the unspoken meeting point for younger folks, lined with an amazing array of trendy bars (and some of the hottest restaurants) - not to mention the beautiful St. Michael church.
For dinner, you'll be spoilt for choice. From Tigermilch which serves first-class Peruvian cuisine to the unforgettable Vietnamese resto Lúa by Danny, the sheer number of international choices reflects Belgisches Vietel's cosmopolitan character.
To round off the evening, you'll find a lineup of great bars where you can relax after a full day of exploring. You won't regret heading to Little Link or Seiberts; both bars craft top-notch cocktails with a creative twist, making them the perfect spot to conclude your day in Cologne!
Alternative Activities For A One Day Itinerary In Cologne
Hop Between Breweries & Sip Kölsch Beer
A brewery, or brauhaus, is like a pub, except that they brew their own Kölsch beer. Many locals gather at these establishments on a near daily basis, be it for meals or drinks with old friends. There are even a special customs surrounding how Kölsch is ordered and served.
A majority of locals you meet will likely have their favorite brand of Kölsch, as each brewery does it slightly differently. That's why hopping between breweries and doing Kölsch tastings is a popular activity in Cologne!
You can absolutely do this on your own, but it's better to have a local who can show you the "ropes" so you don't feel like a fish out of water.
BEST BREWERY TOUR: The Kölsch Crew
The last thing you want is paying for a tour where your guide reads off a script, and just wants to quickly get to the end the tour - like many of the "popular" brewery tours these days.
Free Cancellation Up To 24 Hours In Advance.
Check Out The Contemporary Art Museum
You might not expect to find a world-class museum in Cologne, but if you enjoy modern art you'll be impressed by Museum Ludwig.
Located just behind Cologne Cathedral, this prominent institution houses an extensive collection of paintings, ceramics, sketches, and prints by some of the most renowned artists of the 20th and 21st centuries. 
The museum's diverse collection includes works by famous artists like Dali, Warhol, and Picasso and you should be prepared to sink at least 2-3 hours here!
Museum Ludwig, Heinrich-Böll-Platz, 50667 Köln, Germany
Indulge In The World Of Chocolate At The Cologne Chocolate Museum
One of the top family-friendly attractions in Cologne is the Chocolate Museum (Schokoladenmuseum). It’s almost impossible not to enjoy a place devoted to chocolate.
First of all, you get chocolate from start to end. There's a little treat at the entrance, another delicious wafer dipped in the chocolate fountain, and a freshly-made piece at the end. Our children were overjoyed!
One entire floor of the museum is like a scene straight out of Willy Wonka's factory too, where they can watch and learn about the fascinating chocolate-making process. I'll say us adults were fully interested at this point too.
On the top floor, there's a games room for kids, and comfy seats for tired adults. We ended the trip with a souvenir of our own, a personalized bar of chocolate from the "chocolate bar".
The chocolate museum is one of the most popular attractions here, which means their ticket queues can stretch to over an hour. If you only have a day in the city, buying your museum ticket online in advance will be a smart move.
Am Schokoladenmuseum 1A, 50678 Köln, Germany
TIP: You can order your tickets from the official Schokoladenmuseum website, but I recommend getting them from GetYourGuide, which allows free cancellations up to 24 hours at no extra cost.
Get To Know Cologne's Street Art on Bike
The best street art can be found in the quirky Ehrenfeld neighborhood and Belgian Quarter district, plastered around walls of buildings, homes and hidden alleyways. They're everywhere you look.
But to really get to know the context and stories behind them, you'll want to have a trained guide. Usually they are local artists themselves, who've personally lived in Cologne and know the people behind these art pieces.
For an authentic experience, I can recommend this street art bike tour by Colonia Aktiv. The tour took us across the Belgian Quarter and Ehrenfeld, and our guide helped us see things you'd usually just walk by.
As we cycled around, our guide kept us engrossed with stories behind each piece of work - from powerful murals on towering walls to subtle pieces tucked away in everyday locations. The tour was 3 hours long, but it passed by much too fast.
In fact, I noticed that even teenagers were having a blast, which is not usually the case with these kinds of tours.
Choose between the "Shared" and "Private" tour option (scroll up & down to see the options).
Self-Guided Cologne Scavenger Hunt
Cologne's newest trend seems to be scavenger hunts.
Such tours blend a walking tour and riddle-solving, allowing you to explore the city while engaging in thrilling tasks and quizzes.
The best part? They are super affordable compared to a guided tour, since they usually use a self-guided app.
This fun-filled scavenger hunt costs just a few euros, and takes you through the Old Town, Cologne Cathedral, Great St. Martin Church and lesser-known attractions like the the Fishmarket and Heinzelmännchenbrunnen.
At every new location you discover, the game unveils a little story behind it. Even though I'm quite familiar with Cologne, I still found myself learning something new.
Plus it's a fantastic option if you don't want to spend money on a guided tour, but want to see the city in a way you really can't with a guidebook.
Get Up Close With Animals At The Cologne Zoo
Cologne Zoo is one of the best in Europe, and is a chance to get up close and personal with over 10,000 animals. The ticket price even includes an aquarium, which is really value-for-money because many other zoos separate the prices.
The petting zoo has baby animals who you can feed as well, which is quite a special experience especially for animal lovers.
Families can rent pull-carts for tired tots, allowing them to rest. Parents can also enjoy a break too, at the large (and creative!) playground near the elephant park where the kids can go wild.
Just be warned that lines to get in and buy tickets can be really long, so highly, high recommend that you reserve your tickets online if you can.
Kölner Zoo, Riehler Str. 173, 50735 Köln, Germany
See Cologne's Grim WWII Past At EL-DE Haus
Located just 8 minutes away from Cologne Cathedral by foot, the EL-DE Haus is a place that holds a significant and somber history. It was once the headquarters of the Gestapo, a notorious Nazi organization.
You can spend anywhere from 30 minutes to 3 hours exploring, but be prepared for a sobering and thought-provoking experience.
The building's basement, where the Gestapo set up ten prison cells, is a chilling reminder of the past. These cells were used for interrogation and even torture. They later became horribly overcrowded, with dozens of prisoners confined in each tiny cell.
The conditions were absolutely inhumane, and the building even eventually became the site of executions.
To enter EL-DE Haus, also known as NS-Dokumentationszentrum, you only have to pay a modest fee of 4.50€ (those with a KölnPass can enter for free). If you don't understand German, highly recommend renting an audio guide for 2€ to gain a deeper understanding of this dark chapter in history.
NS-Dokumentationszentrum der Stadt Köln, Appellhofpl. 23-25, 50667 Köln, Germany
Maximizing Your One Day In Cologne
Get The 24-Hour KölnCard
The KölnCard is the official tourist card of Cologne, and helps you save money when you visit museums, attractions, take tours, shop and eat in the city.
Importantly, it also lets you ride on public buses and trams for free.
You can choose between two options: a 24-hour card for only 9€ or a 48-hour card for 18€.
How much can you expect to save?
- Say, you visit Museum Ludwig, the Roman-Germanic Museum, the Chocolate Museum, and take one of the selected city cruise, you can expect to save around 11€ with the KölnCard.
- Then, an all-day train & bus ticket costs around €8, but with the KölnCard you get unlimited public transportation.
- So you can see how the KölnCard can pay for itself twice over.
Should you get the KölnCard?
- Yes, if you plan to visit several attractions in a day. You'll quickly save more than the €9 cost of the card.
- Yes, if you're traveling in a group of up to 5 people. You can get the 24-hour Group KölnCard for €19, so when you split the cost, it can get as low as €3.80 per person. That makes it a fantastic deal.
- Yes, if you plan to use public transport like visiting the Cologne Zoo or the Belgian Quarter. Otherwise, most of Cologne's attractions on our one-day itinerary are within walking distance of each other.
Avoid Walking on Bike Paths
Be extra cautious about not walking on the bike paths! It's a bit of an unspoken rule here, but we usually have our sidewalks divided into two sections, often with a different color or a line.
The part closest to the road is reserved for cyclists. If you accidentally wander onto the bike path, you might hear some agitated bell ringing. You might even get some shouts in German, but it's often more about safety than rudeness.
Don't take it personally – it's all part of the local culture.
Note That Some Museums Close on Mondays
Many museums here, like Museum Ludwig, Museum Schnütgen of Christian Art, and Rautenstrauch-Joest-Museum of Ethnography, are closed on Mondays.
It's a common practice in the museum world, and not just in Germany. They do this to give their staff a day off and to work on things behind the scenes. Plus, Monday is typically a day with the lowest attendance.
So, check that the museum you want to visit is open when planning your day in Cologne.
Consider A Hop-On-Hop-Off Bus Tour
Cologne is a city full of things to see and do, but if you only have 24 hours, a great option is taking a 24-hour hop-on-hop-off bus tour! These tours are fantastic for making the most of your limited time in the city.
With your ticket, you can hop on the bus at any of the designated stops, and it takes you on a route that covers all the major highlights; like the Cathedral, Zoo, Old Town, Chocolate Museum, the zoo, Friesenplatz (at Belgian Quarter) and more.
The best part is, you can hop off at any stop you want to explore further. When you're ready to move on, just wait for the next bus, and hop back on. The buses run pretty frequently, so you won't be waiting around for ages.
If you want to make the most of your 24 hours in Cologne without the hassle of walking to places, or planning what trams or buses to take, a hop-on-hop-off bus tour is a great choice.
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Cologne: 24h Hop-On Hop-Off Sightseeing Bus Ticket
Shop For Souvenirs At Hohe Strasse Or Schildergasse
A trip to Cologne is not complete without a bit of shopping, and Hohe Strasse and Schildergasse are two of the most popular streets for shoppers. These areas are known for their wide selection of stores that sell various souvenirs, including locally made perfumes.
The Schildergasse is particularly impressive, as it is the second oldest street in Cologne and draws an astounding 15,000 shoppers every hour. 
Conclusion: The Perfect 1-Day Itinerary in Cologne
If you only have one day to spare in Cologne, don't worry! You can still comfortably experience the city's highlights within 24 hours.
Many attractions are within walking distance to each other, which makes exploring them super convenient.
By following our recommended itinerary, you'll have the chance to visit Cologne's "must-see" sights, soak in the local culture, and sample the regional cuisine in just one day, without having to rush.
Just remember to get attraction tickets you need in advance, to save time spent in ticket queues!
- Start your day with a traditional German breakfast at Bastian's near Appellhofplatz station. Try their specialty, "Bienenstich" – it's delicious.
- Then, head to the Cologne Cathedral and the Shrine of the Three Wise Men. If you're feeling adventurous, climb the tower for a fantastic view of the city.
- Pop by the Roman-Germanic Museum, and peek at the Dionysus mosaic and the tomb of Lucius Poblicius, a reflection of Cologne's Roman history. Then, take a walk across the Hohenzollern Bridge and maybe even add your own love lock.
- Then, stroll through the historic old town and visit the Alter Markt, where you'll find charming old houses, the Historic Town Hall, the Great St. Martin Church and in winter, the famous Christmas market.
- For lunch, try some local Kölsch beer and traditional Rhineland food at a Brauhaus, like Peters Brauhaus.
- Relaxing on a river cruise along the Rhine River provides an excellent opportunity to take in stunning views of the city's skyline, while also enjoying onboard commentary about Cologne's fascinating history.
- Finally, to cap off the evening, head to the eclectic Belgian Quarters for dinner. End the night at one of the great bars like Little Link or Seiberts for a well-deserved drink.
1. What are some must-visit attractions in Cologne for a one-day itinerary?
Some of the must-visit attractions in Cologne for a one-day itinerary include the famous UNESCO-listed Cologne Cathedral, the historic Old Town area which is home to colorful buildings, quaint shops and cafes, as well as the Hohenzollern Bridge.
2. How long does it take to explore Cologne's Old Town on foot?
It takes roughly 1-2 hours to explore Cologne's Old Town on foot depending upon your pace as well as how many sights along this picturesque district you're interested in exploring.
3. Are there any guided tours available for a day trip to Cologne?
Yes! There are several guided tours available for a day trip to Cologne.
We recommend taking the Old Town Highlights Walking Tour to get the most out of your trip to the Old Town. Alternatively, the Old Town Brewhouse Tour tour focuses more on the local Kölsch beer culture and breweries.
If you're more into urban culture and art, the street art bike tour by Colonia Aktiv is an excellent choice too.
4. Can I visit any local breweries during my one day trip to Cologne?
Absolutely! Cologne is known for its unique brewery culture, and you can't visit without trying some Kölsch beer. There are several traditional brewhouses in the city where you can savor this local brew.
Popular breweries worth checking out include Peters Brauhaus, Brauhaus Sion, Malzmühle amongst others around town!
1: Cologne Cathedral - UNESCO World Heritage Centre, retrieved from https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/292/
2: Römisch-Germanisches Museum Köln | History, retrieved from https://roemisch-germanisches-museum.de/History
3: History of the Museum Ludwig from 1976 to the Present, retrieved from https://www.museum-ludwig.de/en/museum/the-museum/history.html
4: Schildergasse, retrieved from https://www.cologne-tourism.com/arts-culture/sights/detail/schildergasse