One day in Cologne Germany is enough time to see some of the best sights and eat some great food in Cologne. If you have more time, I would highly recommend spending at least two days in this awesome city, but this article will cover what to do in 24 hours in Cologne.
Luckily, Cologne is quite small in terms of actual size so getting around to the main attractions is quick and doesn’t require getting on public transportation or getting an Uber if you don’t want to.
Arriving in Cologne
Most international flights into this region of Germany land in Frankfurt. It is a very quick and easy train from Frankfurt to Cologne, so it’s well worth adding it to your Germany itinerary.
If you are arriving at Cologne Airport, it’s incredibly easy and affordable to get from the airport to the city center. There are trains that run every 20 minutes between the airport and city center.
When you walk through arrivals, simply follow the signs for the S-Bahn. You will walk past the check-in counters to the other side of the airport (it’s a very small airport). Then you will head down the escalators and down once more to the first platform that you reach on your right when you get to the station.
The app is incredibly easy to use and it stores all of the tickets you purchase so you don’t have to worry about losing them. The ticket costs €2. It takes about 15 minutes to get to the main station or Haupt Bahnhof.
Some people ride the local trains and subways in Germany without a ticket because there are rarely any staff checking tickets. I really do not recommend doing this. If someone comes on the local train to check your ticket in Germany and you don’t have one, they don’t care that you’re a tourist, you will be fined. I have seen it happen many times in both Berlin and in Hamburg.
Best Hotels in Cologne
If you only have one day in Cologne, I recommend booking a hotel that is right in the city center. Luckily, there are plenty.
- Arde Hotel – This is about as central as it gets for the price. It’s definitely more of a budget hotel, but its still very clean and has all of the amenities you need. The best perk is that every room includes breakfast. The breakfast is a buffet with scrambled eggs, different sliced meats, tons of fruit, bread and pastries, and unlimited coffee, tea, and juice. I had a great stay here during my 24 hours in Cologne and would stay here again because of its fantastic location (and filling breakfast!). Single rooms start as low as €39. Book a stay at Arde Hotel here.
- Stadthotel am Römerturm – A more midrange option, Stadhotel is also located right in the center of the city and has slightly nicer rooms and more hot breakfast options. Some of the rooms have views of the cathedral while others look out over the old city. It’s a great option for those that want a few more amenities without spending a ton and want to have quick and easy access to the cathedral and surrounding museums. Rooms start at €97. Book a stay at Stadthotel am Römerturm here.
- Ruby Ella Hotel – This is one of the best boutique hotels in Cologne. The lobby and bar area are stylish and comfortable for an evening in. The breakfast is better than most hotels, including several cooked-to-order breakfast options. The rooms are clean, comfortable and many have stunning views of the city. It’s not as centrally located as the other two options, but it’s worth walking another block or two if you want four-star accommodation like this one. Rooms start at €120 per night. Book a stay at Ruby Ella Hotel here.
Morning of One Day in Cologne
Whether you are arriving the night before your 24 hours in Cologne or you are starting the day here straight from the airport, you’ll want to start early and make the most of the day.
If you have arrived by train and can’t check into your hotel yet, or you’re not spending another night and you need to check out, you can store your luggage in a locker at the train station. As you walk into the main entrance you’ll see the ticket counter straight ahead of you. Turn to the left and you will see sets of electronic locker stations to your left near the ATMs.
It costs €6 to store your bag for 24 hours. The machine will store the bag and give you a small ticket that you’ll need to reclaim your bag at the end of the day. Store it somewhere safe!
If your hotel didn’t offer breakfast or you opted to skip it, head to Bakery Merzenich in the old town. There are usually lines out the door, and for good reason. The pastries here are outstanding. You can pair it with a coffee, grab some bread for later, or even have a nice meaty sandwich to start the day.
I personally love the salty pretzels that you can usually buy from the vendor outside the shop. If you have a real sweet tooth in the morning, they make hot waffles fresh to order as well.
After breakfast, be sure to get to the Cologne Cathedral as soon as you can manage. The Kölner Dom or Cologne Cathedral is not only the most visited tourist site in Cologne, it’s the most visited tourist site in all of Germany. So you can imagine how busy it gets as the day wears on.
It’s the second tallest church in Europe and the tallest twin-spired church in the entire world!
The cathedral itself is very special and shouldn’t be missed, but the main attraction is actually the belfry; the tower that you can climb up to (no elevators!).
The entrance to the bell tower opens at 9 am each day and by 10 am you’ll be crowding up the stairs with tons of tours. I went at 9:15 am and walked straight up to the top without seeing many people.
But on the way back down around 9:45, I was already stopping at different areas on the stairs to let groups of people pass.
It costs €5 to walk to the top of all 533 steps. It’s a steep and winding climb, certainly not for those that aren’t particularly mobile. But there are places along the way to pause and catch your breath if you need to.
Explore the Relics of the Roman History of Cologne
After you visit the cathedral, you’ll probably still have time before lunch to explore more of the city. One of the things I find most fascinating about Cologne is its Roman history.
The Romans founded Cologne back in the 1st Century and there are still several reminders of that around the historic center of Cologne today.
Right outside of the cathedral is an old Roman gate. It was the northern gate into the city during that time and is now a nice place to sit down and relax after you climb all of those stairs of the bell tower.
The other place I highly recommend checking out is the Römerturm. It’s about a 10-minute walk to the Römerturm, which is an old Roman pillar that is still almost completely intact, exactly as it was when it was built in 51 AD.
This is because when the Romans left and the Franks arrived, they built this pilar into their monastery and turned it into their bathroom. It’s truly stunning to behold something so old and still in such good condition.
If you are really interested in learning more about the history of Cologne, the Roman-Germanic Museum is located next to the cathedral and is the most comprehensive museum of the city’s history.
Have a Coffee in the Belgian Quarter
While you’re over in this part of town near the Römerturm, you may as well take a walk through the Belgian Quarter. This is one of the most beautiful parts of Cologne with old-style European architecture and plenty of great cafes to stop in for a mid-morning pick-me-up.
If you love a great cup of coffee, you’ll want to make a stop at Kaffeesaurus. They are roasting their own beans and brewing up the best coffee that I had in Cologne. They have a full cafe menu if you don’t fancy having any German food. They also have a nice selection of pastries.
On your way back towards the old town, head back via the Hahnen Gate. It’s a medieval gate that has been restored to almost exactly how it looked during the medieval period when the city was a thriving market town.
Lunch for One Day in Cologne
If you managed just to have a coffee at Kaffeesauras, you’ll probably be starving by now. For a true local Cologne experience, it doesn’t get much better than Brauhaus Früh. This is the most famous restaurant in the city and they also make their own Kölsch, the local beer of Cologne.
If you’re up for a midday beer, this is a great place for it. But it’s really one of the best restaurants in town for traditional German food from this region of the country.
Himmel un Ääd or Heaven and Earth is a very traditional dish from Cologne and is basically made of potatoes and apples. It’s mashed up into a creamy mashed potato with a slight apple flavor. It’s usually served with bacon, onions, and black pudding.
Halve Hahn or half a rooster is another popular brauhaus lunch option that you’ll find on the menu in Cologne. There is no rooster in this dish. It’s really just an open-faced gouda sandwich, but the bread is top-quality rye bread, the gouda is creamy and delicious. You’ll usually get a few toppings to go along with the sandwich as well.
Afternoon of 24 Hours in Cologne Germany
Art lovers will not want to miss a visit to the Museum Ludwig. This is without a doubt the best art museum I have been to outside of New York and Paris.
They have the largest collection of Picassos in Europe, but it’s about so much more than the Picassos (which are at the very top and back of the museum so you have to explore everything else first anyway).
It has interactive exhibits, photography, videography, paintings from across the spectrum of cubism, realism, abstract, etc. It is a truly wonderful museum and deserves at least an hour of your time (I spent two here).
The other museum worth exploring is the Farina Duftmuseum. The name Cologne isn’t just given to a city of course. It’s also a perfume of the same name. That’s no coincidence.
Eau de Cologne was originally founded right here in the city of Cologne and it all started at this spot, the Farina in 1701. You can now visit the museum and learn about the family, company, and method in which this perfume was created and how it carries on today.
Explore the streets of the Old Town
If you don’t particularly love museums, then you should spend the afternoon getting to know the streets of Cologne. You can stroll along the river or across the Hohenzollern Bridge. This bridge is absolutely covered in love locks, however, it also offers fantastic views back over Cologne.
If you head all the way across, stop into the Cologne Triangle. This building has a rooftop that you can visit for €5. In my opinion, it’s an even better view of the city than from the cathedral because you get to look back over the cathedral from here.
Once back near the old town, you won’t want to miss seeing the Historisches Rathaus zu Köln, or the historical city hall of Cologne. It’s the oldest city hall building in all of Germany with the oldest part of this building first constructed back in the 14th century. There are other parts of the building that were added in the 15th, 16th, and 20th Centuries.
You can walk around the inside of the city hall which is really an incredible sight to see. Much of the interior has been restored to look as it did back when it was built. Entrance is free, but the hours are strange, so be sure to check their website before you try to visit.
What to Do at Night in Cologne
If there is still a little bit of daylight left in your one day in Cologne, I recommend taking a walk along the river promenade. As people start to head home from work and school, this is a popular commute.
The path fills up with cyclists, electric scooters, and people walking to the train station. Some head home with a can of beer in hand since this is perfectly legal in Germany. I love grabbing a snack and a can of beer from the grocery store and sitting watching the day come to a close.
If you want to do it from the comfort of a bar rather than the local park, Hafenterrasse is a great little outdoor bar and terrace.
If you are visiting Cologne for the first time, it’s worth noting that most bars will bring you a small 200ml glass of Kölsch if you order the beer. Then when your glass is empty, another one will appear. The waiter will tally each beer on your coaster. They will keep appearing until you put your coaster on top of your last glass.
If you want to have some great kölsch paired with delicious food, here are a few spots that are well worth visiting on your 24 hours in Cologne (I nearly extended my trip another day just to visit more Brauhaus!). Click the name of each bar to be taken to the location on Google Maps.
- Früh – I mentioned Früh above as a great spot for lunch. If you didn’t manage to get there for lunch, head here for dinner. Their pork knuckle is meant to be the best in town!
- Gaffel am Dom – Gaffel is perhaps my favorite kölsch and this location, in particular, is the best spot for watching the local football team play. There are tons of tables. There is always a great atmosphere. On the weekends, there’s usually a live band. It feels like a proper German beer hall (probably because it is!). The food is delicious and the staff couldn’t be nicer. When our waiter realized that we were in Cologne for the first time, he told us to take home one of the kölsch glasses so we would never forget the best beer in Germany.
- Brauhaus Em Kölsche Boor – A little bit of a walk from the downtown, it’s worth visiting this beer hall for the amazing food and because it is one of the oldest kölsch breweries in Cologne. The food is probably some of my favorite that I ate during my time in Western Germany. I highly recommend making time to have food here if you want a great German meal.
- Peter Brauhaus – Another great beer hall for crisp kölsch and excellent German food. If you don’t want to make the walk all the way to Brauhaus Em Kölsche Boor, then this is a great second choice for delicious German food. It’s especially nice on a warm summer evening when you can sit outside in the plaza and enjoy a cold Kölsch and currywurst.
Getting Out of Cologne
If you are traveling to another city in Germany, I highly recommend booking your tickets at least a few days in advance. If you know where your next stop will be, booking it more than a week in advance is even better, especially during the busy summer months.
This is not only because they can sometimes sell out, but because the price can change depending on how popular the train is and how close to the date of travel you get.
If you’re not sure where to head, read up on my guide to Berlin or check out my video about all the awesome things to do in Hamburg. Germany is a stunning country worth lots of time.
Watch My 24 Hours in Cologne
This article contains affiliate links.