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One day in Cologne: Great Things to Do

What to do in Cologne in one day

When I still lived in Hanoi, we played guess the word game over food and alcohol. I was with my group of friends, the usual ones. I badly wanted our team to win. When it was about cities, I knew it was my turn to shine. They gave me the country, and I would narrate all the cities I knew. The 13-year-old Jona would have been proud. But some cities, they didn’t know the country. April said, it smells good. Huh? It smells good. Oh, Cologne. Home of Eau de Cologne. I don’t personally know if the name of the cologne was an inspiration of the city. When I think of Cologne, I don’t think of colognes and perfumes rather of the grandiose cathedral that the city has and the festivals and the parties it is known for. Having spent a day in Maastricht, another day in Aachen, my last full day for the long weekend was a day in Cologne, and I squeezed all the touristy things to do in less than 24 hours. LOL. Yep, I’m a full-pledged tourist. It’s about time. 😛

free things to do in Cologne in one day

Where to stay in Cologne

Breakfast near Cologne Cathedral

Cologne Cathedral (Kölner Dom) is a central landmark, and there are several cafes and restaurants in the vicinity. As I said time and time again, having brunch near popular landmarks is like hitting two birds with one stone. You’re filling up your belly and eyes.

Here are five cafes near the cathedral where you can enjoy a meal or a cup of coffee.

brunch places near cologne cathedral
  1. Café Reichard: Located on Domkloster Street, Café Reichard is a cozy and traditional café offering a selection of coffee, pastries, and light meals. It’s an ideal place to relax after visiting the cathedral.
  2. Hansel & Gretel: This charming café and bakery is situated on Unter Goldschmied, a short walk from the cathedral. They serve delicious pastries, cakes, and sandwiches. It’s a great spot for a coffee and a sweet treat.
  3. Café Extrablatt: Located on Alter Markt, Café Extrablatt offers a spacious and comfortable environment. You can enjoy a variety of breakfast options, sandwiches, and coffee while taking in the views of the historic square.
  4. Sonnentor Café: This café is on Am Hof, just a short walk from the cathedral. Sonnentor Café is known for its organic coffee and tea options, as well as healthy snacks and light meals. The cozy atmosphere makes it a perfect place to unwind.
  5. Café Scholl: Situated on Obenmarspforten Street, Café Scholl offers a mix of traditional German and international dishes. Whether you want a coffee, a hearty breakfast, or a light lunch, you’ll find a variety of options here.

Not too Cool for Cologne Cathedral

Cologne Cathedral, or Kölner Dom, is a breathtaking masterpiece of Gothic architecture that looms majestically over the city of Cologne, Germany. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is a symbol of the city’s rich history and a must-visit destination. Its awe-inspiring façade adorned with intricate spires and sculptures draws visitors from all over the world. Inside, the grandeur continues with towering columns and stunning stained glass windows.

What to do in Cologne in one day
Cologne Cathedral is right next to Cologne Central Station, so it is so convenient to see this architectural masterpiece up close.

PERSONAL TIPS: Make sure to climb the South Tower for panoramic views of Cologne and the Rhine River. Also, consider attending a choral performance to experience the cathedral’s acoustical wonders. It’s an absolute marvel that should not be missed.

Pledge your love at Hohenzollern Bridge

Or not. I personally find it cringy. Sorry not sorry. I wonder if the people who left locks here are still together. Most likely many are not.

But yeah, the Hohenzollern Bridge in Cologne, Germany, is not merely a functional railway bridge but a significant cultural and romantic landmark. Adorned with thousands of love locks, it symbolizes the affection of couples who have secured padlocks to the bridge’s fencing as a testament of their love.

One of the things to do in Cologne in one day is of course checking out Hohenzollern Bridge
I keep a diary of men I had an affair with or serious relationships. And definitely Brian is not in the list. 😛

Strolling along the bridge offers mesmerizing views of the cityscape and the majestic Cologne Cathedral. For a fuller experience, first, bring your own love lock to contribute to the tradition, but ensure it adheres to safety and environmental guidelines. Second, visit during sunset or early evening when the setting sun bathes the bridge in a warm, romantic glow, making it the perfect time for photographs and a touch of magic.

Cruise through the Rhine River

I personally did not do this. It was gloomy as hell during my trip. And cruises, especially the short ones, are best done when the day beams with hope.

One day in Cologne: Great Things to Do is cruising through rhine river
Cologne across Hohenzollern Bridge is just a magical sight.

But I’ve heard that a Rhine River cruise in Cologne is an enchanting journey that offers a unique perspective of this historic city. A tour guide friend is even doing this from Frankfurt all the way to Cologne As you drift along the calm waters, you’ll be treated to captivating views of Cologne’s skyline, including the iconic Cologne Cathedral and the Hohenzollern Bridge, beautifully illuminated at night. Many operators offer one-hour sightseeing cruises, making it a convenient and memorable experience for tourists. For first-time travelers, here are a couple of tips:

  1. Timing is Everything: Try to time your cruise during sunset or in the early evening to witness the city’s landmarks bathed in the warm, golden glow of the setting sun.
  2. Book in Advance: Especially during peak tourist seasons, it’s a good idea to book your river cruise in advance to secure your preferred time slot and avoid disappointment.

Lunch in Cologne’s Old Town (Altstadt)

Indulging in lunch in Cologne’s Old Town (Altstadt) is a delightful journey into traditional German cuisine. With cobblestone streets and historic charm, this area is the perfect backdrop for savoring authentic local dishes. Try a succulent bratwurst, crispy schnitzel, or perhaps the adventurous kölsche Kaviar, a black pudding dish with onions. Here are five restaurants in the Altstadt area to enjoy these culinary delights:

Photo from Haxenhaus’ IG
  1. Früh am Dom: Renowned for its traditional Kölsch beer and hearty German fare, this lively brewpub is situated right by the cathedral.
  2. Haxenhaus zum Rheingarten: Known for its mouthwatering pork knuckles and rustic ambiance, it’s an ideal spot for a traditional German meal.
  3. Gilden im Zims: A historic brewery serving regional dishes and Kölsch beer in a charming, centuries-old building.
  4. Lommerzheim: A hidden gem offering homely and delicious German comfort food, located a bit off the beaten path.
  5. Zum Jan: A cozy and authentic restaurant specializing in German and regional dishes, with a warm and welcoming atmosphere.

Dig in at Museum Ludwig

Step into the vibrant world of modern and contemporary art at the Museum Ludwig. This cultural gem in Cologne showcases an astonishing collection of artistic masterpieces, from the innovative works of Picasso and Warhol to creations by other influential artists.

Museum Ludwig in Cologne is a work of art. The building itself is worth checking out.
Museum Ludwig in Cologne is a work of art. The building itself is worth checking out.

The museum is a journey through the evolution of art, where avant-garde visions and creative revolutions come to life. Whether you’re an art aficionado or just seeking inspiration, Museum Ludwig offers an immersive experience that will leave you captivated by the endless possibilities of human creativity.

Stroll around Alter Markt

The Alter Markt in Cologne is a historic marketplace that takes you on a delightful journey through time. As you wander its cobblestone streets, you’ll be greeted by charming and colorful historic buildings that tell the tale of centuries gone by.

Cologne's Old Market is one of the free things to do in Cologne  in one day

The ambiance is enchanting, especially when you take a moment to sit at a local café, sipping on coffee or indulging in ice cream. It’s a chance to savor the city’s rich heritage while basking in the serenity of this picturesque square. An essential experience that connects you with Cologne’s heart and history.

Check out the Flea Market behind the Great Saint Martin Church

I mean this is more of a personal bias. Me and flea markets. Me and secondhand bookstores.

Cologne’s Old Market Square hosts a vibrant and captivating flea market, a treasure trove of history and culture. As you stroll through this historic city center, the market comes alive with a kaleidoscope of colors and aromas. The market’s charm lies in its diverse offerings, from vintage trinkets and antiques to local crafts and international delicacies. Vendors haggle cheerfully, creating a lively atmosphere that resonates with the heart of the city.

Check out the flea market in Old Market Square behind the Great Saint Martin Church
I bought a three-layered boho necklace that I’ve only worn once. And I don’t know where they are now. Lol.

Amidst the cobblestone streets and medieval architecture, visitors can uncover unique finds and immerse themselves in Cologne’s rich heritage. A visit to this flea market is a sensory journey that captures the essence of the city’s Old World charm.

Relax at Rheinauhafen

Discover the perfect blend of tradition and modernity at Rheinauhafen in Cologne. This trendy riverside area boasts intriguing contemporary architecture that contrasts beautifully with the historical surroundings. Take a leisurely stroll along the Rhine’s edge, unwind by the water’s gentle flow, and let the urban atmosphere envelop you.

What can you do in Cologne in one day
Yeah, the perfect spot is across the river and people-watch

Don’t miss the opportunity to explore the striking, avant-garde buildings that define this area. Rheinauhafen provides a tranquil yet vibrant escape where you can savor the city’s architectural and natural beauty.

Dinner at a local brewery or beer hall

In Cologne, your evening transforms into a delicious adventure as you embrace the local culture. Enjoy dinner at a classic brewery or atmospheric beer hall, where traditional Kölsch beer flows generously, complementing hearty German dishes.

Savor the flavors of sausages, sauerkraut, and freshly baked pretzels while immersing yourself in the convivial ambiance of these establishments. The combination of hearty fare and the rich tradition of Kölsch beer will leave you with a truly authentic and satisfying culinary experience, a must-do for visitors to Cologne.

Photo from Früh am Dom’s IG
  1. Früh am Dom: Located right by the cathedral, Früh am Dom is one of Cologne’s most iconic breweries. They serve their own Kölsch beer, which is well-loved by locals and visitors alike. The atmosphere is lively, and it’s a great place to enjoy a traditional German meal.
  2. Päffgen: Päffgen is a historic brewery with a charming beer hall. It’s known for its traditional Kölsch and authentic Cologne cuisine. The rustic interior adds to the old-world charm.
  3. Gaffel am Dom: This brewery and beer hall is situated near the cathedral and offers a selection of Kölsch beer. You can savor a hearty Kölsch meal while enjoying the lively ambiance.
  4. Mühlen Kölsch: Located near the Neumarkt, Mühlen Kölsch is a family-owned brewery that produces its own Kölsch beer. The brewery has a cozy, traditional feel, making it a favorite among locals.
  5. Brauhaus Sion: Established in the 14th century, Brauhaus Sion is one of the oldest breweries in Cologne. They offer a variety of Kölsch beers and classic German dishes in a historic setting.

Nightlife in Friesenstraße

As the sun sets, Friesenstraße in Cologne comes alive with a vibrant nightlife scene that caters to various tastes. This popular street is a hub of bars, clubs, and live music venues, promising an exciting evening. Whether you prefer to sip cocktails, listen to live bands, or dance the night away, Friesenstraße has it all.

Immerse yourself in the energetic atmosphere of Cologne’s nightlife, and discover why this bustling street is a magnet for both locals and tourists seeking a memorable night out. It’s a dynamic and pulsating finale to your day in this lively city.

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Jona of Backpacking with a Book

Hi there, I’m Jona, originally from Cebu, Philippines, had live in Hanoi, Vietnam, and now currently based in Munich, Germany. This blog used to house thoughts on life and books, but eventually it morphed into a travel blog. For collaborations, projects, and other things, please email me at For essays, creative nonfiction, and others, find me elsewhere.

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  1. […] I technically stayed for three nights in Aachen, but I spent one day in Maastricht and another one day in Cologne as a sort of day trips. So for sightseeing, I only spent one day in Aachen.  So here are some […]

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