After spending a few days exploring the small town of Bonn, I decided to head up to Cologne, Germany to get a feel for one of Germany’s bigger cities. I had only one day to see the city before heading back to Brussels, so I wanted to tick off all the major attractions Cologne has to offer. As it turns out, this city is quite lovely and you can easily cover the basics with just one day in Cologne.
If you’re planning a visit but only have one day, here are 9 things to do in Cologne that you can easily do in one day, as well as where to eat on a budget and where to stay!
One Day in Cologne: Things to Do
Back in the day, Heumarkt (or, Haymarket) is where they traded hay along with other goods. You can also find some traditional breweries selling the famous Kolsch beer in this area. There is a convenient tram stop here, which makes it a great starting point for your one day in Cologne. Here you’ll get your first taste of the lovely blend of old and modern architecture that is present throughout the city. This is also one location of Cologne’s Christmas Markets, so if you visit in winter time, be sure to check it out.
Continuing North, you’ll find yourself in the middle of Alter Markt. During the Middle Ages, this was the center of the city. Weekly trade markets took place here, along with court rulings and public executions. With the Old Town Hall still located here, you’ll definitely get a feel for historical Cologne. In the middle of the square you’ll see a fountain statue of Jan von Werth, who was a general during the Thirty Years’ War.
Insider Tip: If you look closely at the top of house #24 (across from the Historical Town Hall) you will see Kallendresser- a sculpture of a man with his pants down, squatting. It is thought this was meant to be a statement directed towards the political goings on inside the Town Hall.
Towards the East, along the Rhine River you’ll come to the iconic and lovely FischMarkt. These slender, colorful buildings are some of the most attractive and picturesque in the Cologne area. There is great seating here along the Rhine River if you’re looking for a spot to relax as well.
The Chocolate Museum (Das Schokoladen Museum)
Chocolate fans will love this museum, full of all things chocolate! Visitors can learn about how cocoa is grown, harvested, and made into the delicious treat we love. There is also a fully functioning production facility and chocolate workshop inside, so you can see how the cocoa is turned into candy! You can even make your own candy bar, or just stick with the free samples that are given out! Entry to the museum costs €11.50 for adults and €9 for students.
After you cross to the other side of the bridge, head to Triangle Tower (also called the Cologne Triangle). This hidden gem in Cologne allows you access to the top of the tower for incredible views over Cologne city. The Panorama experience costs only €3 and includes an elevator ride to the top and unlimited time at the top of the tower (but don’t get crazy…)
This experience is much preferred to climbing the 533 steps to the top of the Cathedral, but not many people know about it yet. Hooray for less crowding and leg cramping!
Once you finish taking in the views, it’s time to cross the famous Hohenzollern Bridge. The original bridge was built between 1907 and 1911. However, in 1945, German soldiers blew up the bridge to prevent Allied troops from using it to access and attack the city of Cologne. The bridge was reconstructed in 1959.
But perhaps one of the more well-known factoids about the bridge is that it is one of the world’s few Love Lock bridges. For the last several years, couples have placed padlocks on the bridge as a symbol of their everlasting love. There are over 400,000 padlocks attached to the bridge and it is estimated that these locks add an additional 2 tons of weight to the bridge.
The other end of the Hohenzollern Bridge will lead you to the back end of the Cologne Cathedral. The iconic symbol of the city reaches almost 160 meters high (about 530 feet). You’re welcome to go inside, but I quite honestly enjoyed viewing the outside the best. After a construction period of 632 years- yep, that’s not a typo– it’s hard not to spend a long time looking at all the detail of this building.
As mentioned before, you can climb to the top of the cathedral, but there is no elevator, so you have to climb up all 533 steps, then climb back down at the end. It’s up to you, but once you’re at the top, you don’t even get to see the most impressive part of Cologne’s skyline (because you’re inside it.) The cost of the Tower Climb is €4 for adults and €2 for children.
Rhine River Cruise
There’s really no better way to end your one day in Cologne than by relaxing on a cruise down the Rhine River. There are several companies that run different cruises on the river. You’ll want to do a little research to decide which cruise is best for you. If you’re visiting during the summer months when there are more tourists in the city, you will want to buy your tickets in advance.
Insider tip: If you spent time in Bonn, Germany and still have a valid Bonn Regio Card, you are eligible for some discounts on your Rhine River cruise!
Where to Eat in Cologne on a Budget
If you’re looking for a light snack in Cologne, and don’t want to spend a lot or sit down at a restaurant, it is easy enough to pop into the nearest bakery for a German Pretzel! The pretzels are soft and just a bit salty, and will only set you back a euro or two!
Fruh am Dom
Want to try some traditional German foods without spending a lot? Fruh am Dom is a huge restaurant, close to the Cologne Cathedral. Serving lots of German foods at a reasonable price, this is a popular spot for visitors. There are lots of different rooms inside, decorated in different ways, but I recommend grabbing a seat outside if the weather is nice!
German food just not really your thing? Convida serves “Californian Mexican” foods at a low price! Their make-your-own burritos are delicious and offer a different flavor than you can find at most Cologne restaurants. You can get a burrito, a burrito bowl, a salad, or warm quesadillas for less than €8!
Where to Stay in Cologne
Is one day in Cologne just not quite enough? There are a crazy amount of different hotel options in the city. However, if you want to stay somewhere that’s different than your average hotel, check out Die Wohngemeinschaft Hostel. This place is more than just a hostel. Each room is uniquely decorated, and you can choose between shared dorm rooms or private rooms.
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