Planning the perfect 1 or 2 days in Cologne itinerary can be a bit difficult when you consider al there is to do in this lovely city. Situated in western Germany you’ll find Cologne. Pronounced “Köln” in German, this charming city is a lesser-visited destination for tourists.
Most visitors to Germany flock to Munich or Berlin, leaving Cologne as a great destination for anyone wanting the history, food, and culture that Germany is famous for while avoiding the pressing crowds of larger cities.
Table of Contents
How Many Days in Cologne?
If you just want to visit the highlights or have a limited amount of time in Germany, one day in Cologne will be enough to get a good sense of what the city has to offer. You can explore the riverfront, walk through the Old Town, and visit the famous Cologne Cathedral all within a few hours.
If you want to dive deeper into the city’s history and culture, 2 days are great too. More than one day will allow you more time to take in the city at your own pace. You can spread out your visits to museums and even have some free time to relax in local parks or along the River Rhine and get a bit outside the tourist center of Cologne.
Cologne is a city that is very worth exploring on foot. When deciding how many days to spend in Cologne, take a look at everything there is to do then choose what you’re most interested in. Without a doubt, you’ll come away with an itinerary that suits your traveling goals.
Getting To & Around Cologne
There are two main ways you’ll arrive in Cologne: by train or plane. If you’re flying into the city, you’ll land at the Cologne Bonn Airport. From there you can take a taxi, private transfer, rideshare, or train.
There is a train station at the airport that takes visitors directly to the city center for less than five euros, but this transport is free if you have the KolnCard. The ride from the airport to the city is 10 to 15 minutes.
If you’re arriving by train (you can view train schedules here), you will exit the train station in the center of the city. From here, you can either walk or call a taxi to reach your accommodation.
Cologne is a very walkable city. If you only have 1 day, you likely won’t even need to use the public transit system. Most of the main highlights are centrally located and walking between them also gives you more opportunity to experience as much of the city as possible if you’re trying to see Cologne in 1 day without haveing to hop on a tram or bus.
Should you plan to see Cologne in 2 days, and want to use public transit, consider getting the 24 or 48 hours KolnCard. This grants its holders free tickets on public transport throughout the city, including to and from the airport.
1 to 2-Day Cologne Itinerary
No matter how long you have to spend in Cologne, here’s what you should try to see to make your trip memorable.
Day 1 – Cologne Cathedral, Museum Ludwig, Old Market & More
Visit the Cologne Cathedral
When you arrive for your first day in Cologne, you’ll quickly notice a towering Gothic cathedral that dominates the skyline. This is the Cologne Cathedral, and the first place you should visit while exploring the city.
A UNESCO World Heritage site, construction on the cathedral began in 1248. It was completed in several disparate stages, so it wasn’t complete until 1880.
This intricately-designed Gothic cathedral is as impressive inside as it is outside. Enter the cathedral to take in the historic stained glass windows and tall arches that make up the main hall.
The Cologne Cathedral is open for tourists and free to visit. Make sure to check the cathedral’s website prior to visiting as special events and masses can change when the cathedral is open to visitors.
To learn more about the history of the Cathedral and Cologne, you should consider going on this walking tour of the Old Town of Cologne.
Explore Museum Ludwig
Home to one of the largest collections of Picasso works in the world, Museum Ludwig is the best art museum to visit if you are trying to see Cologne in 1 day.
The permanent exhibit holds Europe’s largest Pop Art collection, the third largest Picasso collection in the world, and one of the pinnacle exhibitions of German Expressionism. It’s an impressive collection of 20th and 21st-century art that began in 1976 with a mere 350 pieces of modern art that was gifted by private citizens.
There is always a special exhibition running, so make sure to see what’s happening during your visit. Tickets can be purchased at the museum or online and provide access to both the permanent and special collections.
Those who would rather visit a different museum may also be interested inn the EL-DE Haus. This is the former Gestapo headquarters in the city and is a harrowing place to visit, but important to understanding that darker parts of Cologne’s more recent history.
Walk across the Hohenzollern Bridge
This triple-arch bridge has seen many versions of itself throughout Cologne’s history. The original bridge was a railway and road, but was destroyed in 1945. When it was rebuilt, it was designed for foot traffic and trains only.
It sees more than 1,200 trains every day, connecting two major train stations in the city. Spend some time during your visit to Cologne to walk across the bridge. The Cologne Cathedral stands tall on one side, giving you a nice view of the city with the bridge and cathedral.
As you cross the bridge, you might notice love padlocks–famous throughout Italy and in Paris. It’s estimated there are around 500,000 locks attached to the bridge, weighing more than 15 tons.
Wander through the Old Market
Cologne’s Old Town is a charming and quaint section of the city you’ll want to explore. Its narrow alleyways, cobblestone streets, and historic buildings make it a favorite place for tourists to stop for lunch or dinner or an afternoon snack.
Alter Markt and Heumarkt are the two main attractions for both residents and visitors. These markets sell hand-crafted artwork and other local goods. Keep an eye out for the colorful buildings meshed with gothic architecture.
This neighbourhood is a great place to enjoy dinner or explore the city’s nightlife by visiting local pubs and breweries. You can also consider going on a brewery tour to learn more about the famous Kölsch beer (Cologne’s local beer) and visit a traditional brauhaus or enjoy a food tour.
Walk along the Rhine River
For a different way of exploring Cologne, consider seeing it from the River Rhine. Take a boat tour or simple walk along the paved riverfront path to enjoy the scenery.
Cologne is the largest city on the River Rhine, the longest river in Germany, and one of the most traveled waterways in the world. Enjoy the sunset here or stop for an afternoon picnic.
The river path heads past Old Town and connects with the Hohenzollern Bridge, making it easy to see several highlights of Cologne within a small distance.
For a boat trip on the river, you can opt for a dinner cruise or an afternoon tour that details the city’s unique history while seeing its landmarks from water including a view of the cathedral.
Day 2 – Cologne Chocolate Museum, Botanical Gardens, Sy Gareon Church & More
Visit the Cologne Chocolate Museum
When you think of cities and countries in Europe that are famous for chocolate, you most likely imagine places like Bruges in Belgium and Zurich in Switzerland. Well, Germany has a delicious chocolate scene too and a visit to the Cologne Chocolate Museum captures it all.
This museum is a great place to visit if you have 2 days in Cologne. You’ll learn about the entire chocolate-making process, from the cocoa plantation to the chocolate factory.
The tour starts at a large model cocoa tree then guides you through a tropical greenhouse before continuing on your journey through the history of chocolate in Germany.
The museum is a functioning chocolate factory, producing its own chocolate, and has glass-sided machines so visitors can peek in to see the chocolate creation process.
The museum is only closed on Mondays, so plan your visit accordingly. You can buy entry tickets here.
Walk through the Botanical Garden of Cologne
If you’re wondering what to see in Cologne over 2 days, the Botanical Garden of Cologne should be on your list. This expensive and awe-inspiring garden covers 11.5 hectares and houses more than 10,000 species of plants.
There are ponds, flowers, fountains, and walking trails for a quiet afternoon spent within nature, but tucked inside a bustling city. The garden is open year-round from 8 AM to dusk, but the best time to visit is during the spring and summer when the entire garden is in full bloom.
Plan to spend anywhere from 2 to 3 hours visiting the garden to allow yourself plenty of time to wander the space and enjoy its sites.
Explore St. Gereon Church
The St. Gereon Church will stand out because of its odd shape. This minor basilica boasts a nave that is covered by a decagonal oval dome and was completed on the remains of Roman walls.
This is the largest dome constructed in the West between the 6th century and 15th century. It’s one of the twelve Romanesque churches that Cologne is famous for and frequently compared to the world-renowned Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, Turkey and the Duomo in Florence, Italy.
The church is believed to have been built on the grave of St. Gereon, a Roman officer who was killed for his faith. It’s an impressive feat of architecture, both at the time it was built and today. Inside, the dome is painted red with golden ornaments.
Relax in Rheinpark
With 40 hectares of land, the Rheinpark is the largest in Cologne and offers its visitors plenty of space to roam or relax. There are ponds, flower gardens, pathways, courts, and large grass lawns where you can enjoy a sunny afternoon.
If you’re traveling with kids, the park has several playgrounds and a children’s train that runs throughout the park. During your visit to the park, take a ride on the Cologne Rhine Cable Car. This cable car takes riders up to get a panoramic view of the River Rhine and Cologne.
There is also a thermal spa with relaxing wellness treatments and baths. Close your Cologne itinerary with a visit to Rheinpark.
Where to Stay in Cologne
Motel One Köln-Neumarkt – This 3-star hotel is a great place to base yourself in Cologne. Filled with hip decor and great rooms, it has an excellent central location and plenty of wonderful amenities to ensure you have a great stay.
Savoy Hotel – Those looking for a bit of luxury in Cologne will love this hip hotel in the city centre. Perfectly located for seeing all this German city has to offer, they have a number of plush rooms on offer and there is also a restaurant/bar on site.
CGN Apartments – Altstadt – If you’re after your own space while staying in Cologne, then this cosy 1-bedroom apartment is an excellent option. It is fully furnished and well-equipped with everything you may need for your stay along with having a great location for exploring the city.
Die Wohngemeinschaft – This hostel is an excellent choice if you’re travelling on a tight budget or if you want a great social atmosphere. They offer both dorm beds and private room options, are very well-located and there is also an on-site cafe/bar.
Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse more Cologne hotels!
Cologne is full of historical attractions and modern highlights that make the city what it is today. Whether you have one or two days, you will have a jam-packed visit to this German city.
Are you planning to visit Cologne? Have any questions about this itinerary? Let us know in the comments!