If you only have 24 hours in Cologne and want to make the most of your time, you need to have a plan. There are more than enough sites in this beautiful city to keep you occupied for at least 2-3 days. But even with just one day available, you can fit a lot in. Here are some of the “can’t-miss” highlights of Cologne to visit if you’re short on time.
I have loosely split this guide into two sections; sites north of the Cologne Cathedral and sites south of the Cologne Cathedral. The Cathedral is your “Ground Zero” since it’s located at the center of these attractions. I also recommend seeing it first due to its popularity.
The Cologne Cathedral
The Cologne Cathedral is one of the most popular sites in the city, so it’s best to visit early in the day. Construction on this Gothic beauty began in 1248 and took multiple phases to complete. Due to long pauses in its construction, the church wasn’t finished until 1880.
The cathedral suffered substantial damage due to bombings in World War II, but it remained standing even after all the buildings surrounding it were flattened. Repairs took place in 1956, restoring it to its original grandeur.
You can see the details of some of the repair work, even at the main entrance:
The cathedral is the largest Gothic church in Northern Europe. So if you’re going to visit any church in Cologne, this one is the most impressive.
Make sure that you’re not only looking up at the beautiful artwork and stained glass windows, but also looking down. The Cologne Cathedral has some of the most stunning floor mosaics I’ve ever seen in a church before. The mosaics are the result of a competition held about 8 years before construction was complete.
Take the time to climb the 533 steps of the spiral staircase for scenic views of the Rhine. On the way, you’ll pass the bell chamber, with its eight bells. St. Peter’s Bell is the largest freely swinging church bell in the world. It weighs 24 tonnes!
Sadly it was a bit overcast during our visit, but the views were still incredible!
Tips for your visit: The cathedral opens at 6am, so you can get your visit in nice and early. The tower climb opens at 9am, so I would recommend doing this as early as possible to avoid crowds. The cathedral also offers combined entrance tickets if you want to see the treasury. And believe me, you WANT to see the treasury. I’ve never seen so much gold and precious stones in one room before. The treasury opens at 10am, so you can do the tower climb first, then visit the treasury afterward. They also offer a phone app to enhance your visit.
Address: Domkloster 4, 50667 Köln, Germany
The Roman North Gate
This archaeological site is just in front of the cathedral. It’s open 24 hours a day, as it’s an outdoor attraction. It also only takes a minute or two to see, so you can even swing by on your way to the cathedral if it interests you. The gate dates to 50 A.D., and what remains is a side portal. The central arch once bore the original Roman name of the city: Colonia Claudia Ara Agrippinensium. Remains of this original Roman wall still dot the Cologne city landscape.
Address: Kardinal-Höffner-Platz, 50667 Köln, Germany
If you head west of the Northern Gate, you’ll pass several remaining sections of the old Roman wall, including the Lysolph Tower and a 90-metre-long section of the curtain wall. The Roman Tower (Römerturm) marks the northwest corner of the old Roman city. Just look at the incredible decorative details!
Address: Zeughausstraße 13, 50667 Köln, Germany
Other sites near the Roman Tower: Remains of the Roman Town Wall, Cologne City Museum
Eigelstein Gate Tower
North of the Cologne Cathedral is the Eigelstein Gate Tower. This was part of the last medieval expansion of Cologne’s city fortifications (1180-1260). This expansion doubled the city’s size, and turned Cologne into the largest city in the German Reich.
Note the stone figure on the left of the gate. A cathedral sculptor named Christian Mohr created the original figure in 1885. This is a 1980 reproduction which is weatherproof. The figure recognizes the Bergische farmers who fought in the 1288 Battle of Worringen against the Archbishop of Cologne and his allies. The “Kölsche Boor” stands as a symbol of their strength and resilience.
You’ll also get to see a lifeboat from the cruiser “Cöln” on display here. This is a memorial for the 379 sailors who died during the Battle of Heligoland on August 28, 1914.
Address: Eigelstein, 50668 Köln, Germany
Other sites near the Eigelstein Gate Tower: Theodor-Heuss Park, shopping and restaurants
Admire Some Street Art
Cologne boasts some pretty incredible street murals. If you’re looking for specific locations, you can check out the website Street Art Cities for a map. But the art is everywhere – sides of buildings, under bridges, on brick dividing walls, etc. You name it, a street artist will find a way to make it into their canvas.
We discovered these particular murals along Gereonswall, which leads to the Eigelstein Gate Tower.
Snack on Currywurst
At this point you’re probably starving and in need of sustenance. Currywurst originated in Berlin, but it’s become very popular in Cologne as well. Currywurst is a carb-loaded fast food dish of pork sausage, curry ketchup and French fries. It wasn’t my absolute favourite food because the ketchup was more on the sweet side than I would have liked. But, when in Rome and all that. You have to try it at least once just to say you did.
Learn about Cologne, the Fragrance
Heading south of the Cologne Cathedral, you’ll find the Farina Fragrance Museum. This was the birthplace of Eau de Cologne. Italian-born perfumer Johann Maria Farina created the scent in 1708, as it reminded him of a spring morning in Italy after the rain.
Wilhelm Mülhens, also a perfumer, started making and selling his own version of Eau de Cologne. In 1803 Carlo Farina, who had no relation to Johann Maria Farina, fraudulently sold Mülhens the family’s naming rights. This started a lengthy legal dispute between the two companies. In 1832 Wilhelm Mülhens was found guilty of abusing the name “Farina”. But even after he lost the lawsuit, he continued to use the Farina name by hiring another man with the Farina surname. Mülhens’ perfumery is now known around the world as the House of 4711.
You can read more about the Farina Perfume Museum tour and the history of Farina cologne here: The Cologne Wars: Who Comes out Smelling like a Rose?
Tips for your visit: Visits are by guided tour only, and the tour groups are small. It’s best to get tickets in advance if you don’t want to miss out! If you only have time to visit either the Farina Perfume Museum or the House of 4711, here’s a tie-breaker: If you want to learn about the history of cologne, (the original, that is), then visit the Farina Perfume Museum. If you want to be more hands-on and make your own fragrance, visit the House of 4711.
Address: Obenmarspforten 21, 50667 Köln, Germany
The Lindt Chocolate Museum
It’s time to hit some more sites! If you have a sweet tooth, you must make some time for a tour of the Lindt Schokoladenmuseum. Clearly, this was one of my favourite places to visit during our 24 hours in Cologne! The Chocolate Museum is south of the Farina Fragrance Museum.
The museum is easy to find, as it sits on the edge of the Rhine in Cologne’s old town.
Your entrance tickets even come with a little Lindt chocolate:
They even have a large chocolate fountain. And if you’re lucky, they’ll have a big supply of vanilla wafer cookies a staff member will dip into the fountain for you:
The museum has several sections to explore, including its own greenhouse filled with cacao trees. You can also watch the chocolate manufacturing process through glassed-off areas throughout the exhibit on the second floor.
Here you’ll see assembly lines for chocolate production, and learn how chocolates are made from start to finish. Some of the chocolates are very fancy – just take a look at these examples on display:
If you’re feeling creative, you can “design” your own custom chocolate bar with one of three kinds of chocolate and over 40 different additions. It’s ready and waiting for you by the time you complete your tour of the museum.
You can easily spend a full day here if you take in everything they offer. They have guided tours with various themes, chocolate making courses, and even chocolate and wine/beer/whisky pairing sessions. They also offer tours for people with disabilities and hearing impaired visitors, making it a very accessible experience for all.
Address: Am Schokoladenmuseum 1A, 50678 Köln, Germany
The Mustard Museum
If chocolate isn’t your thing, you can check out the Mustard Museum (Senfmuseum) instead. It’s conveniently located across the Rhine from the Lindt Chocolate Museum. Dating to 1810, this is one of Europe’s oldest mustard mills. Guided tours of the mill last approximately 1/2 hour, where your guide will walk you through the mustard production process. You can even sample some mustard for free before purchasing some savoury souvenirs from their shop.
Address: Holzmarkt 79-83, 50676 Köln, Germany
Try Some Local Tipple
In the evening, hit up a local pub and grab a cold, refreshing glass of Kölsch. This light tasting beer originated in Cologne, using a top-fermenting yeast. Thanks to the 1986 Kölsch Konvention, a set of detailed brewing rules agreed upon by the brewers of Köln, Kölsch is one of the most strictly defined beer styles in Germany. It’s a light, easy-drinking, non-offensive beer that is especially refreshing on a hot day.
Note the tick marks on the coasters: This is how the wait staff keep track of your tab!
While this isn’t an exhaustive list of sites in Cologne, this guide should give you a pretty good run-down of the highlights. And if you only have 24 hours in Cologne to spend, you want to make the most of your short time here!