What to Do in Cologne in One Day (Cool Köln, Germany)

Renowned for its Gothic cathedral and its unique Kölsch beer, Cologne is also the birthplace of the world’s first eau de cologne and home to some of the best shopping in the country. Bring a big appetite and good walking shoes because there’s lots to eat and explore. Located on the Rhine River in Western Germany, Cologne is a popular stop on cruises with Viking Cruises and other river cruise lines. Here are my firsthand tips for 7 fun things to do in Cologne, Germany in one day, whether you arrive by ship, train, or car. Easily reach all of these main attractions on foot in the heart of the city.

Cologne Cathedral
The famous Cologne Cathedral (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

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1. Climb to the top of Cologne Cathedral.

Located in the center of Cologne’s historic Old Town, it’d be hard to miss the behemoth Cologne Cathedral with its two massive towers. It was named a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1996. Pay a small fee to climb the 533 steps to the top of the highest spire for the best way to get a panoramic view of Germany’s fourth largest city.

Construction on the Gothic structure began in the 13th century. This impressive church in city center is known for its 20,000 square feet of stained glass windows. It is said to house the remains of the biblical Three Wise Men, making it an important pilgrimage site for devout Christians. In fact, this iconic cathedral is among the most visited landmarks in Germany.

Traditional Kölsch beer served in Cologne, Germany
Traditional Kölsch beer served in Cologne (Photo credit: Tim ‘Avatar’ Bartel, wikimedia.org)

2. Taste Kölsch Beer.

When you envision drinking beer in Germany, images of dirndl-clad, sturdy women wielding giant mugs of beer in raucous beer gardens may spring to mind. In Cologne, however, the beautiful city’s signature Kölsch beer is served in elegant thin glasses.

The light, slightly fruity brew is cool-fermented and then aged and mellowed (or lagered) near the freezing point. It’s Germany’s only true all-barley pale ale, and this local beer is difficult to find outside of the country.


Every brewhouse in town makes their own version of Kölsch, making brewery tours a popular activity for visitors. My husband and I signed up for an optional Cologne Beer Culture Excursion during our Viking Rhine River Cruise and had a ball sipping cold beers with our fellow cruisers.

Not cruising? You can book a Guided Cologne Walking Tour of Breweries with our trusted partner, GetYourGuide.

Farina's Eau de Cologne Store
Farina’s Eau de Cologne Store (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

3. Stop and smell the eau de cologne.

Have you ever wondered why perfume is sometimes called eau de cologne, or simply cologne? It all started with a very spendy scent created in this German city by the Italian Farina family.

The perfume was originally named Eau de Cologne, or “Water from Cologne” in French. One of the oldest fragrances in the world that is still produced today, Farina’s perfume was created in 1709. Back then, only royalty and the extremely wealthy could purchase Eau de Cologne for an exorbitant price tag.

Attend a guided tour of the Farina Fragrance Museum in English (or German or other languages). Or simply pop into the on-site store to buy a souvenir bottle of the unisex citrus-scented fragrance, now affordably priced so mere commoners like us can make the purchase.

The most well-known eau de cologne is 4711 Eau de Cologne, so named for the parfumerie’s original street number. Today you can attend a fragrance workshop and purchase the 4711 original scent and many newer perfume options at the flagship store in Cologne.

Hearty German fare in Cologne, Germany
Hearty German fare at Sion Am Ring in Cologne (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

4. Eat German specialties.

Known as one of the best cities in Germany for foodies, one day in Cologne is enough time to sample some delicious German cuisine.

Pork knuckles at Haxenhaus

Pork knuckles are all the rave in this historic city. THE place to try this delicacy is at Haxenhaus (or Knuckle House). Expect river views, singing and dancing, cold Kölsch beer, and tender pork knuckles served with dumplings and cabbage. Although I didn’t partake in this local cuisine, my Viking cruise friends adored the dish.

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Sausages at Sion Am Ring

A Viking River Cruise tour guide pointed us to Sion Am Ring for lunch. There, my husband and I ordered sausages served with a heaping plateful of potato salad for me and sauerkraut and French fries for my husband.

I was shocked by the large portion sizes so I asked the waiter if we were supposed to order one serving to share between the two of us. When he said no, I inquired if most diners actually finished their meals. He laughed and said, “Of course, we’re German!” Even the table of German diners sitting next to us found our meager appetites laughable.

Although we weren’t able to clean our plates, the food was delicious. We also decided that Sion was home to the tastiest Kölsch beers based on our samplings in town.

German pretzel at Merzenich Backereien in Cologne, Germany
German pretzel at Merzenich Backereien in Cologne (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

Pretzels and pastries at Merzenich Backereien

Hungry for a snack? Nothing in Germany is small, so indulge in a massive handmade pretzel to tide yourself over between sausage and pork knuckles. Established in 1896, Merzenich Backereien is the perfect place to grab a twisted treat. Try one covered in almonds — yum!

In addition to delicious traditional pretzels, Merzenich Bakery serves plenty of other bread and pastries, including berliners (jelly-filled doughnuts). Although considered a specialty of Berlin, hence the name, these sweets are ever-present in the city of Cologne.

Our Viking River Cruise tour guide pointed at the tempting display of donuts below and said, “Look! It’s the Berliner Wall!” Get it?!

Berliner jelly-filled donuts in Cologne
The Berliner Wall…get it?! (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

5. Shop in Cologne, Germany.

When we mentioned shopping to Viking staff during our Rhine Getaway cruise, they became almost giddy with the prospect of making purchases in Cologne. Indeed, this city will delight any shopping lover.

Expect everything from souvenir shops and brand chains to high-end clothiers and jewelry stores. Cologne is home to the self-proclaimed best shopping streets in all of Germany, Hohe Straße and Schildergasse.

Fountain of the Elves is a must-do with one day in Cologne, Germany
Cologne’s Fountain of the Elves (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

6. Relax at Fountain of the Elves.

When you’re ready for a break from shopping, eating, and drinking, head to Heinzelmännchen Fountain, or Fountain of the Elves. This famous fountain is named for the mythical house gnomes of Cologne.

According to legend, miniature elves did all of the work of the citizens of Cologne during the night, allowing the city’s inhabitants to relax during the day. A curious housewife accidentally scared off the industrious gnomes, forcing Cologne residents back to work. The fountain depicts the housewife searching for the elves with a lantern.

Tunnes and Schal bronze statues in Cologne
Tunnes and Schal bronze statues (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

7. Get good fortune from Tünnes and Schäl.

Be sure to get a dose of good luck before departing Cologne, Germany. Just outside the city’s popular Hänneschen puppet theater, you’ll find bronze statues of Cologne characters, Tünnes and Schäl.

Legend dictates that rubbing the bulbous nose of Tunnes will bring good luck. His proboscis has been shined from the many hands of those seeking good fortune.

Couple posing in front of Cologne Cathedral
Selfie in front of the majestic Cologne Cathedral (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

Learn about other Rhine River places worth visiting.

Discover romantic things to do in Basel, Switzerland.

Visit traditional Dutch windmills in Kinderdjik, a must-visit destination in the Netherlands.

Explore the fascinating Marksburg Castle in Germany in my travel guide.

Find things to do in Strasbourg, a French city with a German accent.

Tiptoe through the tulips at Keukenhof Gardens near Amsterdam.

What to Do in Cologne in One Day

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Fun & Tasty Things To Do in Cologne, Germany from TravelMamas.com

Which of these tasty and fun things to do in Cologne, Germany appeals most to you? Let us know in the comments below!

A Note from The Travel Mama: Viking River Cruises hosted our cruise and optional excursion in Cologne. As always, my opinions are mine.

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  1. I love visiting Germany. The country has really grown on me over the years, though I’ve yet to set foot in Cologne. I’m inspired!

    1. I can relate in that Germany’s food has really grown on me over the years – I am surprised by how much I love their cuisine!

  2. We have cheap flights now from providence to Germany on Condor Air so I’m contemplating a trip to Cologne in the future!

  3. So cool and YUMMY! It’s a neat coincidence because I just went to an event this week about Germany hosted by a German airline, and Cologne appeared on my radar for the first time after talking with a German fellow who said it’s one of his favorite cities in the country!

  4. You’ve brought back memories of our trip to Cologne last summer! Sadly, we didn’t get a chance to climb to the top of Cologne Cathedral. We were saddened to learn that 95% of the population was lost during WWII, but the city has bounced back and is a great destination.

    1. Dana – It’s amazing how Cologne Cathedral survived 14 bombings and has been rebuilt to its current glory. War is so horrible all the way around.

    1. That’s the one photo I didn’t take! But I totally understand why…those beers look pretty tasty right about now!