Are you wondering how you can spend a day in Cologne with kids? The first time we visited Cologne was just for one weekend. We arrived on a Friday night and left the city on Sunday morning, so we only really had one day in Cologne.
Cologne is one of the oldest cities you will encounter in Germany located in the North Rhine-Westphalia region. The Romans founded it and nowadays, it is the perfect place to appreciate the quaint streets of Old Town, parks, museums, gardens, guided tours, chocolates, and of course, the cathedral.
With so many things to see and do in Cologne with kids, we wanted to make sure we would make it fun for the whole family. Check out our small one-day itinerary on how to spend one day in Cologne with kids to help you plan your next trip.
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One Day in Cologne with Kids
Enjoy a Traditional German Breakfast
We usually start our mornings by eating breakfast at the hotel. During our one weekend in Cologne, we conveniently stayed within walking distance of the Cologne central train station (Köln Hauptbahnhof or Köln Hbf). Usually, we like to experience the food of the places we visit by eating at a local restaurant, cafe, or bakery. If you wish to eat outside of the hotel, we recommend you try a few of the bakeries near the cathedral.
There’s the Bakery Merzenich on Wallrafplatz that will have some great breakfast-to-go options. There’s also Café Haferkater located within the Köln Hbf if you love oats and porridge topped with delicious fruits, granola, chocolate, or anything that your taste buds demand on that morning. Another cool location is the Funkhaus Cafe and Restaurant where you can find traditional American pancakes.
For some German breakfast ideas, you can try the Famer’s Breakfast (Bauernfrühstück) which is eggs (scrambled or fried, your choice) cooked together with potatoes, onions, bacon, and cheese. It is tremendously filling and will give you the energy you need to tackle your morning in Cologne with kids.
Once you’re done filling your belly with yummy foods, you can walk to your next destination.
Take a Guided Walking Tour Created with Kids in Mind
Imagine taking a walk through the oldest parts of Cologne with your children. You explore your way through the city while coming across ancient sites and hearing stories about the Romans, the building of the cathedral, and the role of the devil in its construction.
Legend has it that the Gerhard of Ryle, the architect, made a pact with the devil for the plans to build the cathedral. Ryle would receive the plans for the cathedral in exchange for his soul and that of his family. But if Ryle finished the construction of the cathedral in three years, then they could keep their souls. When Ryle’s wife learned of the pact, she outsmarted the devil from the deal, which made the devil curse the cathedral. If anyone finishes building the cathedral, the world will end…maybe that’s why you’ll see the cathedral go through non-stop renovations.
I know what you must be thinking about guided tours, they tend to be a hit or a miss, especially with kids. We found a walking tour for families geared toward little kids that seem good based on the reviews. It’s small for up to 5 people and makes it fun to learn about Cologne. It can last about one and a half hours and it is geared toward kids between 8 and 12 years old.
During the guided walking tour, you and your children will also encounter and learn about the Heinzelmannchen, a mystical race of creatures connected to the region. It is a fun way for you and your children to experience the history of Cologne first-hand.
You will finish your guided walking tour with a visit to the bronze monuments of Tünnes and Schäl that stands across from Gross St. Martin. Tünnes has a thick nose that has been rubbed shiny to make a wish come true.
Explore the Cologne Cathedral
A visit to the cathedral is a must during your one day in Cologne. However, remember that the cathedral is an active Catholic church that offers service hours for mass. During these times, individuals aren’t able to tour the cathedral. Mass is offered daily from Monday to Saturday at 6:30 am, 7:15 am, 8 am, 9 am, and 6:30 pm. Sunday mass takes place at 7 am, 8:30 am, 10 am, 12 midday, 5 pm, and 7 pm.
You will need a ticket to take the public tour, which is available on-site at the DOMFORUM, and you can purchase it up to seven days in advance. It takes about 45 minutes to tour the interior of the cathedral. There are also tours of special areas of the cathedral, including the roof, bells, night room, excavation area, Baptistery, and Treasury. For more information and booking of the special tours, check out the Domfuehrungen website. Not all tours are suitable for kids, such as the roof tour, so we couldn’t take that one.
We started our public tour of the interior shortly after the last Saturday mass service. The tour began at the entrance of the cathedral by the narrow central aisle. The cathedral houses the Shrine of the Three Kings which holds the relics of the Three Kings brought to Cologne from Milan in 1164. The original church building wasn’t impressive enough, so in 1248 they started to build the cathedral as we see it today.
It took centuries to build the cathedral and we can argue that it’s not done. Work started in 1248 and continued until 1520. It stood unfinished until the 19th century when the original Gothic designs were rediscovered. It was “completed” in 1880. Our favorite part of the tour was the history depicted in the colorful and impressive stained glass windows. We are used to seeing martyrs or stories from the bible, but one of the stained-glass windows is actually based on science and technology.
The original stained glass in the picture above was destroyed by bombs from World War II, and today, the window is a series of colorful grids of square pixels. There are a total of 11,500 four-inch of these pixels in 72 different colors. But don’t worry, all the colors have an archaic cast to match the Gothic style of the cathedral.
Take a Ride in the Bimmelbahn (Little Train)
After the guided walking tour of Cologne and the cathedral tour, we can’t deny our feet were sore, so instead of walking through the quaint Old Town to find a place for lunch, we decided to take a Bimmelbahn (Little Train). It’s one of the cutest things to do in Cologne with kids because what kid doesn’t love a mini and colorful train? One of the main stops is located right in front of the cathedral, so it was convenient.
There are two routes the Bimmelbahn takes: The Chocolate Express or the Zoo Express. The Chocolate Express takes you from the Cathedral to the Chocolate Museum. It takes you through Old Town and it is the route we took. The Zoo Express takes you along the Rhine river to the Zoo or the Botanical Garden.
The kid loved the Chocolate Express route and it provided the perfect opportunity to rest our feet while people-watching. The train took off from the front of the Cathedral all the way to the Chocolate Museum conveniently located by the Rhine.
You have the option to eat lunch at the Chocolate Museum (more on that below) or walk about 10 to 14 minutes to a section of Old Town with restaurants with views of the Rhine river. However, these restaurants are geared toward tourists, so the food tends to be overpriced and not as yummy as it should be.
Eat Lunch and Chocolate at the Chocolate Museum
The Chocolate Museum is 43,055 square feet of impressive stone and glass that houses the museum, a grand cafe, and a mini chocolate factory. You can enjoy lunch at the museum’s grand cafe and enjoy some delicious cake and chocolate specialties. All with views of the Rhine river. Besides chocolate specialties, the menu has some delicious savory lunch options. The menu includes toasted bread with different toppings to choose from, such as avocado or tomato. There are also salads and pasta dishes.
Once you’re done filling your tummies, it´s time to explore the Chocolate museum. It takes you on a journey of the 5,000 years of chocolate culture, such as the process of cacao agriculture, import, and displays of all things chocolate. There is also a walk-in tropical house that is indeed warm. We visited during the winter months and we wore winter clothes, so we could feel the extra warmness of the tropical house.
There’s also the chocolate factory. You can see the industrial steps it takes to make and wrap the chocolates. There’s also a 9-foot (3-meters) high chocolate fountain that is both beautiful and decadent.
After you get a taste of the chocolate fountain (you may be offered a cookie deep in it), you can then head up to the second floor to see chocolatiers making different designs using chocolate. There’s a section where you can select your very own flavors and toppings to make chocolate bars. Your chocolate bar will be ready for pick up by the time you are done going through all the exhibitions at the museum.
The exhibitions include the Sweet Seduction where you learn the 5,000-year history of cocoa, one for the inventors and chocolate brands, a treasury collection from pre-Colombian Mesoamerica times, and different cultures, such as Olmec, Maya, and Aztec. You’ll finish exploring in the early advertising room with all the ads created to sell all things chocolate brands, including the Kinder Surprise and Lindt & Sprüngli. The Chocolate Museum is also one of the great indoor activities in Cologne you can do when the weather isn’t ideal.
Take a Walk to the Hohenzollern Bridge
We decided to take a walk from the Chocolate museum towards the Hohenzollern Bridge. We walked right along the Rhine river and it took us about 15 minutes to arrive. It´s a great spot to take photos overlooking the cathedral.
The bridge is full of love locks as they are supposed to immortalize the love/relationship of a couple. It works as a sign of eternal love and fidelity. You can add your own lock (you might see vendors around selling them) if you wish. Simply attach it to the bridge and throw the key into the Rhine.
The Hohenzollern Bridge was built between 1907 and 1911 and has three adjacent arch bridges. It carries different forms of transportation, including walkways and a six-track railway. In 1945, the bridge was blown up to make it harder for the allies to cross the Rhine during the war.
We bought a postcard of the Hohenzollern Bridge taken in 1945 by Karl Hugo Schmolz with the bridge destroyed. It was devastating to see and really put into perspective all the historic events that have taken place in Cologne.
Alternative Activities To Do in Cologne with Kids
Some Pretty Cool Museums
There are some pretty cool museums that are worth seeing when you visit Cologne with kids. The Deutsches Sport und Olympia Museum is one of them and if you take the Chocolate Express route with the Bimmelbahn (Little Train), it is right next to the Chocolate Museum. So if you and your children love sports, you will love this one.
There’s also the Museum Ludwig, the Roman-Germanic Museum, and the Odysseum – Das Abenteuermuseum which is aimed at children with all of its high-tech and interactive science and technology exhibitions. All of these are definitely on our list for the next time we travel to Cologne with our kid.
Some Other Alternatives Activities
- Cologne Botanical Garden
- Cologne Zoo
- Cologne Cable Car (Rhein-Seilbahn)
- Rheinpark is located on the banks of the Rhine (both sides) and has fountains and playgrounds.
- This one wouldn’t fit into your one-day itinerary in Cologne, but depending on your plans, you can do a few day trips from Cologne to places like Phantasialand – a theme park with rides and shows.