Adsorption on granular activated carbon (GAC) is a promising step to extend existing treatment trains in municipal wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) and, thus, to reduce the concentration of micropollutants (MPs) (e.g. pharmaceuticals) in wastewater. It is common practice to use characteristic numbers when choosing GAC for a specific application. In this study, characteristic numbers were correlated for five different GACs, with measured adsorption capacities of these carbons for three pharmaceutical MPs (carbamazepine, diclofenac and sulfamethoxazole) and dissolved organic carbon of a WWTP effluent. The adsorption capacities were measured using rapid small scale column tests. Density of GAC showed the highest correlation to adsorption of MP. All other characteristic numbers (iodine number, Brunauer–Emmett–Teller (BET) surface and methylene blue titre) are not suitable markers for choosing an appropriate activated carbon product for the elimination of MPs from municipal wastewater.