What to see & do in Cologne during yuletide
Germany's festivities are the best
Cologne at Christmas is magical, I whole-heartedly believe it will melt away the inner Scrooge in anyone. What’s not to love about the aroma of roasted chestnuts, carol singers, glühwein and sometimes even snow.
That’s just a winning combination for me.
The Dom and the Christmas tree in the heart of Cologne
Whether you’re visiting Cologne for the day or long weekend, there is so much to feast your festive eyes upon. 2020 will be our 12th visit to Cologne at Christmas, and each year the excitement never fades.
One entrance to the Home of the Elves
The Germans just know how to celebrate Christmas, and what we love is that it’s aimed at all ages, big kids young and old. We definitely fall into the latter category.
Visit the 6, or is it 7 main Christmas Markets?
Now, here’s a little bit of knowledge about each market.
The first and the one with the most incredible backdrop is the Dom Christmas Market. The towering cathedral makes this market very iconic, with around 150 wooden cabins tempting you with their wares.
The Dom market is right near the railway station, so a great one to visit first if you’re heading in from out of town. It has a maze of stalls encircling the 25 metre Nordmann fir and all the food and drink delights you could imagine.
The Dom towers over the Christmas Market
Then there’s the Angel’s Christmas Market in Nuemarkt. Enchanting day and night and as you can guess all the little chalets are decorated with an Angel theme.
This is quite a large market and one you’ll definitely want to visit, it has some unusual decorations & the place we always grab a warm mug of hot chocolate.
The Angel Market at night
Not too far from the Angel market is the Village of St Nicholas at Rudolfplatz.
It has a lovely medieval backdrop of the Hahnentorburg gate.
This market has grown on us over the years we’ve been visiting Cologne, and now one we always head to. Great atmosphere and slightly smaller than the Dom or Angel markets.
The Village of St Nicholas market
A little bit further out from the old city centre is the Stadtgarten Christmas market. This market first appeared in 2009, so a more recent addition.
We found it had quite a local feel about it and a good selection of unique crafts. However, a little smaller than its siblings in the old town.
The Stadtgarten Christmas market
Next is 'Heavenue’ the LGBT Christmas market, and one that doesn’t appear to pop up in so many searches for markets in Cologne. However, certainly, one to visit for a different type of festive experience. It used to be named Christmas Avenue, it’s by Schaafenstraße and is colourful, glitzy and cheerful, what more could you want?
Ohh, perhaps a chocolate lolly with a difference!
Heavenue - it's a bit glitzzy
Now head to the banks of the Rhine river to the swashbuckling Harbour market, which is located right next to the chocolate museum.
This market gives another little twist on your advent celebrations and dishes up all things maritime. There are around 70 seafaring-themed stalls and has a great family atmosphere.
A nautical theme at the Harbour market
Last and by no means least is our favourite market, should we have a favourite? Heinzelmännchen (house of gnomes), is located in Alter Markt and Heumarkt in the Old Town.
This truly is a Christmas lover’s dream, chocolate goodies, decorations, twinkling candles and festive gnomes helping out everywhere. There are so many highlights in this market, and that’s even before I get started on the glühwein, the ice rink here is incredible.
Illuminated trees at the Elf Christmas market
Pros & cons; All these markets are fantastic, and you’re visiting them to have fun, however, just be aware that they can get very busy, particularly of a weekend and the evenings. So, I’d advise visiting earlier in the week if you’re not too partial to crowds.
Take to the ice
Did someone say ice rink? Cologne’s ice rink is the most impressive we’ve seen at a Christmas market. It has changed remarkably over recent years (in a good way).
One end of the ice rink at the Market of the Elves
It’s not only where you can have fun watching inexperienced Brits clinging to the outer barriers, but, it feels like it encourages a whole festive atmosphere of its own.
Families, work colleagues and visitors can enjoy taking to the ice, playing ice stock curling, or just soak up the glühwein and bratwurst.
Curling on the Ice - all part of the ice rink
We’re not skaters ourselves, due to having two left feet, although, we are pretty good at dishing out advice from the side-lines.
I know you’re visiting Cologne for the Christmas Market fun; however, a stroll around the iconic Dom is one not to be missed. The magnificent Gothic cathedral is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and it is free to visit.
The Dom at night
Inside the Cathedral of Cologne
If you wish to climb the tower to catch the rooftop view across the city, there is a small charge.
Carol singing in the Dom Market
I love the Dom Christmas market, for its charming traditional atmosphere. But, you must hang around to catch the local choirs and bands that perform on the stage, under the glistening Christmas tree. Grab yourself a hot drink, a bite to eat and indulge, you’ll love it!
Crowds under the blanket of lights enjoying a carol concert
Relish a Sausage
You surely cannot visit Germany and not try a bratwurst (unless you vegetarian of course), but, other than that there is no excuse. There are so many different sausages to sample, currywurst, krakauer, chillibratwurst, rinderwurst to name a few. Also, depending on where you are in Germany there are some regional specialities as well.
Selecting your sausage - there's plenty of choice
I must admit, sausages are not always the top of my list to eat while wandering the markets; however, I always enjoy a currywurst.
Currywurst with plenty of sauce - ready chopped foryou to enjoy
Other savoury snacks
If like me a bratwurst is not always your go-to choice, then boy, there are so many other delights to choose from.
Salmon, smoked over burning wood, gulaschsuppe, roasted ham rolls and the turkey skewers doused in chilli sauce are some of my favourites.
Meat and Turkey Kebabs - Mmmmm
Salmon the traditional way
Then there are flammeckeuche, roasted chestnuts & another dish that appears to be a German favourite is a reibekuchen. This is a deep-fried potato cake often served with apple sauce. In Cologne, they are bought in 3’s, however, in my opinion, they have to be shared, they are so filling, but hey, I'm not German.
Flammeckeuche to share, or not?
Sampling different dishes while soaking up the festive atmosphere is what Gary and I love about going to Cologne. What’s also fantastic is that the markets aren’t just enjoyed by tourists, the locals love them too.
Sweet treats on the markets
Now I’m talking, these are just so hard to resist. Lebkuchen (gingerbread) is always a firm favourite of ours and one we often bring back home for our families at Christmas, along with sweet sticky macadamia nuts.
Aachener Printen for sale at the Dom Christmas Market
However, it’s the baked apples, waffles and crepes that I find it hard to resist & who can blame me?
My Mum enjoying a baked apple on the Christmas markets back in 2012
Indulge in the glühwein
Ok, so glühwein is at no.8, I didn’t say I was putting my suggestions in order of preference; otherwise this may have been no.1 or 2.
Gary & I both enjoy a glühwein, we tend to veer towards the red (rot in German) more often, although it makes a pleasant change to have a white (weiß in German) one.
Gluhwein in the souvenir mugs
If you are driving or you don’t like alcohol, you can always get a kinderpunsch, no one will know, they all come in the same mug.
Glühwein at the Angel Market
Now, talking of mugs, if you’ve not visited a Christmas market before, the mugs that you drink from are unique from market to market. So, you can start your own collection, we have purchased a few over the years and use them as Christmas decorations.
Word of warning, you can also enjoy your glühwein with an additional shot of spirit (schuss), either rum or amaretto. But beware this could turn out messy!!!!!
Alpenpower and Glühwein from the Dom market
It’s not all about the glühwein
If gluhwein isn’t your cup of tea (no pun intended, oh perhaps it was) then try a hot chocolate topped with cream, this is a treat. If you’re partial to a Baileys then ask for it ‘mit Baileys’ I don’t think you’ll be disappointed, it is Christmas after all.
Now, if there are any unusual drinks on offer, it is usually Gary that is the chief sampler.
I’m not a lover of kirsch, and often this is slipped in and for me ruins a pleasant drink, Gary just thinks I’m odd.
Although, if you have fond Christmas childhood memories of egg-nog, you’ll love an eierpunsch. This is the one that Gary has a soft spot for.
Eggnog and glühwein - guess Gary's drink!
Visit the Käthe Wohlfahrt store
You’re in Germany, surely there is only one store to get your Crimbo decorations from and that’s Käthe Wohlfahrt.
A Käthe Wohlfahrt decoration apt for the traveller
Head to the pop-up store in the Angel market, there are some fantastic wooden toys, glass baubles and tree toppers, that would melt any bah humbug’s heart.
A smoking Santa?
Our Nutcracker from Käthe Wohlfahrt
We’ve bought some delightful nutcrackers and smokers over the years. Make sure you’ve not had a gluhwein before heading in, you’ll never know what you’ll come out with.
Pick up some Christmas presents
Not everything on the markets is sparkling, there are some great gifts to be had for family and friends. I bought my mum a handbag from one of the stalls years ago, she still mentions today how much she loved it.
Pick up something different from the Christmas markets
So, take a stroll around and see if you can discover the gift that stands out from the crowd.
Stay for the evening
When the sun sets, is when the markets truly come alive and the magic starts to happen. The little wooden cabins and chalets are glistening, and the tree stands proudly with its shroud of Christmas lights draped above the market, like a warm blanket.
Beautiful at night - The Home of the Elves
So, we grab our gloves & bobble hats and embrace the chill of the winter evenings. There’s such a friendly atmosphere, and it’s so pleasing to see people of all ages enjoying themselves.
The ice rink looks beautiful after the sun's gone down
Cologne’s Christmas markets usually close around 9pm during the week and 10pm at the weekend. However, if you want to continue your festive fun then head to one of the city’s bars and sample the local beer, a Kölsch.
Visit a Kölsch bar
Ok, so you can pop into one of Cologne’s many bars throughout the year; however, Christmas just seems to enhance the fun even further.
What’s not like about sharing a table with a crowd of friendly Germans singing along to an Oompah band.
Inside Bierhaus en d`r Salzgass - enjoy!
Or perhaps one of our funny moments was when I was dragged into a conga line, and we danced around the bar. Such fantastic lasting memories.
The local brew in Cologne is a Kölsch beer, it’s usually served in a tall, thin, 20-cL glass and in some bars, this is all they serve. So, it makes your decision making easy.
Relax in a stylish café
We fancied a break from the hustle and bustle of Cologne’s Christmas markets, so headed to enjoy a relaxing coffee and cake in Café Fassbender.
Café Fassbender, Why not try it?
It’s not too far from the old town and a great way to escape for a ½ hour or so.
Hot chocolate at Fassbenders
We felt like we had stepped back in time with its elegant surroundings and wonderfully polite staff. It was a real treat and highly recommend it.
Stroll the Rhine
For one of Cologne’s iconic views of its cathedral and the Hohenzollern Bridge, take a stroll across the Rhine, when the sun has set. You won’t be disappointed, with the cathedral lit up it looks incredible.
The Dom and Hohenzollernbrücke
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Inspired to visit Cologne’s Christmas markets?