by Janis on 4th December 2018 / 0 comments

What to see & do in Cologne during yuletide

Germany's Christmas Markets 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.

Whether you’re visiting Cologne for the day or long weekend, there is so much to feast your festive eyes upon. 2021 will be our 12th visit to Cologne at Christmas, and each year the excitement never fades.

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.

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People entering through an advent arch into the Meimat der Heinzel market as snow falls in an already wintery scene.
One entrance to the Home of the Elves

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.

Looking up at the lit Dom Cathedral at night with the Christmas tree and its blanket of lights meeting the red-topped market huts.
The Dom towers over the Christmas Market

Then there’s the Angel’s Christmas Market in Neumarkt. 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.

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One illuminated entrance to the Angel market at night.
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.

A view of the historic Hahnentorburg gate from within a damp Village of St Nicholas Christmas market in Cologne.
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.

Groups of people gathering around huts in the Stadtgarten Christmas market
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!

A display of pink lit, wrapped, chocolate phalluses on a stall in Cologne's Heavenue Christmas Market
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 drinks stall in the shape of a galleon at Cologne's Harbour Market
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.

The decorated top of a stall in Cologne's Christ Market below a tree decorated with a lanterns
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.

More Info

Check out Cologne's excellent tourist website for more information, or you can ask us a question by leaving a comment below.

Good to know

If your feet are beginning to ache, there’s the Christmas Market Express dotto train, you can catch. It runs every 15 minutes and stops at four markets around the city, the Dom, Alter Markt, Harbour Market and Angel.
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 of the circular ends to the ice rink in Cologne, lit at night, overlooked by a carousel and the two-storey drinks cabin.
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.

Where to stay

- Eden Hotel Früh am Dom - A pleasant, modern hotel close to Cologne's Dom.

Underground public parking close by in the Dom car Park

A view of ice stock curling lanes, after dusk, as part of Cologne's Christmas Markets
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 sidelines.

Where is Cologne?

How to get to Cologne

- By Air
The nearest airport is Cologne Bonn Airport which is about 15-20 minutes (10mls/15km) from the centre of Cologne by taxi.  There is also a rail connection that takes about 20 minutes.

- By Train
From the UK a Eurostar to Brussels and then change to get to Cologne.

- By Car
It's an easy drive from Calais, around 260 miles/415 km, or around 4 hours at a steady pace. - for more check out our post 'Your first German Christmas Market by car'

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.
A view of Cologne cathedral in the evening from the east after just crossing the Hohenzollernbrücke bridge. The cathedral is beautifully floodlit and looks stunning against the dark sky.
The Dom at night
The isle of Cologne's cathedral with its stone pillars and high vaulted ceiling
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.
If Cologne is the city for you, and you fancy some further reading to ensure you don't miss a thing, grab your travel guide and start planning.
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 in front of a carol concert on stage in the Dom Christmas Market, under a blanket of fairy-lights
Crowds under the blanket of lights enjoying a carol concert

Our Tip

Dress warm and comfortable, especially make sure you have comfy shoes.
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.
A mother and young girl at a sausage stall at the Cologne Christmas market
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.
A bread roll next to a diced sausage, with lashings of curry sauce, in a paper tray at the Cologne Christmas Markets
Currywurst with plenty of sauce - ready chopped foryou to enjoy

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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.

Two different foot-long meat kebabs from the Cologne
Meat and Turkey Kebabs - Mmmmm
Salmon grilling next to a flaming wood fire for sale on the Cologne Christmas Markets
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.
A thin pizza-like 'Flammeckeuche' topped with smoked diced ham & onions on a sour cream base.
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.

Good to know

Some of these markets get very busy at weekends so small children may feel a bit swamped with the crowds.
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.
The Aachener Printen gingerbread stall in Cologne. It's stacked his with all the different styles of gingerbread biscuits. The lady behind the counter is handing Janis back her change after we've bought another bag load.
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?
Barbara, Janis’s Mum, tucking into a baked apple on the Christmas markets in Cologne.
My Mum enjoying a baked apple on the Christmas markets back in 2012

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.

Two mugs of steaming glühwein in beautiful souvenir mugs at the Christmas Markets in Cologne, Germany
Glühwein 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.
Two decorative mugs of glühwein from Cologne's Angel Christmas Market.
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!!!!!

Glühwein in a bright seasonal mug & and Alpenpower in a glass mug at the Dom Christmas Market in Cologne
Alpenpower and Glühwein from the Dom market

Good to know

When you buy a glühwein, they are around €4 each (2021 prices), and then a deposit (pfand) is charged. If you don’t want to keep the mug just hand them back and you’ll deposit will be returned.  If you do want to keep them then take them back and ask for clean ones.

It's also worth noting all the festive drinks are served in 200ml quantities.

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.
A boot-shaped mug of Gluhwein and a warming eggnog, topped with whipped cream in a frosted glass
Eggnog and glühwein - guess Gary's drink!

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.

More about the food & drink?

If you want to know more about the food & drink of the German Christmas Markets then we have these fore you; Feasting at a German Christmas Market and Tipples on a German Christmas Market
You’re in Germany, surely there is only one store to get your Crimbo decorations from and that’s Käthe Wohlfahrt.
A Käthe Wohlfahrt glass Christmas decoration of a suitcase with German city stickers attached, hanging on our Christmas tree at home.
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.
Our traditional wooden Santa Claus decoration with scented smoke coming from his pipe
A smoking Santa?
Our traditional soldier nutcracker decoration purchased in Germany from a Käthe Wohlfahrt store.
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.

Have we tempted you yet?

As you can probably see, the Cologne Christmas experience really comes to life after the sun has gone down.

To get the most of the time enjoying the Christmas spirit, you need to spend at least a couple of nights, ideally three.

Have a peek at the latest offers from Booking.com, our preferred hotel booking website.
Booking.com
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.
A stall of handcrafted goods on Cologne's Christmas Markets
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.
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.
Red heart lanterns in a blue-lit tree above a drinks stall in Cologne's Elves Market
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 Cologne ice rink from the bridge that straddles it, looking to the loop around the statue to Friedrich Wilhelm III on horseback. In the foreground to the right is a beautifully crafted and ornate cabin serving gluhwein.
The ice rink looks beautiful after the sun's gone down
Cologne’s Christmas markets usually close around 9 pm during the week and 10 pm 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.

Why not?

Start creating your own Christmas Market adventure and discover the culinary delights for yourself, take a browse through ebookers.com for departures from your local airport.

Discover more of Germany on a road trip like us, why not check out Rental Cars as they search multiple well-known car hire brands for the best deals

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 the Christmas decorated Bierhaus en d'r Salzgass, a traditional Kolsch pub with beer barrel on the bar.
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.

In case you don't know

If you’re in a Kölsch bar, then the etiquette tends to be that the barperson will chalk up your beer mat, every time you have a Kölsch. Once you are finished and want to pay up, then place the beer mat on top of your glass. Job done…
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.
The outside of Cafe Fassbender on the corner of the side streets of central Cologne
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. 
A cube of melting chocolate on a skewer being drizzled into a white cup of hot milk to create your own hot chocolate in Fassbender's Cafe in Cologne.
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.
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 iconic evening view of the Dom and Hohenzollernbrücke. The cathedral is lit by white lights and the arched iron railway bridge is lit by orange lights With the River Rhine flowing underneath.
The Dom and Hohenzollernbrücke

More from our visits to Cologne

We make no secret of our love for Cologne. Our first German Christmas Market and we have visited many times since.

There are so many things to enjoy about this city, why not take a look at some of our other posts.

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