Why Germany cuts the mustard.
If you only ever try one Christmas Market, make it a real German Christmas Market, you really won’t be disappointed. We first went to Cologne in 2006, skipped it in 2007 for the sunny climes of Costa Rica and then sampled Strasbourg at Christmas in 2008.
In 2009 we returned to Cologne and have continued to return every year since then, there is something quite magical about it.
Why? We often get asked, return to the same destination time and again, but for us every year is different.
The markets have continually evolved and in Cologne there are 6 Christmas markets sprinkled around the city, which all have their own unique theme.
Not only do the markets keep evolving, but even the culinary delights have a different twist each year. Which is sometimes disappointing if you have favourite, but there are always new treats to try.
We like to treat our annual pilgrimage as a mini road trip, therefore, we always drive and catch the Le Shuttle. From Calais to Cologne it is around 260 miles (420km) and should take around 4 to 4 ½ hours, weather dependent (as snow is often a factor).
Gary points out that it’s 3 roads, and 99% motorways, with the last 4 miles (6.4 km) being through Cologne. It’s a day when we touch 5 countries en-route, leaving the UK, through France & Belgium, briefly touching southern Holland before entering Germany.
Cologne hosts one of Germany’s most popular Christmas markets, with the Dom Cathedral being the VIP of the party. The Weihnachtsmarkt am Dom, which the cathedral looks down upon, is a festival of little red wooden cabins, lovingly decorated.
The centre piece for this market is the 25 meter tall Christmas tree that has hundreds of tiny lights draped from it, to give the effect of a twinkling parasol folding around you. This is particularly wonderful on a misty evening with darkness drawing in.
We have sooo many memories & keepsakes from our Cologne Christmas market trips, that it’s struggle to condense them all.
From the wonderful joyous atmosphere on the streets, to the welcoming locals in the bars.
We still have a beer mat that a German businessman wrote upon and recommended a small town for us to visit in Bavaria. We visited it as part of our Lakes and Lederhosen tour,
Now come 2016 we are including Rothenburg ob der Tauber, in our 5 town German Christmas market tour.
However, there are always stand out points on any trip. Here are ours…
First and foremost, it has to be the six markets.
The centrepeice for Cologne as mentioned above, is the Dom market with its impressive Gothic Cathedral, which was inscribed onto the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1996. Work begun on this imposing cathedral in 1248, but was not finally completed until 1880.
At Christmas this square is turned into a sea of red with its 150 stalls.
The 2nd market on the list, and my favourite, is ‘Heimat der Heinzel’. A market in Cologne Old Town also known as ‘Home of the Elves’. This is Cologne’s largest market and spreads from Kolner Altstadt to the end of Heumarkt.
The elves theme is carried through the whole market, with little beings hanging and appearing from where you would least expect it.
Here you can also find the amazing ice rink that loops around the statue of Friedrich Wilhelm III.
Here you can also find the amazing ice rink that loops around the statue of Friedrich Wilhelm III. You can view the ice rink and curling lanes from various points around the market, including the 2 story bar next to the carousel. It is unbelievable that these delightful Hansel & Gretel style wooden cabins are temporary and only used for around 6 weeks of the year.
It is unbelievable that these delightful Hansel & Gretel style wooden cabins are temporary and only used for around 6 weeks of the year.
The 3rd market is the ‘Market of Angels’ at Neumarkt. This is another fantasy filled market, where you float amongst the twinkling white cabins being swept along with the atmosphere.
Market of Angels is the temporary home of the Kathe Wohlfahrt store. If you want to look around, arrive early as there are often queues out the door.
Market no. 4 is the ‘Village of St Nicholas’ located in Rudolfplatz. This market has been transformed over the last few years and is a magical place for all the family.
With the Hahnentorburg gate looking down, this smaller market has some wonderful food stalls along with a ‘children’s workshop’ and an extremely large advent calendar.
This a great place to meet with friends and enjoy a couple of glühweins in the ‘Gasthaus’.
The 5th market, Cologne’s ‘Harbour Market’ is on the banks of the River Rhine, next to the Lindt chocolate museum and has a distinct nautical theme. This market has a swashbuckling feel and a more modern take on Christmas, but equally good fun.
Here you can experience the spiced mulled beer, along with various seafood treats.
When we first came to Cologne this was a medieval market and there was also a floating market. So it shows how the town is not sitting on its laurels.
If it has been a long day, you might want to consider jumping on the ‘Dotto’ train to take you back to the other markets.
All the little cabins throughout the city have had so much love and care taken upon them.
Equally the fantastic outfits that the stall holders wear.
The arts, crafts and gifts that are sprinkled amongst all the stalls are wonderful, it is a Christmas lover’s dream.
Row after row of baubles, candles, tree toppers, lanterns, lights, gingerbread houses to name just a very few.
A large part of the Cologne market atmosphere is the delicious food and drink, it just seems to taste so much better standing outside laughing and joking in the cold.
Firstly, the array of food is amazing, it’s a sausage lover’s paradise, bratwurst, currywurst, feuerwurst, rinderwurst, krakauer and there were more.
Then there’s the steaks and kebabs (1/2 metre long).
The salmon is a particular treat as this is cooked over wood burning flames.
Then comes the backfisch, flammkuchen, raclette, reibekuchen, sautéed garlic mushrooms, gulaschsuppe, pretzels……….
If you have a sweeter tooth, try the baked apple, waffles, gingerbread, crepes, strudel or stollen.
Ohhh and secondly the choice of beverages. Glühwein is a must, you can choose red or white and if you are feeling brave you can have it with a shot of rum, amaretto or calvados.
This is great on a cold winter evening, standing around hugging your mug.
The local beer in Cologne is Kolsch, which is served in 200ml or 300ml glasses.
This is sold on the markets as well as in the bars. At the harbour market you can try the spiced mulled beer.
The drink that is a spectacle to watch is feuerzangenbowle, it is a glühwein with a rum soaked sugarloaf balanced on top.
The sugarloaf is lit and the alcohol burns and then drips into your glühwein.
A little more unusual is the eierpunsch (egg punch), Alpenglüher (cherry punch).
A hot chocolate is also very welcoming and if you wish you can have this with a shot of Baileys.
The bars in Cologne are very friendly, we have found a few we enjoy, but in Papa Joe’s you can even enjoy a jukebox with Bavarian music.
The whole town appears to embrace Christmas and if there is tree or streetlamp, it will be adorned with festive lights.
We stay at a very friendly hotel named Eden Hotel, which is in the heart of the Christmas action, overlooking the Dom Cathedral market.
Visiting Bierhaus en d`r Salzgass and watching the barrels of fresh Kölsch popping up through the bar. There is only one beer, Kölsch, only one size 200ml (around a 1/3 of a pint), and when you’ve finished another will appear at your table.
Your waiter will add another mark to your beer mat, and this goes on until you ‘tap-out’ by placing your beer mat on your glass.
The great thing about the smaller size is that the beer stays fresher & cooler – plus you can drink at your own pace when in a group.
Souvenir mugs collected over years, that bring back a smile.
We used to eat at restaurants in the evenings, but the last few years we have eaten around the markets, as the food is enjoyable and reasonably priced.
Point of Note
If you wish to fly, it only takes about 1 hour 25 minutes from London, or alternatively coach trips are also very popular.
You really need to book early as these markets are very popular.
Be warned these markets become extremely busy at the weekends, particularly in the evenings. Children may feel a bit swamped with the crowds.
Dress warm and comfortable & don’t forget your santa hat.
If snow is predicted and you are taking your car, then snow tyres would be a good option if you have them.
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