by Janis / 0 comments

Cologne's Christmas Markets are the ones to visit

All you need to know about this magical German market

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 numerous Christmas markets sprinkled around the city, all with their unique theme.

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The large, square ice rink in Cologne's Heumarkt that was in use up until 2013
The ice rink in 2010
Take, for example, the new ice rink in 2013; there are plenty of other examples of subtle improvements year-on-year. The organisers put a lot of effort into keeping this one of the best Christmas destinations you can visit in Germany.
The new ice rink in cologne, with an ice stock curling area to the side nestled in the heart the german christmas market.
The new ice rink in 2013

Not only do the markets keep evolving, but even the culinary delights have a different twist each year.

 It is sometimes disappointing if you have a favourite and it disappears, but there are always new treats to try.

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
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 centrepiece of this market is the 25-metre 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 is a 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
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.
That beer mat

We visited it as part of our Lakes and Lederhosen tour, come 2016 we included 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…

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First and foremost, it has to be the markets.

Christmas market at Cologne Cathedral

(Weihnachtsmarkt am Kölner Dom)
The centrepiece for Cologne, as mentioned above, is the Dom market with its impressive Gothic Cathedral. The Cathedral was inscribed onto the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1996. Work began on this imposing structure in 1248, but was not completed until 1880.
Looking over the red rood tops of the huts of cologne's dom christmas market at night with the central christmas tree and it's blanket of twinkling fairy lights
A view over the Dom Christmas market

At Christmas, this square is turned into a sea of red with its 150 stalls.

It is here you can find the stage where various events are held during the season, all free. Grab a Glühwein and listen to Silent Night in the original German.


Heinzels Winter Fairytale

(Heinzels Wintermärchen)

The second market on the list, and my favourite, is ‘Heinzels Wintermärchen’. 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.

Miniature gnomes utilising a ski lift above a gluhwein hut at Cologne's Christmas market
Elves everywhere

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 fantastic ice rink that loops around the statue of Friedrich Wilhelm III.

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.
Cologne's Christmas market ice rink
You can view the ice rink and curling lanes from various points around the market, including the two-storey bar next to the carousel.
One of the circular ends to the ice rink in Cologne, lit at night, overlooked by a carousel and the two-storey drinks cabin.
In front of Stapelhaus
Unbelievably, these delightful Hansel & Gretel style wooden cabins are temporary and only used for around 6 weeks of the year.

The Market of Angels

(Markt der Engel)
The third 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 atm
One of the illuminated entrances to Cologne's Angel Christmas market at night
The Angel Market

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.

It is also where we have our heiße Schokolade mit Baileys at the Engelbar. That is a hot chocolate with Baileys, and if it sounds good it's because it is. Have that after visiting the Kathe Wohlfahrt store or you might end up purchasing more than you planned!

An angel on a white weatherboarded gable end of a christmas market stall in cologne's market of angels
An Angel stall
This is also where we pick up our Kolner Stollen, normally a gift or two and may tuck into a Flammeckeuche. (Wait for the 'Pleasures' for more on that.)
A bakery stall in the angel christmas market in cologne at dusk
Strolling the Angel Market

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.

Village of St Nicholas

(Nikolausdorf)

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.

A view of the historic Hahnentorburg gate from within a damp Village of St Nicholas Christmas market in Cologne.
The Hahnentorburg gate and Village of St Nicholas
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.
An advent calendar in the gable end of the roof of a sausage stall in the Nikolausdorf christmas market in cologne, germany
Advent in Nikolausdorf
The ‘Gasthaus’ is a great place to meet with friends, enjoy a couple of glühweins, or sneak a quiet one as you pass through.
A lady sipping at a mug of glühwein at the Nicholas Village Christmas Market in Cologne
Sipping the glühwein

Cologne Harbour Christmas Market

(Hafen Weihnachtsmarkt) Sub-headline

The fifth market, Cologne’s ‘Harbour Market’ is on the banks of the River Rhine, next to the Chocolate museum and has a distinctly nautical theme.

This market has a swashbuckling feel and a more modern take on Christmas, but equally good fun.

A drinks stall in the shape of a galleon at Cologne's Harbour Market
Everything nautical at the Harbour Market

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 a floating market. In later years we saw the addition of a giant Ferris wheel.

The ferris wheel, behind the chocolate museum at the harbour christmas market in cologne, germany
The Ferris wheel at the Harbour Market

It shows how the city 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.


Stadtgarten Christmas market

(Weihnachtsmarkt Stadtgarten)
The sixth market is at the Stadtgarten, set within Cologne’s oldest park. It has a warm friendly atmosphere, with the cabins mingled amongst the trees.
Groups of people gathering around huts in the Stadtgarten Christmas market
Around Stadgarden Cologne Christmas Market

We found some different arts and crafts stalls here. It feels like this one is for the locals, less tourist razzamatazz.

There are more Christmas markets that come and go, and some a little further out, for the the latest information, check out the official 'Cologne at Christmas' page


Where to stay in Cologne

Eden Hotel Früh am Dom - This friendly hotel is in the heart of the city centre with and just a couple of minutes walk to Cologne Cathedral.

We've stayed at Eden Hotel on many occasions and it never disappoints. It is owned by the Früh Brewery and has a bustling restaurant in its cellar.

Booking.com

Cologne's Christmas Market Stalls

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.
An intriguing figure of a man dressed in period clothes from the 18th century, sporting a manicured beard, selling berry wines in glazed stone containers on a colgne market stall in the old town
Now, what's he selling?
The staff behind the counter of the alpine ski lodge, dressed in traditional costumes in the Heinzels Winter fairytale christmas market in cologne, germany
Inside the Alpine lodge
The arts, crafts and gifts that are sprinkled amongst all the stalls are wonderful; it is a Christmas lover’s dream.
Baskets full of hand made spiced pomander balls on a stall at Colognes Altstadt market or the market of the elves.
Arts & crafts stalls in Cologne's Christmas Markets
Row after row of baubles, candles, tree toppers, lanterns, lights, and gingerbread houses, to name just a very few.
Baubles & more, Cologne Christmas Market, Cologne at Christmas, German Christmas Markets
Image Caption

Food on Cologne's Christmas Markets

A large part of the Cologne market atmosphere is the delicious food and drink. It tastes so much better standing outside laughing and joking in the cold.

Firstly, the array of food is fantastic. It’s a sausage lover’s paradise, bratwurst, currywurst, feuerwurst, rinderwurst, krakauer and there were more.

The Grillhaus, a carnivore's delight of meats and sausages cooked over charcoal in a decorative stall at cologne christmas markets
The Grillhaus
Then there are the steaks and kebabs (1/2 metre long). The salmon is a particular treat as this is cooked over wood-burning fires.
Two different foot-long meat kebabs from the cologne christmas markets
Meat and Chicken Kebabs
Salmon grilling next to a flaming wood fire for sale on the Cologne Christmas Markets
Salmon the traditional way
Then comes the backfisch, flammkuchen raclette, Reibekuchen, sautéed garlic mushrooms, gulaschsuppe, pretzels...
A thin pizza-like 'Flammeckeuche' topped with smoked diced ham & onions on a sour cream base.
Flammeckeuche to share
If you have a sweeter tooth, try the baked apple, waffles, gingerbread, crepes, strudel or stollen.
Barbara, Janis’s Mum, tucking into a baked apple on the Christmas markets in Cologne.
Enjoying a baked apple
A selection of the waffle options lined up on a counter at a Cologne Christmas Market stall
A waffle selection

Drink on Cologne's Christmas Markets

Ohhh and then there is 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.
Crowds in front of the Christmas huts, including the double-storey Stapelhaus, in the Elves market in Cologne after dark.
Socialising in Heinzels Winter Fairytale Christmas Market in Cologne

Sometimes you may want to take the weight off your feet.

Well, the two-storey Gasthaus at the Village of St Nicholas in Rudolfplatz has you covered. It's great a little bit of people-watching

Looking out at the staff working in a busy, well decorated, glühwein cabin on the Nicholas Village Christmas Market in Cologne
Inside the Gasthaus

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.

A mug of Gluhwein, and a foaming hot spiced beer in a frosted glass mug, on the harbour market in Cologne's Christmas markets
Glühwein & hot spiced 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 drips into your glühwein.
Two red mugs of flaming feuerzangenbowle with rum-soaked sugarloaf dissolving into the liquid below on the counter of a drinks stall on cologne's christmas markets.
Flaming feuerzangenbowle

The Aierpunsch (egg punch) and Alpenglüher (cherry punch) are a little more unusual for us; still, Gary loves them.

Hot chocolate is also very welcoming; if you wish, you can have this with a shot of Bailey's. We always have our Heiße Schokolade mit Bailey's in the Angel Market.

A looking inside the drink stall called 'Cafe Paris' in the centre of the Christmas Angel Market in Cologne with the staff handing our mugs of gluhwein
The Engelbar

Cologne's Bars at Christmas

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.
Outside Papa Joe's Biersalon In the evening. The pub is decorated with twinkle lights and sign displaying they serve Gaffel Kölsch.
Outside Papa Joe's
There is a real buzz about the place, especially when theoompah music begins to play.
The bustling scene inside Papa Joe's Biersalon, a traditional star pub in the centre of Cologne.
Inside Papa Joe's
Every year we visit Bierhaus en d`r Salzgass, arriving on the first day around 4:30, and watching as it gets busier & busier. We love to see the barrels of fresh Kolsch popping up through the bar.

There is only one beer, that's the Kolsch, only one size 200ml (around a 1/3 of a pint),

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.
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
(RIP Robert; you won't be forgotten)

The whole of Cologne at Christmas

Take time to listen to the bands and street musicians dotted around the city.
A three-man brass band, wearing long wool coats and top hats, playing around the statue in the centre of Alter Markt in the centre of cologne's christmas markets at night.
And the band played on
The whole city appears to embrace Christmas, and if there is tree or streetlamp, it will be adorned with festive lights.
Red heart lanterns in a blue-lit tree above a drinks stall in Cologne's Heinzels Winter Fairytale christmas market
Beautiful at night

Souvenir mugs

Each Christmas market has its own style, each year they change. We have collected many different mugs over years. If we have a glühwein or hot chocolate at home, we choose our memory, bringing back a smile.
Two mugs of steaming glühwein in beautiful souvenir mugs at the Christmas Markets in Cologne, Germany
Gluhwein in the souvenir mugs

Christmas Decorations

We have a collection of ornaments and decorations we have picked up in our visits.
Our traditional soldier nutcracker decoration purchased in Germany from a Käthe Wohlfahrt store.
Our Nutcracker from Käthe Wohlfahrt
Our traditional wooden Santa Claus decoration with scented smoke coming from his pipe
Santa Claus in wood from Käthe Wohlfahrt

They range from relatively inexpensive baubles to more ornate products from stores such as Kathe Wohlfahrt.

This is the reason why we opt to drive to Cologne. It gives us complete freedom to buy as much as we want, there are now luggage limits, nor a fear of them being damaged on the journey home.


Visitor Information

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

It's obvious but...

A year is a long time to wait.

It's not like a normal mini-break

We used to eat in restaurants in the evenings, but in the last few years, we have eaten around the markets, as the food is enjoyable and reasonably priced.

You had to be there...

Performing the conga with a bar full of German strangers in Brasserie Täglich Köln.

There have been other moments, but that's the one I will own up to.

I love nothing more than planning a trip and so often I use the DK Eyewitness books.  I find them extremely informative, easy to follow and the pictures and maps tempt you into discovering more.

We used a previous version of this book to plan our Germany road trips, now you can grab the revised copy.

If you wish to fly, it only takes about 1 hour and 15 minutes from London.

You really need to book early as these markets are very popular.

Although all these markets are fantastic to visit during the day, they really come alive in the evenings, don’t miss it.

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; this is essential because it was cold in December.

Germany’s Christmas markets are for all ages, don’t be put off that it is all for children; it really isn’t. We are all big kids at heart…..

Dress warm and comfortable, and don’t forget your Santa hat.
A selective coloured black and white shot of the angel christmas market in cologne with a group of ladies wearing red santa hats
Santa Hats

Final point, the most remarkable thing about Cologne at Christmas, is the warmth and friendliness of the people.

We’ll see you again.

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