There are a few things Germans are better at than everybody else: technology, punctuality, beer (as a Belgian, I must say this one is debatable) and Christmas markets!
I was never one to fully embrace the Christmas spirit, but I had to admit defeat after visiting the Christmas markets in Cologne! Festively decorated huts take over the city’s squares, decorated with twinkling Christmas lights. The air smells of nostalgia, romance and cosy wintery nights…
Stay in Cologne for a few days and stroll from Christmas market to Christmas market. The city is home to 7 different ones, each with their own particular atmosphere.
The best Christmas markets of Cologne
1. Am Kölner Dom
The Christmas market at the Cathedral is one of the most popular and busy Christmas markets of Cologne. Situated next to the train station it is the most accessible one. Twinkling stars descend from the huge Christmas tree, framing a tent over nearly a hundred chalets selling crafts, gifts and food galore. There is a traditional old carrousel and stage performances several times a day. It’s a good introduction to the delicacies and atmosphere that awaits you, but this would probably be my least favourite one.
2. Heinzels Wintermärchen
Definitely my favourite one! This Christmas market is situated on Alter Markt and Heumarkt, in the city centre, and is the largest and most traditional Christmas market of Cologne. It consists of various alleys, which each have their own theme (e.g. “sweets alley”, “toy alley”, …) The name “Heinzels” comes from the “Heinzelmänchen”, which are gnome-like creatures. They are part of a popular fairy tale in Germany and were known to work overnight so that the inhabitants of Cologne could just be lazy and do nothing all day! The gnomes are dotted all over the market and contribute to spread the Christmas spirit.
The centrepiece of the Heumarkt is the massive ice skating rink covering over 2000 square meters! There is also a chance to play curling!
Make sure you walk up the bridge to get an overview !
3. Markt der Engel
The “Angels Market” is held on the Neumarkt, in Cologne’s shopping district. Upon entering, you are greeted by two angels, dressed in white and sprinkling glitter powder to spread Christmas cheer. The charming chalets are a glittering white and yellow which gives the market a more upmarket feel compared to the Cathedral one. The products are high quality and there are less people, so it’s easier to stroll about and linger.
On the Rudolfplatz, next to the medieval Hahnentorburg, you can find the village of Saint Nicholas. Not only can you find his house here, there is also a village chapel, a children’s workshop and a stage programme with performers bringing you magical Christmas songs.
The glühwein souvenir mugs are some of the nicest I’ve seen!
5. Harbour Market
The Harbour market is totally different from all the other Christmas markets in Cologne. It is situated directly on the Rhine and has a distinctive maritime theme. The big pirate ship is the eye catcher, together with the Malakoff tower overlooking the Rhine. There are over 70 stylish, modern stalls selling fine culinary delicacies and crafts.
It is less busy than the other markets and since there is a less twinkling and fairy tale-like atmosphere, this one is a good one to visit during the day.
A bit out of the way and again, very different from the markets in the old town, this one is situated in the Stadtgarten, Cologne’s biggest park.
More than 80 exhibitors are selling a whole range of wares – from traditional Christmas products to lovingly hand-crafted individual pieces. The atmospheric strings of lights and lanterns hanging between the trees and stalls give the Stadtgarten Christmas market a more boho-festival atmosphere.
The culinary choices are slightly different from the more traditional ones with organic mulled wine, stews and Flammkuchen to name a few.
A further highlight is the Christmas stage featuring puppet shows and children’s theatre.
7. Heavenue, Cologne’s Gay and Lesbian Christmas market
To be honest, I wasn’t really impressed with this Christmas market. I was expecting more pink, more glitter, more colour.
The market is situated between Hahnenstrasse and Schaafenstrasse, close to Rudolfplatz. It is smaller than all the other ones, but you can find some items that you won’t find in the more “traditional” markets, like chocolate-covered willies. The stage performances are pretty exuberant and good fun.
The market is very inclusive and open to everyone, it’s nice to have a quick stroll around it, but if you are limited for time, head for some of the other ones first.
What to eat and drink at the Cologne Christmas markets
Eating and drinking at the Cologne Christmas markets means strolling from stall to stall, sampling all the culinary delicacies on offer. But beware of the calories, this is not the time to go on a diet!
Nothing says “it’s Christmas time” more than sipping that first glass of Glühwein! Made of heated red wine along with a variety of spices (cloves, cinnamon sticks, oranges, …) this alcoholic drink is sold at every market and at a huge number of stalls. In Germany, they come in beautifully crafted “mugs”, which you can either give back or keep as a souvenir. When buying a mulled wine, they will charge you 1€ deposit for the mug which you will get back if you hand the mug in again.
You can also get Glühwein with a shot of Amaretto or Rum.
If you’re getting tired of Glühwein, try “Met”. It’s a mixture of white wine and honey. Very tasty and sweet!
Take a mug of mulled wine. Put a sugar between a small pair of tongs, soak it with rum, set it alight above the mulled wine, and you have your “Feuerzangenbowle”. Absolutely delicious, but potentially dangerous, not only because of the heat, but also because of the alcohol content.
To be consumed moderately!
3.Reibekuchen mit Apfelmus
Omnipresent at any Christmas are the Reibekuchen, a sort of grated potato pancake that is deep fried in oil and served fresh and very hot! They are mostly served in threes on paper plates and accompanied by “Apfelmus”, a sweet apple sauce that counters perfectly the savoury fried potato.
Perfect for a cold night, not so perfect if you are on a diet!
4.Bratwurst and Fleischspiesse
Ah, the German Bratwurst? Does it need any introduction? This sausage, made of of ground pork and veal, is cooked on a large circular grill, suspended in the air by chains. It is accompanied by mustard and a bun.
The same stalls often sell deliciously marinated meat skewers (Fleischspiesse)
You could say it’s the German version of a crispy pizza, but that wouldn’t really do the Flammkuchen justice. Bread dough is rolled out very thinly in a rectangle shape, covered with soft cheese or sour cream, sliced onions and bacon bits (or mushrooms for a veggie option) and cooked in a wood-fire oven.
You can’t find it everywhere, but if you do, (they have it at the Harbour Christmas Market) go for it! Out of all the food that you can find across all the Cologne Christmas Markets, my personal favourite is the flame grilled salmon! Entire sides of salmon are pegged to a wooden plank, which are then roasted and flamed vertically in front of a wood-fire. It is usually served in a bread roll accompanied by lettuce and a herby sauce.
Tips for visiting the Christmas markets in Cologne
1. When to go?
Every year the Christmas markets in Cologne open their gates on the last Monday before Advent and close on the 23rd of December. They are generally open from noon till 10pm, but check the official website or get one of the free Christmas Market guides at the Tourist Office for individual market hours. Weekends are the busiest, with more people being off work. During the day you’ll have plenty of space to stroll around, but I would still advise you to go after dark; when the Christmas lights are twinkling the atmosphere is just that little bit more magical!
2. How to get around?
The most popular Christmas markets in Cologne are close to one another ( e.g. the one at the Cathedral and the one on Heumarkt) but some of them, like the Stadtgarten and Nikolausdorf, are a bit more out of the way, so you might want to take public transport.
Or get the Christmas Market Express, a little train that drives you between the Cathedral Market, Alter Markt, the Harbour Market and the Angel’s Market. A round trip costs 10€.
To be honest, I think Cologne has ruined it for me, no other Christmas markets will ever compare! I stayed for 2 full days and nights, which is perfect to visit all the different markets without rushing around and have some time to wander around Cologne and maybe visit the famous Dom.
Tell me, where is your favourite Christmas market?