So Bublé’s on the radio and the advent calendars have been cracked open which can only mean one thing… the festive season is well and truly upon us! I can’t quite believe December has already rolled around again but I’m fully embracing the Christmas spirit thanks to a little mini-break to Cologne last week. It was a bit of a spontaneous trip after I stumbled across some cheap flights and having spent all of five minutes convincing my friend to come with me, it was booked. But after three days exploring the Christmas markets, sipping mulled wine and indulging in quite literally all the traditional food I could get my hands on, I feel properly festive.
There are seven (yes, seven) different Christmas markets in Cologne and in our 72 hours there we visited four of them. We probably could have managed all of them but we found that the atmosphere in each completely changed from day to night and so ended up revisiting our favourite spots multiple times.
The main market is right in front of Cologne Cathedral, Kölner Dom. We visited this one quite a few times as it was often on our route to/from the hotel. In the mornings it’s great for shopping for gifts and trinkets like biscuits, candles and tree decorations, with hundreds of stalls and minimal crowds. But this place really shines at night. Literally. I’ve never seen so many fairy lights! Lining the sky overhead like twinkling stars, it looks genuinely magical and unfortunately the photos just don’t do it justice. It also gets super busy of an evening, with both tourists and locals flocking to socialise over a mug of Glühwein. I would suggest sticking with your loved ones while wandering around this one or you may never find them again as it does start to feel like a maze after a while. There is however, a giant Christmas tree marking the centre of the maze/market if you do get lost. Underneath which is a stage where at specific times local children receive presents and read cards and carollers sing etc. One evening we did catch something happening but to be honest I couldn’t tell you what was going on as I don’t speak any German. I did however very much enjoy the atmosphere, along with a bratwurst or two!
Location: Kölner Dom
Opening Times: 11:00-21:00 Sunday to Wednesday, 11:00-22:00 Thursday & Friday, 10:00-22:00 Saturday
Markt Der Engel (The Angel Market)
Although a lot smaller than the Cathedral market, this is one of the oldest in Cologne and was simpler, but no less beautiful with hundreds of white star-shaped lanterns floating above. It’s located in the main shopping district so perfect if you have more Christmas shopping to do! It also happened to be right next door to our hotel. We stayed for two nights at Motel One – Neumarkt which I’d definitely recommend. We chose it purely for location being just a short walk from the Cathedral and all of the main markets, which majorly paid off because my god were my feet aching by the end of each day! (little tip – may seem obvious but wear your comfiest shoes because finding somewhere to sit down anywhere near the markets is near impossible). But we really couldn’t fault the hotel and it didn’t break the bank, we actually ended up spending quite a bit of time warming up in the main bar/lounge area with a cup of tea too which was lovely after being out in the cold all day.
But back to the Markt Der Engel, one thing I loved about the different markets but didn’t fully appreciate at the time was that they are often based on German traditions and folk tales. As the name suggests, this one was angel-themed with stall names such as ‘Gabriel’s’, it even had an Angel riding around on horseback sprinkling golden glitter as she went!
Opening Times: 9:00-21:00 Sunday to Thursday, 9:00-22:00 Friday & Saturday
The Harbour Market
In all honesty, this nautically themed market was a bit of a let down for us. Possibly because we loved the other markets we’d seen so much and this one seemed to be more of what we’d already seen without the cosy, fairy light covered scenery. Although our cab driver from the airport did say it was his favourite one so maybe we went at the wrong time of day, who knows! Drinks being served from the helm of a pirate ship however – great fun! Sadly I didn’t get any photos.
Location: Next to the chocolate museum on the Rhine river
Opening Times: 11:00-21:00 Sunday to Thursday, 11:00-22:00 Friday & Saturday
This market was possibly my favourite to visit during the day as it had curling games set up and a big ice rink running through the middle with a bridge and viewing platforms for non-skaters (like me) to watch with yet another mug of something warm and seasonal. It was also the only market, as far as I saw, that had seating – a God send after hours of walking. Similarly to the Angel Market, it’s also based on German folklore with gnome-like creatures known as Heinzels adorning the mugs and buildings. These ‘Heinzels’, according to tradition, used to do the workers work for them when they were sleeping until they were caught one day and refused to do any more (I guess similar to the elves and the shoemaker) and they now watch over the market to ensure everything is handmade and local!
| Tip: When buying drinks in any of the markets you pay a deposit on the mug you use, typically around €2-3, you can either return them and get your money back or keep them as souvenirs! Each market has a different mug and I actually kept this one that has the story of the Heinzels on it. |
Location: Alter Markt, in the Altstadt (Old Town)
Opening Times: 11:00-22:00
The Stadtgarten, Nikolausdorf & Heavenue
We did miss a few markets, including Heavenue & Nikolausdorf. We’d actually planned to visit a fifth one on our last day but didn’t think to look at the opening times and so arrived nice and early to an empty market. We soon realised that the Stadtgarten market is only open in the evenings. Oops. Not that it mattered too much because as far as I can tell that one is mostly food and by this point we had eaten everything we could possibly manage! I’ll be uploading a second post about the food in Cologne because i’ve rambled on for long enough here and really it was all so tasty it deserves it’s own post, 100% the best part of the trip!
But I hope this helps if you’re heading to Cologne any time soon or if like me you hadn’t considered it before, I would really recommend it as a budget winter getaway. Great gifts, fabulous food and plenty of Christmas cheer – if that doesn’t get you feeling festive, nothing will! And if any of you have been to Christmas markets in other parts of the world please let me know, I’m already dreaming about next year and would love some recommendations!