Heading to Cologne this winter for some festive fun? This small city hosts one of the best Christmas markets in Germany, with six different markets to choose from, all individually themed around how you want to spend your day. Here’s our guide on what to see and do over the festive period.
You can fly into either Cologne or Dusseldorf airports and both are served by trains. Hop on the SkyTrain to the Düsseldorf airport train station and it’s about a 40-minute train into Cologne city centre (Köln Hauptbahnhof). From Cologne airport, it’s a much shorter hop of 15 minutes and trains run about every 20 minutes. Tickets cost around €2 and don’t forget to stamp your ticket in one of the orange boxes before you go up to the platform, they get very cross about it if you don’t (take this from experience).
With 6 different markets littered across the city, you really are spoilt for choice. And unlike other markets, it’s not a case of same stalls, different market. Eash hub is themed differently. The main market in front of the magnificent Cathedral has the most options when it comes to trinkets and gifts – with ceramic, wooden and glass decorations at different stands and lots of gluhwein and candied nuts to keep you going. It’s also got a circus tent of twinkle lights that surround a huge Christmas tree in the middle, visit it at dusk when the nooks and crannies of the Gothic church are brought into focus by the lights of the market.
Down towards the Rhine is Heimat der Heinzel, or “Home of the Elves”. This market has a much older feel to it and there’s a beautiful ice rink and curling area around the statue of Friedrich Wilhelm III. Here, make sure you find time to stop and get Rievkooche, a traditional fried pancake made of grated potato with an apple dipping sauce. The Germans definitely know how to do comfort food, so if you want to get some fruit and veg in, we’d advise you stop by a supermarket for a bag of apples! A much more atmospheric market, pop into the chalet-style bierhaus here for a few cosy beers and watch the curlers in action.
It’s date night central in the Narnia that is the Stadgarten market. Set up amongst the trees of Cologne’s oldest park, this is a hipster version of the Christmas market experience. A much younger vibe, head here after dark for a few drinks in one of the many tall tables scattered throughout the forest.
Then there’s the Cologne Harbour market, jutting into the Rhine. Smaller than the previous three, wander down to this one during the day and you can hit two festive birds with one bauble as the Lindt Chocolate Museum is right beside this market. Open every day through December, it takes you through centuries of chocolate culture from around the world and you can even see a chocolate factory in action. Make room for a stop off in the café for a hot chocolate, although the ones in the markets are equally as good. That could just be because of the Baileys though. Yum.
The final two, Neumarkt and Rudolfplatz (no joke) are smaller again. Neumarkt has an arts and crafts feel, while the Nikolausdorf in Rudolfplatz is for the kiddies, with moving moose heads, a giant advent calendar and of course, the official home of the jolly St Nick, where children can visit him in his rustic abode.
If you have a few days in Cologne, why not hop on a 40-minute train from Cologne to Aachen. From the train station, the place looks a bit grim, but a short 10-minute stroll to the centre and it’s all narrow cobbled streets and cinnamon smells. The market coils around the church and up the hill to the main square and is always busy so try going in the early afternoon when crowds haven’t quite reached their peak yet. Gifts and decorations are slightly cheaper here than in Cologne as well, so hold off on making any purchases until you’ve been.
For more information on the markets, check out Cologne Tourism has everything you need to know, from a map to opening hours of every market and all the events happening throughout the seasonal period.