Germany is THE best Christmas destination in the world. After all, it is the birthplace of Christmas markets, colourful and cheery winter wonderlands teeming with hot food and drinks, Ferris wheel and other rides, glittering trees, and lovely woollens for purchase. Every city, town, and village in the land of mulled wine (and even mulled beer!) and bratwurst hosts a Weihnachtsmarkt. And in the larger cities, there are often dozens of these festive fairs to choose from!
You could say that the markets are similar in that the bigger ones often feature large skating rinks, while the smaller ones are more about indulging in gluhwein and reibekuchen (fried potato pancakes). But having been to the ones in Bonn, Cologne, Bad Neuenahr, and Berlin, we can tell you – the different locations endow every market with a distinctive flair. Berlin is less crowded and thus quieter, while Cologne turns into a veritable maze of revellers on weekends.
Christmas markets in Germany generally open one month before Christmas, and shut around 22nd December. So now would be the right time to pack your gloves and mittens and visit all the markets that you can!
Christmas Markets in Cologne
Cologne is the fourth largest city in Germany, and home to the world-famous Cologne Cathedral. Needless to say, the Christmas markets here are like jewelled fairylands. If you start exploring from the Dom and make your way to surrounding streets, the Old Town, and finally the riverside, you’ll end up visiting two of the major Christmas markets: Heinzelmännchen market and the Cathedral Christmas market. The latter is undeniably grand, with a bright red concert stage, humongous Christmas tree, and a sky interwoven with golden lights.
The Alter Markt at the doorstep of Cologne’s Rathaus (Town Hall) is open everyday from 11 AM to 10 PM, from November 26 to December 23. It’s called the Heinzelmännchen market, referring to mythical house gnomes who used to run all kinds of errands for the residents of the city. The Cathedral Christmas Market is open daily from 11 AM to 9 PM, and an hour longer from Thursday-Saturday. It features around 150 stalls, and shuts on 23rd December as well. Here’s some good information on ALL the Christmas markets in Cologne.
What To Do At A Christmas Market
- Drink red or white mulled wine, eggnog, and many other alcoholic and non-alcoholic Christmas beverages
- Gorge on wurst (sausages), reibekuchen, pommes (fries), goulash, and numerous other treats from all over Europe
- Grab a pair of roller skates, and go skating on an enclosed rink!
- Listen to live Christmas choirs and concerts
- Take your kids for rides on giant Ferris wheels, carousels, and swing rides
- Shop for Christmas chocolates, decorations, and pretty caps and other woollens
- Walk around and admire the lit-up Christmas trees and shops
Weather: The average temperature in Cologne in December is anything between 6-12°C, but make sure you’re wearing a warm winter jacket and good sneakers or boots. It may rain without warning; so a waterproof jacket with a hood would be a good idea. We like to carry woollen caps and gloves just in case the wind starts blowing.
Make The Most of Cologne’s Christmas Markets
Winters in Europe can be bleak and harsh (though West Germany is quite pleasant), and Christmas markets are a wonderful reason to get out and partake in some universal gaiety. It matters when you visit though. Cologne is very, very crowded on weekends so if you’d like to avoid that, try visiting on a weekday. The markets look quite different by day when the skating rink is white like snow, and by night, when it is lit up in myriad colours. And at the magical hour of dusk, the golden trees are etched against an indigo blue sky – a sight not easily forgotten.
To make the most of your visit to Cologne’s centrally located Christmas markets, set aside at least a couple of hours and pace yourself when it comes to food and drinks. There is so much variety on offer, and you’ll want to try everything! Things aren’t all that expensive and in the price of a restaurant meal, you’ll get to try many different wonderful drinks and dishes. In the end, find some serenity by the river and marvel at the sparkling Hohenzollern bridge, and the tourist ships cruising the Rhine River.
People tend to be quite friendly at the markets, and don’t worry too much if you don’t speak good German. You can gesture, point to another customer’s drink, or use English – anything for a cupful of Christmas goodness! And if you’d like to improve your German, it’s a great occasion to chat up strangers. Folks are always willing to enlighten you on some of their favourite traditions. 🙂
In our next post, we’ll share some stunning photos of Berlin’s Christmas markets. So stay tuned, and leave your email address below for loads of love and travel:
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