Every year, Cologne plays host to a dazzling array of winter markets. They offer a host of delights, from traditionally inspired festivities to contemporary displays, and almost two million people visit each year to discover one of Germany’s most enduring traditions. These open-air street markets are held in Advent, the four-week run-up to Christmas. They are filled with individually designed buden (huts) which offer an exciting range of sweet treats, souvenirs, toys and gifts, and are also a must-visit destination simply for their wonderful atmosphere.
Weihnachtsmarkt am Kölner Dom
Situated between the striking Römisch-Germanisches Museum, the Kölner Philharmonie concert hall and the famous Dom Hotel, the Weihnachtsmarkt am Kölner Dom (cathedral Christmas market) enjoys a stunning location. The market features the largest Christmas tree in the Rhineland area, which is decorated with sparkling lights to create the perfect festive backdrop. At around 25 metres high, the towering Nordmann fir tree provides a beautiful landmark at the heart of the market and is lit up with over 50,000 twinkling fairy lights.
Sample the treats and delicacies available, including traditional warm glühwein – mulled wine served in festive, decorative mugs, or, for a non-alcoholic option, try some delicious sweet hot chocolate. Watch artisans at work creating a large variety of gifts such as wood carvings, ceramics, jewellery, children’s toys and soaps. Most of the wares on display are created exclusively in Germany or within Europe and make perfect souvenirs.
Cool for kids
Take a break from browsing the many stalls to watch some of the 100 different Christmas performances on the large stage; the varied music and entertainment is sure to make your experience even more enjoyable. A traditional carousel and the children’s wheel of fortune game are some of the many other attractions that delight visitors. Within easy walking distance of the well-known Hohe Strasse and Schildergasse shopping districts, with the historic Old Town and traditional breweries close by, this centrally situated market is one that can’t be missed.
Markt der Engel
For tempting gourmet delights, head to the Markt der Engel (angels’ market), where stands offer regional specialities. This is Cologne’s oldest winter market and is held at Neumarkt square in the heart of the shopping district. Must-try gastronomic treats include spiced and sweet gingerbread, bratwurst – a savoury pork sausage – and, perhaps the most tempting of all, stollen, the traditional sweet German bread eaten during the Christmas season, made with candied and dried fruit, orange, nuts and spices, and sprinkled with icing sugar.
Stop for a drink at one of the charmingly named huts such as Cloud Nine or Gabriel’s, which serve mulled wine, traditional egg punch and other warming drinks to help keep the cold winter weather at bay. Nostalgia is at the forefront of this market and gift highlights include traditionally decorated plates with illustrations of the Christmas markets and their history. Keep an eye out for figures dressed as enchanting angels, who parade around the market, sprinkling glitter among the chalets and stalls to create a magical atmosphere. Once a week, Santa Claus makes a grand entrance on horseback to delight both adults and children.
Hafen-Weihnachtsmarkt am Schokoladen Museum
For something a little out of the ordinary, visit the Hafen-Weihnachtsmarkt am Schokoladen Museum, the lively harbourside market held at the city’s famous museum of chocolate. This market overlooks the picturesque river Rhine, and has a distinctly maritime flavour. It is packed with events, attractions and dozens of exciting stands.
A relatively new addition to the city’s numerous markets, it is also one of the largest to explore. Attention to detail is key here, with the waterfront theme reflected across the market’s design, decoration, performances and products. In keeping with the waterside location, delicacies include fresh fish and seafood dishes. A lively entertainment programme features musical performances and traditional Christmas songs and dances, and the ‘Rhine Pirates’ who weave their way through the stalls, entertaining visitors with sailors’ yarns and juggling, are a highlight. Just five minutes’ walk from the oldest swing bridge in Cologne, traditional breweries and the city’s picturesque Old Town, this Christmas market makes the perfect festive sightseeing stop.
Stadtgarten Christmas market
If you’re seeking a market with a modern twist, the Stadtgarten Christmas market attracts both locals and visitors alike with its charming contemporary take on the traditional. Situated in the middle of the city’s hip Belgian quarter, the market features over 80 exhibitors who come to display their creative and stylish wares. Strings of fairy lights glitter overhead and elegantly designed huts give this outdoor attraction a romantic feel. The stalls change each week so there are frequently new creations and gifts to explore, including elegant designs and unusual crafts for the home. Jazz concerts are a regular highlight too and are best enjoyed along with a sweet crêpe or waffle drizzled in warm chocolate sauce – the perfect, indulgent way to round off your trip.