Find beautifully illuminated bazaars and wintry, star-lined paths among the historic squares and landmarks of Cologne this Christmas.
There’s nothing like Christmas in Cologne, where there are more festive markets than you can shake a magic wand at. Skate the ice-rink circuit at Heumarkt, dance to Christmassy DJ sets at Heavenue, browse handmade crafts in the Old Town and sip mulled wine from the boat bar at the harbour. This fairytale German city provides the perfect backdrop for whimsical yuletide evenings throughout the festive season.
In the heart of historic Cologne – by the ornate town hall – the Old Town Christmas market invites you to wind your way through whimsical alleys themed to satisfy every desire on your Christmas wishlist. Stuff yourself like a turkey on bratwurst and cookies at the Feeding Alley and browse garlanded fashion stalls on Glitter Alley – and don’t forget to marvel at hand-carved wooden crafts on Toy Alley. Feeling the chill? Head to the indoor huts for steaming mugs of Feuerzangenbowle (flaming, rum-soaked sugarloaf dripped into mulled wine).
The House Elves’ Winter Fairytale Christmas Market
Legend has it that house elves take care of this festive market – could it get any more magical? In Heumarkt – joined by a walkway to the Old Town Market – this enchanting bazaar has a 110m (361ft) ice rink circuit. Skate past historic royal statues, over bridges and by food stalls to stop for refreshments. There’s a festive cafe above, promising twinkling views of the market and ice shows. Family trip? Kids will love the carousel, puppet theatre and Santa Claus quarter here.
Soak up the culture of Cologne at the biggest festive market in the city: 150 wooden stalls underneath the 12th-century cathedral, the Dom. Expect organically certified regional specialities such as Himmel un Ääd (potato pancakes with apple puree), 100 music and theatre performances, and quality gifts that could have come straight from Santa’s workshop. Centrally, find the 25m (82ft) Nordmann fir tree glittering with a canopy of 50,000 lights, towering magically over the stalls and stage. Top tip: visit the historic brewing houses around the corner for a post-market tipple.
Warmly glowing white tents line the Rhine at Christmas, right by the Chocolate Museum and medieval Malakoff Tower. They form a festive market with a twist where everything represents the waterside setting, including seafood speciality dishes and entertainment from sea shanties and juggling pirates. Among the Christmas trees and craft stalls, find the wooden three-mast boat bar serving hot, spiced wine by the mug. Sip as you take in the sparkling sites reflected in the water.
Strap on your dancing shoes – preferably the sparkly ones – for this glittering festive knees-up in the grounds of KölnBonn near Rudolfplatz. Heavenue is known as Cologne’s Gay Christmas Market and promises fun-filled nights of DJ sets, drag performances and spectacular light shows in the buzzing main square. Pop art-style stalls adorned with angels and sparkling clouds sell food and hot drinks by the bucketload, including a special mulled wine combining red and white varieties. You’ll leave feeling jollier than Mrs Claus.
This family-friendly market – situated by medieval Hahnentor, a 13th-century gate from the old city walls – has whimsical, village-style stalls with timbered houses and festive decor galore. Stroll the glittering lanes and encounter fairytale figurines and impressive illuminations, all lit by 100 percent green electricity. Santa’s House – with fun surprises inside – is a must for kids, while grown-ups can raise a glass of warming mulled wine in charming huts or at one of the many charity events and shows.
The oldest inner-city park in Cologne– found in the Belgian Quarter – is transformed at Christmas with illuminations lining the pathways and lights woven through tree branches. Pass through the glittering archway to explore the magical festive forest. Stall vendors change weekly, selling an impressive variety of handicrafts, accessories, locally made produce including sweet spreads and, of course, plenty of edible goodies and gluhwein. Locals meet at this relatively small market so it’s a happy, bustling vibe – in short, it’s a great evening out.
Stroll down the bedazzled star-lined path of Markt Der Engel (Angels’ Market) and you’ll see where it got its heavenly name. The oldest Christmas market in Cologne is as traditional as mince pie and cream – selling beautiful crafts such as decorative plates painted with magical market scenes and fanciful food including artisan chocolates and eierpunsch (egg punch). Keep your eyes peeled for angels in white, sprinkling glitter as they glide through the market. Once a week, they’re joined by Santa Claus parading on horseback. Magic.