When it comes to Christmas markets, Germany is one of the best (if not the best) places in the world to sample the delights of gluhwein, warming winter food and wooden chalets packed full of gift ideas, from wooden toys to glass baubles.
Last weekend I was lucky enough to visit the Christmas markets in Cologne with friends and soak up the festive atmosphere. We wandered our way through five markets around the city over the course of an afternoon/early evening, and there are even more to discover if you have a long weekend in Cologne.
Christmas Market at the Dom, outside Cologne Cathedral
The gothic spires of Cologne Cathedral, or the Dom, tower over the city’s most famous Christmas market. Over 100 chalets are spread around the square, all centred around a giant Christmas tree under a canopy of twinkling fairy lights, which looks magical after dark. A tiny stage under the tree welcomes local musicians from folk to jazz every evening in the countdown to Christmas, adding to the buzz of the crowds.
Food and drink: There is a great range on offer here – don’t miss the kasespatzle (a little like macaroni cheese with caramelised onions) and the gluhwein. Each Christmas market has its own gluhwein mug with a fresh design every year. The price of your drink includes a deposit for the mug, so if you don’t want to keep it, simply return for your 2-3 euro deposit back. They make great souvenirs though! If you’re not a fan of red wine (like me), try the gluhwein made with white wine, it’s delicious!
Opening dates and times: All the Christmas markets are open from 21 November – 23 December.
Sun-Weds 11-9, Thurs-Fri 11-10, Sat 10-10
Heimat der Henzel, Alter Markt
What’s Christmas without a spin around the ice? If skating is your thing, this is the place to be. The real ice rink even has an animated chair lift with skiers climbing the roof of the log cabin in the middle of the rink!
The wooden chalets here are older and more traditional, with the market split into streets (strasse) specialising in food, drink, gifts and antiques.
Food and drink: Everything from Belgian pralines to Hungarian chimney cakes, you’re spoilt for choice. But the star of the show is the Feuerzangenbowle. Take a mug of traditional gluhwein, then soak a small sugar cone in rum or special liquor. The sugar cone is perched on top of the cup and then set fire to, slowly dripping into the gluhwein. It’s really good (and really alcoholic!)
Opening hours: 11-10
Markt der Engel (The Angel Market), Neumarkt
Opening hours: 11-9
A little calmer than the markets right in the centre of town, the Angel market has a host of classy gift options and sits underneath a canopy of trees strung with fairy lights. To get there take a tram to Neumarkt, it’s only a few minutes.
Food and drink: If you love nougat, this is your place. Or try the delicious potato pancakes, reibekuchen (with or without the traditional apple sauce) – crispy, deep-fried, sinful and so good.
Nicolausdorf (St Nicholas market), Rudolfplatz
Location: A short stroll from the Angel Market on the appropriately-named Rudolfplatz.
Opening times: Sun-Thur 11-9, Fri 11-10, Sat 10-10
Themed around the fairytales of the Brothers Grimm, the Christmas market on Rudolfplatz sits under a city gate lit in festive purple and green. Look out for St Nick/Father Christmas wandering around the market – the perfect chance for a Santa selfie!
Food and drink: like several of the markets this one has an open air bar/tavern where you can stand and enjoy your gluhwein or Kolsch beer. Keep an eye out for the talking moose!
If you’re still searching for that perfect gift, check out the Harbour Christmas Market, Gay and Lesbian market or the Stadtgarten market.