Last Updated on 2nd September 2020 by Sophie Nadeau
Famed for its towering twin Gothic cathedral spires and Kölsch beer, Köln is to be found in the West of Germany, in a region known as the North Rhine Westphalia. Populous and somewhere between Bonn and Aachen, the best time to visit Cologne is easily during winter, when there many festive events and illuminations to be enjoyed. Here’s your ultimate Cologne Christmas Market guide, including insider tips and things to know before you go!
2020 update: Due to the ongoing Coronavirus Pandemic, the Cologne Cathedral and Heinzels Winter Fairytale in the Old Town Christmas markets have been cancelled in 2020. There is currently no information on whether the other Cologne Christmas Markets will be taking place in 2020.
If you’ve ever seen a snap of Cologne, then no doubt you’ll have spied a photo of the pretty as a postcard pastel houses in front of the steeple of one of Cologne’s dozen or so Romanesque churches. Other highlights of the Germany include scouting out the best beer in town and spying the final vestiges of Roman Cologne (known as Colonia Claudia Ara Agrippinensium), including at the Roman museum and in the many former town walls across the city. For a more in-depth look at Roman Cologne, consider booking a tour like this one.
Cologne Christmas Market Guide
In 2019, Cologne is hosting seven distinctive Christmas Markets, with further events and special happening across the city. The ‘best’ Cologne Christmas Market depends entirely on your personal preferences and what you prefer to get out of a Christmas Market.
Would you like to shop for local and handmade souvenirs? Would you prefer to frequent a themed market? Do you want to go ice skating? Is it all about the Christmas Market Food for you? Read on about the various Christmas Markets in Cologne to plan your visit accordingly.
Christmas Market at Cologne Cathedral
Lying in the shadow of Cologne’s great and Gothic Dom, the most famous of Köln’s X-Mas Markets is that of Kölner Dom. Presided over by a towering twenty-five metre high Christmas tree, there are dozens of chalets selling everything from gifts to food stuffs.
Though I enjoyed this Cologne market, I personally found it a little more touristic than some of the other offerings across the city, and would prioritise visiting the Winter Fairytale or Market of Angels over this one, time permitting. Across the market event, over 100 stage performances will be held and there’s a children’s carousel for younger visitors.
Henzels Winter Fairytale in Cologne Old Town
If you’re looking for one of the most magical Christmas Markets in Europe, let alone in Germany, hands down you simply must head to Cologne’s fairytale old town Christmas Market. Featuring many opportunities to partake in winter sports (including a 2,400 square metres ice rink and curling), henzels Winter Fairytale can be found on Alter Markt and Heumarkt.
As well as being the largest Cologne Christmas Market, there are themed alleyways selling goods such as toys, sweets, or typically German goods. For one of the best views of the Christmas Market, head to one of the large wooden chalets, where you can enjoy a Glühwein on the upper level while watching the ice skaters glide by.
Market of Angels at Neumarket
For those who are in search of a themed Christmas Market, the Angel festive event is an aboluste must. The canopy of the treetops above are twinkling with hundreds of illuminated stars, while at ground level people dressed as angels step around in stilts and a warm ambiance fills the air.
Situated in the very middle of the city, each chalet is individually designed and the food offerings are absolutely glorious. There’s the traditional Flammekueche (as well as a vegetarian), all kinds of bretzels (pretzels), crêpes, and, of course, Kartoffelpfannkuchen (which can be served together with apple sauce). Otherwise, the gift and souvenir offerings include everything from silver jewellery to hanging ornaments and candles.
Village of St Nicholas at Rudolfplatz
Lying beneath a former town gate turned historic monument (the Hahnentorburg Gate), the ‘St Nicholas’ Village’ is home to adorable and illuminated chalets, including a children’s workshop hut. The entire market is illuminated by hundreds, if not thousands, of twinkling lights, and there’s vin chaud as well as other Christmas market food for sale throughout.
Cologne Harbour Christmas Market
One of the smaller of the Christmas Markets in Köln is that of the harbour. As you might expect, this festive event lies alongside the Rhine river front and can be found just a seven-minute walk from the candy coloured houses and Romanesque church tower of fish market.
Modern in its appearance, the Cologne Harbour Christmas Market is characterised by its twinkling lights and white tented appearance. With this being said, there is little to distinguish this market from many other Christmas markets in Europe. After all, the market sells typical food (vin chaud, fries, and the like) and the goods are not as unique as some of the other Christmas Markets in Cologne. As such, I wouldn’t make it my mission to prioritise this festive site.
One of the most alternative of the Christmas Markets in Cologne is easily that of Heavenue. Situated close to Village of St Nicholas at Rudolfplatz, this alternative market features neon lights, stalls selling mulled everything (including mulled rosé), and plenty of unique and fun gifts. Though this is one of the smaller Xmas markets in Cologne, Heavenue Cologne is well worth a visit!
Stadtgarten Christmas Market
Held in a public park a little way out of town, one of the Cologne Christmas Markets with a more ‘local feel’ is that of the Stadtgarten, close to the Belgian quarter of the city. Held in a public park, head here and you can expect to find all kinds of local wares and produce, including silver jewellery and handmade notebooks.
Christmas Things to do in Cologne (that aren’t Christmas Markets)
Cologne Festive City Cruise
There are two main ways to enjoy Cologne: by foot and by water. And if you want to experience the best that the city has to offer, then it’s worth experiencing Köln via both. This two hour cruise along the River Rhine includes live music and panoramic views of Köln. Check prices and availability here.
Go Ice Skating
If winter sports are right up your alley, then there are ample opportunities to enjoy icy activities when it comes to Cologne. The largest ice skating rink is to be found in the Henzels Winter Fairytale in Cologne Old Town.
Travel tips and things to know before visiting the Colmar Christmas Markets
The best time to visit Cologne
Though you might have seen photos of the reconstructed Fish Market, you should note that Cologne is not the most aesthetically pleasing city Europe has to offer, but is well worth a visit nonetheless. Hands down, the best time to visit Cologne is at Christmastime when the markets are in full swing and the town is awash with themed markets, Christmas trees, and twinkling lights on many of the major thoroughfares.
If you’re able to plan accordingly, coincide your Cologne Christmas Market visit to avoid school holidays (towards the end of December) and to avoid weekends. The best time to capture photos of the markets, as well as enjoy the markets without the crowds, is by heading to them at opening or just before closing, and mid-week if possible.
Things to pack for visiting the Köln Christmas Markets
Though English is fairly widely spoken, particularly by those working in the tourism industry, it’s only polite to learn a few words of the local language, in this case German. Bring along a simple German phrasebook like this one to help you get by. It’s also a good idea to bring along a universal travel adapter like this one so that you can keep your electronics charged wherever you go!
When visiting the Cologne markets, be sure to bring along a comfortable pair of walking shoes (heels are pretty but don’t mix well with cobbled lanes), not to mention a warm jacket to combat the cold. I personally love this coat as it’s ever so warm and vegan!
Last but not least, when it comes to Christmas Markets throughout Europe, cash is king! Though more and more market stalls are beginning to accept bank cards as a form of payment, this is not the norm and so ensure that you bring along enough cash (in this case, Euro) to enable you to purchase all the gifts, souvenirs, and foodie goods that your heart so desires.
Insider tips for Cologne
If you’re planning on seeing many of the major monuments, attractions, and museums when it Cologne, then you might consider investing in a KölnCard. This city pass offers public transportation, as well as discounts on various shopping, museum, and guided tours of the city. Please note that no attractions are included in the prices, only discounts. In order to work out whether the card is worth it, add up the cost of your desired activities and the discount in comparison to the cost of the card. Find more details about the KölnCard here.
After visiting the Kölner Dom (Cologne Cathedral), which also happens to be free to visit, and wandering along the banks of the River Rhine, there are a surprising number of hidden gems and secret spots that you might have never heard of before. For example, there’s an ossuary chapel hidden in the back room of the Basilica of Saint Ursula (which costs €2 to visit) and a secret crypt underneath St Andrew’s Church.
Though I did not see this in the Christmas Markets in Paris, all of the Cologne Christmas Markets require a deposit if you wish to drink a hot drink such as a Glühwein, hot cider, hot juice, and the like. The price for Glühwein (vin chaud in French) varies from market to market and is anything from €3 to €4, which is a pretty standard price for a European Christmas Market.
The deposit required for drinks per Christmas Market varies from between €2,50 and €4. If you return you mug after you finish your drink, then you’ll be refunded the deposit. Otherwise, you can keep the Christmas Market mug for a unique souvenir of your visit!
Where to stay in Cologne
As you might expect from such a large city, there’s no shortage of places to stay in Cologne, with tastes and amenities to suit all budgets. From the über luxe to the budget, here are some of the best accommodation choices in Cologne, based on location and reviews.
We personally stayed at the Mercure Hotel Koeln City Friesenstrasse but I wouldn’t recommend it or rate it highly (though it was pretty clean and well-located in the Belgian quarter) as the WiFi didn’t work during our stay and there were a few other issues with our room that the hotel reception weren’t willing to acknowledge or rectify.
Excelsior Hotel Ernst
For an ever so luxurious experience while staying in Cologne, be sure to book a room at the Ecelsior Hotel Ernst. This five-star establishment boasts amenities such as a spa, fitness centre, and is set against the backdrop of a 19th-century townhouse just a short walk away from Cologne Main Train Station. Check rates and availability here.
Pullman Hotel Cologne
Located in the ever-so-trendy Belgium quarter of the city (which is easily the best place to base yourself if you’re looking for the best of restaurant offerings and access to the rest of historic Cologne), the Pullman is a chic four-star hotel. Highlights of the Cologne accommodation include a sauna, fitness centre, and seasonal bar. Check rates and availability here.
25hours Hotel Koeln The Circle
One of the best-reviewed places to stay in Cologne is that of 25hours Hotel Koeln The Circle. Located around a fifteen-minute walk from the cathedral, amenities on offer at this place to stay include Wi-Fi, a restaurant and bar on the 8th floor, and a rooftop bar offering panoramic Cologne views. Check rates and availability here.
Cologne Downton Hostel
For those in search of a wallet and budget-friendly place to stay in Köln, there’s no need to look any further than the Cologne Downtown Hostel. Located around a ten-minute walk away from both Kölner Dom and the main central train station, amenities at this well-reviewed low-cost hostel include a lounge with a piano and a communal kitchen. Check rates and availability here.
Nearby destinations to see the best of Christmas in Western Germany
Christmas Market of Aachen
Famous for its ‘Printen’ cookies, a special type of gingerbread that can only be called ‘Printen’ if it’s made within the vicinity of Aachen, the city of Charlemagne has been inhabited since Roman times, and perhaps even earlier. The Christmas Market of Aachen lies in the shadow of Aachen’s Dom (Aachen Cathedral), final resting place of Charlemagne and has been held over forty times over the years.
Christmas Market of Bonn
The charming town of Bonn is best-seen in the springtime when the Bonn cherry blossoms are in bloom, and tree tunnels of the fluffy pink flowers can be enjoyed in abundance. Otherwise, visit during the final months of the year and you’ll soon be able to enjoy Christmas markets at 6 distinctive locations across the city in the four weeks leading up to Christmas.