When I was looking for the best Christmas markets in Germany, Cologne jumped out at me. The city hosts a holiday extravaganza with a whopping seven markets! That’s right, there are SEVEN distinct holiday markets for you to enjoy. If this place doesn’t put you in a festive mood, nothing will. I visited all the markets over four gluhwein-filled days. Each has a unique theme and special features to grab your attention at every turn. (Hello, collectable mugs!) Get all the details in this guide to the Cologne Christmas Market.
Cathedral Christmas Market
Weihnachtsmarkt am Dom is my favorite of Cologne’s Christmas markets. Its classic red-covered stalls spread out below the cathedral’s massive spires, the focal point of the city skyline. Food stands surround a stage where performers sing carols and covers of favorite holiday hits. The market is especially pretty at night with its lace curtain of twinkle lights and soaring Christmas tree. In addition to the striking setting, this is where I found the best shopping and eating. Hot-off-the-griddle waffles, cheesy spaetzle with sautéed onions, folksy Ukrainian art, and hand-painted glass ornaments were some of the highlights here.
Heinzel’s Winter Fairytale
Heinzel’s Wintermarchen stretches through Cologne’s Old Town in Alter Markt and Heumarkt squares. The main attraction is a large ice rink with lanes for skating and an area for a sport that looks similar to curling. A large beer hall is next to the rink with a second-story deck perfect for spectators. Heinzel’s plays to a local legend in which gnomes help craftsmen with their work. This is the place to go if you are looking for woodcarvings or other traditional handicrafts. I was pleasantly surprised to find a stall of Polish pottery and bought a piece for my collection. Heinzel’s has the largest number of beverage stands – and super cute mugs – and really comes alive at night.
Nikolausdorf wins the award for most picturesque Christmas market in Cologne. All the stands feature half-timber trim and it looks like an Alpine village has been plonked down in the middle of the city. The market is tucked up beside Hahnen Gate, which once formed part of Cologne’s medieval walls. The food and beverage options here seem to be popular with locals, and I joined a lengthy queue for some outstanding potato pancakes. Nicolas Village has the best mugs and I came home with a souvenir set.
The Markt der Engel is located in a popular shopping district in the city center, with busy tram and metro stations nearby. With its sprawling size and wide lanes, I found this one the most challenging to photograph. Though it does boast my favorite ornament shop which I revisited several time to stock up on gifts. Another highlight is the women dressed as angels floating through the crowds. I expected the gluhwein mugs to be equally ethereal, but they were emblazoned with demonic elves instead.
Harbor Christmas Market
Ahoy, Matey! The Cologne Harbor market stretches along the bank of the Rhine River and features a fun pirate theme. Its booths are topped with pointed white tents mean to evoke sails, and the beverage stands are massive wooden ships. The décor and food options follow the nautical lead. If you have a hankering for a fish sandwich or lighthouse ornament, the Harbor Market has you covered.
The motto of Cologne’s official gay Christmas market is “Heaven(ue) is a place on Earth,” and it certainly feels like a fantasy land. Unicorns, clouds, and rainbows adorn stalls selling LGBTQI+ friendly ornaments and treats. Pink and purple lights shine through the trees and queens perform on a glittery stage. This is the place to visit when you are looking to dance the night away. Note that HEAVENUE opens later in the day than the other markets, and is very small.
Stadtgarten Christmas Market
The most popular market with Cologne’s locals is tucked away from the touristy part of town. Stadtgarten, Cologne’s oldest park, is located in the trendy Belgian Quarter, an area known for promoting young fashion designers and artists. Many of them set up booths at the Christmas market so it’s a great place to pick up stylish accessories and gifts. This is also where you will find the best-tasting gluhwein – hot mulled Lillet rouge with citrus and spices. It’s worth trekking out to Stadtgarten just for a mug or two!
Most of Cologne’s Christmas markets are within walking distance of each other, though it can get tiring if you are making multiple trips back and forth like I did. Thankfully, there’s the Christmas Market Express. This festive motorized train runs a loop between the Cathedral Market, Heinzel’s Winter Fairytale, Harbor Market, and Angels’ Market. The hop-on – hop-off tickets cost ten euros and are good for one day. Departures are every 15 minutes.
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