Europe’s Christmas markets are my happy place. The lights, the decorations, the gluhwein, the ornaments. I absolutely love them and have been five times over the past 8 years. Each year I try to visit somewhere new and while I have yet to be disappointed some European Christmas markets make an impression and Cologne, Germany was definitely one of the places that stood out the most. From the incredible decorations to the festive atmosphere and the cute finds, here’s everything you need to know about Cologne’s Christmas markets.
Cologne’s Best Christmas Markets
Cologne has a reputation for having some of the best and oldest Christmas markets in Germany. Having been, I definitely agree and you can easily spend 2 days exploring everything they have to offer.
Like most other European cities, Cologne has a few main Christmas markets, then some very small local ones in the suburban type communities. We’re not going to focus on those because they are tiny, mostly food-oriented. But don’t worry, because Cologne’s main markets will keep you plenty busy during your stay.
The Cathedral Christmas Market
Cologne’s Cathedral is a stand-out attraction and makes a beautiful backdrop for the biggest and most popular Christmas market in Cologne. Expect hundreds of twinkling lights, a large Christmas tree, and over 150 red-roofed huts selling everything from tea to sausages, gluhwein to ornaments, carvings, chocolate, toys, and more. It gets pretty busy in the evening but the atmosphere and lights make nighttime the best time to explore this stunning and traditional Christmas market in Cologne.
The Old Christmas Market
The Old Christmas Market is located in front of the town hall and is, in my opinion, the best Christmas market in Cologne thanks to its quirky decorations which feature gnomes.
That’s right, this Christmas market is FULL of gnomes.
So, why gnomes? Well, legend says that the Heinzelmännchen (house gnomes) used to do all kinds of work to help the locals of Cologne. From baking to sausage making, sewing and more these helpful little people are a huge part of the traditional local folklore. As such, they have been heavily incorporated into the Old Christmas Market and can be seen sitting on top of the rooftops, riding chair lifts above the little alleyways, dancing on the entryways, and painted on the stalls.
The Old Christmas Market is a great place to get food and drink, shop, and play. There are a few rides here for children as well as some fun games for adults as well. It’s busiest in the night, but I also suggest coming during the daylight hours so you can spot all the little gnomes. They are adorable.
Angel’s Christmas Market
Located on the Neumarkt, Angel’s Christmas Market is by far the most elegant of the markets. Of course, you can still get your sausages and gluhwein, but the atmosphere here is a little more refined. Elegant glowing lights in the trees and individuals dressed as angels wandering around gives it an ethereal sort of feel. Definitely come here in the evening to see it lit up in the starry flow of the lights in the trees.
The Village of St. Nicholas
Next to the tower of the old city wall on Rudoplatz is another Christmas market known as the Village of St. Nicholas. As the name suggests, it definitely looks like it could be Santa’s village. Ornate stands sell all types of yummy treats, decorations, winter wear, and toys. There are reindeer and sleds on top of the buildings and even a singing moose head to serenade you with WHAM’s ‘last Christmas’ along with other festive songs. It’s a small market, but definitely has a really nice Christmas feel to it. Oh, and keep an eye out for St. Nicholas himself as he does tend to make appearances.
The Harbor Christmas Market
Down on the waterfront, by the Lindt Chocolate museum is another small Christmas market. To be honest, I wasn’t a fan on this one. I found it lacking in atmosphere and goods compared to the other Christmas markets in Cologne, but since I was in the area I still looked around. I will give them credit for the creative gluhwein huts which were made to look like pirate ships.
Christmas in the Stadtgardtn
One of the city’s newest Christmas markets, this small market is a little further away from the heart of Cologne. It’s located in Stadtgarten which is Belgian Quarter and the vendors swap out weekly meaning, if you are around for a while, it’s worth a couple of visits. Unlike the other main markets, this Christmas market in Cologne is only open in the evenings (it opens at 4pm), not during the day. So, keep that in mind if you want to visit (sadly, I found that out the hard way so missed it)
Heavenue is Cologne’s gay Christmas market, and while it may be tiny it is a lot of fun. Neon pink and blue lights, a shimmery sign, and a sparkling pink fountain give this little Christmas market a lot of personality. Expect some traditional finds here along with some fun and different ones. Do you want a sparkly, sexy merman ornament? This is the place to buy one. Please note this market also only opens in the evenings. Google said it opened at 2pm but when I was there it didn’t actually open until 4pm.
What to Eat and Drink at Cologne’s Christmas Markets
When it comes to German Christmas markets you can always expect to find two things: sausages and gluhwein. While I love gluhwein, I’ll admit I am not a fan of sausages. However, I was pleased to find a few other yummy Christmas market foods in Cologne including potato pancakes with apple sauce, baguettes with raclette cheese, and even some fried mushroom dishes.
The funniest was when I joined a long line at a food stall for what turned out to be a baked potato with herb sour cream. I didn’t know what the line was for but I figured it must be good so I decided to take my chance. In fairness, it was a very good potato.
If you don’t like gluhwein (which is mulled wine) you can try kinderpunsch which is basically apple cider (no alcohol), hot chocolate, or Eierpunsch which is similar to egg nog.
Cologne is also known for its local beer called Kolsch which can be found at the markets as well. The city is VERY proud of this beer and it’s definitely worth a try. Personally, I think I’d enjoy it more on a hot summer day than a chilly evening at a Christmas market but it is a must-have!
What to Buy at Cologne’s Christmas Markets
Part of why I enjoyed Cologne’s Christmas markets so much is that the items for sale actually seemed to be of good quality and keep in line with the Christmas theme. There were tons of ornaments and decorations for sale, some really creative art pieces ranging from photography to wood work to paintings. Food goods such as tea and chocolate, and some clothing and jewellery. Sure, a lot of markets offered the same types of things but I found some (ahem, Stuttgart) to be cheap and junky while the items in Cologne looked to be handcrafted and of good quality. Whether you are looking for ornaments for yourself or Christmas gifts for friends and family, Cologne’s markets make for good places to shop.
Getting Around Cologne’s Christmas Markets
Cologne isn’t a huge city but if you are only in town for a day or so, visiting the markets will involve a lot of walking. Of course, you can take the public transit (there is a tram and a metro that are both easy to use). But, if you want to feel a little more festive then should take the Christmas market train.
This little seasonal train offers a hop-on-hop off type experience around the city’s main Christmas markets. It’s a fun and cheery way to explore Cologne’s Christmas markets without having to worry about tired, sore feet. You can learn more about this train, called the Christmas Market Express, here.
Final Tips for Visiting Cologne’s Christmas Markets
Cologne’s Christmas markets are truly magical and absolutely worth a visit if you are doing a European Christmas market trip. However, keep in mind that it is one of the busiest Christmas market destinations and as such will be a lot more crowded on the weekends than weekdays. So, if you can, try to schedule your visit to be during the week.
Also, keep in mind accommodation books up quickly because of this. Cologne isn’t huge, but it’s big enough that you definitely do want to stay in the city centre. I stayed by the Cathedral and train station which made it really easy to get around. Looking for suggestions? Try:
Midrange: Stern am Rathaus
Luxury: Excelsior Hotel Ernst Am Dom
Finally, don’t forget to dress warmly! It is late November/early December when the Christmas markets are on so it gets cold, especially in the evening. You’ll also want to make sure to bring a reusable shopping bag or something for your purchases as most vendors do not provide bags. I used my foldable day pack for this and it was perfect. You can find one here.
Without a doubt, Cologne’s Christmas markets are some of the best I’ve been to yet!