Two Christmas markets in two weekends. Two German Christmas markets. Two markets that can’t be more different – Cologne and Düsseldorf. As we wrote last week, the Cologne market is the best we’ve ever been to. That hasn’t changed. But it’s not a matter of Düsseldorf Christmas market being bad. Both simply reflect the character of their cities.
Cologne’s market is gigantic – seven total across the city. But each manages to be as sophisticated and traditional as the city, intimate and distinct.
Düsseldorf, Germany’s flashy, ultramodern and über-wealthy city, is five big parties that run from the Rhine down into the fabled Königsallee, or the KÖ, the Rodeo Drive of Europe. (You’ll need the map on the official website, and Google Maps to boot.) And in contrast to Cologne, there are not many reasons to stop the party and shop for gifts or collectables.
We went on a flawless winter night under a half-moon with our Hungarian expat friends, designated driver Imi and wife Melinda. They’d never been to Düsseldorf and we’d never been to the Christmas market, so we were all in for a night of adventure.
We’re here for the beer, not the history
Just what is an official part of the Düsseldorf Christmas market and what’s just been put up for Christmas is not very clear. Also, each of the markets is a collection of huts with kind of the same stuff and nothing is marked as in Cologne.
We set out from Königsallee, went through the back alleys down to the river where our first stop was at the Ferris wheel. You can’t miss this huge neon light monster set up just off the Rhine in the Burgplatz at the entrance to the Altstadt. Was it a Christmas market? It felt like it, with food, including a Hungarian booth and sausages and beer. We got Füchschen Weihnachtsbier, which was 3.50 euros per bottle and just what the doctor ordered after a quick drive from our headquarters city of Eindhoven.
We’d been on the road for a while and by 5 p.m., all of us were hungry, so we all got sandwiches. Imi and I got the Spiesbraten with onions. Delicioso! The line to ride the towering Ferris wheel was long, but we were surprised it was only 8 euros. We didn’t have the patience to wait, but it would have made for spectacular views. Next time!
From the Ferris wheel, we walked a few blocks down to the Handwerker Market on Marktplatz. This market is in the atmospheric courtyard of the rathaus, the city hall, around a statue of some German guy on a horse. (Hey, we’re here for the beer, not for the history.) Of the sections we hit, this was the most fun, with glühwein booths, crêpes, a few booths of handmade goods as advertised amid an absolutely Instagrammable setting.
Cologne or Düsseldorf … the verdict
We had been at the Handwerker Markt for a long time talking and hanging out when we finally decided to circle back down Bolkerstrasse (and its massive number of restaurants and cafés) to the Heinrich Heine Allee UBahn station and the huge skating rink, which we guess is part of the Christmas market. From there, we were just a few blocks from the KÖ and the Märchen Markt, which consisted mostly of food stalls and cocktail booths near the big Apple store. We wandered to the KÖ Bogen Market, and that’s where the parties are with a selection of cocktail, beer and glühwein booths.
Honestly, I’ve stared at the maps for hours trying to figure out which market is which, and it’s just not that clear. If you find your way to the the Heinrich Heine Allee metro stop, you can follow the crowds and find the markets.
Okay, Cologne or Düsseldorf? My wife and co-CEO Cheryl Boyd votes Cologne hands-down. Better ambiance. Stunning decorations, which Düsseldorf definitely lacks. More quality stuff. Just way more Christmas-y.
I’m an urban guy, so while I agree Cologne was better, I see the attraction of the Düsseldorf approach. Or I just like glitzy Düsseldorf better.
Let me get back to you on that.
• Unlike Cologne, where no one checks your vaccination status until you buy something, you have to show an international vaccination passport QR Code along with your ID to get into the Düsseldorf markets. At some point, one of Santa’s helpers put a 2G band on our wrists that got us into markets quickly. You also have to show your wristband to buy stuff.
• In Cologne, they require masks inside and outside, and we got stopped because we didn’t have ours on. In Düsseldorf, an hour away, few people were wearing masks anywhere.
• At the German markets, there are apparently fixed price points for things such as glühwein, which was 4 euros plus the deposit on the mugs. However, the beer and food at Düsseldorf Christmas market was slightly less expensive than Köln. Also, I got my favorite – a duck breast sandwich – here and it was 7.50 euro, less than 8 euros at Köln, and with considerably more duck breast.
• Park at the Schadow Arkaden Shopping Mall garage on the eastern edge of the KÖ. We were there for hours, and the fee was only 9 euros.
• The Düsseldorf Market is open through 30 December, four days longer than Cologne. The hours also are different from Cologne:
Sunday – Thursday: 11:00 – 20:00
Friday + Saturday: 11:00 – 21:00
Sunday of the Dead (21.11.21): closed
Sunday shopping (28.11.21): 13:00 – 18:00
24.12.21: 11:00 – 15:00
26.12.21: 14:00 – 20:00
• Like all German Christmas markets, Düsseldorf is cash-only. And don’t forget to take 50 euros cent pieces for the WC.
Here’s a quick reference for a few of the Christmas markets – open and closed – in Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium:
• Aachen: open
• Dusseldorf: open
• Essen: open
• Den Haag: closed
• Dordrecht: closed
• Utrecht (Kasteel de Haar): closed
• Haarlem: closed
• Maastricht: open
• Valkenburg: open (but closes at 5 p.m.)
• Amsterdam Winter Palace: open
• Antwerp: closed
• Ghent: closed
• Leuven: closed
• Brussels: open
• Bruges: open
See more here from Dispatches’ archives about Europe’s Christmas markets.