(Editor’s note: Terry Boyd also contributed to this post about the Cologne Christmas markets. For 2021, there are “2 G rules” in place. That means Christmas market visitors must have vaccine passports proving they are fully vaccinated or recovered. Children up to and including 15 years of age are exempt from this rule. See the top of the Cologne market landing page here for more details.)
Germany has cornered the market, literally, on the Christmas market and one of my favorites is in the city of Cologne/Köln, situated on the Rhine River in the west of Germany, an easy trip for expats in central Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg, northern France and the Netherlands
Famous for its cathedral, the city has seven different themed markets for you to wander and soak up the festive season, buy traditional gifts and eat and drink the usual tasty traditional treats. You can sample sausages and bratwurst, roast chestnuts and almonds and of course drink glühwein and eggnog from the collectible mugs, offered at each market.
For 2021, the Cologne markets run to 23 December. Here’s a link to the map showing the location of the various markets across the city and other info.
Daily from 11 am – 9 pm
Thursday, Friday and Saturday open until 10 pm
Saturday from 10 am till 10 pm
• THE CATHEDRAL CHRISTMAS MARKET
Cologne’s Gothic cathedral, the Kölner Dom, dominates the skyline of the city and is well worth the climb to peer down at the market stalls below as, at its base, sits the beginning of the collection of Christmas markets, the Cathedral Christmas Market.
The largest Christmas tree in the Rhineland stands guard over the picturesque huts selling the usual gifts of ceramics, carved wooden ornaments, candles, and glass ornaments, with artisans making some of them right in front of you.
In the centre stands a small stage, which has a variety of musical performances during the market.
• THE ANGEL’S CHRISTMAS MARKET
The Angel’s Christmas Market, in Neumarkt, is the city’s oldest market and is, I think, Christmas enchanting with its theme of angels and nostalgia. The celestial ambassadors themselves, complete with white gowns and wings, can often be seen greeting shoppers and delighted children as they wander.
The child in me is always charmed to see these ethereal beings and I often wonder what treat angels yearn for whilst wandering the market? Maybe they are there to sample a delicious reibekuchen, a deep fried potato pancake served with a dollop of applesauce or a mug of hot chocolate?
• THE HARBOUR CHRISTMAS MARKET
Near the Rhine River, you will find the Harbour Christmas Market, situated near the Chocolate Museum. This time the tent-like stalls resemble white sails and the sailor theme includes sea shanties being sung, along with maritime-themed gifts and food, such as slow-grilled salmon, all with a seafaring twist.
You can also drink a warming glass of mulled wine, glühwein, served from a three-masted boat. The area around this market has many attractions to visit … if you can tear yourself away!
• THE OLD CHRISTMAS MARKET
The city’s house gnomes can be found gathering at the Old Christmas Market on Heumarkt and Alter Markt where they, according to legend, help the local businesses. The market has streets of wooden huts selling delicious foods such as raclette (melted cheese), tasty ham carved from the bone, smoked fish and, of course, the usual scrumptious treats like bratwurst all alongside local nostalgic crafts and antique ornaments.
In the centre of the Old Christmas Market, there is a wonderful ice rink where you can stand and be entertained by the talented and the amateur skaters, whilst warming your hands around a mug of gluhwein or beer.
• ST. NICHOLAS CHRISTMAS MARKET
Saint Nicholas has his own Christmas market on the Rudolfplatz and here, beneath one of Cologne’s original 13th-century gates, the little half-timbered huts sell Santa Claus themed gifts making this a popular family market, with activities and treats for children. You can treat yourself to some roasted chestnuts or a delicious churros whilst you watch your kids reacquaint themselves with Santa.
Being Germany’s self-declared “gay capital” there is also a LGBTQ Christmas market called Heaveneu, which offers “alternative” entertainment. (This was “Christmas Avenue, but the organizers changed this year.)
• CHRISTMAS MARKET IN THE STADTGARTEN
Stadtgarten Market is a little farther out from the city centre, and popular with the locals for its less touristy feel. This market is in the “Belgian Quarter,” Cologne’s more Bohemian district. There are more than 80 exhibitors selling a whole range of unusual wares here, most of then made by locals. And unlike the other six markets, vendors change here each week during the Christmas market.
The Stadtgarten is a park, with year-round restaurants and a concert venue.
With all these Christmas markets, and its year-round attractions and great shopping, Cologne is well worth a trip. Just make sure you leave enough room in your luggage for all those gifts you’ll be buying and that you take a good appetite with you….somewhere there’s a reibekuchen and a steaming mug of gluhwein with your name on it!
For more info on 2021 Christmas markets across Europe including Germany, see our latest posts here.
You can read all our Cologne posts here in the Dispatches archive.
About the author:
Jackie Harding was born in the United Kingdom. As a longtime expat, she’s lived in Boston for 12 years, and in the Netherlands for the past eight years.
Trained as a nurse in the U.K., she worked for nine years in the United States for as a special education teacher’s assistant. Since moving to the Netherlands, she has discovered writing and photography.
Writing for Dispatches since 2016, Jackie has written about her travels around Europe as well as about expat life and issues.
She also covered Women’s March Amsterdam.
She’s married to British businessman Martin Harding and is the mother of two international adult children.