(Editor’s note: This post about the Christmas Markets in Cologne is new for 2023. You can see all our posts on Christmas Markets across Europe here.)
Christmas markets are a long tradition that dates to the Middle Ages in German-speaking countries and one of my personal highlights during the festive season. Even though they have spread to many other places in the world, it is no surprise that the best and biggest ones are in countries such as Germany and Austria. They were created in order to celebrate Advent, which is a Christian festivity to prepare for the birth of Jesus from the 1 to the 23 December.
Those were the original dates of these markets, but nowadays they tend to start earlier and, some of them, even last in to January.
For me, it is very difficult to leave my comfy and warm home during these extremely cold months but these markets offer the perfect motivation to go outside: mulled wine, hot chocolate, tasty food and a cozy environment. Besides, they are a great place to shop for gifts for your loved ones and to enjoy different types of performances with the whole family.
Cologne (Köln in German) is the fourth-largest city in Germany so there is a wide variety of markets for each taste. From huge markets that take up the most emblematic spots in the city to smaller ones focused on sustainability, in this post I’ll be sharing my Top 5 Christmas markets in Cologne with you so you can decide which ones to visit or, even better, create a plan to visit them all!
20 November to 23 December l Neumarkt Square
This is one of the smallest markets in the city with “only” 84 stalls, but this doesn’t mean that they lack variety. On the contrary, in this market you will find delicious national and international dishes and snacks such as sausages, churros, waffles, croquettes, burgers, hot dogs and fries. Besides, the organizers of this market have committed themselves to sustainability and have taken measures such as using only Green electricity this year. This is a trend that is luckily growing among the markets taking in consideration the critical state of our environment.
No. 4 The Elves’ Winter Market
24 November to 7 January l Alter Markt
The name of this Christmas market comes from a Kölsch (originally from Cologne) legend about elves who do housework secretly at night. So the whole atmosphere looks like a dreamy fairy tale and has, in my opinion, one of the most beautiful environments for children. With around 140 stalls, in this market you will find a huge variety of food and crafts such as wood pieces, soaps, engraved glasses, wool clothes and jewelry. However, the main feature of this market is definitely their open air ice rink where you can watch beautiful performances from professional ice skaters and even try to skate yourself if you are feeling adventurous enough!
No. 3 Santa’s Town
20 November to 23 December l Rudolfplatz
If you are a fan of live music and entertainmen, this is the perfect place for you because stage performances are a central piece to this market. With a different performance every day from 6 p.m. onwards, expect this market to be very musical and jolly. This is also the most family-friendly Christmas market in Cologne because of the theme “Santa’s town,” but also because there are tons of activities throughout the day like face-painting and craft workshops for the little ones. However, the most exciting part of the day for them will be for sure after 5 p.m. when Santa arrives at the market and sits in his house, ready to take pictures with the children and talk about their wishes.
No. 2 Harbour Christmas Market
23 November to 7 January l Chocolate Museum
This is a relatively new market to Cologne, but it has become one of the most visited ones by locals and tourists because of the breathtaking view that surrounds it. The Rhein River is an emblematic landmark of the city and this market is held in the grounds of the Chocolate Museum, where you will have a beautiful river view. Although it is one of the smallest markets, with about 70 stalls, there will be plenty of options to eat, drink, shop and watch. Nonetheless, their main attraction remains the huge ferris wheel with the most Instagrammable view over Cologne.
23 November to 23 December l Roncalliplatz
With its privileged location right in front of the most important landmark in Cologne, this is the biggest and most popular Christmas market in the city and in Germany overall, it includes 150 stalls and receives around four million visitors every year. Hence, here you will find the biggest variety of national and international dishes, crafts, soaps, toys and gifts. One of the requirements for vendors to participate in this market is that their products must be fairly traded, so you can be sure to be supporting sustainable businesses when buying from them.
One of the downsides of such a big market in such a central location is that it can get extremely crowded. I personally don’t feel comfortable around big groups of people, so if you are not one for crowds, I’d recommend you visit it early during the weekdays instead of the weekends which is when most people choose to visit it.
This way you will enjoy a more relaxed and quiet atmosphere without missing the wonderful experience of visiting the best Christmas market in Cologne!
Mónica da Silva is half-Venezuelan, half Portuguese and has lived in Venezuela, Portugal, Spain and Germany. She has studies linguistics and has a Bachelor’s Degree in European Studies. Besides contributing to Dispatches, she works remotely as an English teacher, which allows her to be on the move as often as she wants.