Today, we left Amsterdam early and spent the day wandering through Cologne’s many Christmas Markets, a true bucket list item for me. They’re essentially locations to gather, eat street food, and drink delicious holiday drinks while perusing a variety of shops. What’s neat about the ones in Germany is their size, complexity, and history. The city itself has about 6 ‘official’ Christmas markets, and many other smaller outposts as well. As with Amsterdam, one included ice skating and other activities, while most were more focused on food / artisan shopping.
We started at the most well known, the Cathedral Christmas Market, which was conveniently moments away from the train station where we had stashed our luggage from the train ride in. It’s a beautiful market, with red-topped booths and lights contrasting pleasantly against the Cathedral’s facade.
Wandering through the market, we were tempted by a lot of different savory food options, from potato cakes to fondue samplers to as many grilled meats and fries as you could image; on the sweet side, everything from waffles to pancakes to candied nuts was available.
We opted to try the currywurst (essentially a bratwurst covered in a sweet curry sauce) and a regular brat, as well as a large chicken skewer.
Of course, no Christmas Market would be complete without a Gluhwein station, of which there were many – and, Germans add Amaretto or rum to theirs!
We also learned that each year they produce new mugs for the gluhwein and other drinks, so you pay a small deposit but are free to keep your mug if you like as a collectible. Obviously, this was a solid souvenir option for a couple Euros – we both ended up with a mug each from the various markets of the day!
The market also included a couple interesting nativity scenes.
After this market, we strolled a bit of Cologne as we made our way to market #2: the Angel’s Market. The city itself is quite small, and most of it seems to be a shopping district; we ran into a family who were shocked to hear us speaking English and sounded homesick for American culture – apparently not too many American visitors come by!
As we departed the Cathedral area, we realized there was an amenity we hadn’t initially anticipated: the ‘train’ running on a circuit between Christmas Markets! Sadly, we weren’t able to catch it in time to ride it, and ended up walking about 7 miles total instead.
The Angel’s Market was also a beautiful enclave and had a different thematic style, with primly trimmed little cabins (each decked out with an angel or other Christmas motif). The quality of the vendors was much higher, with a lots of craftspeople.
There were also some interesting artisan takes on the nativity scene as well.
Of course, we enjoyed some more gluhwein and spiked hot chocolate, as well as a delicious brat and some fries with mayo.
After that, we headed to the Nikolas Village Market, which was about a fifteen minute walk from the center of Cologne. It seemed like each market got cooler than the previous from an architecture / design perspective, with this one using some kind of Tudor motif.
Of course, we enjoyed some snacks and gluhwein and wandered the stalls for a while before making our way back to the last market, Heinzels, which was in the Heumarkt area.
It had a bit more of an Alpine feel to it, and a variety of items we hadn’t seen before, including apple-pancakes with vanilla sauce, blueberry gluhwein, and smoked fish.
It also had a great view from the platform above the skating rink.
An interesting piece of lore about this market is that its said to be inhabited by the “Heinzelmännchen” which were basically creatures from a Cologne legend who used to do housework, but became annoyed by a housewife and left. You can see them on the roof and in various other little forms throughout the Christmas market.
As we headed back to the train station, we ended up passing through two more quasi-markets, although they seemed related to the Heinzels and Cathedral Markets respectively – both had additional shopping options, but didn’t seem to have as many food vendors associated with them.
Overall, I’m incredibly happy we made the trek to Cologne for the Christmas Markets! Definitely something to check off the bucketlist – and something I’d love to do again.