Being from New Zealand, we’ve only ever experienced a Summer Christmas. I’m still waiting for Hollywood to produce a Christmas movie to reflect the New Zealand Christmas experience. I think I will be waiting for a long time, because it seems that we are primed to accept that Christmas is meant to occur in winter. We dream of a white Christmas, it’s almost religious (although it’s humorous to think of Jesus trying to make a snowman in his original setting in Israel).
All this is to say that given the opportunity, there was no way that we weren’t going to embrace every opportunity celebrate Christmas in its gloriously chilly winter context. What better way to experience such a phenomenon than to check out the German Christmas Markets of Cologne! (or KÖln in German)
The Best Markets:
A fun market that oozes quality. It’s huge, it’s got a great theme, delicious food, unique products & best of all; a very large ice-skating circuit. If you had to pick just one market to visit, this is it!
Picturesque. Situated below the massive Dom (Cologne Cathedral) & lit up with thousands of lights surrounding a central Christmas tree. This is the perfect place to pick up a glass of eggnog and window-shop the delectable food and crafts of display. Make sure you allow plenty of time for oogling up. It also has a handy live online webcam feed so you can check out the Christmas action on the square before you arrive!
This is the most down to earth market of the lot with an emphasis on handcrafted goods. It’s situated in the corner of Cologne’s oldest public park which complements it’s laid back vibe well. This a great place for a tasty bite to eat. Best of all, the stalls here are rented on a weekly basis, so timing it right you can visit a variety of different stalls in two visits. Just check out the market website for exhibitor details or pick up a market brochure that will outline which stalls are present on which weeks and their location within the market (both are in German but easy enough to figure out/use google translate online #ilovechrome).
Possibly the most well rounded of the markets, sporting an angelic theme and complete with angels roaming the market. Nice wide avenues make for a fun excursion to this market.
Average Markets (i.e. not that memorable compared to those listed above):
- Christmas Avenue at Schaafenstraße (Gay & Lesbian market, not that it’s particularly obvious/different)
- Freizenplatz market
- You’ll spend most of your money on food, delicious food. We recommend trying:
- Swiss cheesy Raclette (Choose the potatoes, ham & gherkins option – it tastes way better than it smells)
- The kale & chorizo stew (Grünkohleintopf) is actually amazing
- The handcraft market, while not the cheapest gives very generous portions of various dishes in proper ceramic plates and bowls which is a bit easier than cardboard dishes used elsewhere
- The mushrooms are also a champion dish 😉
- There is a (returnable) deposit on your mug if you don’t want to keep it as a souvenir which is also fine
- Don’t bother looking for a stein of beer because Cologne has Kolsch; a specialised local brew that commonly comes in smaller quantities (i.e. 200mls). Kolsh is cost effective and worth trying but make sure you put your coaster on top of your glass to show you’ve had enough otherwise your glass will be refilled automatically (and billed to your table)!
- If you try something on, there feels like a much higher expectation to buy it than in other countries/cultures
- As with most markets, card is sometimes accepted by stalls with bigger ticket items but cash is always king so try to always have some on you to avoid disappointment or having to waste valuable time finding an ATM. We didn’t find security to be an issue at all in Cologne but do be cautious as you would at any tourist attraction/area
- Entry to the Dom (Cathedral) is free and really worth checking out! Make sure you go all the way to the end of the church to see the huge golden chest said to contain the bones of the magi/three wise men)
- It rarely snows in Cologne, so if you’re looking for that white Christmas, you may wish to look elsewhere.
- In a rush you could probably check out all the eight main markets in around 2.5 days, but as most of the markets are best experienced at night we’d recommend around 4 days to get the most out of your visit – this felt like a comfortable pace to us and allowed us to see each of the markets in their prime
Accomodation in Cologne during the Christmas season (around the end of Nov onwards) is extremely popular and so can get expensive. We highly reccomend booking well in advance (i.e. by around Sept/Oct) to avoid having super limited options. Being on a backing trip we usually check out Hostel World and AirBnb to find our best options.
After some research Jenny found a sweet hostel (Die Wohngemeinschaft Hostel – roughly translated to “The flatmates hostel”) with really cool themed rooms and cool hipster vibe which was a definite highlight. We stayed in the “Juri” space room which was visually stunning and came with a selection of space themed DVDs and books which completed the experience. Several other themed rooms (private and dorms) are also available. Another definite highlight of the hostel was the 24 hour access dining room with a free espresso machine, an excellent wide selection of free organic teas and a fridge of (charged) cold drinks (soft drinks, beer etc).
So there you have it, the inside knowledge from your friends at forpureadventure.com
Got any questions or suggestions? Be sure to drop a line in the comments section below.