Cologne, Germany, is a city steeped in history and tradition. It transforms into a winter wonderland of sparkling lights, festive cheer, and the sweet scent of mulled wine and roasted chestnuts during the holiday season. The heart of this enchanting seasonal transformation lies in its world-renowned Cologne Christmas market.
To be precise, there are not one but several Christmas markets organised across the city, each with unique character and charm. From the grandeur of the Cologne Cathedral to the rustic ambience of Rudolfplatz and the picturesque setting at Neumarkt, these markets offer a magical escape into the traditions and celebrations of a German Christmas.
Join us as we embark on a journey to explore the enchanting Christmas markets of Cologne, revealing their festive offerings, cherished legends, and the joyous spirit that defines the season in this historic city.
🎦 Watch our short video on Christmas in Germany, which will inspire you to explore this beautiful country in Europe for the holidays ⤵
About the Cologne Christmas Market
The German name for the Cologne Christmas Market is Kölner Weihnachtsmarkt. It is sometimes referred to as Kölner Weihnachtsmärkte to describe the many Christmas markets organised across the city.
The Cologne Cathedral Christmas Market is the most popular in the cathedral city and is also considered one of the most beautiful in Germany. It draws some 5 million visitors each year.
In this article, I've chosen to describe four Christmas markets in Cologne - but there are many more to explore (see the list here).
The Cologne Cathedral Christmas Market
With its enchanting atmosphere and the majestic Cologne Cathedral as a backdrop, this market is a must-visit during the holiday season.
A Festive Wonderland
Every year, the Cologne Cathedral Christmas Market offers visitors an enchanting experience, featuring over 130 festively decorated stalls. Here, you'll discover various handcrafted treasures, delightful gifts, culinary delights, and a strong emphasis on social responsibility.
Craftsmanship and Trade
Wander through this magical market, and you'll have the opportunity to witness skilled artisans at work. Marvel at the glassblower crafting colourful jewelry from glass tubes, the airbrush team adorning custom art on various items like sneakers and T-shirts, or the embroiderer creating Christmas-themed products on the spot.
The Cologne Cathedral Christmas Market boasts diverse gifts, including wood sculptures, blown glass, ceramics, accessories, children's toys, soaps, and more. It's important to note that if these products are not of German or European origin, they must adhere to fair trade practices.
This Christmas market isn't just about shopping; it's also a culinary haven. Whether you're a fan of classics like potato pancakes, roasted almonds, Dom Spekulasius, and mulled wine, or you're keen to explore newer offerings like wraps, angel clouds, and sweet potato fries, you'll find it here. Moreover, almost all refreshments meet certified organic standards, while the rest are sourced directly from regional suppliers or fair trade sources.
Vegans will feel included, too. A dedicated stand serves delectable vegan options, including bratwurst and currywurst, chilli sin carne, and köttbullar.
Events and Entertainment
The Cologne Cathedral Christmas Market goes beyond just shopping and dining. It offers a rich program of over 100 free events to entertain its visitors. These events unfold on the central stage, nestled under a canopy of sparkling lights.
This captivating market creates a festive wonderland where you can indulge in traditional and innovative holiday treats while discovering unique gifts and witnessing the artistry of talented artisans. The market's commitment to ethical and responsible trade ensures that your purchases contribute to "a better world".
The Neumarkt Christmas Market
⚠️ Don't confuse Neumarkt with Heumarkt!
In the Neumarkt, Cologne welcomes visitors to one of its most enchanting holiday events: the Angels Christmas Market. This market captivates all who wander through its gates, offering a delightful mix of tradition and fantasy.
The Angels Christmas market
The celestial ambience it creates sets the Angels Christmas Market apart. Hundreds of twinkling stars illuminate the market, glowing the square radiantly.
This captivating market has much more to offer than just starlit skies. At the cocktail bar, you can indulge in various hot cocktails, the perfect way to stay warm as you explore the market's treasures. In addition to the heavenly angels, larger-than-life illuminated creatures on stilts roam the market, adding a touch of wonder to the atmosphere.
A Fairy Tale Setting
As you wander through the Christmas Market of Angels, you'll be charmed by its meticulously designed stalls. The booths in shades of white and natural colours create an inviting and serene atmosphere. Remember to look up at the rooftops, where you'll discover intricately lit oakwood stars, angelic figurines, and festive wreaths adorning the gables.
Starry Delights and Festive Characters
From above, the trees twinkle with hundreds of stars, casting a dreamy glow. Ethereal angels, dressed in pristine white robes and dusted with shimmering powder, stroll through the lanes, infusing the air with Advent cheer. But the surprises don't stop there.
The market plays host to St. Nicholas, who, not just on St. Nicholas Day, makes a grand entrance with a celestial angel by his side, riding high on horseback.
As you explore, you might also encounter enchanting stilt-walking creatures like "Stellaxia" or "Azuro."
The Rudolfplatz Christmas Market
Discover the Enchanting Rudolfplatz Christmas Market in Cologne. Its family-friendly atmosphere, traditional half-timbered houses, and the historic Hahnentorburg (a 13th-century castle gate) backdrop create a warm and welcoming ambience that will make your visit truly memorable.
The village exudes a cosy ambience, thanks to the warmly lit half-timbered houses and thousands of LED lights adorning the buildings and tree canopies.
Handcrafted Nativity Scenes and More
Inside the village chapel, you'll discover an array of handcrafted nativity scenes created by children and teenagers, adding a touch of creativity and wonder to the market's surroundings.
Unleash Your Inner Artist
At the heated Nikolaus House, little visitors take centre stage. Qualified supervisors are on hand to assist children with various arts and crafts activities, including drawing, cutting, and pasting. These artistic activities vary daily, and, best of all, they are free for all to enjoy.
The Heinzels Wintermärchen
Also known as the Cologne Old Town Christmas Market.
Cologne, a city steeped in history and charm, unveils its most magical celebration of the year: Heinzels Wintermärchen.
This enchanting Christmas market is unlike any other, and it's where the beloved tale of the Heinzelmännchen comes to life.
Cologne's largest Christmas Market
As the largest Christmas market in Cologne with 120 stalls, Heinzels Wintermärchen covers not just one but two charming squares in the city's historic district: Alter Markt and Heumarkt.
Here, you'll find yourself surrounded by the sights and sounds of the season. Lace up your skates and spin on the 1,800-square-meter ice rink, or perhaps visit the Christmas post office to send your holiday greetings with the beloved Heinzelmännchen stamps.
Crafts and Culinary Delights
Heinzels Wintermärchen boasts approximately 120 stalls where you can discover unique gifts, crafts, and holiday treats. Traditional artisans showcase their skills; you can even watch them create their wares right before you.
The Naschgasse, or "snack alley," is a must-visit for those with a sweet tooth, offering a delectable selection of goodies.
Winter Sports and Festive Fun
At Heumarkt, you'll find a winter wonderland of fun featuring an expansive ice landscape with walkways winding through the square.
Swing music fills the air as you glide across the ice, and you can try your hand at Eisstockschießen, a delightful ice stock sport. Don't forget to explore the bridge above the ice – a sight to behold.
Heinzels Wintermärchen is a delight for visitors of all ages. Children can revel in the seasonal spirit on a small Ferris wheel or whirl around on the merry-go-round.
The Goldgasse is a treasure trove of jewellery finds, and the Christmas post office offers the perfect chance to send your holiday wishes with a touch of Heinzelmännchen magic.
Cologne and the Heinzelmännchen
The story of the Heinzelmännchen has been an integral part of Cologne's cultural heritage and is often associated with the city's traditions and history.
In the context of the Cologne Christmas Market, "Heinzel" refers to the "Heinzelmännchen".
These are a mythical race of creatures, appearing in a tale connected with the city of Cologne in Germany akin to elves or gnomes.
The "Heinzelmännchen" are known for their magical abilities and exceptional craftsmanship. According to legend, they used to secretly perform various household tasks in Cologne during the night, such as baking, sewing, and carpentry, which brought prosperity and good fortune to the residents.
Why the Heinzelmännchen in Cologne?
But why the Christmas market is often associated with the "Heinzel"?
The origins of this association trace back to the 18th century when the legend of the Heinzelmännchen emerged.
These skilled craftsmen were credited with contributing significantly to Cologne's prosperity.
In 1836, August Kopisch composed a famous poem that catapulted the Heinzelmännchen of Cologne into the annals of history.
A short history of the Cologne Christmas Market
Cologne's first Christmas market opened its doors in 1820, originally known as the Nicolaimarkt. This tradition arose from the practice of gifting children on St. Nicholas Day, and the market had it all—pastries, sweets, toys, and much more, making hearts skip a beat. Merely a decade after its inception, the Nicolaimarkt had become so ingrained in the old town's fabric that it continued to grow relentlessly.
A prohibited market
Inevitably, due to its growing popularity, the market's expansion led to its prohibition in 1885. It was a remarkable hiatus, with the market re-emerging in the 20th century, to the delight of locals and visitors alike.
The revived Christmas market
In the heart of Cologne's old town, the Cologne Cathedral Christmas Market has been a beloved tradition since 1995.
Today, the Cologne Cathedral Christmas Market stands as a testament to this rich tapestry of history, inviting all to revel in its festive traditions and transport themselves back in time to experience the magic of Cologne's past.
What to see in Cologne at Christmas
Cologne, Germany, is a city that seamlessly blends its rich historical heritage with contemporary vibrancy, offering a unique travel experience for visitors.
No journey to Cologne would be complete without a visit to the famous cathedral.
The magnificent Cologne Cathedral (Kölner Dom) is at the heart of the city. This towering Gothic masterpiece serves as an architectural marvel and houses precious religious relics. Its twin spires dominate the city skyline, and it is one of the world's tallest Gothic cathedrals.
Adjacent to the cathedral, you'll find the impressive Cologne Philharmonic Hall (Kölner Philharmonie), a modernist architectural gem that hosts world-class musical performances.
The old town and the Rhine
A walk along the Rhine Promenade provides a scenic view of the river, with the Hohenzollern Bridge adorned with thousands of love locks.
Museums abound, with gems like the Wallraf-Richartz Museum, home to a vast collection of European art, and the Museum Ludwig, renowned for its modern and contemporary art.
Lastly, take advantage of a visit to the Chocolate Museum (Schokoladenmuseum), a sweet experience that delves into the history and production of chocolate.
What to do in Cologne
Here's a list of inspiring activities in Cologne:
Cologne Christmas Market: What you need to know
Here are some practical info to plan your visit to the Cologne Christmas Market.
More info about the Cologne Christmas Market
The Cologne Cathedral Christmas Market (Weihnachtsmarkt am Kölner Dom) is open from the 23rd November to the 23rd of December 2023.
Most other Christmas markets in Cologne are open during the same period.
For more information about the Cologne Christmas Market by the cathedral, check out the event's official website.
To get more info about all the Christmas markets organised across Cologne, check out this link.
How to get to the Cologne Christmas Market?
🚄 By train:
Travellers can conveniently access Cologne by train, offering a hassle-free and scenic journey to the city.
Cologne Central Station (Hauptbahnhof): The central railway station of Cologne, known as Hauptbahnhof, is one of the busiest train stations in Europe. It is located right in the city centre and provides excellent connections to various domestic and international destinations.
Domestic Travel: If you're travelling within Germany, the InterCity Express (ICE) high-speed trains offer a quick and comfortable option. Cologne is well-connected to major cities such as Berlin, Munich, Frankfurt, and Hamburg. You can check schedules and book tickets in advance through the official Deutsche Bahn website or at the train station.
International Travel: Cologne's central location makes it a convenient hub for international travellers. The city is easily accessible by train from neighbouring countries like Belgium, the Netherlands, France, and Switzerland. High-speed international trains like Thalys and Eurostar connect major European cities to Cologne—book tickets for these international routes in advance to secure the best rates and availability.
✈️ By air:
Cologne Bonn Airport (Flughafen Köln/Bonn) is approximately 12 kilometres southwest of the city centre. The airport is one of the busiest and best-connected airports in Europe. It serves as a crucial gateway for both domestic and international travellers.
Domestic Flights: If you're travelling within Germany, you can easily find direct flights to Cologne Bonn Airport from major cities like Berlin, Munich, Frankfurt, and Hamburg. Airlines like Lufthansa and Eurowings provide frequent connections.
International Flights: For international travellers, Cologne Bonn Airport offers a wide range of options. You can access the city from various European destinations such as London, Paris, Amsterdam, and Zurich. The airport also caters to holiday destinations, including locations in the Mediterranean region.
Airport Transfer: Once you arrive at Cologne Bonn Airport, you can reach the city centre with several transfer options. The quickest way is by train, with a direct line to Cologne's central station (Hauptbahnhof). The journey takes approximately 15-20 minutes, providing a smooth transition to your city exploration.
🚗 By car:
Cologne enjoys excellent connectivity due to its strategic location at the crossroads of several major highways. The city is primarily accessible via the A1, A3, A4, A57, and A59 autobahns. These highways ensure that travellers from cities like Berlin, Munich, Frankfurt, and Stuttgart can easily reach Cologne. Additionally, Cologne is well-linked to neighbouring countries, including the Netherlands, Belgium, and France, through the extensive European highway network.
Cologne is :
- 215 km from Brussels (Belgium)
- 265 km from Amsterdam
- 370 km from Stuttgart
- 370 km from Strasbourg (France)
- 410 km from Nuremberg
- 500 km from Paris
- 575 km from Munich
- 575 km from Berlin
- 580 km from Zurich (Switzerland)
Where to park your car?
If you're coming to the Cologne Christmas Market by car, there are two options:
- Park your car directly in the city centre, in one of the covered car parks. However, parking spaces in the city centre are quite expensive. More info about parking in Cologne.
- Park your car outside the city centre in one of the Park+Ride spaces and take the tram/bus to the city centre. More info on Cologne's Park+Ride.
Where to stay in Cologne at Christmas?
Immerse yourself in the magical atmosphere of the Cologne Christmas market by opting for comfortable and convenient accommodation!
When visiting the Cologne Christmas market, selecting suitable accommodation is key to fully enjoying this enchanting season. Fortunately, the city offers a range of lodging options right for every taste and budget.
You can choose from elegant hotels in the heart of the old town, cosy hostels, or charming apartments that provide an authentic home-away-from-home experience.
To streamline your search, you can check out this list of accommodations, featuring a variety of options for your stay.
Remember to look at our interactive map to locate lodgings close to the Christmas market and select the one that best suits your needs.
About the illustrations in the article
Most of the photos are ours (© French Moments). However, I have selected some photos (including the Featured Image of this article) from Depositphotos, a commercial platform that brings authors of high-quality licensed stock photos, graphics, vectors and videos together with appreciative buyers.