Germany’s Christmas markets are the world’s best and although the pandemic caused many to cancel, go virtual or change dramatically due to social distancing, I thought I’d look back so we can dream about next December. This story features Cologne, my favorite city for Christmas markets. There are numerous ones scattered around town. This video essay features five of the best, all within walking distance of one another. Cologne was founded 2,000 years ago but its Christmas markets date back to 1820. They became so popular and “rowdy” that city officials shut them down in the 1880s. It wasn’t until the 1990s that the markets began a comeback and boy are they something to see! The most popular one takes place in the shadow of the Cologne Cathedral, the city’s towering Gothic masterpiece. Construction started in 1248 and took seven centuries to complete. Today, during much of December (except during a pandemic, of course), the Cathedral Christmas Market features 150 open air stalls. A few short blocks away is the Old Town Christmas Market near the Rathaus Köln, Cologne’s city hall. A quick walk to the banks of the Rhine is where holiday revelers can explore the Harbour Christmas Market, reflecting Cologne’s significance as the largest city on the river. Walking west a ways is Angels Market, Cologne’s oldest Christmas market and then another few blocks more is the Village of St. Nicholas at Hahnentorburg, an 800-year-old medieval gate. Each Christmas market has a distinctly different theme but all feature extraordinary crafts and food. Many vendors spend the entire year creating their handiworks. It’s a joy to walk from market to market, marveling at the amazing craftsmanship while enjoying German cuisine, including glühwein, or mulled wine, in commemorative mugs unique to each market.
Cologne lies in western Germany, not far from the country’s borders with Belgium and The Netherlands. Cologne is the fourth most populous city in Germany and the largest city on the Rhine River. The Christmas markets profiled in this story are within walking distance of each other, starting at the Cathedral and then heading to Old Town (Heumarkt), followed by Harbour (Drehbrücke) and then west to Angels (Neumarkt) and Village of St. Nicholas (Hahnen Gate).
Only Time to Visit
In normal years, the Christmas markets are open most of December. However, Cologne has a lot to offer any season, starting with its magnificent cathedral.
Keep in Mind
The Cologne Christmas Markets generally open before noon and close late. There’s no fee to enter. In fact, every European Christmas market that I've been to is free.
A good place to start is Cologne’s official travel website and its Christmas markets section.