Christmas Cologne

Christmas Cologne

Cologne at Christmas time is mesmerizing. The magic at this time of year seems to become real, and even the monumental Gothic cathedral, the symbol of the city, no longer seems so gloomy — especially since the main Christmas fair is located just beneath its walls. Cologne is worth seeing at Christmas time.

In Germany’s fourth largest city, there are plenty of Christmas fairs to suit all tastes. They usually open a month before Christmas, so you can get into the festive atmosphere from November onwards. That is what the citizens and tourists do: at the fairs you can buy Christmas gifts, try Christmas dishes and mulled wine, and just have a good time. Most Christmas fairs in Cologne in 2019 are open from November 25 to December 23. New Year’s Eve passes quietly in the city.

I will tell you about the biggest and most famous fairs in Cologne. Some of them can be visited on a special Christmas Express, which will take you to the most interesting places.

Cologne’s main Christmas fairs

Cologne Cathedral Fair

The Christmas market at the famous Cologne Cathedral is probably the grandest in the city. It was first opened in the 1990s. At the foot of the huge gray medieval building there are about one and a half hundred brightly colored trading pavilions. The largest Christmas tree in the Rhineland region stands here, live music plays from the stage, and the marvelously beautiful crèche with bronze figures is the largest in Cologne.

View of the market from the observation deck of the cathedral
View of the market from the observation deck of the cathedral
What’s Christmas without a tree?
The very same bronze nursery
The very same bronze nursery

The entertainment program includes about a hundred different performances. There is something to keep both adults and children busy, with a traditional carousel and a children’s wheel of fortune.

Here you can get a lot of ideas for Christmas and New Year gifts: tree ornaments made of wood and glass, ceramic dishes, children’s toys, handmade soap and candles in the shape of a cathedral, and local delicacies. You can buy goods not only from Germany, but also from other European countries — even Russian caviar is there!

  • The fair is open daily from 10:00—11:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and until 9:00 p.m. on all other days.
  • Fair website
Here you can taste a variety of delicacies
Here you can taste a variety of delicacies
Locals buy Christmas gifts at the markets
Locals buy Christmas gifts at the markets

Old Town Fair

It is located on the Alter Markt square next to the town hall. The fair has a second name — the House of the Gnomes — because, according to legend, in the old days these industrious little helpers did all sorts of work for the locals. Children will especially enjoy this fair: there’s a corner of Nikolaus (Santa Claus), gnomes, a puppet theater, a large carousel and many toy stands.

The fair was first opened in the 1970s. In 2019, the market was significantly expanded and two themed alleys were opened: the Futtergasse, where you can sample various delicacies, and the Glitzergasse, where fashion accessories are sold.

  • The fair is open daily from 11:00 am to 10:00 pm.
  • Fair website

The angel market

This is one of Cologne’s oldest fairs, opened in the 1970s, and is located on Neumarkt. It is dedicated to angels: their figures are everywhere. Dressed in white and covered in glittering powder, they float down the alleys and greet visitors. An interesting feature of the market is that the same traders have been working there for many years and have many regular customers. In addition to the huge bazaar, the square is home to Germany’s largest ice rink with artificial ice.

  • The fair is open daily from 11:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m., Friday and Saturday until 10:00 p.m.
  • Fair website

Fair at the Chocolate Museum

One of the most original in Cologne. It is located on the banks of the Rhine and has a real nautical atmosphere. The nautical theme is present everywhere: in the design of the fair, the performances and even the street food. Market stalls with wooden floors and pointed roofs resemble ships and give the market a stylish and cozy holiday image. Here you can meet pirates, taste a variety of fish dishes, buy seafaring souvenirs and taste mulled wine straight from the hull of a 15-meter-long wooden ship with 3 masts.

A stroll through the market can be combined with a tour of nearby attractions, of which there are quite a few: chocolate, sports and mustard museums, the new architectural ensemble Rheinauhafen, and just a stroll along the Rhine.

  • The fair is open daily from November 22 through December 23 from 11:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m., and until 10:00 p.m. on Friday and Saturday.
  • Fair website
Traditional German pastries
Traditional German pastries

Christmas market in Stadtgarten (Stadtgarten)

The Stadtgarten is a park on the outskirts of central Cologne. It has a romantic, rustic atmosphere unusual for a big city. You can come here every week, as the stands and vendors change.

  • The fair runs daily from November 21 through December 23 from 4:00 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. weekdays and 12:00 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
  • Fair website

Nikolausa Village

The market at Rudolfplatz is called «Nikolausdorf» (Nikolaus Village). The market is located at the Hahnentorburg gate and features Grimm-inspired decorations.

  • The fair runs from November 25 through December 23 from 11:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. daily except Monday, and until 10:00 p.m. on Friday and Saturday.
  • Fair website

«Christmas Heaven on Earth» (Heavenue).

Cologne’s very unusual Christmas market is dedicated to LGBT themes. Brightly colored stalls in pop art style are decorated with snow-white garlands. A complex lighting system of LEDs, chains of lights and special effects turns the square into a sea of lights. Only here you can taste unique mulled wine and small culinary masterpieces created especially for this fair.

  • The fair runs daily from November 25 through December 23 from 12:00 to 22:00.

Christmas Express

The dressed-up steam train follows the 4 major Christmas fairs — a quick way to get around for those who want to visit multiple sites in one day. A round-trip ticket allows you to get off at each stop and then continue on the same ticket.

The train leaves every day at 10:15 from the market near Cologne Cathedral, passing through the market in the old town, the chocolate museum and the angel market. The steam train runs until approximately 20:00 on Friday and Saturday and until 19:00 on other days.

  • Departs every 15 minutes.
  • The round trip will take 1 hour.
  • A round-trip ticket is €10 (€5 for children under 10), a one-way trip costs €3 for adults and €1.5 for children.
  • The Steamroller website
There are always plenty of people wanting to ride the Christmas express train
There are always plenty of people wanting to ride the Christmas express train

What to try at Christmas in Cologne

What to do at the Christmas market? The same things the locals do: buy presents, meet friends and sample Christmas specialties — traditional and not only.

  • Glühwein and punch are traditional Christmas drinks to suit all tastes, white, red wine or non-alcoholic. They are sold in beautiful mugs, which you can keep as a souvenir or give back, in which case you will get a partial refund. Each Cologne fair has its own mug design.
  • Stollen is a Christmas cake filled with nuts, candied fruits and spices and dusted with powdered sugar. Stollen symbolizes the baby Jesus Christ wrapped in swaddling clothes.
  • Raclette is melted Swiss cheese with a variety of additives, such as speck and herbs.
  • Roasted nuts in sugar. The typical German sweet is roasted almonds, but you can also choose other nuts.
  • You can enjoy traditional German sausages right at the fair or stop by any nearby eatery.
  • Potato fritters with apple mousse — rebenküche. A very hearty and tasty dish — a symbol of the North Rhine-Westphalia region. A great way to warm up in the Cologne winter.

Christmas Cologne is unlikely to leave anyone indifferent. The aroma of gingerbread, roasted chestnuts and mulled wine, festive music and a sea of lights will remind everyone that we all come from childhood. Merry Christmas!

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