Christmas in Cologne
Image: Jasmine Parker

Why Christmas in Cologne was the perfect festive family getaway

If there’s one thing you should know about me, it’s that I love Christmas , so much so that my dad once described me as “the spirit of Christmas personified”. So when I succeeded in convincing my parents that we should go on a European Christmas market city break to Cologne this December, I was ecstatic.

I chose Cologne because it seems to me a city that matches my enthusiasm for Christmas, having seven different markets throughout the city. My parents however, who are lesser Christmas-lovers than me, chose Cologne on the basis that there are things to do that are not just Christmas-related. If you’re also a bit of a grinch, I’m sure you’ll be glad to hear this.

So having set our hearts on Cologne, our trip started not so bright but very, very early at 6:00am, when we left to start driving down to the Channel Tunnel. 11 hours, half the Harry Potter films and a lot of Christmas music later (there were quite a few delays on the road) we finally arrived.

The Neumarket was filled with charming wooden cabins and trees decorated with stars, and the Rudolfplatz was designed almost as a Santa’s village, whereas the Stadtgarden’s food market style showed that it was clearly more geared towards adults

My Christmas spirit was somewhat dampened however when we went to explore the first Christmas market that night. Of Cologne’s seven Christmas markets, there are three main ones: the Cathedral market, the Altermarkt (Old Market) and the Neumarkt. We figured that since we’d been snacking all day in the car we didn’t really need a proper meal, and so would pick up some food from the Cathedral market instead. Although we arrived on a Saturday night – perhaps foolishly – I didn’t expect the market to be as busy as it was. The crowds were so huge that you couldn’t really work your way through them, and I feared that if all the markets were like this, it wasn’t going to be the dream Christmas market holiday I had hoped for.

I’m glad to say that the next two days were much better. We started off our first full day with a visit to the Museum Ludwig, Cologne’s modern art museum. The museum is known for its extensive collection of Picasso’s, but also has a brilliant pop art exhibition, and is well-worth a visit for any modern art-lover, or to simply keep you out of the cold.

After this we headed off to the markets. What surprised me about Cologne was that despite the vast number of markets there, they managed to not all blur into one another as each really did have its own personality. The Neumarket was filled with charming wooden cabins and trees decorated with stars, and the Rudolfplatz was designed almost as a Santa’s village, whereas the Stadtgarden’s food market style showed that it was clearly more geared towards adults.

All I can say is that the Altermarkt market alone was worth the drive, it made all my Christmas wishes come true

Another thing that struck me was just how different the Christmas markets looked at night. Cologne is pretty small, and our hotel was about a ten minute walk from the Cathedral, so both nights we were there we took a wander down to the christmas markets after dinner to witness them with all their lights turned on, and I couldn’t recommend it enough.

The stand-out of the second day was without a doubt the Altermarkt (or Heinzel’s Wintermӓrchen). You can read more about that specific market here, but all I can say is that that market alone was worth the drive, it made all my Christmas wishes come true.

Unfortunately the other things we did on this day were a bit of a let-down. We started off at the Lindt factory and museum which, to be fair, our experience of was slightly ruined by many groups of quite rowdy school trips. I’d say it’s worth a visit if you’re in Cologne as it’s one of the biggest attractions, but be aware that it’s nowhere near as good as Cadbury World.

Outside the museum was the Harbour Christmas market, which we skipped as it was raining, but I have to say that there was not a lot there, and it wouldn’t have been worth the walk if we weren’t already at the museum anyway. That said, these were the only real low-lights of the trip, and we still had a lot of fun.

As I mentioned earlier, there are other things to do in Cologne which aren’t Christmas-related. The icon of Cologne is its incredible cathedral, which is definitely worth paying a visit. We didn’t have time to climb up the tower, but we did take a look around inside – entry is free, although you can also book a guided tour if you’d like to learn a bit more. With the Cathedral dating back to 1248 and having been one of the most important pilgrimage destinations in Europe for a number of centuries, you really can’t miss seeing this.

This was a perfect family mini-break to get us in the Christmas spirit and, while I probably won’t be back in Cologne any time soon, I’d definitely go on another Christmas market trip next year

For a different view of the Cathedral, you should walk over the Rhein to the Kӧln Triangle. This building has a viewing platform that charges €3 to go up and provides incredible views. Seeing the city from a different angle is a great way to spend the afternoon.

And with that my Christmas market extravaganza came to an end. The highlight was definitely Heinzel’s Wintermӓrchen – I’m not sure I could have wholeheartedly said that the drive was worth it if it hadn’t been for this market, but I’d honestly go back just to go there again.

I was slightly disappointed by how busy certain places were, but at this time in December that can only be expected. I think the important part was that this felt like a far more authentic and charming experience than Winter Wonderland or the Birmingham Christmas market. This was a perfect family mini-break to get us in the Christmas spirit and, while I probably won’t be back in Cologne any time soon, I’d definitely go on another Christmas market trip next year.

If you would like to visit Cologne yourself, below is an interactive map of our route and here are some pictures from our trip that may persuade others to go with you!

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