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Nestled on the picturesque banks of the River Rhine, Cologne is home to one of the most famous Christmas markets in Europe. From the end of November each year until just before Christmas, Cologne transforms into a winter wonderland.

Brimming with iconic landmarks such as the awe-inspiring Cologne Cathedral and the charismatic Old Town with its charming cobblestone streets, Cologne is a fantastic city to explore at any time, but even more so during the run up to Christmas. I decided to spend a long weekend there at the end of November 2023 to explore its charms for myself.

Cologne Cathedral Christmas market
Cologne Cathedral Christmas market

Having visited many of London’s Christmas markets, I wanted to explore a bit further afield and try some of Europe’s best Christmas markets. There were so many to choose from, but I picked Cologne as it really stood out. It doesn’t just have one Christmas market – it has more than seven of them!

It is also easy to get to with good travel links and has a lot more going for it than just Christmas markets.

Cologne at Christmas

Visiting Cologne at Christmas is a fantastic experience. You can wander through the charming lanes, savour seasonal delicacies and discover unique hand-made crafts in the city’s famous markets. From the scent of mulled wine, festive tunes played by live performers and twinkling lights adorning the market stalls, it really is a Christmas treat for all your senses.

Whether you seek the historic charm of the Cathedral Market or the fairy-tale atmosphere of the Old Town, each of Cologne’s markets promise a unique and magical experience. In this article, I explore Cologne’s world-famous Christmas markets and give advice and tips on making the most of your visit.

Christmas markets in Cologne

If you’re looking for the best Christmas markets in Cologne, then look no further! I’ve listed each of them below, and go into detail about what makes them special. I’ve also added my top tips on how to make the most of your visit, along with plenty of photos and a map too!

There is a long tradition of Christmas markets in Germany, dating back hundreds of years. Cologne was quite late on the scene though, with its first Christmas market (called Nicolaimarkt) opening relatively late in 1820. It quickly became popular though, and was actually banned 65 years later as it became too busy and rowdy for the authorities.

Tea light Christmas decorations from Cologne
Illuminated Christmas decorations for sale at one of Cologne’s Christmas markets

Cologne today features at least 7 distinct Christmas markets, all located in the city centre and each one has a unique theme. The current markets on the Neumarkt and Alter Markt were founded in the 1970s, and the most well-known in front of the cathedral opened in the 1990s.

Most of the markets are within easy walking distance of each other, although a couple are a little further away from the centre.

1. Cologne Cathedral Christmas Market (Weihnachtsmarkt am Kölner Dom)

This market is located right next to the cathedral and as well as the impressive location, is also one of the largest Christmas markets in the city. There are over 120 stalls selling gifts, food and of course Glühwein.

Cologne Cathedral Christmas market
Cologne Cathedral Christmas market

This was the first market I visited, and I think probably that’s the same for most visitors to Cologne. Immediately I was impressed by how big it was compared to the Christmas markets I’m used to in London.

Wooden carvings for sale at the Cologne Cathedral Christmas market
Wooden carvings for sale at the Cologne Cathedral Christmas market

In the centre of the market sits a large central stage under a canopy of sparkling fairly lights, which hosts an array of free festive events over the festive period. It really helps get into the Christmas mood standing under the sea of lights, listening to a band play festive tunes.

The main stage at the Cologne Cathedral Christmas market
The main stage at the Cologne Cathedral Christmas market

I really liked this market, although it is probably the most popular market in Cologne and did get really busy on Saturday evening!

A busy Saturday evening at the Cologne Cathedral Christmas market
A busy Saturday evening at the Cologne Cathedral Christmas market

Like most of the markets in Cologne, most of the stalls were similar to those in the other markets with some that were unique to this one. There were some great food stalls here too, and I particularly enjoyed a potato and cheese dish served from a huge pan.

German food at Cologne Christmas market
A delicious potato and cheese dish

Dates: 23rd November to 23rd December (closed 26th November)
Times: Sun-Wed 11 a.m. – 9 p.m.
Thurs-Fri 11 a.m. – 10 p.m.
Sat 10 a.m. – 10 p.m.
Nearest station: Köln Hbf
Website: https://www.koelnerweihnachtsmarkt.com/en/
Market plan: link

2. Advent Village Market (Adventsdorf am Dom)

Tucked away just around the corner from one of the largest markets in Cologne is one of the smallest. Located on Am Hof, this is a very short walk from the cathedral market.

The highlight of this market is the large illuminated pyramid which is well worth seeking out. You can also listen to Santa Claus sing Cologne carols from his wooden hut and also enjoy some festive food and drink.

Dates: 27th November to 7th January 2024
Times: Sun-Thurs 11 a.m. – 10 p.m.
Fri-Sat 11 a.m. – 11 p.m.
Nearest station: Köln Hbf
Website: https://www.facebook.com/ErnstLemoineEvent

3. Winter Fairy Tale Market (Heinzels Wintermärchen)

This dreamy market translates as winter fairy tale, and is named after the Heinzelmännchen – a mythical race of creatures similar to gnomes or elves. You can see these creatures featured in the wonderful decorations on all the stalls as well as at the entrances to the market.

Heinzels Wintermarchen Christmas market in Cologne
Heinzels Wintermärchen Christmas market

According to legend, they used to help the lazy craftsmen in Cologne’s old town work at night before they were discovered by a curious tailor’s wife. This annoyed them and they disappeared after being disturbed, but return every year to transform the old town into a dreamlike Christmas world.

Stalls at the Heinzels Wintermarchen Christmas market in Cologne
Stalls at the Heinzels Wintermärchen Christmas market

This is the largest of the Christmas markets in Cologne and has over 130 stalls. It also features an ice rink, live music and a carousel.

Gnome decorations at the Heinzels Wintermarchen Christmas market in Cologne
Gnome decorations at the Heinzels Wintermärchen Christmas market

This market is actually in two sections linked by a small road, stretching across Alter Markt and Heumarkt. Don’t make the mistake I did and only visit half without realising there was a second part! Luckily, I was able to return the following day and explore the rest of it.

Alter Markt

Most of the stalls selling gifts are located in the Alter Markt, which is closest to the cathedral. Here you’ll find the usual vendors, plus craftsmen at work. Blacksmiths hammer hot metal heated over an open fire, and candy makers create candy canes by hand, twisting and shaping lumps of candy as you watch.

Candy cane being made by hand at a Cologne Christmas market
Candy cane being made by hand

Alongside stalls selling gifts, you’ll also find musicians playing live music throughout the day, and during the evening there’s a live orchestra playing at the fountain in the middle of Alter Markt. There’s even a small Ferris wheel here, although it’s not anywhere near as big as the one at the Harbour market.

Personalised horseshoe gifts being made at a Christmas market in Cologne
Personalised horseshoe gifts being made by craftsmen

If you’re feeling peckish, then check out Naschgasse (translated as “Snack Alley”) where you can find a delicious selection of tasty treats.

Heumarkt

Heading further south, you’ll find the second part of this market, located in Heumarkt. Most of this market is taken up by the huge ice rink. If you’re not feeling in the mood for skating, you can enjoy a view of the ice from one of the chalet bars next to the rink.

Ice skating and curling at the Heinzels Wintermarchen Christmas market in Cologne
Ice skating and curling at the Heinzels Wintermärchen Christmas market

This was one of my favourite markets and definitely worth a visit. There was a really good selection of stalls, plus all the other activities like ice skating. Also the lovely decorations on the stalls make it worth visiting just for that alone.

Dates: Heumarkt – 24th November to 7th January 2024 (closed 26th November, 24/25th December)
Alter Markt – 24th November to 23rd December (closed 26th November)
Times: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., from 26th December 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Nearest station: Heumarkt, Rathaus
Website: https://www.heinzels-wintermaerchen.de/
Market plan: link

4. The Angels’ Market (Markt der Engel)

After visiting the cathedral market, I took a stroll down to the Angels’ market. This is a bit smaller and also slightly less crowded than the cathedral market. It’s located at Neumarkt, just over the road from a shopping centre and slightly further away from the cathedral than Heinzels Wintermärchen. This is also one of Cologne’s original Christmas markets and dates back to the 1970s.

The market square is surrounded by trees, and these are all decorated with illuminated stars and hundreds of lights which give a wonderfully ethereal feel.

Markt der Engel in Cologne
Markt der Engel in Cologne

One of the features of this particular market are the angels and stilt-walking beings who wander around at certain times. These are listed on the program, which you can find on the website (see just below).

Food stall at a Christmas market in Cologne
One of the food stalls at Markt der Engel

While there aren’t quite as many stalls as at the largest of the markets in Cologne, there are still over 70. You’ll find all the food, drink and gifts that you would expect at a Christmas market as well as a merry-go-round and a traditional, slightly scary-looking nativity scene.

Roast chestnuts at a Christmas market
Roast chestnuts at Markt der Engel
Nativity scene at a Christmas market in Cologne
The Nativity scene

Dates: 20th November – 23rd December (closed 26th November)
Times: Sun – Thurs 11 a.m. – 9 p.m.
Fri – Sat 11 a.m. – 10 p.m.
Nearest station: Neumarkt
Website: https://www.markt-der-engel.de/

5. Nicholas’ Village Christmas Market (Nikolausdorf)

This market is further out to the west than the central markets, and not quite as big. However it is still worth a visit, notably for the light display that begins once it gets dark. This is projected onto the walls of Hahnentorburg, the 13th-century city gate that the market sits next to. If you’re visiting Nikolausdorf then I’d recommend heading there after dusk so you get to experience this display.

A busy Saturday evening at the Nikolausdorf Christmas market in Cologne
A busy Saturday evening at the Nikolausdorf Christmas market in Cologne

I really liked the design of the stalls in this market – they’re all designed to look like traditional half-timbered chalets and decorated with thousands of twinkling fairy lights which gives a cozy feel to this market. There may not be as many as at some markets, but I think these were some of the nicest to look at.

Market stalls at the Nikolausdorf Christmas market in Cologne
Market stalls at the Nikolausdorf Christmas market

It’s family-friendly with activities for kids as well as the opportunity to meet Santa Claus. There’s also a small festival stage where you can watch live entertainment every evening.

This is one of the smaller markets in Cologne, so the selection of gifts and food on offer is a bit less than the bigger markets, but there are still plenty of stalls to browse.

Dates: 20th November – 23rd December (closed 26th November)
Times: Sun – Thurs 11 a.m. – 9 p.m.
Fri – Sat 11 a.m. – 10 p.m.
Nearest station: Rudolfplatz
Website: https://nikolausdorf.com/

6. Cologne Harbour Christmas Market (Kölner Hafen-Weihnachtsmarkt)

Located next to the River Rhine and in the grounds of the Chocolate Museum, this market is a bit further away from the centre than most. It also has a different feel to the others in Cologne thanks to its nautical theme.

Despite it’s location, it’s easy to get to as the Christmas Market Express mini-train stops directly outside. If you prefer to walk, it’ll take about 20-30 minutes from the cathedral.

Sailing boat decorations
Sailing boat decorations for sale at the Harbour market

It’s one of Cologne’s smaller markets, with around 70 stalls, but it does have a large Ferris wheel. It also featured quite a few stalls that weren’t at any of the other markets, some with some lovely handmade items. There’s also an impressive bar in the design of a wooden ship serving drinks.

A ship-themed bar at the Harbour Christmas market in Cologne
A ship-themed bar at the Harbour Christmas market in Cologne

The Ferris wheel is worth a trip and at 160 feet high it gives a great view over the market, river and city of Cologne.

The Harbour Christmas market in Cologne
A view of the market from the wheel

Top tip – if you’re visiting the Chocolate Museum too, then you can save money with a combined wheel and museum entry ticket. This also means you don’t need to queue in the museum at busy times to buy a ticket.

Dates: 23rd November – 7th January 2024 (closed 24/25th December)
Times: Sun – Thurs 11 a.m. – 9 p.m.
Fri – Sat 11 a.m. – 10 p.m. (open from 6 p.m. on 26th November)
From 26th December 12 p.m. – 10 p.m.
Nearest station: Heumarkt
Website: http://www.hafen-weihnachtsmarkt.de/

7. Stadtgarten Christmas Market (Weihnachtsmarkt im Stadtgarten)

This market is located on the edge of town, and is popular with locals. This was the one market I didn’t manage to visit but if you’re nearby then it would be worth dropping in.

Dates: 23rd November – 23rd December
Times: Mon – Fri 4 p.m. – 9:30 p.m.
Sat – Sun 12 p.m. – 9:30 p.m. (open from 6 p.m. on 26th November)
Nearest station: Hans-Böckler-Platz/Bf. West, Köln West
Website: https://www.weihnachtsmarkt-stadtgarten.de/

Cologne Christmas market dates for 2023

Most of the Christmas Markets in Cologne are open from the end of November to just before Christmas. The opening dates vary slightly, with most opening on the 20th or 23rd of November. Most of them finish after the 23rd December, however a few are open during the first week of January.

None of the markets are open on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, and most also are closed on the 26th November which is Sunday of the Dead (Totensonntag). This is a religious holiday in Germany, dedicated to those who have died. The few markets that are open on this day will only be open in the evening. I’ve listed all the opening dates and times for each market above.

Food and drink at the Christmas markets in Cologne

As you wander through any of the Christmas markets in Cologne, you won’t struggle to find something tasty to eat or drink.

Grilled meat being cooked at a Christmas market in Cologne
There is plenty to eat at the Christmas markets in Cologne

Culinary delights

Each market has a large selection of stalls selling a variety of food. There are many stands selling traditional German specialities such as Bratwurst, flammkuchen (a flat bread covered in cheese and meat) and braised mushrooms cooked in onions and spices.

Raclette cheese being served on crusty bread at a Christmas market in Cologne
Raclette cheese being served on crusty bread

You’ll find all the usual Christmas market foods, including pretzels and crepes plus a range of other dishes too. Some highlights include salmon cooked on an open fire and meat skewers grilled over a large fire pit.

Sausages cooking on a grill at a Christmas market in Cologne
One of the many stalls selling sausages and other meat

There’s plenty of variety, and a good mix of savoury and sweet. For those with a sweet tooth, there are plenty of stalls selling sweet treats – look out for the waffles in the shape of the cathedral and strawberries dipped in chocolate which were delicious!

Dom waffles, in the shape of Cologne Cathedral
Dom waffles, in the shape of Cologne Cathedral
Stall selling chocolate covered fruit
Tasty fruit dipped in chocolate was sold at most of the markets
Tasty snacks for sale at a Christmas market in Cologne
Tasty snacks for sale at one of the markets

Festive drinks and mugs

At every market, you’ll find plenty of stalls selling Glühwein and other warm festive drinks. If mulled wine isn’t your tipple of choice, then how about mulled beer, hot gin cider or Feuerzangenbowle – a traditional German drink where a rum-soaked sugarloaf is set on fire and drips into mulled wine.

Gluhwein mug from the Cologne Cathedral Christmas market 2023
Glühwein mug from the Cologne Cathedral Christmas market 2023

There are also plenty of non-alcoholic options available too.

Each market has its own design of Glühwein mug, and one (Heinzels Wintermärchen) even has multiple designs for you to choose from. You have to pay a €3 deposit for the mugs which is returned if you hand the mug back, but like most people I kept a couple of mine as a souvenir.

Gluhwein mugs for sale at the Heinzels Wintermarchen Christmas market in Cologne
Gluhwein mugs for sale at the Heinzels Wintermarchen Christmas market

What to buy at the Cologne Christmas markets

There’s a wide variety of things to buy at the markets in Cologne. Many of the items are Christmas-themed, however there are plenty of stalls selling other items such as clothing.

Ceramic house decorations at a Christmas market in Cologne
Ceramic house decorations

There’s a good selection of Christmas decorations – some generic, and some specific to Cologne. There were quite a few that featured the cathedral.

Cologne Cathedral Christmas decorations
Cologne Cathedral Christmas decorations
Cookie cutter Christmas decorations
Christmas-themed cookie cutters

You can find hand-made glass baubles, woollen clothing, traditional German decorations and tasty treats.

Nutcracker Christmas decorations for sale at a Christmas market in Cologne
Nutcracker Christmas decorations
Snow globe Christmas decorations at Cologne Christmas market
Snow globes and other Christmas decorations

There were quite a few stalls selling clothing too, mostly warm winter wear such as woollen hats, gloves and scarves.

Woollen hats for sale at a Christmas market in Cologne
There was a good selection of woollen hats for sale

While many of the stalls can be found at more than one market, there are a few that are unique to each market. My advice if you see something you like the look of is to buy it then, as you can’t be sure you’ll see it at any other market.

The best time to visit the Cologne Christmas markets

At certain times, the markets can get very busy with weekends and evenings being the busiest times. If you prefer to avoid the crowds then I’d advise going to the markets during a week day and earlier in the day when they are much quieter.

How to get to Cologne

As one of Germany’s biggest citys, Cologne is very easy to get to. There’s an airport just to the southeast of the city, with flights from several cities in the UK. It’s also easy to get to by train, and served by Eurostar services which require changing at Brussels. The station is located right in the middle of the city, next to the cathedral and is well served with U-Bahn, bus and taxi services.

If you’re driving to Cologne, there’s a car park located next to the station and cathedral (CONTIPARK Tiefgarage Am Dom).

How to get to the Cologne Christmas markets

Most of the Christmas markets in Cologne are close to the cathedral, and within easy walking distance of each other. A few are a little further out but are still walkable if you don’t mind a 20-30 minute walk. I’ve added a map to the bottom of this page showing where each one is.

You also have the option to either take the underground train (U-Bahn), or bus. There’s also a special Christmas Market Express that runs in a loop around most of the markets. Most of the markets are very close to U-Bahn stations, so this is a really convenient way to get around. I’ve mentioned the nearest station in the details for each of the markets above.

Cologne U-Bahn

As a first-time visitor to Cologne, I wasn’t familiar with the train system and at first glance it looked pretty complex and confusing. However if you’re staying in the centre you only need to worry about the underground section (known as the U-Bahn). The stations aren’t always that obvious from the street I found, but are identified with a “U” sign. Google Maps was helpful to figure out which lines to use and where the nearest stations were.

There are a few options for buying tickets which I found a bit confusing, however the easiest option was to buy a day ticket. Unlike single-journey tickets which have to be validated by inserting into the little boxes in every train carriage, the day tickets don’t need to be stamped.

You can purchase the ticket in the stations, and some of the trains also have ticket machines in the carriages themselves. A 24 hour ticket for zone 1b cost €7.70 per person.

24 hour travel card for Cologne underground train
A 24-hour ticket was the easiest option

Being from London, I’m very familiar with the London Underground tube, and a few differences I noticed were that firstly you didn’t have to pass through ticket machines to get in or out of each station. Secondly there were no staff visible in the stations I travelled through. And finally, the frequency of trains was a bit less than I’m used to, with trains every 5-10 minutes.

Heumarkt station on the Cologne U-Bahn underground train
The U-Bahn was an easy and quick way to get around Cologne

Another thing that I’ve never seen before is that some stations have low and high sections of the platform, and some trains have steps that extend when they stop at the low platform section. Just be aware of this if you’re standing near the train door, as these trains have a big yellow section marked out on the floor that will drop when the doors open!

Christmas Market Express

A more festive option is to take the Christmas Market Express, which is one of those little tourist buses. It runs in a loop around the city and has 4 stops. These are located at the cathedral, Alter Markt, the harbour (handy for the Chocolate museum too) and Neumarkt.

The Christmas Market Express in Cologne
The Christmas Market Express is a great way to visit most of the markets

You can either buy a ticket for 1, 2 or 3 stops, or a complete loop which means you can get off and back on again at each of the stops. The bus runs every 15 minutes or so.

At €15 for the round-trip it’s more expensive than the U-Bahn, but you get a scenic tour of the city. They also provide some interesting commentary (in German and English) as well as some festive tunes.

You can find out more details on their website.

Things to do in Cologne (that aren’t Christmas markets)

Cologne is an interesting place to visit, and there is plenty to do. I actually spent most of my time there exploring the Christmas markets, but will definitely return at some point to explore more of the city.

While I was there though, I enjoyed a visit to the Chocolate Museum but ran out of time to go to the other places on my list.

Chocolate Museum

Located next to the harbour market, the Chocolate Musuem is a great way to spend a few hours. Inside, you learn about everything related to chocolate – from how cocoa beans are grown, to how chocolate bars are manufactured. You can even watch a real-life production line in operation.

Chocolate bar being made at the Chocolate Museum in Cologne
Chocolate bar being made at the Chocolate Museum in Cologne

Cologne Cathedral

You can’t miss the rather impressive Cologne Cathedral. The twin peaks of it’s two spires are visible from afar, and it stands next to the most popular Christmas market. It’s well worth a visit, although I didn’t get a chance this time so it’ll be at the top of my list when I next visit Cologne.

Clothing tips for visiting Cologne at Christmas

The markets are mostly outdoors without any shelter, so keep an eye on the weather forecasts and dress for the conditions. When I was there it was around 5-10 degrees C and very wet, but a couple of weeks later Germany had freezing temperatures and a fair bit of snow. Warm clothes are a must, and a good pair of waterproof walking boots or shoes are highly recommended as you will most likely be doing a fair bit of walking outdoors.

It can snow in Cologne during the Christmas season, so a hat, gloves and scarf or snood will help keep you warm. If the forecast is for freezing temperatures and snow, then I’d suggest some snow grips for your shoes. These don’t take up much room, and make a big difference if the pavements are icy.

My top tips for visiting Christmas markets in Cologne

  1. Wear comfortable and warm shoes and clothing.
  2. Plan how you’ll get around so you know which bus/train routes to use, and can make the most of your time there.
  3. Take sufficient cash, as most stalls don’t accept cards (and those that do don’t generally accept American Express).
  4. Withdraw cash from cash machines at banks and avoid the Euronet branded machines as these charge an additional fee.
  5. Take a carrier bag if you’re planning on buying items, as the bags provided by the sellers aren’t usually that sturdy or large.
  6. Double-check opening dates and times to confirm the markets are open when you visit.
  7. Visit the markets earlier in the day or on a week day to avoid the busiest periods.
  8. Keep valuables secure to avoid being pickpocketed in the crowds.
  9. If you’re flying, double-check whether you need to pack your souvenirs in checked baggage. Some items such as snow globes may not be allowed as carry-on.
Cash only at Cologne Christmas market
Many stalls in Cologne only take cash

Cologne Christmas markets map

How to use this map: Click on the icon in the top-left corner of the map to reveal a list of locations. If you click on one of the locations in the list, or one of the pins on the map, you can get more information or directions to it.

Click on the star just to the right of the title to save to your Google Maps account. You can then view the map on your phone or computer by opening Google Maps, clicking the “Saved” icon and then selecting Maps. You’ll then see this map in your list.

To open a larger version of the map in a new tab, click on the icon to the top right.

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About the Author

An award-winning travel and landscape photographer based in London.

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