In 2018, Cologne will have its annual Christmas market from
November 26th to December 23rd. If you’re lucky enough to visit Cologne in winter (just in time), be sure to spend at least a day (if not three days) browsing the famous Christmas markets in Cologne. Keep reading for tips for experiencing the German Christmas markets and things to do in Cologne in December!
Planning to visit Cologne Germany in winter to see the famous Cologne Christmas markets? Tips for visiting the Cologne Christmas markets, what to do in Cologne, and where the Cologne Christmas markets are!
I’ve set up this as a walking tour of five Christmas markets in Cologne with a downloadable map of the Christmas markets in Cologne. (Be prepared that this FREE walking tour of Cologne includes a lot of walking although it covers many major landmarks.) The map of the Cologne Christmas markets is at the bottom.
Tips for going to the Cologne Christmas Market
Before we get to the best Cologne Christmas market locations, I have a few tips for visiting the Cologne Christmas Markets to keep in mind.
- Collecting the mugs from the Christmas markets are not cheap as you’ll pay at least 4 euros (as a deposit for the Christmas mugs) in case you choose to keep your mug. Each market has its own mugs, however I only really loved one of them.
- Gluhwein is not cheap and it’s better to have your own mug for refills if you’re staying at one market for a while. Be careful when walking around with gluhwein as it stains.
- Dress warmly and bring coins in case you need to pay for the toilet. Most restaurants do not allow people in unless they purchase something.
- Avoid mid-afternoon and early evenings on weekends as you’ll have many buses come for one day with tons of tourists before leaving shortly after nightfall. The Christmas markets clear out considerably in the mornings as well as the late evenings.
- Don’t drive into Cologne as parking is expensive. The German trains are very comfortable, and the public transit in Cologne is very easy to use.
- If you’re not one for crowded places, consider staying a few days to pace the Christmas markets with just 1-2 per day.
- To save money, stay outside of the Centre. We stayed in the hipster area of Ehrenfeld, which was affordable and full of charming cafes/restaurants that were so reasonable compared to center. It felt good to be in an authentic place after being surrounded by tourists. (More tips about Ehrenfeld at the bottom.)
- It is possible to visit the Christmas markets in Cologne on a budget, however this means only browsing without purchasing items….and eating outside of the main areas.
- For food and smaller booths, it’s easiest to have cash on you as not all will accept credit cards. Don’t underestimate how much you might spend on food/drinks alone. Similarly, watch out for pick-pockets as it’s quite crowded and you’ll be carrying around some cash.
- You don’t need a tour for the Cologne Christmas markets. Follow my FREE self-guided walking tour to guide yourself with the help of Google Maps.
Locations of the Cologne Christmas Markets
Stadtgarten Christmas market
My favorite Christmas market in Cologne by far was the smaller, calmer Christmas market in the Stadtgarten. This market is also the first Christmas market on your Cologne Christmas market tour! This seasonal market was full of locals, delicious handmade food, and unique selections that we didn’t see at the four other Christmas markets that we visited in Cologne.
If you go to this one, look out for the drinks booth, which last year had a delightful cocktail mix including butter rum in addition to gluhwein. Unlike the bigger Christmas markets in Cologne, it was only one euro deposit for the gluhwein glass (although it was plain).
I bought a beautiful hand-made light-up house that still stands in my home for about twenty years as well as an adorable gnome.
This market is in the middle of the Belgian quarter, which is a hip area of Cologne. It’s the best for artisanal food and gifts (with different booths weekly). This market also had entertainment for children.
If you’re hungry, eat your meals before before you leave the Belgian quarter as it gets quite touristy and expensive after you’re in the Neumarkt area.
Christmas market in Rudolfplatz
The next Christmas market is the famous Rudolfplatz (Weihnachtsmarkt auf dem Rudolfplatz ). The Christmas market of Niklasdorf is quite a bit more touristy, however, if you’re after collecting the various mugs from different Christmas markets, you’ll want to stop off here.
Personally, I did not love the Rudolfplatz Christmas market so much, but they served some traditional food that I didn’t find at others, but it just felt cramped to me compared to the Stadtgarten. It’s known as Niklasdorf as it’s theme is the village of St. Nicolas.
Pink Christmas Market / Christmas Avenue
Afterwards, you’ll walk by Christmas Avenue, the LGBT Christmas market in Cologne. All are welcome although you’ll find many themed items here. I think it’s beautiful to see how Cologne has embraced its LGBTQ population! (I did not take good photos here, sorry!)
Market of Angels Christmas Market (Markt der Engel)
My second favorite Cologne Christmas market was the Angel’s Christmas market (Markt der Engel aka Kölner Neumarkt), which is Cologne’s oldest Christmas market. At least for me, I loved the decorations here as they were the most traditional and despite the crowds, the Market of Angels Christmas market still felt walkable.
We ended up getting Christmas ornaments from the Käthe Wohlfahrt booth here, who makes beautiful German Christmas decorations with a bit of flare.
Heumarkt (Heimat der Heizel)
After this, you’ll be walking into the heart of the center of Cologne and where the bulk of the crowds are. It feels like one BIG Christmas market, however, the Alter Markt extends out from Heumarkt.
If you’re looking for the iconic Christmas market shot, this area can be great as you’re surrounded by the beauty of old town Cologne as well as many stalls. However, it was the most cramped out of all the markets that we visited and walking forward after dark felt more like pushing through a crowd at times.
This area had many rides, including the skating rink, as well as the adorable entrance to the Heimat der Heizel (House of the Gnomes.)
A friend considers going skating in Cologne one of her favorite parts of the Christmas market although I found it a bit pricey. (Cue claustrophobia as it got to me near here)
Unrelated note: WHY GNOMES!? aka Why should you be on the look-out for gnome related souvenirs in Cologne? Gnomes (known as Heinzelmännchen) play a large part in the lore of Cologne.
The house gnomes of Cologne were said to do the work of the residents during the night, so after a time, the residents stopped working. There’s a legend that a woman left out peas to force the gnome to slip on a pea, with the hope of seeing one, and the house gnomes left Cologne forever.
The Alter Markt is the Christmas market in Cologne that everyone comes to photograph. The best spot for photographing this beautiful Christmas market in Cologne, which is touristy but manageable, is close enough to the tree, but far enough that you get the lights in the photo.
It’s also a great way to get a photo in without tons of people (it’s impossible). That said, the Kolner Dom (Cologne Cathedral) is not to be missed, and you might get to hear a choir in the church if you’re lucky enough.
If you have extra time, I recommend visiting the Old Market Christmas market in Cologne as early as possible in the morning to do your actual shopping and once at night (to see the lights).
Harbor Christmas Market
If you’re feeling energetic (or you have more than one day), consider visiting the Harbour Christmas Market, which is much calmer than the Alter market. It’s also right next to the Chocolate museum, so you can combine this easily with visiting the Chocolate museum.
Some other things to do in Cologne…
- Don’t miss out on the adorable houses by the fish market.
- Wander around the beautiful alleyways of old town Cologne.
- Admire the Cologne Cathedral inside and out!
- Taste chocolate at the Chocolate museum
For those seeking a less traditional Christmas market experience in Cologne…
Ehrenfeld is a great neighborhood in Cologne. Consider visiting the smaller local Ehrenfelder Weihnachtsmarkt and to also explore a different area of Cologne. You can stay in the center, but it’s nice to unplug away from the craziness of the Christmas markets in Cologne and the crowds.
Instead, visit Ehrenfeld for fantastic local cafes and graffiti, perfect for those seeking an untraditional experience in Cologne. Instead of staying in the centre (where prices were crazily high), I found accommodations in this part of Cologne quite reasonable and I’d recommend staying in Ehrenfeld in Cologne.
This charming neighborhood in Cologne is known for its lighthouse (Helios Leuchtturm) as well as its graffiti. I ended up frequenting the Goldmund LiteraturCafe after discovering it by mistake. This lovely cafe is a bookstore, cafe, and performing space and with fantastic drinks/food. Perfect for brunch, intellectual drinks, or relaxing after a hard day’s work (or shopping).
For cocktails, visit Rubinrot or Nachtigall. For dancing the night away to alternative music, visit Club Bahnhof Ehrenfeld, which is underneath the train station.