Christmas; a lot of people on this planet look forward to this wonderful time of the year. It is all about family get togethers, dinner parties with friends, lots of food and presents. Now I love my family and my friends dearly, but if I could, I would escape every year. Preferably to a place where there is a lot of snow, a comfortable log cabin with a fire place, bathtub and sauna. All I need would be a few good books to read, warm chocolate to drink, comfort food to eat and a pair of soft PJ’s to wear while lazing around…
Ok, let me try to get into the Christmas spirit! This year me and the 2 Astrid’s decide to take up an old tradition (from when Astrid 1 and I were young 😉): going to a German Christmas market (Weihnachtsmarkt). From all our neighbour countries Germany simply has the best Christmas markets. Dutch people love to visit the neighbours this time of year!
We live in the west of the Netherlands and will go by car; the drive is usually around 3 hours and we have a lot of fun on the road, chatting away, singing along with the radio… it brings back that feeling of going on a school trip. From The Netherlands the train or bus is also an option, but by car is simply the quickest way for us. On the road for 3 hours seems a lot, especially if you drive back the same day, but we will stay for the night and go back the next morning.
We go to Cologne/Köln; a city that can by reached by car, bus, train or plane (take your pick). When you live close to Germany and want to travel by car, be aware that a large number of German city centers can only be accessed with an environmental sticker (Umweltplakette or Feinstaubplakette). Also it is mandatory to use tires with winter properties in winter conditions. The environmental zones (Umweltzonen) are indicated by signs. Cologne is one of those cities, so we make sure we get our sticker before we leave. You can find information on https://www.umweltbundesamt.de/en/topics/air/particulate-matter-pm10/low-emission-zones-in-germany So be prepared and check what you need to do before you enter Germany by car.
I tried to find a hotel close to the Christmas markets, one that has a car park and a room for 3 (and that is not too expensive). We go in a weekend which makes it a bit more difficult to find availability, but I manage to book us a hotel room for 3 in Flandrischer Hof. It is located only on a short walking distance from the markets. We leave early in the morning from home to get the most out of our day in Cologne and there is hardly any traffic, which means we arrive before noon. We cannot check in yet, but we can park our car. Now… I can give you a detailed description about our day, but let me just guide you through the Christmas markets that we visited and the photographs will speak for themselves.
Cologne Christmas Markets:
In Cologne there are several Christmas markets, so you can basically hop from one market to the other. At every market (small or big) you can find plenty of food, drinks, sweets, Christmas gifts & decorations, hand crafted items, scarfs & mittens, glass balls, ceramics, toys, accessories, etc. From hotel Flandrischer Hof we want to walk towards the cathedral, visiting the following markets en route:
Rudolfplatz/Village of St. Nicolas. This is the first Christmas market we run into. It is a small and cozy market with a Santa Claus village and half-timbered houses that make you feel like you go back in time. But that feeling also comes from the Hahnentorburg, decor of this market. It is one of the monumental gates that were once part of the medieval city wall. It gives this market an medieval athmosphere. We stop and have a warm chocolate with whipped cream in one of the houses. Yum!
Angel’s Christmas Market/Neumarkt. Our 2nd market. This one has a fairytale atmosphere because of its decorations. In the trees star lights will brighten up the market at night (this we see at night when we make our way back to the hotel). Good quality products are being sold here; I always end up buying something. We have a small snack; a curry wurst. It is lunch time anyway and you cannot go to a Christmas market without having a curry sausage!
Old Market/Altstadt. The market get bigger. The 3rd one is one of my favourites and that has to do with its location: Alter Markt in front of Cologne’s town hall. The old buildings surrounding this market give it a special atmosphere. It probably is the most traditional Christmas market and I heard that usually it is opened by the Heinzelmännchen (house gnomes). Children will love this market too. We enjoy our first glass of mulled wine (glühwein). You either love it or hate it. I admit I love a good glass of mulled wine and it is served warm and if you are out on a cold day, this is the perfect remedy to get warm inside!
We take a small detour to Breite Strasse, since Astrid 1 is a shopaholic and wants to visit the shops as well. Astrid 2 and me are used to it, so we do not mind. We always make fun of her asking her if we need to hire a truck for her shoppings. But seriously: Cologne is a great city for shopping, so you might as well take the opportunity to do so. And Cologne has so much more to offer, historical and cultural… We are here simply for celebrating our friendship and getting into the Christmas spirit, but you can easily spend a few days in this city. There is plenty to do and see!
From Breite Strasse we walk towards the Heumarkt square. Here the statue of Friedrich Wilhelm III, King of Prussia stands proud. Around it is an ice skating rink. As a kid I loved to go ice skating, but now I would probably break my legs straight away 😉 At the Heumarkt there are many restaurants and bars. We are not hungry after our lunch snack, but treat ourselves to a second glass (or mug) of mulled wine. We watch both adults and children enjoying ice skating and the curling.
Cathedral X-Mas Market/Kölner Dom. The next (and for us the last) market we visit has the most impressive decor, since it is located next to Cologne’s landmark The Kölner Dom/Cathedral. Of course you have to visit The Dom when you are in Cologne; even when you are only visiting the Christmas market. Both exterior and interior of the Cathedral are overwhelming! This market is the biggest one and has about 150 wooden pavilions. We enjoy it although it is very busy on this Saturday evening. There is live music by The Busquitos and we listen and sing along with the songs for a while (the 3rd and last! glass of mulled wine helps doing so) and I end up buying their CD ;). Seeing the beautiful Cathedral behind a curtain of Christmas lights is just spectacular; especially at night!
We are getting a bit hungry, having walked around for about 8 hours and slowly make our way back to our hotel. We pass by the same Christmas markets we visited on our way to the cathedral. Somewhere between Neumarkt and Rudolfplatz we find ourselves a restaurant (I am sorry I cannot remember its name) where we treat ourselves to a decent German meal and beer (combined with the mulled wine that might probably be the reason I do not remember the name of the restaurant anymore). We should be going to a Kneipe (a German pub) after dinner, but we are tired. It is late in the evening when we arrive at the hotel and we chat away a bit before we go to sleep. It was a beautiful day and yes… we did catch the holiday spirit. Tomorrow morning we will take our time, have breakfast before we make our way back home…
by Elisabeth, One Lucky Traveller
November 28, 2015
PS: Just a few tips when going to a Christmas market: make sure you wear comfortable shoes & clothes and a warm coat. Of course you check the weather forecast to see what to wear, but especially at night it can get cold. Look after each other, especially at the markets that are big and busy, where you can easily loose each other and be out of sight. If you want to avoid big crowds go during the week, instead of the weekends. The closer you get to Christmas, the busier it will be. Also look after your belongings! Ladies carrying a bag: make sure you have one that closes really well and keep it in front of you. Put your wallet and your mobile phone somewhere safe: pick pockets are everywhere and active during events like these.
Since the starting and ending dates of the Christmas markets may vary year and are different for every city, you might want to check the world wide web for details. This website is for Cologne: https://www.cologne.de/events/christmas-markets. On this website you will find plenty of information, also about other Christmas markets you will find in this city and for sure are worth a visit! Have a good time and Merry Christmas 🌲