This post is also available in: German
When the weather starts to turn at the end of November the mood of the German city of Cologne begins to shift too. It becomes warmed and thoroughly enchanted by the spirit of the Christmas season; and for the nostalgic winter wanderluster the appeal of spending a holiday in Germany with its Christmas markets, warming hot red wine, and mouthwatering foods is irresistible. Cologne is an idyllic dream destination worth asking Santa for. There are walks for holidaying families in their matching winter gloves and hats, candle lit restaurants for couples spending a long weekend away from home, and for the solo traveller too there is the constant flow of Christmas-themed night life events to attend. Of all the reasons to visit Cologne during the final two months of the year there are at least eight that your Christmas won’t feel complete without.
Explore the Seven Christmas Markets
Featuring the reportedly ‘Biggest Christmas tree in the Rhineland’, Cologne doesn’t celebrate the season without throwing in all of their enthusiasm to make every Christmas the biggest and best yet, so don’t expect to find any half measures here. Coincidentally, the city centre doesn’t feature just one winter-themed market through December but seven Christmas markets, each as thoroughly decorated as the next. The Neumarkt Christmas Market close to the main shopping portion of the city is Cologne’s oldest and within it you’ll find dozens of wooden stalls lit with bright orange Christmas lights selling a number of handmade gifts.
Buy All of Your Christmas Presents
Whilst walking through the markets it’s enviable that after every other richly-decorated product-filled hut you’ll find your eye drawn towards an interesting hand made item, of which Germany is particularly proficient at creating. Using all manners of materials – wood worked products are available in an abundance – most the artisans present can tell you everything about the production process of the ornamental item you’re thinking of purchasing, from initial design, to quality care of the finished product. Keep your eyes wide and consider sharing some German Christmas cheer by purchasing a few hand made presents for your friends and family back home.
Warm Up With a Gluhwein
If you could gather all the warmth and good feelings emanating from the steadily flowing crowd together with the Christmas sounds and decorations from the markets in Cologne and liquify it, the taste would be a perfect match for the hot classic German winter warming drink – Glühwein. Made from an infusion of spices such as star anise, cinnamon, and cloves mixed together with a generous quantity of German red wine; the warming qualities of the drink will flow from your lips all the way to your toes as it passes through you. Should you fall in a deep love with this popular mulled wine then keep an eye out for the bags of mixed ingredients which are conveniently small enough to be bought, taken home, and made up for your friends on the next occasion they visit for some Christmas drinks.
Step Out Onto the Ice
No Christmas holiday is complete without at least a few minutes out on the ice spent desperately trying to stay upright whilst your friends or children whiz by you. Some might say that no Christmas is complete without a few bruises to nurse over from the experience and if you find yourself inclined to, strap on a pair of skates then be sure to wander over to the ice skating rink close to the Neumarkt market. Should the thought of wandering out onto the ice fill you full of dread but you’ve children with you who can’t resist the thrill, fear not. Observers and guardians can easily watch from the sidelines with a hot cup of glühwein to warm up their hands.
See the Shrine to the Three Kings
For many first-time visitors to Cologne the revelation that the bones of the Three Kings (or Three Wise Men) from the nativity story of the birth of Jesus lie within a shrine within the towering Gothic Cologne Cathedral. Following a long period of movement of the bones around the Middle East, Turkey, and Milan by determined religious pilgrims; the remains of the wisest visitors to the infant Christ were finally laid to rest in their current golden home and have remained protected there by the bishopric of the city ever since. Understandably around the time of the nativity there are a number of festivals and periods of mass that celebrate not only the birth of Christ, but also the role the three Magi had in the beginnings of the Christian faith. Throughout Cologne you’ll see an abundance of iconography the nativity during your visit but one of the best ways in which to enjoy the celebration is to attend one of the two masses held during the month of December at both 5 PM and at midnight.
Sing Carols Along the Rhine
Passing through the Netherlands, Switzerland, France and Germany; it’s not at all surprising to see that the Rhine River that passes through the middle of Cologne is typically full of small boats and river cruises enjoying the cities and sights along the river all throughout the year. The winter holidays in particular make for a great time to take a day trip or few hours out along the river as it tends to be slightly quieter and also the only time of year you can join one of the winter cruises. Typically running for around three hours, the winter day cruises are a perfect opportunity to relax and enjoy the spirit of the season as the trip is accompanied by a large Christmas buffet filled with seasonal German specialities, drinks, and the pleasant sounds of festival Christmas songs.
Try Your Hand at Curling
The German people are notoriously outdoors-loving people and you’ll find them out enjoying the beautiful endless span of the nature in the country regardless if the weather is favourable or not. When the winter does finally arrive there’s little that dissuades them from enjoying themselves and because of their tenacious love for life they’ve all taken to a great deal of winter sports. One winter sport in particular that Germans are becoming increasingly fond of is that of the Scottish game of curling, a game much like indoor bowling, but more akin to chess. Visiting Cologne for Christmas is the perfect opportunity to not only see people ignoring the cold and playing a game or two, you can also get involved and try your hand at curling. Typically erected next to the ice skating rink, you should easily be able to find a pair or small group of friendly locals who’ll happily teach you how to play the game.
End the Day with a Local Brew
Following a long day of skating, curling, buying presents, and wandering through every alleyway of market stalls it’s time to sit back and enjoy one of the most interesting elements of traditional German culture – the brauhaus. These classic cornerstones of every German city have been the classic meeting place for people to meet for generations, and for tourists today no holiday is complete without enjoying the rapturous atmosphere and noise that can be heard during the day – and especially at night – in any beer house you choose to visit. Drinking the exclusive locally brewed kölsch isn’t the only thing you can do whilst enjoying the atmosphere however, you can instead enjoy one of any number of plates of traditional German cuisine together with your family, friends, or a loved one.