Cologne: A Tale of Seven Christmas Markets

Cologne Alter Markt6

After my Christmas extravaganza in lovely Strasbourg, my expectations were high for Cologne, another city with more than its fair share of Christmas markets. While I was not quite as in love with Cologne as with Strasbourg – which, to be fair, might simply have been down to the drizzly weather – I had a great time there, conquering all SEVEN of the city’s Christmas markets in just two days.

My first stop was the Harbor Christmas Market. I arrived first thing in the morning, so the market wasn’t quite buzzing with activity yet. While it was a bit quiet and lacking in Christmas hustle and bustle at that early hour, the lack of crowds gave me the chance to get up close and personal with more of the items for sale and to linger without feeling guilt.

Cologne Harbor Christmas Market6

Cologne Harbor Christmas Market4

My favorite stands here were – quelle surprise! – the super colorful ones: a stall selling wood block candles with fun sayings on them, and a stand selling the prettiest little soap confections you ever did see. Yep, the soaps are the little things that look like cupcakes!

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Cologne Harbor Christmas Market5

My second stop – Alter Markt – was my favorite Christmas market of all, possibly because it just felt like what I would expect a German Christmas market to feel like: food galore, large chalets selling beer and mulled wine, and a carousel and an ice skating rink. So cozy!

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As I was walking through Alter Markt, I kept seeing people with GIGANTIC sticks of meat. “Get me to the meat!” I thought, and indeed I did make my way over to the stand selling piping hot meat sticks. I chose a turkey one and it was fantastic. The food is where I would say Cologne’s markets beat Strasbourg’s; there were German staples – sausage! spaetzle! pretzels! – every which way you looked.

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Another thing I loved about Alter Markt was that, true to its location in Old Town Cologne, it had several stalls selling antiques. I absolutely fell in love with one of these booths and its collection of vintage glassware. I bought one lovely pink glass container for myself, but I kind of wish I had nabbed a few more. However, we are quickly approaching “I’m not sure how I’m going to transport this all back to New York” territory over here, so a measure of restraint was in order.

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My third stop was the Cologne Cathedral Christmas Market, which had, without a doubt, the most spectacular backdrop of any of Cologne’s markets, with the gigantic cathedral looming over everything. However, the location seemed to be both a blessing and a curse, as I found the market way too crowded and by far the most touristy of the city’s markets. I enjoyed browsing here – and snacking on spaetzle, of course! – but Alter Markt still won the weekend for me.

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At Neumarkt Square, I found the Angels Market, which with its gold lights and stars was certainly one of the prettiest markets in Cologne. Here, I had my greatest ornament buying success (I found several stands that were goldmines), and I threw it back to my days in Budapest by snacking on langos, which is deep fried dough (eeeek!) topped with sour cream, cheese, and whatever else your heart desires. I stuck with “just” cheese as a topping.

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Possibly the most memorable market was Christmas Avenue, Cologne’s LGBT Christmas market, which bills itself as “the Christmas market for everybody, no matter who you are or where you are from.” I loved the fun spirit here, and Christmas Avenue had some of the prettiest decorations in town – all the booths were wrapped in shiny paper, and there was a huge, sparkly, purple Christmas tree. Christmas Avenue also had some of the quirkiest ornaments. Naked male torsos dangling from my tree? Yeah, sign me up.

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As I approached the Rudolfplatz Christmas Market, I could immediately see that the entire square was bathed in the loveliest of golds. There were gold lights everywhere, and the rooftops had super festive decor (Santa and his reindeer! Trains winding around the shop roofs!). It was a cool market to experience at night.

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Cologne Rudolfplatz Christmas Market5

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At first glance, I was not quite as taken with the seventh and final Christmas market, located at Stadtgarten, as I had been with others in Cologne. It wasn’t right in the center of town, for one thing, and some of its stalls just seemed a bit less festive and a bit shabbier than other markets. But once I looked closer, I found some of my favorite vendors of all. The market was particularly strong on arts and crafts, and I found a great graphic design shop and a shop with beautiful white vases and bowls.

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I will admit that by my seventh market, a bit of Christmas fatigue had started to set in. Even so, I am absolutely loving this Christmas season in Europe – and who knows when I will get to experience it again, so I might as well soak it up as much as I can right now!

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