It’s time to add Cologne, Germany to your travel bucket list! Check out our guide and a few key reasons why everyone should visit Cologne during Christmas time.
What a privilege to travel to Germany during Christmas time, experience their culture and history, and bask in the beauty of shared appreciation for Christmas goodness. Come for the markets and German traditions, stay for the unique themes, glüwhein, and incredible food.
FIVE RAPID-FIRE FAQ’S
- Is it just one market? Nope, there are a half-dozen markets in Cologne.
- Should I use card or cash? Mostly cash. Find an ATM to take out euros in cash in advance. (Read more about this later in the blog.)
- What are the hours of the Christmas Markets? Cologne’s markets are open 11 am-8 pm daily during the Christmas season.
- Can I walk or move from one Christmas Market to the next? Yes! It’s relatively easy to do so.
- Do I need to eat before I come? No! Christmas markets are basically a food crawl.
- What should I wear? Check the weather before, but typically a sweater, pants, a good jacket, and comfy shoes will do just fine. There’s very little places to sit, so you’ll be on your feet a lot!
NAVIGATING THE LANGUAGE
German is the national language. We found most people we encountered spoke excellent English. If you encounter any language barrier, this can always be quickly remedied using Google Translate. While you definitely don’t need to know German to enjoy Frankfurt, here are a few words that are helpful to know while exploring during Christmas:
- Hallo – pronounced Hah-Low – means hello
- Danke – pronounced Dahn-Keh – means thanks/thank you
- Glühwein – pronounced Gloo-Vine – means mulled wine
THE BEST PARTS
- Every market is specifically themed! From cathedrals and angels to gnomes and fish, we promise you’ve never seen markets done quite like this.
- While there’s over a half-dozen markets, they are all within reasonable walking distance. Don’t want to walk? Hop aboard the Christmas tram!
- We’ve tried a lot of mulled wine (glühwein) through our Christmas market world tours, and Cologne was home to our favorite batches. The flavors were simply perfect and the mugs were adorable.
WOAH, THAT’S DIFFERENT!
- One of the Christmas markets is entirely gnome-themed. Spy almost one hundred mischievous gnomes guiding the way through the market – including cheeky directions to the toilet!
- The gnome-themed market has a carousel, ice skating, and a curling rink!
- Cologne is home to one of the very few markets in the world set on a riverside! The Harbor Market is indeed harbor themed, featuring boats, fish, and nautical stripes with a view of the river.
CHRISTMAS MARKETS IN COLOGNE
Cologne is home to roughly six or seven markets, depending on the year. While they each serve a little bit of everything, there is a clear theme to each market. The Dom Market is cathedral-themed, the Heinzels Wintermaerchen is gnome-themed, Markt der Engel is angel-themed, the Hafen Weihnachtsmarkt is harbor-themed, Nikolausdorf is Saint Nicholas/Santa-themed (focuses on entertainment for kids), and Stadtgarten is a very local, foodie haven. The best part? They’re all within easy walking distance of each other and make for a perfect day of marathoning through stalls, eating, sipping, and shopping your way through the city.
The markets are typically open from 11 am – 8 pm daily from around the middle of November until around New Year’s Day. Visiting on a weekday will have far less crowded than on the weekends. Visiting during the day is also a way to avoid some of the shoulder-to-shoulder crowds, especially on the weekend, though you might still want to visit the Dom Market at night when everything lights up!
You’ll need Euros when you visit Cologne. If you’re wondering if you should bring cash or card to the Christmas markets, the answer is yes – both! Some vendors take cards, but you’ll almost always need cash for smaller purchases (less than $20).
Before you go, you need to know how “deposits” work at Cologne’s Christmas Markets. When you want to buy mulled wine (glüwhein), you’ll approach a stall that says the drink is 3 euros (for example). However, it will typically cost an additional 3 or 4 euros when it’s time to pay. This essentially covers the cost of the mug. If you’d like to take the mug home as a souvenir, congrats! It’s yours. If you’d like to return it to the stall, hand it back to them and say you’re returning it, then they’ll give you a 3-4 euro deposit back!
How much cash do you need?
It’s best to assume about $20 per meal for markets in Germany. Hot drinks typically cost between 3.50-7 euros with an additional average 3 euros deposit for mugs. Hot dogs of most kinds cost between 5-10 euros, depending on the type. Sweet treats and desserts, on average, range between 3 and 12 euros.
If you’re looking to buy a more precious and pricier souvenir, you’ll be glad to have your card on hand, so you’re not limited by your small bills. Always make sure to ask the vendor before ordering or deciding to purchase anything which payment method they will take. (Even if your german language skills are poor and your English is limited, this question can be easily communicated by holding up your credit card and asking, “do you take card?” They will quickly answer with either hand gestures or a verbal yes or no.) If you can, use your traveling expenses to rack up those travel credit card reward points when you can, y’all! We love that the Capital One Venture X card gives us 2x points on everything from glüwhein to ghost tours.
A helpful note about taking out foreign currency in cash:
The best practice (and cheapest) for having cash on hand in a new country is to go to your bank 5-10 business days before your trip and ask them for the new currency. Depending on your bank, this transaction will either be free or just a few dollars.
If you’re like us and realize the airplane tires hit foreign soil that we forgot to do this, then find an ATM to take out euros in cash! Yes, you can do this even with an international debit card and even some credit cards. There will typically be a small transaction fee along with the exchange rate. It’s still cheaper to take out cash this way than to go to a money exchange or Western Union.
FOODS & DRINKS TO TRY
- Ofenfuisches – (pictured above) this hot, delicious sandwich which consists of käse & schinken (cheese & ham) inside of freshly baked bread topped with sour cream and chives. We only saw these in Cologne and Zurich, so make sure to try them here! Andrew says it’s the best sandwich he’s ever eaten in his life – and he’s a sandwich fiend.
- Riesling – when is Rome, I mean, Cologne, right?! This regional white german wine is offered at many stalls along with staple local dishes.
- Bretzels – fun fact, pretzels are called bretzels in Germany! For some reason, they taste extra delicious freshly warmed then eaten in front of a well lit Christmas tree with a hot cup of glüwhein.
- Bratwursts – you can’t come to Germany and not try some brats! Head to the nearest booth and try one (or several) of the many different varieties.
- Feuerzangenbowle – a delicious specifically german take on mulled wine which literally translates to fire tongs punch. They torch and melt sugar over the giant bowl of mulled wine, add a few extra touches such as an orange liquor or rum, and serve it piping hot.
WHERE WE STAYED
- Four-Star luxury with a boutique hotel feel at around $150 per night steps away from the city center.
- The incredible in-house restaurant, Nena has a remarkable menu full of Mediterranean and various global flavors that made for a meal that’s not soon to be forgotten. Make sure to make dinner reservations well before your stay! If you can’t get a coveted seat, no worries – head across the hall to the hotel’s very chic and cozy bar, the Monkey Bar. Here you can order from the limited Nena menu and enjoy handcrafted cocktails as you warm up by the fire and admire Cologne’s city lights at night.
- They have a free mini bar in the room! Seriously! It’s free. Though almost too good to be true, help yourself to the two waters, two local beers, one local soda, and two chocolates any time you’d like at absolutely no charge.
- The ground floor of the hotel includes a vegan coffee shop co-working space which is perfect for when you need to get a little bit of work done in between exploring and sleeping.
HOW TO GET AROUND COLOGNE
Get your walking shoes on! The only ideal way to navigate the city is by foot. You could rent a bike, but why not take the opportunity to stroll around town and visit the sites? The best way to get to Cologne from other cities is by train or car. If you’d like to rent a car, keep in mind that you will only use it a little while in the city. The central train station in Cologne is about a 5-15 minute ride share from just about everywhere locally. If you’d prefer to not walk from one market to another, there is a seasonal Christmas Market tram that will take you around the city from market to market for only 10 euros for the day.