When you are trying to get away from Christmas and do something completely different where should you go? Christmas markets in Germany of course! Yes I admit, the logic fell by the wayside somewhere along the line but now having been I can wholeheartedly recommend a visit to the Christmas markets in Germany, even for the most Scrooge like of Scrooges amongst you.
There is no denying the sparkling beauty of lights strung up between lamp posts, a background of a colourful ferris wheel and the joy in the hustle and bustle of people browsing in wonderment at the quaint wooden huts expertly set up to entice you to buy their wares. It’s an assault on your senses, in a good way. The bright lights, the music, the smells, the buzz of people chatting, exclaiming and laughing. It’s hard to know where to start, where to look first.
You will find lovely handmade gifts – think wooden toys, unique jewellery, handknitten (<– that isn’t a word is it?) socks, gloves and scarves and leather goods. There are Christmas decorations to buy, ice skating rinks to stumble around – and food! You cannot get away from the food, and indeed, why would you want to? Even as a vegetarian, the smell of the sizzling bratwurst and grilled onions drifting in the air through the crowds was enough to make my mouth water. But fear not, fellow vegetarians for you are also in for a feast.
By the way, a mug of Glühwein in hand to keep the chill away IS compulsory.
So where to go? You need to be aware that every Christmas market around Europe has their own dates. So do check the market/s will still be on before you book anything. For instance, Bath Christmas market in England closed on 15th December. What?! So early! I couldn’t travel until the 21st December because I was going with my youngest daughter and we wanted to be there over Christmas itself.
So we did Cologne / Koln for two nights from the 21st to the 23rd and then moved to Düsseldorf from the 23rd to the 29th – Düsseldorf Christmas market was on until 30th December. I had big expectations for Düsseldorf but I have to say that Cologne blew it out of the water.
In Cologne we stayed in a hotel in the old town. We were right in the middle of everything and the location was ideal. This was the view from our hotel room.
Depending on the location there will often be more than one Christmas market. Cologne had seven. You can and should check the local council website of the location you want to go to, they usually have all the location and date information you will need for the markets. This was the map for the Cologne Christmas markets in 2019 (I imagine they won’t change for subsequent years but check).
It might look from this map that you need to use public transport to get around. Well we walked everywhere and it was fine. You can use buses or the subway, or find an electric scooter, but it is all walkable. We were staying by the old town market which was the biggest market and is located just above “Heumarkt” on the map. We walked from there to the very far top left market and it took around forty minutes.
The markets are all touted as being different but we found them all to be fairly similar – all beautifully decorated with a lot of the same goods on offer. Although there were some differences – for instance I only saw Moonshine available at Stadtgarten (top left on the map, and pictured below).
I didn’t see it again until Düsseldorf, and I highly recommend it – give the tasters a go!
The Angel’s market in Neumarkt felt a bit different because all the stalls were white rather than brown. Either way, they are all so pretty and atmospheric. When I walked round the corner to see the cathedral market dominated by the stunning Cologne cathedral in the background it was a moment that took my breath away. Beautiful!
When you go somewhere like this, a place that is so busy and full of people and things to delight at, it is nice to get up early at least one morning and walk around while it is still quiet and before the crowds descend. I got some photos of the market with nobody else around and it felt very peaceful.
If you like ice skating, you won’t be disappointed. There were ice rinks in both Cologne (old town) and Düsseldorf. Even if you can’t skate very well, give it a go anyway – it’s all part of the atmosphere and the fun. The tickets are cheaper if you go on in the last hour.
I have to mention (again) the Glühwein. Glühwein is basically mulled, or spiced wine for those not sure. Every market sells it and most of them serve it piping hot in Christmassy mugs. The weather gets pretty cold so wrapping your hands around something warm is very welcome at times. If you wonder why your mug of wine cost €6 it is because it includes a charge for the mug. If you return the mug you get the money for it back, but why not keep it? They make great souvenirs or you could even give them away as gifts. Each market has individually designed mugs so you could get a nice collection to take back! I have three in my cupboard and everytime I see them it reminds me of our trip.
Then there is the food. If I could go back for anything right now, it would be for a Handbrot. A bread stuffed with hot cheese and mushrooms (non veggies can have ham) and covered with sour cream and chives. Mmmmm.
Your tastebuds will be in overdrive. Chloe filled her boots with all sorts of bratwurst. We had hot chips smothered with mayo. Hot chips smothered with onions and gravy (which I think was veggie, but might have got lost in translation!). Waffles. Churros (yes we had Spanish churros in Germany). Cinammon buns drizzled with caramel. Huge pretzels stuffed with Nutella! We had the traditional German potato pancakes with apple sauce – Kartoffelpuffer. Kartoffelpuffer – what a word!
If you want a small snack to nibble on then fear not. You can find almonds flavoured with anything from Baileys to Glühwein. There are chestnuts roasting on every corner. Fudge to die for. Cooked potatoes spiralled onto a stick. Chocolate covered Oreos for heaven’s sake! And chocolate covered fruit if you want to feel slightly healthy. Seriously, if you like your food, you are in for a treat! Veggie or not, sweet tooth or savoury, I promise that you will not go hungry!
So where did we stay? In Cologne we stayed in the XII Apostel Hotel Albergo. Slap bang in the middle of the old town with clean, well equipped rooms and various dining options I would stay here again. They give you a keycard for gaining entry after hours. Despite being so central with the market right outside our window it was surprisingly quiet – but as with anywhere take earplugs if you are a light sleeper.
In Düsseldorf we rented an apartment because we were there for longer and wanted to do our own cooking. We were located in a residential area probably about 15 minutes walk into the town center and although the apartment on first glance was in a rather shabby building it was modern inside and felt safe, which is always a good thing. I don’t think I would stay here again though as it was not well equipped for a self catering apartment. In the kitchen there was only one wine glass and no corkscrew – you can tell where our priorities were! But it is annoying when you’ve bought wine with corks to have to go and find an occupied flat to open your wine! There was also a total lack of utensils. No chopping knives, no colander, no peeler, no tin opener, no bottle opener, no wooden spoons, no scissors. Literally nothing apart from cutlery and one bread knife. Surprising for a self catering apartment.
There are lots of choices in both cities – I booked both through booking.com but there were plenty of apartments available on AirBnB as well. If you are planning on going for Christmas I would book as early as you can.
Here are some links to check out Christmas market dates 2020 and beyond:
I hope you enjoyed this write up of my German Christmas market experience and if you were wondering about going one Christmas then maybe this has convinced you to go – or not! As ever, if you have anything to add or have been to other European markets that you can recommend then please leave a comment or get in touch with me.