Cologne’s location along the Rhine in the far west of Germany has long contributed to the popularity of its Christmas markets with travelers on ferry and bus trips from London, the UK, and even Ireland. The modern Cologne-Bonn Airport / Köln/Bonn Flughafen (CGN) is the most important airport for low-cost and budget airlines in Germany helping to keep Cologne popular with foreign travelers in this age of cheap European flights.
Visitors to Cologne’s Christmas markets will find a mostly modern city with many attractions. Cologne has some of the best shopping opportunities in Germany, an active nightlife scene, great Romanesque and Gothic churches, and very impressive museums.
Christmas Markets (Weihnachtsmärkte) in Cologne (Köln), Germany
Like most larger German cities, Cologne does not limit its Christmas markets to only one location. The most important Christmas markets are in the old town in front of the Cathedral (Dom), and on the Altmarkt, Neumarkt, and Rudolphplatz. The market in front of Cologne’s magnificent Gothic Cathedral naturally has the most atmospheric backdrop but the Altmarkt also has a romantic feel due to its old town location.
The Cologne Medieval Christmas Market (Kölner Mittelalterliche Weihnachtsmarkt) is held in front of the Chocolate Museum (on a peninsula in the Rhine to the south of the old town). Food, music, and entertainment here recall Cologne’s glorious medieval past. This is the only Christmas market in Cologne that charges an admission fee (€2.50).
- Cologne’s favorite drink is the very refreshing local beer – Kölsch. It is served in small 200-ml (7-oz) glasses and should be drunk very cold. However, at Christmas markets warm Glühwein (mulled wine) is more common.
Top Sights to See in Cologne (Köln), Germany
For well over a millennium, up to the late 19th century, Cologne was the largest city in the German-speaking world. However, during the Second World War 90% of the old town was destroyed and the population dwindled from 800,000 before the war to 45,000 immediately afterwards as people fled the frequent air raids. Despite this destruction, Cologne is still a very interesting city to visit.
The top sight in Cologne, and with over 6 million annual visitors the most popular in all of Germany, is the Cologne Cathedral (Kölner Dom). It is the largest Gothic church in the world with the third largest church interior in Europe. Its enormous western façade is unrivaled (and hard to capture in a single photo without a wide-angle lens). Construction started in 1248 but the church was only completed in 1880.
The Cologne Cathedral miraculously escaped the Second World War almost intact. The twin towers are 157 m (518 ft) high, the nave 144 m (475 ft) long, and 43.5 m (143 ft) high. The art and huge stained-glass windows are impressive.
- It is 509 steps to the viewing platform two-thirds up the south tower.
Cologne’s old town has 12 Romanesque churches. The largest is Groß St Martin but it is worth making the effort to visit St Gereon. St Gereon has Roman origins and an impressive and rare Romanesque decagon cupola.
Top Museums in Cologne (Köln), Germany
With around 150 museums, galleries, and art spaces the choice available is fast but some are world class:
- Museum Ludwig, next to the Dom, has a very impressive pop art collection.
- The adjacent Roman-Germanic Museum has articles from the Roman and Frankish periods. (Cologne was an important Roman city for centuries.)
- The Wallraf-Richartz-Museum is the oldest in Cologne and has a very important collection of classical paintings (Middle Ages to Impressionist).
- Imhoff-Stollwerck Museum – also known as the Chocolate Museum – is hugely popular but free sampling opportunities are limited.
Flights and Trains to Cologne (Köln), Germany
Cologne/Bonn Airport (CGN) is the busiest low-cost airline hub on continental Europe so flights are cheap and plentiful. Cologne is also an important rail hub with fast trains to amongst others Frankfurt International Airport (an hour), Düsseldorf, Amsterdam, Brussels, and Paris.