Millions of gleaming lights, hundreds of vendors, and numerous city squares decorated with distinctive themes make the Cologne Christmas market one of the best markets in Europe. At every turn, there is a new light display or a different food or drink to try. From an enchanted forest to a festival of snow angels, each portion of the market brings something incredible to experience.
The beauty of the Christmas market in Cologne, Germany, is how—despite over 500 vendors and craftsmen and seven different sections—everything feels special, engaging, and festive. With entertainment, artisans from around Europe, and charming décor, a visit here is one of the best ways to spend the Christmas season.
Here’s a look at what to expect in the different markets and why we can’t get enough of them.
Cologne Cathedral Christmas Market (Weihnachtsmarkt am Kölner Dom)
At the foot of one of the most spectacular cathedrals in the world, the Cathedral Market is the market most visitors to Cologne will see first. Just a few steps from the Cologne Cathedral, over 130 chalets sell crafts, one-of-a-kind gifts, and food.
The red huts with their distinctive illuminated stars are laid out around a towering 80-foot-tall Christmas tree and a canopy of lights that makes everything feel enchanted. Among the offerings are more traditional gifts like Christmas smokers, ornate candles, and Russian nesting dolls. We also spotted more unexpected items like American moonshine and vinyl records transformed into clocks.
As you wander among the stalls, it’s easy to see artisans at work. There is a glass blower making new creations and an embroiderer putting personalized touches on gifts. We even saw a booth airbrushing custom designs on Converse shoes. Seeing the vendors in action was surprising and shows how unique the offerings are here.
When it comes to food, there are many choices for both sweet and savory snacks. Many stands sell German specialties like flammkuchen (flatbread), käsespätzle (egg dumplings covered with cheese), and braised mushrooms with onions, garlic, and spices. There are also cinnamon rolls, churros, chocolate-covered fruit, and much more.
We went straight for traditional currywurst and gluhwein (mulled wine) and couldn’t have been happier.
The performance stage is at the heart of the Cathedral Market. Over the five weeks the Cologne Christmas market is open, the stage welcomes over 100 different performances, sometimes hosting as many as four a day. Among the acts, you can see a jazz trio, a choir performing traditional Christmas music, and a bluegrass band.
We saw a musical duo singing carols who drew a massive crowd of spectators. There’s just something about Christmas music that seems to make everyone happy.
Because of the market’s prime location, some visitors find it more touristy and busier than the other markets in the city, but that was not our experience. We were pleasantly surprised that it was not packed with people during our visit, but your mileage my vary.
Advent Village (Adventsdorf)
Just around the corner from the Cologne Cathedral, there is a tiny market that many people miss. The Advent Village is just a few stalls which all sell only food and drinks.
The cute village is distinguishable by its large Christmas pyramid, which doubles as the market’s bar, and the ground covered in wood chips, which is meant to mimic a manger scene. Stop in for a snack or just to see the lovely decorations.
Angels’ Market (Markt der Engel)
Trees glowing with stars, illuminated mythical creatures on stilts, and stands covered in garland strewn with Christmas lights combine to make the Angels’ Market feel especially ethereal. Everything here has a hint of magic from the winter queen with her snowy owl to Guardian Angel Mauriel who watches over the visitors and vendors.
Located in Neumarkt, the Angels’ Market is one of the original Cologne Christmas markets dating back to the 1970s. The white and gray vendor chalets are accented with silver, which give the whole square a brilliant winter feeling regardless of the temperature.
Food and drinks are a particular focus of a visit here. Some of the larger stands around the square are the specialty bars, like the appropriately named Gabriel’s and Cloud 7. You’ll find lots of mulled wine, warm cocktails, and other specialty drinks to enjoy among them.
There is also plenty of food. One of the most recognizable treats is the Cologne Cathedral (Dom) waffles shaped just like the famous structure nearby. You will also find all the Christmas market staples (i.e., lots of sausage and pretzels) plus spaetzle, crepes, and hearty baumbrot (tree bread) cooked on a spit.
Alongside the shimmering decorations, historical carousel, and roving performers, the Angels’ Market also offers lots for shoppers. Distinctive handicrafts from across Europe are featured here with vendors offering artwork, ceramics, painted glass, and knitted items, among many other things. The famous Kathe Wohlfahrt brand, which originated in the Christmas capital of Nuremberg, also has lots of collectible Nutcrackers, smokers, Christmas pyramids, and decorations.
Harbor Christmas Market (Kölner Hafen-Weihnachtsmarkt)
Right alongside the Rhine River, the Harbor Market is unlike any of the other Christmas markets in Cologne. Thanks to its location along the water, it has a port theme. From the wooden boat that serves mulled wine to the sail-like tents where visitors can find all kinds of seafood, the vibe is distinctly maritime.
While the Harbor Market felt a little smaller than the others because of its riverside layout, it actually boasts 70 stalls. We saw everything from paintings and decorative art pieces to beeswax candles, honey, hats, and beautiful mugs from the Chocolate Museum, which is located right beside the market.
The wide range of products here is by design. Because all kinds of goods from around the world typically come into ports, the list of gifts, decorations, and merchandise for sale is curated to be eclectic and different.
One attraction that can’t be missed in this market is the Ferris wheel. At 160 feet high, a ride provides amazing views over the Rhine and the city of Cologne. Back down on the ground, keep an eye out for some of the performers, including the pirate jugglers and musicians singing everything from sea shanties to Christmas carols.
When you’ve had your fill of shopping and entertainment, check out some of the specialty fish and shellfish dishes. The salmon grilled on an open fire is particularly popular. If you’re not craving seafood, there are plenty of other choices, including the incredible langos (fried Hungarian flatbread) we opted for.
The Harbor Christmas market also has lots of drink options. Check out the lighthouse harbor bar for Feuerzangenbowle, mulled beer, hot gin cider, and lots of non-alcoholic options.
Stadtgarten Market (Weihnachtsmarkt im Stadtgarten)
On the edge of the city center, the Stadtgarten market is geared primarily toward locals. There are many options for shopping, but, as soon as the workday ends, it seems to be one of the most popular places for happy hour in the area.
Merchandise ranges from artisanal vinegar and flavored honey to framed photography and clothing. There is lots of specialty food from around Europe plus a huge list of alcoholic drinks. This place can get quite busy, so plan accordingly.
House Elves’ Winter Fairy Tale Market (Heinzsels Wintermarchen)
The House Elves’ Winter Fairy Tale Market is simply dreamy. The market, which stretches from Alter Markt to Heumarkt, is full of elves, craftsmen, and entertainment in a setting that feels like an enchanted forest.
Arriving at the market, you’re greeted by Heinzelmännchen—elvish creatures who are known for doing housework while humans sleep, according to a Cologne legend. Throughout the market, you’ll see them on the vendor stalls making things, skiing, playing, and enjoying the festivities.
The twin markets are laid out with streets and alleyways organized with different themes. You’ll find areas dedicated to toys, handmade items, jewelry, antiques, and other specialties.
Most of the vendor chalets are in the Alter Markt not far from the Cologne Cathedral. The merchandise here is distinctive, and you can see some of it being made and craftsmen at work while you shop.
Blacksmiths hammer horseshoes on large anvils using metal heated over an open fire. Not far away, we saw candy makers twist and shape colored sugar into candy canes and other creations. If you time it right, you might also see a woodcarver at work transforming tree trunks into sculptures that fit into the woodland scene. Most of the craftspeople can be found along the Handwerkergasse.
Among the booths, there are several musicians who make regular appearances. A piano player and singer-songwriter perform daily, and every evening you’ll find an orchestra playing at the fountain in the middle of Alter Markt. They all attract crowds, and the performances are definitely worth taking some time to watch.
As you head in the direction of Heumarkt, there are even more entertaining things to see and do. First up is the illuminated Ferris wheel which is always popular at the southern edge of Alter Markt. That is followed by the charming children’s carousel that sits near a row of food vendors not far from the entrance of Heumarkt.
Unquestionably, the biggest draw here, however, is the ice skating rink. Seeing a photo of the unique space was one of the things that prompted us to consider visiting Cologne at Christmas. It didn’t disappoint and is certainly one of prettiest open-air rinks in Europe.
Spanning nearly 8000 square feet, the ice rink is the focal point of the market’s activities whether you’re looking to skate or to simply enjoy the ambiance. It has long straightaways right through the heart of the action, so you can build up some good speed, if the crowd allows. There is also a dedicated section just for curling. If you’re interested in skating or curling, book tickets early to ensure you can get in.
For a great view of the Christmas market action and the skaters, head to one of the large wooden chalets by the rink where you can grab a drink on the second level and take in the scene. Alternatively, head to the top of the bridge that crosses the rink for a bird’s-eye view.
Nicholas’ Village (Nikolausdorf)
Walking into Nicholas’ Village feels like stepping into a quaint German hamlet. In the shadow of Hahnentorburg, the 13th-century city gate, this market is full of chalets made to look like half-timbered buildings. By the glow of the fairy lights, the whole place feels cozy, welcoming, and vaguely medieval.
The market is designed to be family-friendly with St. Nicholas himself as one of the main attractions. He appears every day in the late afternoon to meet young visitors in his home in the center of the market. Afterward, he walks around greeting people in the area.
In addition to meeting St. Nick, children can make crafts and artworks in the heated St. Nicholas house. The painting, drawing, and cutting out is overseen by some of the big man’s helpers.
Every day at 6pm after Santa’s visit, local musicians take to the stage to entertain shoppers as they explore the illuminated rows of stalls. If you look up, you’ll see the brilliant light projections dancing across the city gate.
The selection of merchandise is a bit less in this market than what you’ll find elsewhere, but there are still lots of winter items, leather goods, and decoration stalls to peruse to find a souvenir or gift. Take a minute to enjoy a warm drink at the bar decorated with a whole sleigh full of reindeer. You can’t miss it!
In 2023, the markets are on November 23 through December 23. The ice rink at the House Elves’ Winter Fairy Tale Market remains open until January 7, 2024.
Exact hours for each market vary.