You may have noticed I dropped off the radar for a few days about a week ago, however it was for a very good reason - I was visiting the Christmas markets in Cologne! It's yet another of my festive traditions and sure, I may well now have a list of traditions as long as my arm, however I'm not at all willing to loosen my grip on the beautiful German Christmas markets! It's been a family tradition to visit them together for nearly a decade now and we usually plan the trip to coincide with when members from our extended family visit the 2,000-year-old city. It's perfect; mugs of hot chocolate with rum enjoyed in impossibly festive settings, German Christmas music playing from wooden stalls, lights all around and a refreshing mix of nationalities heard at every turn...
Our annual December stay in Cologne usually saw us staying in the Crowne Plaza hotel, however we soon found Hilton Cologne was in a far better location, sitting just a few minutes walk away from Cologne Cathedral (Dom). We arrived fairly late in the afternoon and as tempting as curling up in the feather duvets seemed, time was of the essence and so we swiftly unpacked and headed out into the cold. Unfortunately, it poured with rain on the first evening and although that didn't bother me, it would have definitely bothered my camera! Time to invest in some protective gear...
The next morning I awoke feeling totally refreshed. After a 3am start the day before, I was in desperate need of a good sleep and thankfully, that's exactly what I got! I'm a massive fan of the Hilton Cologne for various reasons, though right at the top of my list was the blissfully thick walls and double-layered curtains that ensured an uninterrupted sleep. Ah, bliss.
The first Christmas market on our hit list was the popular Village of St Nicholas at Rudolfplatz. The walk from our hotel to pretty much any location would see us pass Cologne Cathedral and believe me when I say it's a sight worth seeing over and over again. It dwarfs everything around it and as insightful as photos can be, the gothic architecture of the cathedral is certainly something worth seeing in person. A ten-fifteen minute walk later past many, many shops and we had reached our first Christmas market of the trip, which meant it was time for boot-shaped mugs of gluhwein (or hot chocolate with Baileys in my case)!
It'd hard to say which of the markets is the most popular (besides the Christmas market found to the right of Cologne Cathedral, that is), however the Village of St Nicholas is undoubtedly in the running. At any time of day it's buzzing with visitors thanks to the fairytale-esque design of the market. This is actually the market where I first discovered the concept of Backfisch burgers many years ago, which - as you can probably guess - is uh, fish in a bun. Really though, slather on some mayonnaise and you've got yourself the perfect winter treat for munching through as you wind around the festive stalls! Most of Cologne's Christmas markets now sell the snack and so if you find yourself immersed in the city's festive atmosphere in the future, be sure to give it a try!
Before heading back to the Hilton Cologne for a brief rest, I stopped at a few of my favourite shops including the spectacular Kaufhof. Needless to say, when I say 'spectacular' I'm referring to their insanely colourful and busy Christmas area location on the ground floor beneath a mirrored ceiling. It's near impossible to walk out of the department store without at least a couple of Christmas decorations in hand!
Our second evening spent in Cologne was undoubtedly my favourite this year, as it first entailed a visit to Markt der Engel (Angel Market). This is definitely a location best kept to the evening, as the main attraction is the mass of star-shaped lights strung up from the overhanging trees that come alive at night. Though be warned, as the evening progresses it can get very busy - and with good reason! This has always been one of my favourite locations and not just because there's a bar named Gabriel there (hey, the spelling is close enough!). The Angel Market is a destination you can easily lose yourself in for hours, there's an incredible amount to see, admire, eat and do.
Travel tip: if you've planned a trip to Cologne's Christmas markets but are pushed for time, be sure to prioritise this market, you won't regret it!
As I mentioned earlier, to visit any of the markets - as well as to return from them - the Cologne Cathedral needed to be passed. Well, you won't ever catch me complaining! Visiting the city's Christmas markets come the month of December each year is something I doubt I'll ever grow tired of, it's a destination that appreciates everything about Christmas and pretty much guarantees to help you get into the festive spirit and enjoy the journey with them. Anyway, check back soon for Part Two and in the meantime... Auf Wiedersehen!