I’m feeling in the Christmas mood having just put up my Christmas Tree, and memories of a trip taken two years ago to Cologne to visit the Christmas markets comes to mind. A time when pushing your way through crowded market stalls was the norm!
Cologne and the wider North Rhine-Westphalia region in Germany is somewhere I’ve been to many times before although usually for work, so it was good to spend some time there with friends for a change.
We arrive in Cologne late on a Friday afternoon, and so after dumping our bags in the Airbnb apartment, we jump on the metro and head straight to the Cathedral and Old Town markets.
Germany don’t do Christmas markets by halves, and Cologne (Köln Weihnachtsmarkt) regularly features on lists of the best markets to visit in Europe, containing 7 separate ones within the city centre limits!
And while there’s no snow to complete the Christmas feel (although it’s certainly cold enough!), walking through the crowded stalls as live bands perform, eating bratwurst and drinking beer, even the most stubborn Grinch would find it hard not to feel the magic of Christmas here!
As the names of the markets suggest, the Cathedral Market has a dramatic setting sitting in the shadow of the impressive Gothic Cathedral which took over 600 years to build (1248 – 1880), and which was the tallest building in the world at time of completion. And the Old Town Market is only a few minutes’ walk away, located on Alter Markt in the centre of the Old Town or Altstadt.
Both are filled with hundreds of stalls offering the usual Christmas market ware, offering gifts and trinkets, food produce of meats and cheeses, fresh food and drink stalls serving bratwurst, Glühwein and beer, and stages with live bands performing music to entertain the crowds. If you’ve ever been to a Christmas market in the UK then you’ll know what I mean… imagine similar, but on a much much bigger and better scale!
The next day we take a break from the Christmas spirit and start the morning by grabbing breakfast near Köln Messe, before taking a walk along the river front and heading up to the top of KölnTriangle, a viewpoint on the edge of the river Rhine offering spectacular views of the city. It only costs a few euros and it’s well worth it, the views of the Cathedral and the Old Town are great, and you can see for miles up and down the Rhine.
One place we can’t quite spot from the top though is our next destination for the day… the RheinEnergieSTADION, home to F.C Köln. We have tickets for the football and so grab a beer from the train station, jump on the next train, and follow the crowds to the match.
Writing this blog in 2020 it seems a bit surreal thinking about being inside a stadium packed with almost 50,000 people! We make a visit to the stadium shop so I can buy the obligatory club scarf (something I do every time I go to a foreign match), and then we find our seats behind the goal.
The game is an easy win for the home team, beating opponents SpVgg Greuther Fürth 4-0. It’s a decent if one-sided game, but it’s more the atmosphere we came for and that doesn’t disappoint. I’m a big football fan and while the English Premier League is widely considered to be the best in the world, for atmosphere there is no comparison to German football! If you like football and have never been, I highly recommend going to a German game if you get the chance.
After the football it’s time to get back into the Christmas spirit as we go to two of the other markets… Angel’s Market on the Neumarkt, which is Cologne’s oldest Christmas market, and the Village of St. Nicholas on the appropriately named Rudolfplatz.
Although the themes of the markets are all slightly different with Angel’s Market being decorated in, yes you guessed it, angels, and having a more nativity themed display, the stalls on offer are very similar to yesterdays. The weather has also turned and it’s now pouring with rain, so after buying a few souvenirs we make a quick escape to a nearby restaurant for shelter.
The rain doesn’t stop so the night ends with a couple of drinks in the restaurant before heading back to the apartment to pack in prep for our early morning flight home tomorrow. A short but great weekend away… a very enjoyable football match and lots and lots of Christmas spirit at the markets… both of which I’d love to be able to enjoy right about now!
Merry Christmas (or Fröhliche Weihnachten) everyone! It may be a little bit different than normal this year, but I hope you all still have a great one!
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