A visit to the European Christmas markets was on the cards and so after some searching of the best Christmas markets it was decided a trip to cologne, (home to Cologne Cathedral, one of Germany’s most visited landmarks) was on the cards.
As usual we headed over on the Friday evening via GermanWings and settled into our hotel, an easy train ride from the airport & chosen as it was right next to the main train station in Cologne. To get to the city centre was an easy train ride on the S-bahn S13 which takes 15 minutes.
Cologne's largest building, the cathedral was the first visit on the Saturday morning (after munching on some hot pretzels) and I dare say the inside is as impressive as the outside with its vast and imposing presence.
To get a better sense of our bearings and see what Cologne has to offer apart from the Christmas markets we wandered around the old town while it felt like the whole city was still asleep. We passed the Great St. Martin church and just in front of this church along the Rhine there are colourful houses that line the bank and also are the city's oldest houses.
If you're after a shop that sells great knick knacks that have been re-purposed from general industrial goods definitely head up to Ehrenfeld (closest U-Bahn stop is Kornerstr) and check out Utensil Shop Koln. Away from the touristy areas of Cologne you'll find yourself imagining what a day in the life of one of the locals looks like. Down the road from this shop is a great coffee shop called van dyck, with interiors a mix between old school and hipster. We were all a bit peckish so we headed a few doors down into a bustling café called Café Sehnsucht. We were slightly stumped with the menu (no English menu here!) so the waiters kindly explained the contents of the menu which was super helpful and we had a delicious meal here!
First up of the Christmas markets was at the Stadtgarten in Cologne neustadt. It was early so this one was relatively quiet however I did enjoy a warm cup of mulled wine (first of many I dare say) here which was delicious.
Next we made our way down to nikolausdorf which is around rudolfplatz. I particularly liked this Christmas market as the mug they sold here was a cute little boot. Needless to say this was one of the mugs I kept! (Note: each of the Christmas markets have their own mug style and design & you can either choose to keep them or return them and get your deposit of a couple Euro back. They make great souvenirs to have as a keepsake of where you've been!) On one of the roofs of the stalls there was a makeshift advent calendar which was such a great idea!
The Neumark Christmas markets were super pretty as all the stalls were white although by this time it was definitely getting busy! We gorged on some churros (okay not very German!) and some deep fried apple fritters – delicious!
Old Market Christmas market was next, dubbed one of the most attractive Christmas markets and has an ice rink to get really into the winter and Christmas spirit. One of the huts that sells beverages has a whole alpine/chalet theme which makes for a very cosy atmosphere if it starts getting too cold outside. Matt enjoyed a whole raclette to himself here, definitely a must if you love cheese!
Dinner that night was at the packed Fruh beer house - I mean how can you go to Germany without checking out a beer hall right? Service was average at best, so don't expect anything however food was pretty good to recommend!
After a whole day of walking around outside in the cold we decided to treat ourselves and spent a couple of hours at Claudius Therme, a natural thermal spa! There are plenty of pools in this bathhouse - hot and cold alike so it'll definitely keep you occupied for a few hours! We were super relaxed afterwards so decided to get a cab, which can be hailed quite easily from the outside of the bathhouse.
On the Sunday morning we took a walk the Rhine on the Sunday and headed towards the Harbour Christmas markets near the chocolate museum. We didn’t actually visit the chocolate museum, but rather just had a hot chocolate at the café! After a wander around these markets we then headed further down towards the Rheinauhafen, a former port facility; it was such a contrast to the old buildings in the old town just a 10 minute walk away.
After stumbling onto some really local markets we headed over to Die Fette Kuh (the fat cow!) and had burgers for lunch. We highly recommend this place, we had extremely juicy burgers and again felt like another homely place visited by lots of locals.
After filling up our bellies, we were a little Christmas market-ed out we went up the observation deck at Koln Triangle, 103 m up in the sky and only 3 Euros to get up there!
We crossed the Hohenzollern bridge to get one last mulled wine & bratwurst at the cathedral markets (so much prettier at night!) and back we popped onto the S-bahn towards the airport to make our journey back to London.