The Cologne Christmas markets are some of the best in Germany! Here’s a full guide to the markets, plus food and drink recommendations and answers to FAQs.
This post has been updated for the 2023 Christmas market season.
Come Christmastime, Cologne’s Old Town is transformed into a seemingly never ending Christmas market. There are five major markets in the city center, all of which are easily accessed on foot.
Between the abundance of Christmas markets, the lights strung up along the streets, and the already welcoming locals getting into the festive spirit, Cologne is one of the BEST cities in Germany to visit at Christmastime.
In this blog post, I’ll be sharing the top Cologne Christmas markets and the things to do (and eat!) in each.There are many more markets to visit in the city, but these are five of the largest (and longest running) that you should add to your bucket list!
Tip: If you’re interested in visiting the other, smaller markets, I suggest doing a quick Google search to discover the local neighborhood markets near your hotel or AirBNB.
Table of Contents
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The Best Christmas Markets in Cologne
As I mentioned above, there are lots more Christmas markets in Cologne, Germany than I’ve put on this list. However, if I listed each and every neighborhood Christmas market this blog post would turn into a novella.
Below are the five biggest and best known Christmas markets in Cologne. They’re each unique and worth visiting while you’re in the city.
I’ve also done my best to include my favorite things to do in each Cologne Christmas market. Because, yes, there’s more to the markets than just good food!
1. Cologne Cathedral Christmas Market
Date: November 23 – December 23, 2023 (closed November 26th)
Location: Cologne Cathedral
Hours: Sunday to Wednesday 11am – 9pm; Thursday and Friday 11am – 10pm; Saturday 10am – 10pm
If you’ve previously researched the Christmas markets in Cologne, chances are good that you’ve seen photos of the market by the famous Cologne Cathedral. This is arguably the prettiest market to visit at night. Lights are strung over the market to create a twinkling ceiling above the stalls. They converge in the center of the market around a massive live Christmas tree topped with a beautiful star.
The Cathedral (Dom) provides the most beautiful backdrop, and although it’s not strung with lights or decorated in any way it still manages to steal the show!
As beautiful as the Cologne Cathedral Christmas Market is, it was actually my least favorite in the city. It’s the most touristy of all the markets. By that, I mean that it seemed the least authentic of the markets I visited in Cologne. The goods for sale seemed to be inferior in quality, and the food was more expensive and not as tasty.
However, I still recommend visiting the market at night to enjoy the lights and listen to the live music being performed at the stage in the center of the market! Consider starting your evening at this market and work your way around the other markets once you start to get hungry.
2. Christmas Markets in the Old Town
There are two Christmas markets in Cologne’s Old Town, both run by the same company and sharing the same name — Heinzels Wintermärchen (Heinzels Winter Fairytale). The two Christmas markets are located at the Alter Markt and the Heumarkt. These two Christmas markets truly are magical!
The fantastical name of these markets stems from a local Cologne legend.“Heinzelmännchen” are elves or brownies. Legend has it that they used to aid Cologne’s craftsmen with their work, but they’d only come out at night when no humans were afoot.
One night, a tailor’s wife spied them and banished the helpful elves, not knowing that they were good creatures. The Heinzelmännchen were made famous by a poem written by August Kopisch in 1836.
The Heinzelmännchen can be found all over the Old Town Christmas markets! These sweet figures give a true fairytale ambience to the Alter Markt and the Heumarkt.
When visiting the Christmas markets in the Old Town, note that they’re divided into magical alleyways. Depending on what you’re looking for (gifts, food, games), you’ll need to visit each market accordingly.
Dates: November 24 – December 23, 2023 (closed November 26th)
Location: Alter Markt
Hours: 11am – 10pm
At the Alter Markt, you’ll find mostly handmade goods. The market is divided into the following alleyways: Christmas, Chandler, Craftsmen, and Nibbles. You’ll find some snacks at this market, but head over to the Heumarkt if you’re craving a full meal.
Gifts and souvenirs of all kinds can be purchased at the Alter Markt Christmas market. Think: French nougat, beeswax candles and flavored honeys, olive wood utensils, and so much more. There are some touristy trinkets here, but there are also some true handmade gems.
In the Craftsmen Alley, I saw a wood turner hard at work making a small sculpture!There’s also a glass blower on site, but I didn’t get to watch him personally.
Candelabras are strung between the stalls, and there are floating candles hidden amongst the branches of the trees. The fountain in the center of the square is boarded over to create a platform for musicians to stand on while they play every night. You’ll even find a ferris wheel at the Alter Markt, which is perfect for kids and adults alike!
Dates: November 24, 2023 – January 7, 2024 (closed November 26 and December 24 – 25)
Hours: 11am – 10pm; from December 26th 11am – 9pm
The Christmas market at the Heumarkt is tied for first place as being my favorite Christmas market in Cologne! It’s connected to the Alter Markt via “Antique Alley” (so-named only during the Christmas market season). As you walk along Antique Alley from the Alter Markt to the Heumarkt, you’ll pass a handful of flea market and antique stalls, a piano player, and an old-time sweet chestnut stall.
The Heumarkt is mostly food stalls selling some of the best Christmas market eats you’ll ever try! Some of the foods make excellent gifts, such as teas, spices, sausages, cheeses, and berry wines. Others are best enjoyed on the spot — Glühwein, grilled bratwurst, raclette, waffles, and the like.
An ice skating rink sets the Heumarkt apart from other Christmas markets in the city. The rink is long and narrow, and stretches the length of the market. A small bridge arches over the rink; be sure to walk the bridge to snap a photo of the market from above!
Other things to do at this Cologne Christmas market are play a game of ice stock sport (look it up, I’d never heard of this sport before!) or ride the carousel.
3. Cologne Angel’s Market at Neumarkt
Dates: November 20 – December 23, 2023 (closed November 26th)
Hours: Sunday to Thursday 11am – 9pm; Friday and Saturday 11am – 10pm (Glühwein stands will remain open for 1 additional hour after the market’s closing time)
Along with the Heumarkt, the Markt der Engel at the Neumarkt was my favorite in Cologne. It’s a modern-looking market, with stalls that look like small houses painted alternately in black and white.
Although the market has a modern flair to it, it’s still incredibly festive and cozy (especially after dark!). The trees lining the square are hung with light-up stars, and come nightfall you feel like you’re wandering through a winter wonderland.
In my opinion, the Angel’s Market had the best food of all the Christmas markets in Cologne. The Flammlachs I ate here was life-changing, and I first tasted German Baumkuchen at this market! You’ll also find waffles in the shape of the Cologne Cathedral here, plus potato pancakes (Reibekuchen), candied almonds (gebrannte Mandeln), fries, bratwurst, and more.
You’ll find lots of locally produced and / or handmade goods at the Angel’s Market. My favorites were the Belgian pralines, cozy gloves and scarves, delicate Christmas ornaments, paper stars, and the honey products. There’s also a small carousel for the littles at this market.
Neumarkt is one of the city’s major transportation hubs the rest of the year, and I didn’t expect it to be such a beautiful Christmas market!
4. Nicholas Village at Rudolfplatz
Dates: November 17 – December 23, 2023
Hours: Sunday to Thursday 11am – 9pm; Friday 11am – 10pm; Saturday 10am – 10pm
The Nikolausdorf at Rudolfplatz is much smaller than the markets shared so far in this post and is also the most traditional Christmas market in Colgone. The stalls are all decorated to look like half-timbered houses, and you’ll find more traditional wares for sale here — light-up paper stars, candies and chocolates, jewelry, and such.
To enter the market, you pass through the historic Hahentorburg. It’s one of Cologne’s last remaining city gates that dates back to the 13th century. The massive stone gate adds a special ambience to the quaint Christmas market.
There’s a small stage at this market, and performances take place daily starting at 6pm.
Saint Nicholas also visits the market each day and is there from 4:40 to 5:30pm. Otherwise, the only way to pass the time at this market is by shopping and eating!
5. Harbor Christmas Market
Dates: November 23 – December 23, 2023 (Closed November 26th)
Location: The Chocolate Museum (Am Schokoladenmuseum 1A)
Hours: Sunday to Thursday 11am – 9pm; Friday and Saturday 11am – 10pm
I’ve saved the smallest Christmas market for last! The Harbor Christmas Market is located in front of the Lindt Chocolate Museum, on the banks of the Rhine River. It’s a very small market, with minimal food and drink options (the only food was being sold from a large pirate ship in the center of the market).
Unlike the other Cologne Christmas markets, the harbor market wasn’t really decorated. Instead of pretty stalls, it hosts a simple setup of white tents selling locally-made products. This was the only market (so far as I could tell) selling truly locally-made (i.e. Cologne-made) products. In this sense, this market has a “quirky” feel to it.
Although I enjoyed my visit to the Harbor Christmas market, it is very small and doesn’t have the traditional Christmas market ambience. As such, if you’re crunched for time, this is one market you can scratch off your “to visit” list if needed.
What’s the Best Time to Visit the Cologne Christmas Markets?
Cologne is one of Germany’s best-known cities, and as such its markets are much more crowded. I recommend visiting earlier in the Christmas season (end of November / early December) before the crowds really form.
I also recommend visiting during the work week (Monday through Thursday) if you don’t want to be packed elbow to elbow in the markets. I prefer visiting the Christmas markets around dusk so I can snap a few photos in the last 30 minutes of daylight. Then, I’ll meander from market to market as the mood strikes to soak up the festive atmosphere once all the lights are turned on!
What to Eat at the Cologne Christmas Markets
There are no Christmas foods specific to Cologne that I’m aware of, but the city is known for a regional beer called Kölsch. Beer isn’t really a Christmas drink, but if you see Kölsch at one of the markets it’s worth trying while you’re in the city!
Otherwise, some of my favorite Christmas market foods are mulled wine (or Kinderpunsch, if you don’t drink alcohol), candied almonds, raclette, and grilled salmon sandwiches.
There are TONS of foods to eat at the German Christmas markets. So many, in fact, that I wrote an entire blog post about what to eat at the Christmas markets! Check out that post for detailed recommendations and accompanying photos.
FAQs About the Cologne Christmas Markets
What’s the best Christmas market in Cologne?
My favorite markets were the Markt der Engel at the Neumarkt and the whimsical Christmas market at the Alter Markt.
Can I pay with credit card at the Christmas markets?
I recommend bringing cash to the Cologne Christmas markets (none of the stalls accepted cards last time I visited).
Are the Christmas markets in Cologne open after Christmas?
Only the Christmas market at Heumarkt will remain open after Christmas. However, the Harbor Christmas Market in front of the Chocolate Museum will re-open as a “New Year’s Market” shortly after Christmas!
What should I wear to the Christmas markets?
Warm layers! Germany is typically cold and wet in December, although Cologne’s temperatures don’t drop as low as other areas of Germany.
What are the best areas to stay in for Cologne Christmas markets?
Stay in or around the Old Town. The Belgian Quarter would also be a good place to stay as it’s a quick tram ride or walk to the Old Town from there.
What else is there to do in Cologne?
There’s SO much to see and do in Cologne. Here’s my full guide on what to do in Cologne. If you have the time and desire, I also recommend taking day trips to Drachenburg Castle, Brühl, and Düsseldorf.
How many days should I stay in Cologne?
3 to 4 days in Cologne is perfect if you’ve never been and also want to see the city. If you plan on visiting just for the Christmas markets, I thought 2 nights was perfect.
What other Christmas markets are near Cologne?
Still have questions about visiting the Christmas markets in Cologne, Germany? I have an entire blog post sharing my general tips for visiting the German Christmas markets.
Are the Christmas Markets in Cologne Worth Visiting? Final Thoughts
Cologne has some of the best Christmas markets in Germany — and I’m not just saying that for the sake of this post. They really are the best, and there’s so much to see, do, and eat at Cologne’s Christmas markets!
For even more things to do in Cologne that aren’t Christmas-related, check out my full guide here. I’ve now visited Germany’s Cathedral City in the summer and winter, and I can confirm that it’s wonderful year-round!
Leave me a comment below if you have any questions about visiting the markets in Cologne!
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