Germany is known for it’s beautiful Christmas markets (Weihnachtsmarkts), but even beyond those borders, you can find some amazing markets enjoyable not only for shoppers, but for anyone wanting to absorb the ambiance and may be try something delicious to eat as well.
German Christmas Markets:
- You will see ornaments, pottery, jewelry, clothing, and toys among other things. Some prices are very reasonable. Some are high.
- IT WILL BE CROWDED! If you can avoid the weekend and go on a weekday morning, you’ll enjoy yourself more – especially with kids. Weekends can be extremely crowded as people actually come on large tour buses for these markets. A weekday morning at opening time is the quietest time to go. By the evening, it’s full of locals and school children.
- The food is wonderful – try it!
- Hot Gluwein (a spiced wine) is sold all over. It’s delicious and a good antidote to a cold evening.
This market is nestled at the bottom of the amazing old Rathaus (government building) and curves around to the backside of the old Aachener Dom (dating back to Charlemagne).
This is my favorite Christmas market so far. It has all the ambiance from the historic city on it’s cobblestone streets and beautiful buildings, it’s beautiful set up with Christmas trees all over and beautiful lights, the crowds tend to be less than Cologne, and I think the variety is more.
Park: I always park in the Dom parking lot, but it does fill quickly, so it’s better to get there early. Parking at any of the centrum lots will get you close enough for the walk to the markt.
Shopping: Ornaments, ceramics, beautiful scarves, hats, and sweaters, jewelry, glass, toys, specialty foods, candies. My favorite are the terra cotta German houses – many modelled after real buildings in German cities. They have places for tea lights inside and are very beautiful. Ranging from 20-150E – be careful if you buy one as they are very fragile.
- Marcepane sells delicious home made chocolates and flavored marzipan there. They do not have a local shop (wish they did) and only sell each year at the market. The marzipan is soft, delicious, and not overly sweet. Try the pistazio one. It’s amazing. (Near McDonalds)
- The Kathe Wohlfahrt shop is always there – a long booth with pyramids, nutcrackers, and tons of glass and hand painted wooden ornaments. Located near the Rathaus. They take credit cards.
- Currywurst and bratwurst are the standard fair. Currywurst is a sausage that is cut up in a curry ketchup. One booth sells a “meter-long” sausage that makes the lines of teenage boys blush.
- Reibkuchen is a delicious potatoe pancake that you’ll see people eating. They are greasy and delicious especially when covered with ham and cheese.
- Hot candies nuts are fantastic – try them once and you’ll be hooked. They’re served in little paper cones and are best hot.
- Aachener-Printen is a traditional cookie of Aachen that is very cakey and sometimes covered in white, milk, or dark chocolate. It has a very subtle anise flavor and little chunks of crystallized ginger. Try one once. You’ll either love them or not. I think they are delicious, but it’s definitely not a flavor for everyone.
- Dampfnudeln is a large white gooey dumpling covered in hot cherries and vanilla sauce. They are rich and sticky and delicious. Probably unnecessary if you’re eating real food. It’s big enough to be a small meal by itself. They are messy – not something you can eat well while walking.
- The Crepe stand is around the corner from the Rathaus heading down that long shopping street on the right. The crepes are served with sugar, chocolate, or various alcohols. Delicious.
- Don’t forget the Gluwein! It’s very traditional and served at all the markets here. Try it at least once. (It is alcoholic and can be strong depending on who’s making it)
Train Myths: The first time we went to the Christmas market, we took the train having been told that it is a quick walk from the train station to the market. Not true. If you are young and don’t have any kids or any time commitments, it may be, but on a cold snowy night with little ones, the walk will be entirely too far (about 20 minutes in a brisk adult pace). Taking the train is nice, but once you add the taxi ride to and from, it ends up being about 25 Euros just for transportation. Driving is just as easy and parking isn’t hard to find.
Kids: The markets are very family friendly, but I wouldn’t recommend them for small children on the weekend evenings as the crowds can be crazy. Still, the kids will enjoy the carousels, toy vendors, lights and decorations, and good food.
Cologne boasts not one Christmas market, but three, all reachable by a little train that will take you easily from market to market. The atmosphere is fantastic and it’s definitely worth going to once if you really want to shop.
If you are not crazy about shopping, go to Aachen instead – you’ll get all the ambiance and market experience there in a less-stressful environment.
The Cologne market, while nice and large being spread out over three themed markets, is way too crowded. If you go, go on a weekday with friends. Don’t take the kids.
If you go on the weekend, be prepared to share you space with people from all over Europe who flock there. Be prepared not to walk, but to get places by being shoved in all sorts of directions. Food lines are nearly impossible. Getting close enough to a vendor to actually buy something is nearly impossible. Having small children with you makes it almost unbearable. (Set up similar to Aachen’s market, there are carousels for the kids if you do take them.)
Parking: Park at the Dom parking lot under the Dom. You’ll come out right in the middle of the market. From there, you can easily catch the little train and see all the markets.
Train: Yes, take the train! The station is directly across the street from the Dom, so it’s quick and easy.