CONTRIBUTED BY LIFE LESSONS OF A MILITARY WIFE
Note: This article was originally published in 2012, but has been updated for the 2015 season. Enjoy!
As I walked out the door of the main train station and looked up, the view of the Cathedral…just absolutely stops you in your tracks. It has the distinction of having the largest facade of ANY cathedral in the world! It is absolutely breathtaking! It takes up your whole view! Just beyond the steps, you can already see and smell the beginnings of the most famous and colorful Christmas market on the steps of the Dom (cathedral).
After I took in a huge whiff of roasted nuts, flammkuchen, glazed ham and even Brussels waffles, we made our way through the crowd, looking at all the booths of vendors, all neatly labeled with their wares lovingly displayed. Only in Germany are things this organized! We decided to do a one overnight trip to keep costs down and drove from Mons, Belgium, which is only 2-1/2 hours away in good weather. Here’s how we fared:
I always use booking.com and hostelworld.com in looking for lodging if I already don’t have my own recommendations. Even though I started looking two weeks out, the lodging close to downtown was overpriced (for my pocketbook), and I was also looking for a place where there would be cheap or free parking nearby…that narrowed the field considerably. I decided to test out the four star Holiday Inn by Bonn/Koeln Airport. I chose it because parking was included in the room rate, and the S-bahn (metro) station was only a 10 minute walk or 2 minute free shuttle ride from the hotel.
The hotel is right on the airport grounds and even offers special hotel rates where you can leave your car up to 15 days, so a great jumping-off point for your vacations that involve a flight. Plus, there are lots of last minute and lowcost vacation packages leaving out of Cologne…and don’t forget the lowcost carriers like German Wings. Find these deals on lastminute.de or travelzoo.com.
So, we arrived Saturday morning, just before lunch. Since our room wouldn’t be ready for another hour, I had already mapped out my favorite German superstore nearby, the REAL….allowing us to load up on German Christmas goodies and just great German shopping….can you tell I’ve been missing Germany?
Once we settled into our room and changed into something warmer, we headed downtown. One great thing about staying overnight, is that you get to really relax and enjoy the evening ambiance. We made sure to do that, and I think we ate our way through at least every other stall at the Christmas markets, along with a visit to one of the more famous beer pubs in Cologne. I say markets, because Cologne has SEVEN Christmas markets. We only made it to half of them in the two days….honestly, you do see a lot of repeats and the farther away you get from the Cathedral, the cheaper the items become. But of course you knew that! Same goes for souvenir shops and other such shopping.
Also be sure to visit the tourist bureau, which you will see to your right, after exiting the train station on the cathedral side. It is the modern building with the big red “i” on it. All city and town tourist bureaus are marked the same way. The advantage of going to the tourist bureau, is that you can find out about special events. We picked up free brochures on special exhibits and museums, as well as one detailing the locations, hours and prices (a few were not free) of the Christmas markets. City maps cost 20 Euro cents, but that was fine by me…it was pretty detailed and also had the transit map included. Tourist bureaus are also great for hotel reservations, IF you know ahead of time what price range you are willing to pay. Some even track the local B&Bs.
More on the hotel….the hotel restaurant was very fancy and expensive, so we didn’t indulge, but the room service was very reasonable with the biggest burger I’ve EVER seen in my life and fries costing only 10 euro.
All in all, a wonderful trip. Since we were a few weeks early for the Cologne shopping Sundays, we window shopped on Sunday instead, enjoyed our morning in a local coffeehouse and then shopped at yet another Christmas market, which opened at noon. I definitely recommend you take the time to head out to Cologne and enjoy. FYI, if you are interested in crazy Karnival Season (like Mardi Gras in New Orleans and just as wild), make your lodging bookings NOW, before things fill up. Of course, some of the lesser known Karneval events have already begun, but the BIG parade on Rose Monday is on 7 March 2011 this year. Be sure to check out the latest Germany travel guide from your library and note the local must-see sights too before you go..the Chocolate Museum and Germanic-Roman Museum do come to mind. Do you have any recommendations on Cologne?
Tips For Your Trip:
General Cologne Christmas Market information:
Christmas Market opening days: 23rd November – 23rd December, 2015
Times vary depending on the market
Map of the Cologne Christmas Markets
Cologne’s Tourism Website
Other Germany Ja articles about Christmas Markets
A Germany Ja article about Cologne’s Chocolate Museum
A Germany Ja article about Cologne’s Romano-Germanic Museum (Römisch-Germanisches Museum)
A Photo of the Love Locks in Cologne
A Photo of the 2014 Cologne Cathedral Market mugs
Angel’s Market on Neumarkt:
Sunday to Thursday 11:00 a.m. – 09:00 p.m.
Friday and Saturday 11:00 a.m. – 10:00 p.m.
Opens earlier (November 21) than the others; closed on 23rd November.
Harbour Market Website
Alter (Old) Market:
Gay and Lesbian Christmas Market On Christmas Avenue:
Village of St. Nikolas:
Notes: Life Lessons of a Military Wife originally posted this article on her site, but has graciously shared it with us here as well.
The first photo belongs to the author. To see credits for the others, click the photo.