TRAVEL REVIEW: Cologne’s Christmas markets

One of Cologne's festive spectaculars

One of Cologne's festive spectaculars

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The heady spiced scent of mulled wine and smokey bratwurst filled the air, the cathedral bells chimed in merry unison, while above us a blanket of fairy lights are festooned over wooden chalet stalls - welcome to Christmas in Cologne.

Though many cities in Britain offer their watered-down version of a German market, you have to travel across the continent for the full-bodied experience.

Never too early for a beer in Cologne

Never too early for a beer in Cologne

As we meandered through the city’s seven markets which sprawl across Cologne, a tradition which stretches back centuries, I don’t think I’ve ever felt more festive or closer to Claus.

Millions flock here each year – and it’s easy to see why.

Here, you can pick up all manner of quirky gifts, handmade trinkets and continental curiosities. But it isn’t just a chance to make a dent in your Christmas shopping, it’s also an opportunity to treat yourself too.

We visited here on a two night trip, staying in the centrally-located Cologne Marriott, as part of the annual Christmas market packages offered by DFDS.

The cathedral market

The cathedral market

It gave us plenty of time to sample the sights, sounds and smells of this Deutschland delight.

Our favourite was the market at the cathedral, an imposing structure that’s one of Germany’s most famous landmarks.

It’s an awe-inspiring sight: dozens of twinkling stalls beneath the backdrop of the city’s Gothic masterpiece and one of the largest Christmas trees you’ll find this side of the North Sea.

It took us all of ten minutes after entering the market to tuck into our first bratwurst and beer – when in Germany...

Time for a beer

Time for a beer

At this point, I must confess, the food and drinks on offer are so good that shopping often became secondary to our scoffing.

But we did stop eating sausage, cured meats, cheese, gingerbread, waffles and glugging on glühwein long enough to purchase some gifts for other people, unique ones which are bound to earn you brownie points with friends and family come Christmas day.

Another of the larger markets – each market has its own theme – is the Old Town Christmas Market, which offers enchanting chalets, the best Bavarian beerhouses I’ve ever seen and a large ice rink where shoppers glide against the background clink of tankards.

At times it’s like you’ve stepped into the pages of a Hansel and Gretel book as you take in the charming stalls. Visit on an evening, many of the markets run day and night, and they become all the more magical with lights themed around love and angels and rousing carol singers adding to the ambience.

Cologne by night

Cologne by night

As an added bonus, prices aren’t bad either and I’ve paid more for wooden decorations, traditional toys and pottery gifts at markets here than I have in their place of origin.

Many of the markets feature the same kind of stall – they all have a honey stall, a woolly hat stall, a weird German gargoyle stall and a cured meats stop off with jolly stall holders tempting you with tasters – but there’s always something unusual to uncover as you navigate the cobbled streets too.

It all adds to the fairytale of this most festive of shopping forays.

•Katy travelled on one of DFDS’s mini-cruises to Europe’s Christmas markets

Prices start from £38 each way for a car and up to four passengers. This is an overnight crossing. Passengers can opt for DFDS coach transfers or self-drive to Christmas markets in Amsterdam, Bruges, Brussels or Cologne following arrival at the port of Amsterdam.

For more information on the Newcastle – Amsterdam packages visit: http://www.dfdsseaways.co.uk/ferry-routes/ferry-to-holland.

Stalls are open day and night

Stalls are open day and night