The Kölner Weihnachtsmarkt, Cathedral, Churches, and Top Museums
Fast trains from London and cheap flights help to make the Kölner Weihnachtsmarkt (Cologne Christmas Market), Dom (Cathedral), and museums popular travel destinations in Germany.
Cologne’s Christmas market has long been popular with travelers on ferry and bus trips from London, the UK, and even Ireland. Fast trains, with journeys as quick as four hours, often beat cheap flights when traveling from London. Cheap flights to Cologne-Bonn Airport / Köln/Bonn Flughafen (CGN) on low-cost airlines continue to bring tourists from Great Britain and the rest of Europe to the Rhinelands. Cologne is a major transportation hub with fast trains to all parts of Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands.
Cologne has attractive Christmas markets but visitors will also appreciate the other attractions of this mostly modern city. Cologne has some of the best shopping opportunities in Germany, an active nightlife scene, great Romanesque and Gothic churches, and top impressive museums.
Christmas Markets (Weihnachtsmärkte) in Cologne (Köln), Germany
Cologne does not limit its Christmas market to only one location – markets are spread throughout the city. The most important Christmas markets are in the old town in front of the Gothic Cologne Cathedral (Kölner Dom), on the Altmarkt, Neumarkt, and Rudolphplatz.
The market next to Cologne’s magnificent Gothic Cathedral naturally has the best backdrop but the Altmarkt also has a romantic feel due to its old town location and a large ice-skating rink.
The Cologne Harbour Christmas Market (Kölner Hafen Weihnachtsmarkt) is held in front of the Chocolate Museum (on a peninsula in the Rhine to the south of the old town).
- Cologne’s favorite drink is the very refreshing local beer – Kölsch. It is served in small 200-ml (7-oz) glasses and should be drunk very cold. However, at Christmas markets, warm Glühwein (mulled wine) is more common.
Top Sights to See in Cologne (Köln), Germany
For well over a millennium, up to the late 19th century, Cologne was the largest city in the German-speaking world. However, during the Second World War 90% of the old town was destroyed and the population dwindled from 800,000 before the war to 45,000 immediately afterward as people fled the frequent air raids. Despite this destruction, Cologne is still a very interesting city to visit.
The top sight in Cologne, and with over 6 million annual visitors the most popular monitored sight in all of Germany, is the Cologne Cathedral (Kölner Dom). The Dom is the largest Gothic church in the world with the third-largest church interior in Europe. Its enormous western façade is unrivaled (and hard to capture in a single photo without a wide-angle lens). Construction started in 1248 but the church was only completed in 1880.
Despite numerous air raids during the Second World War, the Cologne Cathedral miraculously escaped the war almost intact. The twin towers are 157 m (518 ft) high, the nave 144 m (475 ft) long, and 43.5 m (143 ft) high. The art and huge stained-glass windows are impressive.
- It is 509 steps to the viewing platform two-thirds up the south tower.
Cologne’s old town has 12 Romanesque churches. The largest is Groß St Martin but it is worth making the effort to visit St Gereon. St Gereon has Roman origins and an impressive and rare Romanesque decagon cupola.
Top Museums in Cologne (Köln), Germany
With around 150 museums, galleries, and art spaces the choice of cultural sights in Cologne is vast. Some of the museums with world-class: collections include:
- Museum Ludwig, next to the Dom, has a very impressive pop art collection.
- The adjacent Roman-Germanic Museum has articles from the Roman and Frankish periods. (Cologne was an important Roman city for centuries.)
- The Wallraf-Richartz-Museum is the oldest museum collection in Cologne and has a very important collection of classical paintings (Middle Ages to Impressionist).
- The Chocolate Museum (Imhoff-Stollwerck Museum) – is hugely popular but free sampling opportunities are limited.
Flights and Trains to Cologne (Köln), Germany
Cologne/Bonn Airport (CGN) claims to be the busiest low-cost airline hub in continental Europe so flights are cheap and plentiful. Cologne is also an important rail hub with fast trains to amongst others Frankfurt International Airport (an hour), Düsseldorf, Amsterdam, Brussels, and Paris. London can be reached by train (Eurostar to Brussels and then Thalys TGV or ICE to Köln) in five hours – check timetables at Omio or German Railways.