Quite a number of months ago I received an email from train company Thalys, advertising cheap train tickets for the festive period. I got looking at the destinations on offer and randomly chose Cologne in Germany. THEN I read it was home to one of the largest Christmas markets and I knew I made the right choice!With my birthday in December and tourist season in Paris being quiet in winter, it is the perfect time for us to take a long weekend. I still struggle with the cold so the best thing to do is find the warmest atmosphere possible so I can forget the fact that I can’t feel my toes!Cologne (Köln) is the 4th largest German city, situated along the Rhine river. It has a very interesting history but sadly was one of the most heavily bombed German cities during World War II destroying almost the entire city and reducing the population by 95%. Cologne was occupied by the French Republic in 1794 and the region later became part of Napoleon’s Empire (Cologne is the French version of Köln which was later adopted by the English). The French changed life in Cologne by introducing the Napoleonic Code. Buildings were built in the Haussmann architectural style, which of course sadly was destroyed durng WWII.Possibly the most well-known site in Cologne is the beautiful, enormous Gothic Cathédral. It’s the tallest twin spired Church (157m!) and Germany’s most visited landmark. Before the current cathedral, there had been a number of church’s and a cathedrale built on the same site. In 1164, the relics of the Magi (Three Wise Men) were given as a gift to Cologne and it is believe the current cathedral was constructed to be impressive enough to house this precious gift. Thanks to these relics, Cologne Cathedral became an important site of pilgrimage.
Construction started in 1248 but was then work was halted, leaving is unfinished in 1473 and a large crane on the South tower which became a part of the skyline for 400 years! Work resumed in 1842 after the original plans for the facade were found and funding was organised. The completion was celebrated in 1880, some 632 years after construction began!When it comes to Christmas markets, they just know how to do them in Germany! I become a child again and I can’t get enough of the gorgeous stalls, décorations, smells, music and overall, the jolly atmosphere in the air. There are 6 official markets in the city and we couldn’t believe that it is only put up for the festive season because it all felt like a real authentic village. The market near the cathedral was stunning and I particularly enjoyed watching the ice skaters whilst drinking a delicious hot punch at the Alter Markt. There is so much to choose from in local food, different glühwein (mulled wine), kinderpunsch (non alcoholic version), hot beer, appel strudel and other delights. The produce for sale was different and was not the same from each market which was a nice change. For me what stuck the most was the atmosphere. Musicians playing carols, people getting into te festive spirit and dogs sporting the most gorgeous little Christmas outfits!Cologne is a great city to visit with so much to offer, even more during the festive season, and it’s only just over 3 hours train ride from Paris !*We recommend taking a guided tour of the cathedrale, so informative and the closest you can get to view the relics of the Three Wise men. More information here
*You can also climb up the tower of the Cathedral, not advised for the faint hearted as there are over 500 steps to conquer. *We took a guided visit of the Farina-House Museum, the home of the original Eau de Cologne and it really was fascinating. You can organise your visit here, they can book out quickly.
*We visited the interesting City Museum of Cologne which touches on all aspects of the cities history. More information on opening times here