Five Things to do in Cologne

Well, once again I am on my travels. I have left Mallorca for a few days to visit Cologne (or in German, Köln) to get into the Christmas mood at the weihnachtsmarkts – known to most of us as Christmas Markets.

It is my first time in Germany and I am loving Cologne and all things German. There is plenty to do, plenty to see and the Gluwein is plentiful too! I will be giving you much more detailed information early next year when Cologne is Destination of the Month right here at But for now I have put together a list of my top five recommendations for any visitor to Cologne in December:

1. Christmas Markets

Cologne’s Christmas Markets are every bit as fun as you have heard: outdoor yet kinda cosy, bustling with people shopping, browsing and socialising. They are a great place for buying Christmas knick-knacks, taking fabulous Christmassy photos and shamelessly drinking gluwein (to keep warm, of course).

Cologne 2012

Cologne boasts at least five markets throughout the city and they are open every day in December until 10pm. They are a great place to eat, drink and be merry.

The food and drink alone is enough to fill a whole post, which you can see here but there is plenty more to see and do other than eat and drink.

The stalls that make up the markets all look like little wooden huts with matching decoration identifying each market.

When I was there it snowed and when the snow settles on top of these huts it looks so festive.

Altstadt markt

Each stall sells something in particular and there are lots of interesting crafted things on offer from hand knitted socks to hats and scarves. From handmade Christmas ornaments to manger scenes. From Moroccan lamps to Indian tea and from special designed notebooks to handmade jewellery…

Food and Drink at Cologne Christmas Markets

And of course, there are the food stalls offering all types of culinary delights from juicy German sausages to barbecued salmon sandwiches.

And don’t forget the gluwein stands which are dedicated to serving freezing shoppers the typical hot German wine which nearly takes your breath away when you take a deep steamy breath before drinking. These places also serve hot beer, hot cider and hot chocolate, all in mugs for people to wrap their hands around while they sip and get warm.

Altstadt Market, Cologne

2. Chocolate Museum

Okay, so it’s a bit pricey at 8.50€ per person but the Chocolate Museum in Cologne is quite novel and very good fun.

Just walk along the river until you hit one of the most Christmassy markets in Cologne, surrounded by fairytale castle-type buildings with turrets; the Weihnachtsmarkt am Schokoladenmuseum (Chocolate Museum Market). 

The chocolate museum, which looks like a ship made of glass and metal, is right there on the river itself next to the market.

Köln Chocolate Museum

Once inside, you learn about the cocoa first of all in bite-sized (pun intended) and interesting chunks and about the people who cultivate the cocoa.

Then you feel like Charlie as you walk through the installations and watch everything working together to show you how a real chocolate factory works. They are just missing a few umpa-lumpas!

There is an assistant that will give you a delicious taster straight from the chocolate fountain and right before you walk up to the next floor where the “design your own bar of chocolate” area is located. Yes, we fell for it of course and came away with three bars and 15€ lighter!

Köln Chocolate Museum

You can easily spend a couple of hours in the chocolate museum and almost as long in the chocolate gift shop and cafeteria. I can’t even begin to tell you about the vast array of delights on offer but my mouth is watering just thinking about them!

3. Cologne Cathedral

This UNESCO World Heritage Site looms over the train station and dominates the Weihnachtsmarkt am Dom (Cathedral Market). In fact the cathedral was my very first glimpse of Cologne as I arrived by train.

Köln Cathedral

Designed in 1248 in the Gothic style, the cathedral was not actually finished until the 19th century due to work having being halted in 1473.

The cathedral is the largest Gothic church in Northern Europe and has the second tallest spires and the largest facade of any church in the world. To say it is an awesome structure doesn’t even come close. And it is free to go in!

Cologne Cathedral

If you want to walk up a million (yes, a million) steps to the top of one of the towers then you have to pay 3€ per person. The views of the city are magnificent but the climb up the spiral staircases is dizzying and tiring to say the least. In fact my legs were shaking when we reached the bottom!

That reminds me of when I was in Bangkok and visited Wat Arun, the temple with the huge steps on the outside. I could hardly walk for days! I’ll tell you about it next time. [UPDATE: Read that post here]

4. Ludwig Museum

The Ludwig Museum is just near the cathedral. If you like art and have a morning to spare then this is the place for you. Vast, spacious and seemingly never-ending, the museum is a pleasure to walk around. When I was there the main exhibition was A Bigger Picture by David Hockney. And big they were; some of the works were floor to ceiling, the vibrant colours dazzling the room.

There were some other exhibitions in the museum too – some great and some downright weird, but isn’t that art?

We particularly enjoyed taking our time strolling around as every time we went near a window we could see the snow coming down heavier and heavier.

Philharmonic Orchestra at the Ludwig Museum

If you are not really into art museums here’s an alternative idea if you are in Cologne on a Thursday:


In a space just underneath the Ludwig Museum is an amazing theatre where the Philharmonic Orchestra rehearse.

Every Thursday at 12:30 they perform a 45-minute concert for free. You don’t have to book and you sit where you want. We attended this concert and it was absolutely brillant, just the right length of time and with amazing acoustics. It was busy but not full. I would advise getting there early just in case.

For more information about this concert click here.

5. Claudius Therme Sauna

You need your bathing suit (or not) for this one. Right there in Cologne is a much needed spa after all that sightseeing and freezing in markets.

From the cathedral it is a forty minute walk across the river to Claudius Therme. You don’t have to miss any daylight sightseeing time because the spa is open until midnight! And night time is certainly the best time to go when it is less busy.

This spa is huge and is one of the best I have been to. If you like saunas then you are going to love it. These have to be the biggest and hottest saunas in the world! There is an area called “Sauna Village” which is all outside and you have to walk through the snow from sauna to sauna. It’s great.

Be warned though, some of the areas do not permit any clothing, so if you are a little shy about bathing naked you need to get used to that idea already!

Want a laugh? Take a walk in my shoes and experience my crazy four hours at Claudius Therme.

Have you been to Cologne? Did you try any of the above or do you have your own suggestions?

To discover more about Cologne click here.

Filed Under: colognefeaturedgermanyWhere I Am Right Now

About the Author: Based in Mallorca, obsessed with the world and have a lot to say about both... Step into my shoes and join me on a journey...

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  1. susan sykes says:

    your blogs are really making me want to go to places I never thought of before – I love the sound of the German Markets and especially the gluwein, the David Hockney exh. the bigger picture is that the paintings of trees throughout the season

    • Lisa says:

      Glad you are enjoying being in my shoes! Yes, many paintings are huge and colourful of country scenes in Yorkshire throughout the different seasons. It was a great exhibitions actually and I’m definitely not into art!

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