Even on a chilly December day, the beautiful Rhine Riverwalk is bustling with people, food, and plenty of river tour opportunities. Just minutes ( and steps down) from the Cathedral, the Rhine offers unparalleled views of the skyline and the busy waterway. You can literally walk until you drop in either direction.
Sure, anytime of year is good to visit this magnificent architectural wonder, but Christmas, doubly so with endless markets surrounding the cathedral area. The cathedral is the largest twin-spired church in the world and claims to contain the bones of the Magi. Entry is free but give yourself about 2 hours to tour the entire cathedral, 3 if you dare to climb the spires!
Just outside Cologne, in Bergisch Gladbach you can find the most beautiful forest to spend the day, or as we did, days exploring. Just 20 minutes by Bahn from Cologne’s city center, Königsforst, at over 2,500 hectares, is trail after trail of forest walks, perfect for human and dog!
No matter your Christmas ornament needs, German Christmas markets can probably fill them, even if your needs include animal nesting dolls…
Bergisch Gladbach Hikes
Line 1 from Cologne will take you to Lusteheide Haltestelle, and a few minutes walk leads you to this, the woodland walks that lead to Königsforst. Chelsea dragged us here daily, through fallen leaves, gentle streams, and after the occasional squirrel…
Local Christmas Markets
The big cities offer the big markets, and they;’re all wonderful, but take some time to enjoy the local, comparatively smaller markets where friends gather to drink, eat, and let the kids play after a long day. You won’t regret taking in the quaint markets and may even meet a new friend!
Cologne City View
The Dom dominates the skyline but it is not void of other sights. Charmingly situated along the Rhine, Cologne is full of first rate museums, the largest shopping area in all of Germany (Schildergasse), and many smaller churches with rich histories.
Fall in the Forst
Sure, it’s beautiful any time of year, but we particularly loved crunching through the deciduous leaves of Königsforst. In fact, we’d love to go back for each season, just to make the comparison (and get a few lovely hikes in).
Sausages (of course)
What can we say? It’s a country of tubed meats, and who are we not to sample them all? Currywurst, bratwurst, frankfurters, landjäger…we’re getting hungry just thinking about it. But very little beats a perfectly cooked sausage, a bread roll, and a bit of German mustard. Now we’re definitely hungry!
They all just sort of run one into another, but we particularly enjoyed the Weihnachtsmarkt at the Dom. We recommend you leave the pooch at home though, the crowds are endless and packed to the gills with markt goers. Your dog will thank you and you’ll have a much better time without having to worry about your best friend getting stepped or spilled on.
Our first encounter with the wild pigs of Königsforst was, well…a surprise, to say the least. We had no idea and didn’t see the fencing. Turns out, “wild” is in name only, as these lovely pigs are absolutely friendly and come as easily as puppies. Their living area is large, fenced in for their protection, and offers them the ability to live as they always have, in the forest feeling free. And they love to be fed acorns!
It’s small, to be sure, but it is colourful. The Old Town along the Rhine. About 72% of Cologne was destroyed during WWII. The city and this, the Altstadt had to be put back together, piece by piece, and this loving restoration is a testament to humankind’s resilience. Also, it’s cute as heck…
It is a contrast indeed to see ice skaters, polar bears, a giant statue of Friedrich Wilhelm III, but in Heumarkt, anything is possible.
Cologne Cathedral Nave
Construction began on this gothic cathedral in 1248, but a church has occupied this site since the 4th century. During WWII, it suffered 14 aerial hits but it remained standing in an otherwise flattened city. The spires may draw the visitors but the nave, shown here, is the real draw once inside.
It doesn’t get more convenient that Cologne’s Central Station, which is located right next to the Cathedral. About 280,000 passengers pass through here daily, making it the fifth busiest station in Germany. That translates to lots of connections to the rest of the country as well as a plethora of international destinations. It’s also a terrific place for people watching!
One can’t write about Cologne without mentioning Kölsch. Sweet nectar from the beer gods, Kölsch is brewed exclusively in Cologne, which makes it ubiquitous. Though many brands exist, the brewing process is the same, and what makes Kölsch so special. It is unusual because although it is warm fermented with ale yeast, it is then conditioned at cold temperatures like a lager. Because Kölsch loses its white head much quicker than many beers, it is served in a tall, cylindrical glass like this one. Prost!