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A Christmas guide to Cologne

By Sophie Demetriades on 19th December 2016

During my recent trip to Cologne I learnt a great deal about the city’s vibrant Christmas markets, traditional delicacies and its rich history. So, I felt it necessary to comprise a luxury guide to the city of Cologne which will direct you towards the most celebrated hotels, restaurant experiences and noteworthy tourist destinations.

Hotels

The sparkling Christmas lights of the Excelsior Hotel Ernst's exterior.
The sparkling Christmas lights of the Excelsior Hotel Ernst’s exterior.

If you’re looking for accommodation which combines the luxuriousness expected of a top hotel, situated within a listed building, overlooking a World Heritage Site, then look no further than the Excelsior Hotel Ernst. This is the only five-star hotel in Cologne, which delivers an elegant fine dining experience, as well as a delicious Afternoon Tea. The rooms are a mixture of classic and clean contemporary décor which caters to all tastes and the service provided by the staff is always warm and welcoming. See my full review of Excelsior Hotel Ernst here.

Restaurants

The Asian fusion restaurant Taku located within the Excelsior Hotel Ernst.
The Asian fusion restaurant Taku located within the Excelsior Hotel Ernst.

Hanse Stube is one of two restaurants found in the Excelsior Hotel Ernst. This eatery serves a French inspired menu, led by Executive Chef Tobias Koch, offering between four to six courses from Fine de Claire oysters to French pheasant with foie gras jus, Traminer – grapes, champagne cabbage and potato mousseline. With polished mahogany walls and elegant decoration, this restaurant produces a sophisticated and classic feel- a stylish dining experience you are unlikely to forget.

Taku is also situated within the Excelsior Hotel Ernst, but produces a completely different atmosphere; with sand coloured walls, dark wood tables and cream chairs providing a more modern and contemporary feel. Taku serves a menu of East Asian food for which the Head Chef, Mirko Goul and his team have acquired a Michelin star. The restaurant is the only eatery in Cologne to be awarded a Michelin star for Asian cuisine.

Traditional Beverages

Traditional German beverage called Feuerzangenbowle sold at the Christmas markets.
Traditional German beverage called Feuerzangenbowle sold at Cologne’s Christmas markets.

During my short stay in Cologne, I took the opportunity to try out some of the local German drinks, one of which I discovered at the Christmas market, which was a bit of a mouthful to say out loud. This rather strong alcoholic drink is called Feuerzangenbowle, comprising of mulled wine with a rum soaked sugar-loaf set alight and allowed to drip gradually into the wine.

I also tasted one of Cologne’s own brands of beer called Kölsch. I’m not usually a big fan of beer but I really enjoyed this, as it omitted the usual bitter aftertaste. So, for anyone that doesn’t really drink beer but is visiting Cologne, I would recommend giving this traditional German beverage a try as it might just change your mind.

For an authentic German drinking experience visit the Brauerei Päffgen Kölsch, the oldest brewery house in Cologne. The brewery was founded in 1883 and continues to sell a variety of traditional German beers for locals and tourists to enjoy today.

Christmas Markets

Sweet treats sold at a stall within the Christmas Market of Angels in the heart of Cologne.
Sweet treats sold at a stall within the Christmas Market of Angels in the heart of Cologne.

In December, Cologne’s busy city centre is turned into Santa’s grotto with seven different Christmas markets, all representing their own individual theme. During my trip, I visited four of these markets, situated close to the heart of the city; the Weihnachtsmarkt am Dom located outside the cathedral, the Kölner Alstadt ‘Heimat der Heinzel’ (Cologne Old Town ‘Home of the Elves’), the oldest market Markt der Engel (Market of the Angels), and Kölner Hafen-Weihnachtmarkt (Cologne Harbour Christmas market), which overlooked the Rhine.

They are usually busy all day, but at night, each market really does come to life with sparkling lights and endearing stalls, selling a variety of items where you can find an ideal, unique gift for any member of the family. However, my personal favourite market to visit was the Old Town which, to my delight, had a large ice skating rink.

Events and Activities

A view of one of Cologne's most notable landmarks, the Cologne Cathedral.
A view of one of Cologne’s most notable landmarks, the Cologne Cathedral.

Cologne is a German city brimming with historical significance. One of the most prominent landmarks of Cologne is the Kölner Dom, (Cologne Cathedral). The building is 180 metres high and its unusual colour is a result of its manufacture, consisting of up to 50 different types of stone, which have all reacted differently to weather elements over time. This astounding structure took approximately 600 years to build and is one of the last remaining building left standing post- world war two bombings. Admission into the cathedral is free except the belfry, which is inexpensive at four euros per person and well worth climbing the 509 steps to glimpse a panoramic view of Cologne from the top.

Equally, the city is peppered with Roman walls and relics throughout the city. So, if you are a bit of a historical buff, you may want to visit the Romano-Germanic Museum, situated in the heart of the city centre near the cathedral.

There are two other museums which are also worth visiting in Cologne. If you are a fan of pop art, then Cologne is a great place for you to explore, it having the largest pop art culture outside of the USA. The best place in Cologne to view this type of art is at Museum Ludwig which displays renowned artists from Picasso to Andy Warhol. Or, if you’re like me, a self-proclaimed chocoholic, then a visit to Cologne’s Imhoff-Schokoladenmuseum (Chocolate Museum) located next to the harbour Christmas market may be more tailored to your liking.

Views whilst walking alongside the river Rhine.
Views whilst walking alongside the river Rhine.

The word Cologne has become a generic term used all over the globe since 1709 when the Italian perfumer John Maria Farina made the city world-famous in coining his new fragrance Eau de Cologne or ‘Kölsch Wasser’. For those that are interested in three centuries of cultural fragrance history, a visit to the Farina Fragrance Museum (Duftmuseum im Farina-Haus), is an absolute must.

Another signature perfume house in Cologne is the brand ‘4711’, a traditional German Eau de Cologne by Mäurer & Wirtz which has been produced in the city since 1799, and remains an extremely popular brand today.

One of the most renowned perfume brands in Cologne, 4711.
One of the most renowned perfume brands in Cologne, 4711.

However, if you want to get away from the busy hub of the city centre in exchange for a peaceful view of Cologne, then it is well worth taking a walk along the river Rhine to enjoy the picturesque scenery and quaint buildings.

In a nutshell, a trip to Cologne is an ideal luxury Christmas getaway, which will provide a festive season full of fun for both adults and children alike.