Is anyone up for a “BOGOF” post? Yes, indulge in two guides for the price of one in this seasonal post!
CHRISTMAS MARKET BREAKS
It’s that time of year when, particularly in Europe, most cities open up their Christmas Market attractions. These markets and increasingly popular funfairs may have originated in Germany and Eastern Europe, but now they are a staple in most towns and cities across Europe and the UK. Over the years, the Logistics Manager and I have been fortunate enough to enjoy a few of these festive attractions across the continent, as well as here in the UK where they have become very popular. In this post, I highlight two cities that we believe offer the best in terms of Christmas Market Festive fun. This will help you plan a day out or a short break when visiting them—one in the UK and the other on the European mainland. So, where are our two picks? Well, they are our home base here in Edinburgh and Cologne in Germany.
First things first, Edinburgh is a bit different from other cities, particularly those on the European mainland. Our festive fun doesn’t stop or wind down on the 25th of December. Oh no, that is when it moves into top gear for the real big focus of Hogmanay and the New Year. I will cover the main events around this in the post because the city is as busy for this event as it is at any time of the year.
So, what does Edinburgh’s Winter Fest and Christmas Markets have to offer? Here is what you will find:
1. Edinburgh’s Main Christmas Market will be set up across a number of locations. In East Princes Street Gardens, visitors will be able to take in panoramic views of the city from the top of the Ferris wheel and enjoy a ride on other fairground rides, all set against the backdrop of fantastic views of the Castle, which is part of the festive scene with nightly changing light shows.
2. The Big Wheel, a firm favourite among visitors, will be open from 10 am until 10 pm again in East Princes Street Gardens. This area will also be home to a magical Santa Train ride, various market stalls, and plenty of mulled wine and food outlets.
3. A free-to-enter family fun zone will be in place in West Princes Street Gardens, offering funfair rides, festive food, and ‘warming zones’ providing hot chocolate and mulled wine. There is also the opportunity to enjoy a more traditional Scottish drink at a few locations here.
4. No festive fun can be complete without a visit from the main man himself. Yes, Santa Claus is coming to town this year, with his grotto set to take over St Andrew Square in the city centre. Here, children can listen to Santa Stories and receive a gift from the big man himself. Santa’s elves will also be on hand to help children send letters and Christmas lists to the North Pole via their dedicated station.
5. George Street, near Santa’s Grotto, will be home to the city’s Christmas ice rink, which will be undercover, allowing visitors to enjoy the fun whatever the weather. Hot drink and food stalls will be set up in George Street, where visitors can also hop on fairground rides or wander through the festive Artisan market.
6. Back in the gardens, The Ross Bandstand will host a program of community-focused, mainly musical, family-friendly events across the four weekends leading up to Santa’s big day.
7. As previously mentioned, the Castle of Light Event takes place from late November to early January. This event returns to Scotland’s most popular attraction to light up your winter nights and dazzle the whole family with extraordinary light displays across Edinburgh Castle’s walls.
So, as you can see, there’s a host of attractions for all, and having enjoyed them all, I have no hesitation in recommending a visit to Edinburgh to enjoy the Christmas Markets and the festive fun. You won’t regret it. But to really feel that Scottish Spirit, it’s the week leading up to Hogmanay that the city buzzes with anticipation, and the main events for this are below.
1. Torchlight Procession: The specific Hogmanay celebrations will be in full swing when the 30th anniversary of this procession takes place on 29 December. Beginning at the Meadows area of the city, the procession will weave its way through the historic Old Town where the streets will come to life with street theatre, fire performers, pipe bands, drummers, and the Vikings from Shetland’s South Mainland Up Helly Aa’ Jarl Squad. This really is a spectacular sight to see and take part in.
2. Night Afore Disco Party: Before you say your final goodbyes to mark the end of the year, how does a massive party beneath Edinburgh Castle sound? On 30 December, the Night Afore Disco Party makes its grand return for a fun-filled evening of entertainment.
3. Hogmanay Street Party: On 31 December, the party really begins at Edinburgh’s Hogmanay Street Party. Held along Princes Street, this is a chance to dance the night away into the wee small hours. In addition to the street party, there is also the Concert in the Gardens where you’ll see some of the biggest artists take centre stage, headlined this year by the iconic and spectacular PULP.
Also on Hogmanay, the Tartan Zone on Waverley Bridge brings in foot-stomping traditional music from across Scotland, headlined by award-winning Elephant Sessions and joined by Kinnaris Quintet.
4. On New Year’s Day itself, the party and fun continue, and you can enjoy a jam-packed program full of free events which includes First Footin’, a toe-tapping live music culture trail welcoming artists from across Scotland to perform in landmark pubs, cafes, and venues throughout the city centre. Plus, the younger ones are not forgotten as Sprogmanay is also back to entertain the little ones, which will include lots of fun activities including a family ceilidh.
So, as you can see, from 18th November, if you’re in the UK, Edinburgh is the city to visit to really enjoy the Christmas and Hogmanay fun.
However, if you’re in Europe, then I have to suggest that Cologne is well worth a look because it really does offer some brilliant German Christmas Market fun. The Christmas markets are a beloved tradition in Germany dating back centuries. Festive decorations, sparkling lights, stalls packed with culinary delights, and mulled wine – the Germans do know how to celebrate Christmas! The first Christmas market in Cologne (called Nikolaimarkt) opened in 1820 at Alter Markt. It quickly turned into a favourite tradition during the festive season. In the late 20th century, several new themed markets appeared all over the city. Today, Cologne features one of the best Christmas markets not only in Germany but in Europe as well! So, if you’re looking for a traditional Christmas market experience in Germany, the city definitely should be on your list. Cologne features 7 large Christmas markets, all located in the city centre. Each market is devoted to a different theme and has a unique vibe and atmosphere. From angel and harbor-themed markets to a gnome village, each of them is well worth a visit. The Logistics Manager and I have enjoyed the city at this time, and we really enjoyed the experience.
Cologne Christmas Markets 2023
1. Cologne Cathedral Christmas Market: The city’s most beautiful market, set against the backdrop of the impressive Gothic cathedral, features a giant fir tree with a blanket of 50,000 lights emerging from its top. It’s pure magic in the evenings when everything is lit up. 150 wooden stalls encircle the fir tree, creating a maze full of delicious treats, drinks, and beautiful Christmas decorations. In its centre, you’ll find a stage where you can catch over 100 festive performances and live music every evening.
2. Heinzels Winter Fairytale: The city’s largest and most magical market, devoted to the legendary house elves, features a fairytale theme with richly decorated wooden stalls. According to the legend, Heinzelmännchen were house gnomes who helped the citizens of Cologne with the housework at night when everybody was asleep. Unfortunately, one day a tailor’s wife decided that she had to see the creatures. She threw peas onto the floor of the workshop so that when the house elves came, they would slip and fall. Her actions had disastrous consequences. The gnomes got angry, disappeared, and had never returned since that day. Luckily, you still have a chance to see these little creatures, as you’ll find them all over the market. The two sections of Heinzels Wintermärchen (at Heumarkt and at Alter Markt) are connected with the so-called Antique Alley, where you’ll find a variety of antiques such as jewellery, books, Christmas decorations, etc. Heinzels Wintermärchen at Alter Markt is more focused on handmade goods and decorations. There are a few food stalls, but if you’re hungry, head over to the section at Heumarkt. I can recommend this part; we enjoyed some great local food here.
3. Angels’ Christmas Market: Located in the heart of the shopping district, this is the city’s oldest Christmas market. The market features an angel theme with white rustic stalls and illuminated stars hanging from the trees. It’s truly magical in the evenings, and we did think this was the most atmospheric market on our visit. On the food front, Angels Market is also a great location to enjoy a savoury or sweet snack, including the iconic Gingerbread Men.
4. Nicholas’ Village Christmas Market: Situated in the backdrop of the medieval Hahentorburg, one of the city’s last remaining city gates. Its charming half-timber houses are decorated with sparkling lights and plenty of red and green. Santa and reindeer displays add to the Christmas atmosphere.
5. Harbour Christmas Market: Located along the banks of the River Rhine right in front of the Lindos Chocolate Museum, this market has a marine theme reflected in the decoration and the products on offer. The 70 snow-white pagoda tents with pointed roofs offer delicious fish specialties and drinks. Don’t miss the sea shanties, pirates’ shows, the giant Ferris wheel, and the wooden three-mast boat (15m in length), from where you can buy mulled wine. Now, when visiting this market, do give yourself a real treat and visit the adjacent Chocolate Museum—trust me; you won’t regret it, particularly if you have a sweet tooth.
6. Stadtgarten Christmas Market: Located in the city garden, on the edge of the city centre, this market is a little bit far away from the other markets and not accessible on foot from the Old Town. The market is pretty small and features a more local vibe. However, there are more than 80 exhibitors, who apparently change weekly, offering handicrafts and locally made products. So, for something different in terms of Christmas decorations or gifts, this is worth a look.
Now, most of these 7 Christmas Markets are within walking distance of each other around the city. However, Cologne also offers a Christmas Train to get to all the markets, and I highly recommend it. Yes, you can absolutely walk to, from, and in between each market, but going by a little Christmas Train is so much more fun and adds a festive way to see the city’s tourist sights. The train leaves from next to the Tourist office at the city’s world-famous Cathedral.
In conclusion, as we head towards the festive season, if you are thinking of a short break to enjoy all that this time of year has to offer, then Edinburgh and Cologne come highly recommended as two great destinations to consider.
All Photography by: Travel the world and Smile Happy travelling with Davie