Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Cologne & Valkenburg Christmas Markets ~ Probably The Most Magical Yet!



I left it very late this year to book our Christmas market trip as I knew the latest addition to our family would only be about 6 weeks old. I worried that my hubby might panic if I left him with our 5 children, he did a great job, even managed a day out to Dublin with them on his own! I taught him well. 


Gorgeous Ladies on the panel, Rachel Farrell, Sue Jordan, Joanne Larby & Leanne Woodfull, photo nabbed, with permission from @ohheythererachel’s Instagram!

I needed to book a late afternoon flight as Sue was speaking at Ireland’s first ever blogger conference in the Spencer Hotel. Our only option was to fly Ryanair direct to Cologne/Bonn airport paying €87 each, return, including a checked bag for the return flight. I also had to book Fast Track through security for Dublin Airport as I didn’t know how busy traffic or the airport would be at that time. 


Fast Track is a fantastic service, for only €5.95 you get to skip the queue at security. Also included in the price is a tea or coffee but the best thing is that they text you details of your flight & departure gate & continue to update you via text of any changes to departure gates. So while everybody was standing checking the boards for the gate number we already had it even before we got to the airport. This gave us precious time to have a bite to eat (as we missed lunch) & a celebratory drink.



Sláinte

It’s only a short 1 hour 45 minute flight to Cologne. When we got there we headed straight downstairs for the train to central cologne. Tickets can be bought at the station for the 12 minute journey, €2.80 pp one way using the vending machines.

Weihnachtsmarkt am Kölner Dom

As we came out of the train station Köln Hbf the Christmas Markets are on the opposite side of the colossal Dom/Cathedral. There were lots of ooos & aahhs from us as we ventured into Colognes main Christmas Market. You can’t but take a stunning picture, the central point of the market is a huge Christmas tree shrouded in tiny white lights with a net of white lights in a canopy over the stalls in the middle. 

First stop was a glühwein mit amaretto, usually about €2.50 for the mulled wine adding €1 for a shot of amaretto or rum. Each market has their own mugs and they make a fantastic keepsake, for this reason you pay €2.50 to rent the mugs. If you want to bring your mug home you simply ask for a fresh one at the stall.     

While we were there we had dinner of currywurst in bread costing €4 each. We then made our way back through the crowd (as it was opening night) to refill our glühwein mugs amid stares at Sue’s wheelie case. It was hilarious I really don’t know what the commotion was about leopard print but they were wide eyed & elbowing each other to look at her bag! (Sue here - Feckin' German Fascists!) 


Cologne Cathedral

It was getting late so we hopped on the number 7 tram out to our hotel, Mercure Hotel Köln West. I booked this hotel as it was a good price & they have a pool & spa.  We paid €82.50 each for 2 nights B&B. Be warned though a G&T in the bar will set you back a whopping €15.50 while a beer is more affordable at €5.

Valkenburg, Holland

First thing the next morning we were up & out at 8 am to catch our train to Valkenburg in Holland to see the famous Christmas markets in caves. Again you can buy your tickets in the train station, just click the English language icon & follow the easy on screen steps. 

Typical German efficiency for you, it even prints you a journey planner with all the information you need for your two train changes to get you to your destination with minimum fuss. Tickets for our day trip were €43.20 return each. 


Valkenburg, Holland

From the moment we stepped off the train in the quaint 36km² town of Valkenburg it stole our hearts. The architecture is typically Dutch, with many beautiful old buildings that look like they come straight from a storybook. It’s a short 5 minute walk into the town centre or 2 minute dash back for the train as a “friend” told us! 

Valkenburg is the place to sit & people watch, there is a pedestrianised street with about 40 restaurants, all with al fresco seating lining both sides. With open fires & fur lined seats, even fluffy blankets for your knees, we happily whiled away an hour just relaxing over an Irish coffee.


Christmas Markets in Caves!

The very idea of markets in caves sounds amazing, however as I found out they can also be quite claustrophobic. Especially the Velvet (Fluweelengrot) Cave, it’s a vast area of underground passages dating from the 12th century. 

I much preferred the smaller Town Cave (Gemeentegrot). Having said that they truly are a magnificent experience. Entry is €5pp to each cave or you can buy a discounted ticket for €9pp for both caves.  We will definitely be returning to Valkenburg & staying longer next time.


Pretty good Monday morning in Cologne!

The next morning after a relaxing Jacuzzi & sauna we left our hotel squeaky clean & refreshed, on a mission to do as many of the 7 Cologne Christmas markets that we could. We managed four, as they were simply too exquisite to rush. We don’t go to Christmas markets to shop. We go to soak up the atmosphere, the sights, sounds, smells & of course the mouth watering food. It’d be rude not to have a glühwein or two while we were there.

Most of the markets are within walking distance of each other but seeing as we were on our feet all day & I have just had a baby, we opted to jump on a tram for the 1 or 2 stops between each market. Tickets can be bought on the tram in a vending machine costing €1.90pp for a short hop journey. Alternatively there is a road train that stops at each market tickets are valid all day costing €8pp.


Angel Market (Markt Der Engel)

First up is Cologne's oldest market in Numarkt, the Angel Market. This is an enchanting market with Angel theme carrying throughout the stalls. They even have Angels that give children sweets & handfuls of glitter dust. 

We had one of our favourite lunches here. Succulent salmon coated in a spicy glaze served on a warm roll with iceberg lettuce & mayonnaise, at just €6 per portion I was tempted for seconds. 


Christmas Market in the Town Hall Square (Wiener Christkindlmarkt am Rathausplatz)

Just a short hop away is Rathausplatz market, it’s gorgeous. At every turn there is another fabulous sight to behold. Here we were served glühwein in cute little red boot mugs. I had to buy 5 for my little ones hot chocolate for many Christmas’ to come. If you are thinking of bringing children, there is a huge play area with colouring in stations for the children in a magical house at the centre of this market.


The Old Town Market (Heumarkt /Alter Markt)

Lastly we went to Heumarkt, just 2 tram stops from Rathausplatz. This market is glorious for soaking up that festive feeling. There is a huge ice rink that no amount if coaxing would get me on (sorry Sue), sure I’d be like Bambi & nobody wants to see that. 

There is a huge chalet style bar in this market with a ceiling adorned with ice skates from yesteryear. Around the walls are tiny wooden ledges on which to perch your bum, any seat or perch was gladly welcomed after a day trekking around the markets. The bartenders are dressed in traditional German attire & ring a large bell for all to hear when they get a tip (very American altogether!).

It has to be said that this year has far surpassed our Christmas market venturing of the past. Valkenburg in particular - there's no doubt that we'll be back there again. 

See how we got on in Vienna here , Berlin here and Brussels/Bruge here and tell us: 


Have you been to a Christmas Market this year? Where do you recommend we go next year?!


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