On arrival in Dusseldorf, the city initially looked quite spread out, however once we were in the heart of the city it became very easy to navigate with the majority of the Christmas markets in one particular area. First reactions are that Dusseldorf is a blend of old and new with modern buildings looking like works of art, and although development continues to happen it appears to be a very thriving place to work, live and visit for a weekend break or part of a multi-centre itinerary.
We met our guide for a city tour around the main shopping streets, passing many market stalls selling a variety of food and craft items. Along the river we spotted a promenade of bars and restaurants complete with gas lamp heaters and blankets – perfect for a winter’s day! Onwards to the Alstadt (old town) where there were many more stalls and a big wheel for views over Dusseldorf. Our final stop was to the Ratinger Straße ‘The longest bar in the world’ where there are 300 venues selling everything from international dishes to local specialities such as the Dusseldorf brew – Altbier.
Onwards by train to Königswinter, a small village overlooked by the Drachenfels castle. After a lovely dinner of cheese Spätzle at the Maritim we took the short train ride to the top. At night the castle was completely lit up in colour, and in the grounds were full of various food and drink stalls including a BBQ and Glühwein bar to keep you warm! The views were fantastic, and given more time you can visit inside the castle.
The following day we visited Cologne and were met by a guide who gave us the history of the famous cathedral and showed us the various Christmas Markets spread throughout the city. There are seven in total, each with their own individual character and programme of events, and although walkable, there is a dotto train available which stops at each market. My personal favourite was the central market in the heart of the old town containing a large ice rink with bridges connecting all the market stalls, and two story log cabins to sit with a drink and take in the atmosphere of the market.
After lunch at the historic ‘Haxenhaus’ restaurant by the river, we visited the harbour market located next to the chocolate museum. This market contains a galleon themed bar and individual white pagoda tents with wooden floors to represent a sailboat. We finished the day at the cathedral market sampling German specialities including Reibekuchen (a potato pancake with apple sauce) whilst watching live music performances in the centre of the market. I can certainly recommend two days to fully experience all seven Christmas markets, visiting the chocolate museum and staying at the Maritim Hotel Köln centrally located on the river.