With the scent of cloves and cinnamon in the air, and snow covering the steeples and medieval roofs, there are not many places that conjure up Christmas quite like Cologne.
From the end of November until the beginning of January, the picturesque German city is transformed into a winter wonderland, with (at least) half a dozen Christmas markets. Soak up the atmosphere and take in the sights, then return in the summertime to experience the city in a completely different light for your spa break in Cologne.
The most famous destination for spa breaks in Cologne is probably the Claudius Therme. It is built around a natural thermal spring, which has been used for its health benefits since the Roman era.
*Image credit: Claudius Therme GmbH & Co. KG
Today it features underwater music, a hot and cold grotto, a saltwater floating pool, whirlpools, solariums, and current pools. There are three huge sauna rooms, one of which offers panoramic views of the stunning Cologne Cathedral, and the day spa itself offers a range of massage treatments, Ayurveda, facials, and other revitalising therapies.
There is more to German cuisine than currywurst and schnitzel. Cologne is home to more than 3,000 cafes, bars and restaurants where you can sample the finest German street food and fine dining, whatever your tastes.
Well, unless of course you are a vegetarian. Cologne’s favourite food is meat – in fact, one of the city’s most famous dishes is Mettbrötchen, or raw minced pork served on bread. For those less adventurous, opt for “Kölscher Kaviar” (Cologne caviar), which is a sausage and mustard on rye bread.
*Image credit: Dieter Jacobi / KölnTourismus GmbH
For a gourmet twist on traditional dishes, visit Zippiri Gourmetwerkstatt & Wein-Bar or Hanse-Stube. If you want to eat like the locals, simply choose the busiest-looking café or bar and settle in for the evening with a big plate of sausages and potato dumplings.
‘Kölsch’ is the only word you need to know when you’re visiting the bars of Cologne. This light beer is served in a worryingly small glass, but don’t worry – the local bar staff will make sure that it is never empty.
If you want to combine history with your drinking, make a trip to one of the city’s breweries (Brauhaus).
*Image credit: Axelt Schulten / KölnTourismus GmbH
Früh Brauhaus is more than 100 years old, while Brauhaus zur Malzmühle is bursting with character and serves great food as well.
For the latest German fashions, make a beeline to Ehrenstraße or Mittelstraße, while Schildergasse and Hohe Straße are popular shopping streets with locals and tourists alike.
*Image credit: Heimat der Heinzel / Thilo Schmülgen
For something really unique and locally crafted, visit one of the many Christmas markets, where you will find everything from wood carvings and tapestries to hand-made toys and jewellery, as well as endless vats of mulled wine, schnapps and beer.