Last week we were incredibly lucky to fly out and visit the Cologne Christmas Markets, thanks to Germanwings and 9flats.com. I visited some German Christmas markets several years ago and fell in love with them then, but never had the opportunity to take the children. Needless to say, their excitement was as great as mine when we were offered the trip and it certainly lived up to our expectations.
Our trip started very, very early on a cold Monday morning with a trip to Stansted Airport, where we parked and got a shuttle to the airport. We decided just to take hand luggage and had already checked in online and printed our boarding passes, which made life a lot easier and meant we could bypass some queues. Check in opens 72 hours in advance and it is advisable to check in early if you want to get seats together on the plane.
Getting through security was slow but painless and after a quick breakfast we went to the boarding gate and boarded the plane. They started boarding the plane from the back section first and by the time we got onto the plane finding somewhere to store our hand luggage was a big problem. I managed to shove most of the bags under the seats in front, but we had to take our larger bag to the back of the plane to find a space. The flight is just over an hour long and before we knew it, we had landed in Köln-Bonn Airport.
After a train journey to the city centre, we visited the tourist office where we picked up some information leaflets and a Welcome Card, which gives you free travel on public transport 24 hours a day and discounts from over 100 partners, including many of the museums and tourist attractions. We stayed two nights and wanted to pack in as much as possible, so we headed off to a cafe (where Faith got this giant bread man or Weckmann to give him his proper name!) and started to plan our visit.
We couldn’t get into our apartment until 3pm so decided a trip to the Chocolate Museum would be a good idea. It proved a popular choice with its many interactive displays, tour of the factory showing the chocolate making process from start to finish, chocolate tasting and stunning location overlooking the river Rhine.
Just outside the Chocolate Museum we got our first taste of the Christmas markets and I was excited to see that many of them were selling interesting and delicious looking food! We had a quick look round, spotted the land train that takes you between markets then decided to head off to find our apartment which, more by luck than judgement, was just across the road!
9flats.com arranged our accommodation for us in a very stylish and conveniently located penthouse apartment. The site was set up earlier this year to connect people with a room, apartment or house to rent with those looking for somewhere a little more personal than a hotel to stay in. They currently have over 25,000 properties available for rent in 104 countries.
The booking process was easy and the owner emailed all the information and access codes before our departure, making it simple for us just to turn up, get the key and let ourselves in. The apartment was beautifully presented and there was even a bottle of prosecco waiting for us when we arrived! The set up was slightly tricky for a family of four as the main double bedroom was upstairs and the two sofa beds were in the main living area meaning once we had put the children to bed we were restricted to the upstairs area. This wasn’t a huge problem though as there is a TV upstairs and we actually just enjoyed time to relax and catch up on some reading.
The next morning we set off bright and early to cram in as many Christmas markets as we could! This year there were seven Christmas markets in Cologne, which is one of Germany’s oldest cities and is home to a spectacular cathedral. We visited six of them, the seventh one being a floating one, which sounded fabulous, but we ran out of time. Altogether there were over 160 stalls in the Christmas markets, which were spread throughout the city.
We decided to buy tickets for the land train as Faith had seen it the previous day and demanded a trip on it and it seemed like a good idea as it takes you to four of the markets. You can hop on and off at each one and save some strain on your feet. Each market was individual but each was as pretty as the next. We spent hours wandering around looking at hundreds of gorgeous decorations and trying a variety of different and traditional German foods. I was in my element and if I was to go again, I would definitely take an extra suitcase to cram it full with pretty things.
This post is getting very long now so I will be back tomorrow soon with part 2 and the chance for you to win yourself some flights courtesy of Germanwings. In the meantime, you can check out more of our photos on my Facebook page.
We were provided with free flights for the four of us courtesy of Germanwings, 2 nights accommodation from 9flats.com and a free Welcome Card. All opinions are my own.