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During the festive Christmas Market season in Cologne, it won’t just be the Hohenzollern Bridge that will keep your eyes all aglow on your visit.

Because beneath the Rhineland’s largest tree, strung with over 70,000 LED lights and set against the backdrop of the landmark Gothic Cathedral – the Cathedral Market is a yuletide splendor Rudolph himself would agree shines very bright indeed.

The entire city of Cologne comes to life during the holiday season like a Christmas Celebration Theme Park. There are seven markets, each with a unique and fun twist, to entice visitors of all ages and backgrounds. Regional specialties like baked apples, cinnamon biscuits and mulled wine will enthrall the senses – as will a host of delicious, sugary desserts.

The largest and arguably most spectacular of the markets is the grand Cathedral Market. Centrally located in the Cathedral Square and heart of the city, there are over 150 wooden pavilions selling everything from gorgeous woodcarvings and handmade books to children’s toys and mouthwatering holiday specialties. A visit to the chocolate workshop is, of course, a delicious stop as you weave through the throng of artisans plying their craft. Over 100 performances take place throughout the season. But one of the most marvelous sights remains the beautifully lit tree, tents and Cathedral itself.

Another popular Christmas Market is the one at the Neumarkt. Sometimes called the ‘Market of Angels’ or even ‘Angel’s Christmas Market,’ this is the oldest Christmas Market in Cologne. Angels dressed in white and glittering powder spread cheer as they walk past rows of charming chalets, all festively decorated with lights and holly. Santa himself makes a grand entrance once a week on horseback. Indulge in hot chocolate and eggnog and the sweet taste of nostalgia as you enjoy long traditions.

For a holiday-themed glimpse into Cologne folklore, look no further than the Alter Markt, also known as the Old Market. Once upon a time, Heinzelmännchen (or house gnomes) were said to have secretly done all the daily work of its inhabitants before a curious wife attempted to get a glimpse of the fabled creatures. The gnomes immediately took off, never to return. Still, Cologne continues to celebrate the legend (and perhaps hope for their return) with this market. Gnomes lurk in every nook and cranny here, in between themed alleyways of specialty foods and fashion accessories and artisanal gifts. A roundabout puppet theater and special Santa Claus Quarter are always fun to bring out the kid in everyone, no matter their age.

One of the newer markets on the scene, the Harbour Christmas Market celebrates Cologne’s maritime presence along with the holidays. After all, tis the season to be merry, bright and seaside as you cruise from port to port. An impressive three-mast wooden boat 50 feet wide and docked in the harbor serves mulled wine specialties out of its hull. Nearby, 70 festively decorated pagoda tents with pointed, billowed roofs further embrace the sea-loving spirit, reminding you of the planks and sails of a ship. “Rhine Pirates” wander through the park, delighting guests with sailor’s yarns and pirate juggling – as other entertainers sing sea shanties along with traditional German Christmas songs.

Launching in 2012, Christmas Avenue is another yuletide newbie and is the perfect way to rock the holiday in LGBT and old German style. Pink, purple and sometimes glittering chalets celebrate the season here in the Deutschland LGBT capitol. An estimated 10% of the population is gay in Cologne and the annual festival is located in the heart of the gay district. Always fun, loud and sensational, this is a market like no other. Along with some more traditional gifts, you’ll also find pink nutcrackers and purple pottery to get you in the festive spirit.

The idyllic market on the Stadtgarten, full of unusual holiday trinkets, and the charming Rudolfplatz are other fun spots. A small train, the Christmas-Market-Express drives through streets of the old city and links visitors to four of the major markets.

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