Pastel-colored buildings enhance the snowy scene when AmaWaterways Amacello pulls into her spot along the banks of the Rhine River in Cologne. But Alan and I aren’t going to let a little snow on the ground keep us from exploring Germany’s 4th largest city and our first Christmas markets stop of this Rhine River Cruise. How can we not go exploring with the sun shining brightly and the temperatures just brisk enough to put roses in our cheeks?
On the AmaWaterways free excursion, Cologne Walking Tour, we join about 20 other guests on a 2-hour jaunt through the city accompanied by a local guide. A headset gives us freedom to look about while still listening to the guide’s entertaining commentary.
There’s a reason the buildings of the Old City look well-kept, fooling the eye as to their age, which dates from medieval times and before. Like many German cities, most of Cologne was destroyed by WWII bombings, including 12 Romanesque churches. Restoration of the city began in the late 1940’s and lasted until the 1990’s.
Our walk starts next to the riverfront, then ambles up the hill past a Christmas market that’s just opening up for the day. Of course I make a mental note to return. Cologne has seven Christmas markets in all.
Approaching a busy street, we stop to admire a snow-covered Christmas tree before continuing up the hill to the star of the city — the Cologne Cathedral, which took six centuries to build. Scaffolding supports one of the spires of the cathedral, the largest Gothic church in Europe. Although it suffered 14 hits in WWII bombing raids, the structure remained standing but in devastated condition.
Repairs on Cologne Cathedral lasted until 1956. Now a UNESCO World Heritage site, it is Germany’s most visited landmark, hosting an average of 20,000 people each day. Entrance to main areas of the cathedral is free however paid tours are also available.
Inside, stained glass windows cast a muted but colorful glow into the cavernous cathedral. Our group lines up to pass by a gilded box that reportedly holds bones from the three magi, the reason for the cathedral’s grandeur and appeal.
Back outside, Alan and I say goodbye to the guide, choosing to explore the Christmas markets on our own before walking back to the Amacello. A Saturday crowd mills about the cathedral steps where a group of young women, already happy from 10:00 a.m. beer, pose for a photo during a girlfriends’ getaway.
Using the free ticket included with the walking tour, Alan and I sample our first hot mug of Glüwein, mulled wine that’s ever present at German Christmas markets.
It’s crowded in the Christmas market located next to the cathedral. And I’m not fining the handcrafted items that I had expected of a European Christmas market. Finally a handblown glass snowman ornament catches my eye. I make the purchase and then we take leisurely stroll back to the Amacello on our own Cologne walking tour.
Read more about from our Rhine River Christmas Markets Cruise to find out if a European Christmas Markets cruise is for you.