Welcome to Cologne, where calendars are packed with holidays, festivals and events all year round.
From the Cologne Carnival, where the whole city breaks out in lively parades, colorful costumes, and street parties... to the world-famous Cologne Christmas Markets, there's always something new waiting around the corner!
So keep reading to discover 32 of the biggest festivals and holidays in Cologne.
Festivals & Holidays In Cologne, Germany
New Year’s Day (January 1)
Don't be surprised if you see red toadstools, marzipan pigs or chimney sweeper figurines everywhere on New Year's Day.
In Germany, many of us exchange or display small good luck charms to bring in good luck in the new year. 
Celebrations for New Years Day start on German Silvester, or New Year's Eve, as the city comes alive with firework displays and parties taking place across town.
Things can get so crazy that there are "fireworks-free zones", such as the Cologne Cathedral.
But you want to watch fireworks on New Year's Eve, I suggest heading either to Hohenzollern Bridge, or the right bank of the Rhine in Deutz. Just be careful that it may be crowded, and try not to stand too close to those setting off their own fireworks!
On the actual day of January 1st, most shops and many restaurants may be closed - so keep that in mind!
Three Kings Day (January 6)
Celebrated on the twelfth day of Christmas, Three Kings Day (Dreikönigstag) marks the arrival of the Magi (or Three Wise Men) in Bethlehem, to present gifts to baby Jesus. 
The Cologne Cathedral is believed to house the relics of the Three Wise Men, brought by the Archbishop Rainald von Dassel. While you can view a magnificent shrine of the Three Kings inside the cathedral, the actual relics are not visible.
For those who attend church, Three Kings' Day is an important religious holiday and there may be special services held during this time.
In addition, some children dress up as the Three Wise Men and go door-to-door, blessing homes and collecting donations for charitable causes.
Cologne Carnival (February)
I don't know anyone in Cologne who doesn't look forward to Carnival (Kölner Karneval). If there's one festival not to miss, its this.
Considered the biggest festival held here (cough, more so than Oktoberfest, cough) and dates back over 2,000 years since the Middle Ages. It's the most vibrant and exciting event here, and celebrations are held every February.
(Technically, its official start is a few months earlier on November 11th at 11:11 am. But the real fun happens in February, trust me.)
Known as the "fifth season", Carnival's main highlight is a massive parade on Rose Monday – attracting millions of visitors each year.
As one of the biggest and longest-running festivals in Germany, Cologne Carnival seems to bring people from all walks of life together. Expect eye-catching costumes, music, great food, non-stop partying and Kölsch - LOTS of Kölsch...
But there's a deeper meaning to Carnival. The word "carnival" originates from the Latin term carne vale, which signifies "meat farewell".
So Carnival is a time for merriment and indulgence before people embark on a period of fasting during Lent.
Cologne Women Carnival Day (February)
While the world has International Women’s Day... Cologne has Weiberfastnacht (Women Carnival Day) to celebrate women. 
The festival involves a playful role reversal, where women symbolically "take control" for the day. Such as "storming" City Hall and cutting off men's ties, to assert their authority (in exchange for a kiss).
These acts are done in good fun, and men may wear old ties to avoid losing their good ones!
The tradition isn't new either - it's believed to have its roots in pagan times, when a bunch of women got tired of staying home, and decided to rule over the city for a short time during the Carnival season.
Valentine's Day (February 14)
Oops, Valentine's Day isn't as popular in Germany as it is in other parts of the world...
The event entered German culture only after World War II, and many Germans consider it a commercialized holiday...BUT there are still many romantic things to do on this day in Cologne!
In fact, some couples still use Valentine's Day as a reason to go on special dates. Such as taking a romantic stroll along the picturesque Rhine river and gifting flowers or gingerbread hearts.
To end the day on a romantic note, local couples here affix a love lock to Hohenzollern Bridge. It symbolizes "sealing" your love, especially when you throw the key into the river below!
Cologne Literary Festival
For over 20 years, the Cologne Literary Festival is an annual event that brings together authors and book lovers from all over the world.
The biggest literary festival in Europe, Lit.Cologne brings in really famous writers, like Nobel laureates and Booker Prize winners from various countries.
These writers talk to the crowd by reading from their books and having chats about their writing and what books mean in the world today.
The next Lit.Cologne will be held in 2024 from March 5-17. Tickets sell out fast!
International Women's Film Festival
Dortmund and Cologne joined hands to hold the Dortmund | Cologne International Women's Film Festival to celebrates films made by women directors worldwide.
Alternating between Cologne and Dortmund annually, it's become a significant event that focuses on supporting gender equality in making and directing films.
Good Friday (March)
One of the most somber holidays celebrated in Cologne is Good Friday. The day commemorates the day Jesus was crucified... and is a time for contemplation and reflection.
This means no dancing, singing or humorous movies!
Be warned, many shops and bars will also be closed. Although some attractions like museums, as well as buses and trams, will still be operating.
If you're interested, churches throughout the city hold special services on Good Friday, including the Cologne Cathedral.
Easter Monday (March)
Easter Monday falls on the day after Easter Sunday, which marks Jesus's resurrection. As Germans, we tend to head outdoors on this day to enjoy hiking or visiting parks with the family. After all, spring is coming!
If you're in Cologne, the Chocolate Museum typically offers special Easter activities, which will be much fun for the kids.
If you keep an eye out, you may notice children rolling easter eggs down hills. It's an Easter Monday tradition, and a competition to see whose egg rolls the farthest without breaking!
Labor Day (May 1)
May 1st is a day to honor workers' rights, but did you know it's also a day young men express love to women they are courting?
This Rhineland tradition typically involves secretly placing a decorated pole (or Maibaum) in front of the home of the woman they admire, and waiting for them to wake up.
Because it's spring, you'll probably see people enjoying picnics and barbecues outdoors. (In fact, May 1st is considered the unofficial start of the outdoor grilling season in Germany.)
Mother’s Day (May)
Muttertag is a special day in Germany, and falls on the second Sunday of May and is celebrated across the country.
If you're visiting on Mother's Day, restaurants might be busier (or worse, fully booked out) and have a Muttertag menu. Consider booking ahead if you have a preferred dining spot!
Ascension Day, also known as Christi Himmelfahrt in Germany, is a public holiday celebrated to mark Jesus' ascension into heaven.
The faithful usually attend church services on this day, followed by taking the day off to enjoy the outdoors, with picnics, hikes, or bike rides in the beautiful spring weather.
The holiday also marks the beginning of the Vatertag (Father's Day) celebrations, so you may notice men pulling wagons filled with refreshments around town to meet their friends.
As a child, I loved helping my dad decorate the Vatertag wagon, and it's a tradition I share with my kids now!
Summerjam is one of Europe's largest and most popular reggae festivals, drawing around 28,000 fans each year. The 3-day festival takes place at the Fühlinger See, a beautiful lake on the outskirts of Cologne.
Now, you may wonder how reggae music found its way into mainstream German culture, when the two lifestyles seem quite very different.
It all started when Jamaican immigrants moved here in the 1960s, with many settling in cities like Cologne. Naturally, they brought their music with them. I believe their themes of unity, social justice, and peace struck a chord with German youths then. In fact, we even have our own reggae artists now, like Gentleman, Seeed, and Patrice.
At Summerjam, while reggae and dancehall form the heart of this festival, there'll be hip-hop, Afrobeat, and EDM performances too. The atmosphere will be quite unique, with attendees camping on-site, lending a communal spirit to the event.
But make sure to book tickets early in advance, as this festival is very popular!
Whit Monday in Cologne is a day of great significance for Roman Catholics.
Falling on the 7th Monday following Easter Sunday, it marks the commemoration of the descent of the Holy Ghost on Jesus Christ's disciples.
As a national public holiday and a Holy Day of Obligation for Roman Catholics, Whit Monday is observed with Christian rituals and ceremonies across churches in Cologne.
Feast Of Corpus Christi
The Feast of Corpus Christi, also known as Fronleichnam in Germany, commemorates the Holy Eucharist. It's celebrated on the second Thursday after Whitsun, and is a regional public holiday in some parts of Germany.
The Archbishop of Cologne leads the clergy and the faithful through the city streets in an elaborate procession, which takes place after Holy Mass.
If you're in town, the procession is quite the sight!
As they move through the streets, participants recite prayers and sing hymns, and residents also decorate the streets and create temporary altars (known as "Floral Altars" or Blumenteppiche) where Archbishop may pause at to offer blessings.
Don't miss the morning boat procession (called the Mülheimer Gottestracht) on the Rhine either. These beautiful boats set sail from Mülheim and make their way down the Rhine River, heading towards Cologne.
Cologne Pride (July)
Cologne Pride is one of the most biggest LGBTQ+ events in Germany, and it's held every year, right smack in the city center.
Be prepared to be wowed by a flamboyant, no-holds-barred parade that winds its way through the city streets, almost 4.3km (or 2.8 miles) long... featuring costumes in every color and shape, glittery floats, rainbow flags and hundreds of thousands of people dancing away...
In the days leading up to and following the parade, you'll also find street parties, open-air concerts, and other LGBTQ+ events taking place across Cologne.
It may also be the one time a year you see the Cologne Cathedral lighted up in rainbow colors!
The next ColognePride event is set to take place in 2024 on July 21st.
Cologne Lights (Kölner Lichter) (July)
This is by far one of my favorite free night events in Cologne. Despite warnings that it might be crowded, every year my wife and I will unfailingly find ourselves on the riverbank promenade, eagerly waiting for the fireworks show.
FYI - Just between the Bastei and the Zoobrücke is the best spot for viewing.
The event starts with a stunning procession on the Rhine; about fifty boats decorated in colorful lights gracefully floating down from Cologne-Porz towards the city center.
Then, when the boats pass Cologne Cathedral, a symphony of fireworks are launched from the riverbank, in time with the music. Like a spectacular waterfall of sparkling lights, raining down on a sea of colors.
This draws mad cheers from the crowd, who can't get enough!
Held around mid July, this fireworks display attracts thousands of visitors each year.
Festivities begin at midday, with performances and activities throughout the day, leading up to the main event at 11:30 pm!
Assumption Day (August 15)
Assumption Day is a Christian holiday celebrated in Germany as a public holiday on August 15. This day marks the day that the Virgin Mary's soul and body were taken up to heaven, after her life on earth ended.
The Cologne Cathedral holds special Masses, processions, and other religious observances on this day to honor Mary's role in Catholic theology.
If you love gaming and you're not at Gamescon, what are you doing? This convention at the Koelnmesse is Europe's biggest of its kind, and the world's largest event for video games. 
Gamers from all over the world travel to Cologne for Gamescon to gain sneak peeks of new games, before anyone else gets to see them.
Passionate fans queue for hours just to play demos of games that aren't out yet, and even test out new gaming gadgets before they enter the market.
In the end, Gamerscon is also about sharing the same passion for gaming. You'll even spot people dressed up as characters from their beloved video games!
Oktoberfest is probably the most famous German festival, conjuring images of people clad in lederhosen, swaying to Bavarian songs, shouting "Prost!" while merrily downing mugs of beer – and you wouldn't be far off the mark.
Cologne has its own version of Oktoberfest, where revelers munch on Weisswurst, roast beef with mashed potatoes, pretzels, and chug down Kölsch beer. However, attendees must book tickets to join the event.
🚨 NOTE: Unfortunately, the Cologne Oktoberfest has been canceled for 2023 and 2024, according to organizers.
Luckily, the Cologne Carnival (Kölner Karneval) in February is still on, and is arguably a much bigger festival in Cologne than any other beer celebration here.
Jeck im Sunnesching (September)
Translated to "Fool in the Sun", this summer Karneval festival reflects the carefree spirit of the event. The goal: Let loose, enjoy music, and soak up the sun.
In Cologne's Jeck im Sunnesching, the youth and young-at-heart rock out to live performances by local bands and artists, all day at an open-air venue like Jugendpark... and all night at an after-party, usually located at another concert location such as Theater am Tanzbrunnen.
Just like during the regular Karneval, ticket-holders dress up in fun (but summer-friendly) yellow costumes, masks, and face paint, adding to the festive spirit.
This annual marathon takes place in early October and attracts runners from all over the world.
The marathon snakes through a scenic route, passing through some of Cologne's most famous landmarks, like the Cologne Cathedral, Hohenzollern Bridge and Rheinauhafen Harbor.
The electric atmosphere during the marathon is infectious as locals come out to cheer on their favorite runners!
German Unity Day (October 3)
German Unity Day marks the reunification of the country in 1990. As a matter of fact, it's the only nation-wide holiday in Germany.
There's usually a special national event (different cities take turn hosting it every year) but mostly, it's a day for Germans to enjoy a day off work or school.
Many businesses are closed, so keep that in mind!
If you're in town, you'll notice people displaying the German national flag or wearing clothing with national symbols like the black, red, and gold colors. Public buildings are usually lighted up in the national colors too!
Day Of Reformation (Reformationstag) (October 31)
The origins of Day of Reformation, also known as Reformationstag, is rather interesting.
This holiday remembers the acts of a brave German monk named Martin Luther, and how he changed the way we thought about religion during the 1500s.
For example, Luther didn't like what the church was doing at the time, like selling "certificates" that said your sins were forgiven.
Luther wrote down his ideas and nailed them to the door of a church in a town called Wittenberg. People started to read it, and it sparked many to convert to Lutheranism, and reformation within the Catholic Church. 
All Saints' Day (November 1)
All Saints' Day is a "silent holiday" in five regions of Germany, including Cologne's. This means noisy activities aren't permitted, and music or dancing isn't permitted.
It's a time when families remember deceased loved ones by visiting cemeteries and lighting candles on graves. Churches also hold special services to honor the saints.
If you're in Cologne during this time, you may hear the ringing of church bells marking the start of these services.
St. Martin's Day (November 11)
St. Martin's Day remembers the death of Saint Martin, known for his acts of kindness, generosity, and being the patron saint of soldiers, beggars, winegrowers, and geese (yes, geese!).
For children, it's also a chance to collect sweets.
St. Martin's Day was always exciting for us as children. We'd create colorful lanterns at school, then join a parade with friends and family. Kids who sang songs were handsomely rewarded with sweets.
After the lantern parade, we'd enjoy them with hot chocolate, gathered around a fiery bonfire!
Short Film Festival Cologne (November)
The Short Film Festival Cologne (Kurzfilmfestival Köln) showcases some of the best German short films and attracts thousands of international visitors every year.
The film festival spans across several days, and includes segments for German films, Cologne-origin films, and even films made just for kids!
Museum Night Cologne (November)
If you love art and culture, then Museum Night Cologne (Museumsnacht Köln) is an event you won't want to miss.
Held annually in November, more than 50 museums and art venues in Cologne stay open past dark, for a night of adventure and art exploration.
You could go from admiring an art exhibit to attending a live concert, listening to a reading, or even trying your hand at an art workshop all in one night. But be warned, there's a lot to see, so I suggest downloading the program and planning out your night beforehand.
And what's great is that one ticket gives you access to everything. Plus, they throw in a public transport pass for the night, which is handy!
Start Of Cologne Carnival (11 November)
This date is the official start of the Kölner Karneval, although the parties, parades and performances usually reach its peak only in February.
On this date, at precisely 11:11 am, Cologne kicks off celebrations by introducing this year's Dreigestirn, three important figures symbolically known as the Prince, Peasant and Maiden, on stage.
If you're in town and want to catch the celebrations, head to the Old Town, which will be transformed into a full-out carnival with parades, locals in costumes, music, Kölsch beer, and plenty of snacks like fried potato pancakes and Mutzen, a sort of donut topped with powdered sugar.
The party usually lasts until late in the night, in pubs and restaurants around town, but you MAY have to make reservations.
Christmas Day (December 25)
Cologne is world-famous for Christmas celebrations, but if you want to experience the holiday magic, it's better that you arrive in the city before Christmas Day itself. In the days leading up to it, from around December 20th, about nine Christmas markets pop up in different districts - and they are absolutely a must-visit.
These markets are similar, yet different, from each other. Of course, some stalls will be offering the same handmade crafts, gingerbread ornaments, and guilt-inducing foods... but you'll find local artisanal stores unique to each market too.
Plus, each market is centered around different themes, programs, photo spots and level of "crowdedness" too. Many of them are within walking distance of each other, so I say try to visit as many as you can!
On Christmas Day itself, however, you may have trouble finding any stores or restaurants open, as most locals will stay home and spend the day with their family. After all, it's Christmastime!
Boxing Day (December 26)
Germans continue their holiday celebrations with Boxing Day, also known as Second Christmas Day.
While not a major holiday in Germany, some businesses may be closed and many families spend the day relaxing and enjoying leftovers from their Christmas feasts.
In Cologne, the Kölner Karneval festivities also continue on Boxing Day. So, while many people might be winding down from their Christmas festivities, the Karneval celebrations keep going!
New Year's Eve (December 31)
As mentioned before, in Cologne, locals call New Year's Eve celebrations Silvester, and it is one of the most popular holidays in Germany!
If you're eager to enjoy the New Year's Eve fireworks, I have two suggestions: stand at the Hohenzollern Bridge or go to right bank of the Rhine in Deutz. Just keep in mind that these spots may get quite crowded, and it's wise to maintain a safe distance from those launching their own fireworks!
Unique Cultural Experiences At Festivals
Carnival Costumes And Music
During the Cologne Carnival, colorful and elaborate costumes are a hallmark of the festivities. People usually dress as jesters, clowns and famous figures in German history.
One year, my friends and I decided to go as a group of clowns. We spent hours perfecting our clown makeup and donned oversized, colorful wigs. That being said, there are people who also dress up as nurses, police, angels, devils, etc - your usual Halloween fare!
You also get to jive to music by made-in-Cologne artists and bands like Kölsche Jung ans Denn mir sin kölsche Mädcher (some in Cologne’s own German Kölsch dialect!) as well as more traditional songs from the region - that you won't hear anywhere else!
Regional Foods And Drinks
In Cologne, you'll find special dishes, snacks and drinks unique to the region. And some also tend to appear more during a Cologne holiday or festival.
For instance, during Cologne Carnival, you'll find Krapfen, deep-fried pastries filled with jam, cream, or chocolate, at every turn. And at the Christmas Markets you'll find lots of stalls offering Reibekuchen, crispy potato pancakes topped with applesauce.
And let's not forget about Kölsch beer - it practically flows like a river at every event! In fact, Kölsch is the beverage of choice for celebrating in Cologne.
Local Traditions And Customs
Cologne's unique history, stretching back to the Middle Ages, influences many of its traditions. For instance, Carnival's popularity in Cologne is due to its largely Catholic population, who added it to the official church calendar. The crazy partying isn't for nothing - it's to make up for the long period of fasting during Lent.
Another example is ColognePride, an LGBTQ+ event, marked by a massive and colorful parades and parties. Cologne's open and inclusive culture contributes to it being one of Germany's biggest LGBTQ+ festivals.
Tips For Attending Festivals In Cologne
Book Reservations & Accommodations Early!
With so many events happening all year round, accommodation options in Cologne can fill up quickly, especially during peak seasons.
For instance, if you're planning to attend the famous Cologne Carnival in February, it's best to start planning several months in advance.
Hotels located near the Altstadt (Old Town) area tend to be booked well ahead of time as this is where much of the festival takes place. Similarly, pubs, cafes and restaurants may be booked out too.
Know Your Public Transport Options
Cologne has made it easy to travel via public transportation, as long as you know how to take them! There's a tight net of tram and bus lines connecting every 5-10 minutes throughout the day.
If you're new to Cologne, check out the KVB website or KVB app. They help you figure out the most efficient ways to get from your hotel to your destination, and vice-versa. They're supported in English language too for non-German speakers. 
For festivals and events that end late into the night, getting around the city is still a breeze. There are selected night buses and trams that operate (albeit at a lower frequency) all over the city, just make sure you know where they go!
Secure Your Belongings (Or Risk Losing Them)
Pickpocketing is not uncommon in Cologne, especially in crowded places. And let me tell you - not only can festivals get very crowded, they can get VERY crazy.
Cologne Carnival's events are known for their crowds who can get a bit wild sometimes, making it a prime pick-pocketing spot!
That's why for me, I store most of my valuables in a secure inner pocket of my jacket when heading to a festival or event with high traffic. Leaving only a small amount of cash for snacks and drinks in my wallet for safety.
Respect 'Silent Holidays' & Religious Events
On 'Silent Holidays', particularly Good Friday and All Saints' Day, you'll notice Cologne becomes quieter than usual. Many businesses that offer entertainment (like dancing and musical performances) may close on these days.
That's because during specific religious holidays, activities and behaviors are expected to be more subdued out of respect for their significance. Even movie theatres are forbidden to show humorous films.
Similarly, when visiting Cologne for Christmas during December, take note the religious significance of this holiday for many Germans. Please avoid disrupting any religious ceremonies or events happening at churches.
Conclusion: Festivals and Holidays in Cologne
In conclusion, Cologne is a city full of vibrant festivals and cultural events that can be enjoyed by travelers year-round.
From the famous Carnival to educational and art exhibitions to traditional celebrations like St. Martin's Day, there is something for everyone.
Visitors can experience unique music, food specialties, and local traditions while attending these festivals in one of Germany's most historic cities.
- Cologne, Germany offers a variety of festivals and holidays throughout the year, from traditional celebrations like Three Kings Day and Good Friday to modern events like the popular Cologne Carnival and Gamescom.
- Attendees can immerse themselves in German culture by joining locals dressed up as jesters or masquerading characters during the annual six-day Cologne Carnival that culminates with a massive parade on Rose Monday, attracting millions of visitors each year.
- Other notable festivals include Summerjam reggae festival, international women's literary festival, Cologne Pride (one of Germany's most significant LGBTQ events), and Cologne Lights (Kölner Lichter) - a breathtaking festival with fireworks display and music synchronization.
- Visitors to festivals in Cologne can immerse themselves into the local culture by experiencing traditional costumes and music, indulging in food and drink specialties unique to the events, and witnessing interesting local traditions and customs.
- Plan your trip ahead of time and book accommodations early to ensure availability. Familiarize yourself with transportation options, as festivals can cause traffic and public transit delays.
- Dress appropriately for the weather and wear comfortable shoes for walking around event locations.
1. What are some of the popular festivals in Cologne?
The most popular festivals in Cologne are the Cologne Carnival, Gamescom, ColognePride, the Summerjam Festival, and Cologne Marathon, among others.
2. When is the best time to visit Cologne for its festivals?
The best time to visit Cologne for its festivals depends on you, really. The city’s most famous event - the Carnival - takes place annually around February/March while the Summerjam festival occurs in summer so choose which festivals interest you most!
3. Are there any family-friendly festivals in Cologne?
Absolutely! Many of the city's events cater to families with activities like parades, crafts or live music specifically aimed at entertaining younger audiences.
Examples include "Kölner Weihnachtsmärkte" a very popular Christmas market happening from November 22nd till December 23rd each year.
St. Martin's Day also features lantern parades and is a family-oriented festival. Children create lanterns and participate in processions while singing traditional songs.
4. How do I find out more about upcoming festivals in Cologne?
The official tourism website of Cologne often provides information about upcoming festivals and events in the city. You can check their "Events" or "What's On" section for the latest updates. The city's official website, Cologne.de, may have a calendar or event listings that showcase upcoming festivals and cultural events too.
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