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Wikipedia | Google | Google Images | FlickrAlong with powerhouses like Munich and Frankfurt, Düsseldorf is one of Germany’s most avant-garde cities, renowned as much for its cutting edge architecture, culture, fashion, and art as for its utterly striking, riverside location. Home to over half a million people, this one of the country’s largest hubs and a formidable financial mecca, where some of the world’s most influential businesses have their headquarters. Yet although it may seem this city is big on business and little on play, there is also a very enticing side to the city, which makes it a great stopover on any grand-tour of Germany.
Dissected by the River Rhine , Dusseldorf boasts a particularly splendid Old Town Center which was rebuilt, after the colossal damage of WWII, according to original blue prints. Locally, this is known as the ‘longest bar in the world’, adding to the image of a playful side of which many people are not aware. A world-class collection of museums, almost infinite array of incredible shopping, amazing food, and near infinite year-long cultural event list, make Düsseldorf a very pleasant, and surprising, holiday destination.
- Düsseldorf is one of the world’s leading exporters of mustard, so much so that ‘Die Stadt Senf’ or ‘Mustard City’ is one of its lesser-known nicknames
- It is home to the third-largest Japanese community in Europe, trailing behind London and Paris. The city is also known as ‘Klein (Little) Tokyo’
- Almost 20% of city’s inhabitants were born abroad
- There is a strong, long-held dislike between Düsseldorf and nearby city of Cologne (Köln in German) due to the latter being more famous and much more visited. Never is this more apparent, than when you (attempt) to order a Kölsch Beer here!
- ’Verbotene Liebe’ is one of Germany’s longest running soap-operas. It’s set in Düsseldorf and includes quite a few gay characters in its cast. It’s been running for almost two decades
- Düsseldorf hosted the Eurovision song contest in 2011
- The city hosts the Largest Fair on the Rhine every July; a fun festival which attracts over 4 million visitors
Brief HistoryDüsseldorf’s rise to power is quite astonishing considering its most humble beginnings. Although Frankfurt, for example, was created as a trading port first and foremost, Düsseldorf was nothing more than a farming enclave which for centuries stubbornly clung on to its agricultural roots. By all intents, it wasn’t even considered a bona-fide city until the early 1200s, a time when many other cities in Germany were experiencing their most golden periods. Yet expansion, after this time, came swiftly. By 1380, Düsseldorf boasted an army, city walls, and was the newly-appointed Duchy of Berg. Most of the historical building reconstructed in Old Town date from this period.
By the end of the 18th century, however, rulers had moved to Munich and the city suffered a most noticeable decline in prosperity. Various wars and invasions with neighboring empires also saw its riches destroyed and pilfered. It wasn’t until the colossal industrial revolution of the mid 1900s that Düsseldorf really came into its own and, although the city suffered greatly due to the Allied bombings of WWII, its ‘heart and soul’ as a mighty business city had forever been etched in its foundation.
The rest, they say, is history.
City OverviewThe eastern bank of the Rhine is the center of the action in Düsseldorf and the place where you will likely spend most of your time, especially if you’re heading here on vacation, as opposed to business. The Altstadt is small, compact, and best navigated on foot and, if any of the landmarks you wish to visit are too far to walk, you’ll find the underground train system (U-bahn) a superbly convenient way to get around. It’s less than 3kms between the Kunstpalast Museum of modern arts and the lovely Rhine Tower with its fantastic viewing platform. Only a little further south and you’ll come to the new entertainment complex, called Media Harbor. If heading here just for a couple of days, then staying and visiting this section should be your main aim.
HighlightsHere are all the interesting places you ought to see during your visit.
AltstadtOld Town Düsseldorf is a compact and commercialized center, home to some of the oldest landmarks in town. You’ll see the imposing Rathaus (Town Hall) right on Markplatz Square, itself decorated with a sculpture of William II, Elector of Hesse on horseback. On the banks of the Rhine you’ll find Castle Tower, the only remaining section of the castle which once stood here, now home to the interesting Schiffarts Museum which recounts the history of the maritime trade along the River Rhine. Overflowing with eateries, beer gardens and cafés, Altstadt is the most sociable spot in town and particularly busy on summer evenings.
RheinturmThe city’s best views are enjoyed at the top of the 240m-high telecommunications tower, built right on the shores of the river. The Rhine Tower is open from 10 a.m. to 11.30 p.m. every day and entry to the observation deck and in-house restaurant costs only €6 ($6.90) per person. Head here just before sunset on a clear day, and you’ll be blown away by the magnificent, all encompassing views. This is the tallest building in town and after dark displays the world’s largest digital clock.
RheinuferpromenadeMany visitors will agree that Düsseldorf, in general, is not nearly as atmospheric as countless other German cities, yet few will argue that when it comes to riverside promenades, there is a single one which does it best. The wonderful riverfront promenade stretches along the eastern shores of the Rhein and is most relaxing and enticing place in which to stroll and people-watch under the blissful shade of a delightful avenue of trees. On a crystal clear day the promenade is sun-drenched all day long, and the whole social vibe of the place is very reminiscent of Italy or France. In summer, this is a hive of activity, with a vast array of cafés and restaurants vying for business.
Media HarborMedienHafen is a new riverside complex which you’ll find at the southern end of the Rhein Promenade. A collection of ultra-modern buildings and splattering of cool eateries and bars, are mixed in with heritage-listed architectural treasures, making this perhaps the most interesting quarter to visit, especially if you’re a fan of wicked architecture. Centrally located right by the Rhine Tower, this revamped port is an interesting, lively and very safe place for an evening stroll.
KönigsalleeThis stunning commercial boulevard is so cool, it goes by the name of ‘Kö’ in the local lingo. With a charming canal running its length and each side flanked by designer boutiques, trendy cafés and restaurants, this is one of the city’s most fashionable streets. Smack bang in the middle of the city’s center (Stadtmitte ), it runs north to south for about 1km, and is found just a few blocks east of the Rhine waterfront. While both sides are brimming with eateries, the eastern half is primarily home to commercial shops, and western half to businesses and offices.
Schloss BenrathThis strikingly subtle Baroque mansion is set on the northern edge of the extensive Benrath park and lake, about 12kms north-east of the city center. Once upon a time, this was not even part of Düsseldorf but since the city’s expansion has become its most revered ‘suburban attraction’. The late 18th-century palace was built for an Elector of Bavaria and his consort and is now only accessible via guided tours which, unfortunately, are only so far held in German. On either side of the main building you’ll find two museums, namely the Museum of European Garden and Museum of Natural History. This is a particularly great place to visit if you’re into art and nature or if you happen to be in Düsseldorf for business and wish to enjoy half a day away from the bustle of the city. This complex is under review for UNESCO heritage listing.
Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-WestfalenThis extensive art collection is the best in the German State of Nordrhein-Westfalen and comprises three major exhibitions, the most popular of which are the unimaginatively named K20 and K21. Art aficionados will do well to spare at least 4 hours to visit, as the modern art collections are as expansive as they are, at times, puzzling. So you may need extra time to figure them all out. A complimentary shuttle bus plies the route between the two buildings. The architecture of the buildings is quite eye-catching and, even if you’re not into contemporary art, you’ll still swoon at the sight of classic French, Spanish and Italian expressionist art.
Museum KunstpalastA much more classical collection of art is held at the gorgeous Kunstpalast, found right on the riverfront on the eastern shores of the Rhine. A mix of modern and classical pieces, including fine art objects, sculptures, paintings, and glassware are beautifully displayed in this rather large building, which is a bit confusing to navigate. Three permanent exhibitions (including one of the evolution of glass from the Middle Ages to the present day) are complemented by several world-class temporary exhibits.
KaiserswerthThe northernmost landmark of note in town is Kaiserswerth, a castle ruin located along the eastern Rhine bank just 40-minute train ride north of Old Town. Back in the 19th century this was a completely independent walled town, but was incorporated into Düsseldorf’s city limits in the 1920s. The castle is part of wider neighborhood which has now become one of the most stylish suburbs here. Gorgeous old buildings and a laid-back vibe make it an ideal day-trip destination. Heading here on rented bicycles is a particularly rewarding thing to do.
CuisineIf there’s a side to Düsseldorf which simply can’t hide the fact that it has yet to hit international stardom, it’s definitely the cuisine. Yes, the city (and Old Town in particular) is chock-full of restaurants and eateries which span the gamma of quality and price, yet no matter how far you roam you’ll be hard-pressed to enjoy a culinary experience really worth raving about. Ironically enough, the top 10 rated restaurants in town are either Japanese or Italian, which says more about the obviously lacking local specialties than on people’s obsession with pizza and sushi. Nevertheless, there are quite a few hidden gems worth trying, if only you know where to go.
Im Fuchshen - Ratinger Strasse, AltstadtThis brewer/restaurant is one of the most lively places to enjoy some local dishes, and is as traditional as it gets. Shared tables, insanely good Altbier on tap and tasty, homemade food to make Oma proud; all served fast and priced just right. If you have a sweet yet carnivorous tooth try the Sauerbraten, a stew made of marinated beef and sultanas, or keep it classic with a generous serving of schnitzel and potatoes. This family-run place has been cooking and brewing since 1848 so safe to say their pride shows in both quality of food and friendly service.
Schweine Janes – Bolkerstrasse, AltstadtMore of a pork-lover haven than a mere restaurant, this cosy little place serves up the best pork rolls (Schweine Brötchen), schnitzels and Schweinhaxe (roasted pork knuckle) this side of the Rhine. A particularly great place to head to, if you’ve enjoyed a few sunset beers and need some wholesome food to soak up the alcohol.
The Bull Steak Expert – Taubenstrasse, one block east of HofgartenThere are very few people who love pork as much as the Germans, so if you’re in desperate need of a protein switch, head to The Bull Steak Expert and feast your taste buds on a melt-in-your-mouth T-bone instead. The restaurant is small, popular and quite pesky to find, so book ahead and make sure to have clear instructions (perhaps written in German by your hotel concierge) to hand over to a taxi driver. The walk is a quite intensive from Old Town, although that could be ideal on a summer evening.
NightlifeWhat Düsseldorf lacks in food it more than makes up for in bars. The entire Old Town is considered just one, enormous beer garden so if you want to take a stroll and enjoy a few drinks in an outdoor bar, you really need not venture very far at all. Altbier is a dark, sweet-ish beer and you’ll find it on offer at one of many microbreweries in Altstadt. Krefelder is none other than Altbier mixed with coke which some may find puzzling but locals love to bits.
If visiting in summer, don’t miss the outdoor social spectacle down Ratingerstrasse, and do head down to Media Harbor where you’ll discover a more subdued, but perhaps more elegant, scene. After a hearty meal, enjoy a shot of Killepitsch, a local digestive liquor made of over 90 berries, herbs and spices. This is a delicious local specialty and a small bottle actually makes a great and unusual souvenir.
ShoppingThere’s very little doubt that Düsseldorf is the capital of money in this region, as is clearly evident by the sheer abundance of commercial retail spaces. Not just any retail, mind you, by world-class, top brand and top-priced gear. Königsallee is the reputed Champs-Élysées of Germany, home to more designer shops then you ever thought existed. Over in Ackerstrasse in (Flingern, east of Altstadt), the hub of young, fashion-conscious creative geniuses, is where you’ll find the trendiest and most unique shopping haunts.
Düsseldorf is also home to various branches of Germany’s most famous department stores, so look out for Karstadt, P&C, and Kaufhod among many others. These are usually much more affordable yet still great shopping destinations. Schadowstrasse, which seems like a continuation of Königsallee but soon reveals to be its much more street-level cousin, is the single biggest revenue maker in the country, even though it’s not nearly as charming or enticing as the latter. Still, if you actually want to buy something, rather than simply drool at something you can’t afford to buy, then this is the spot for you.
How to Get inIt’s incredibly easy to include a day or two in Düsseldorf when visiting Cologne, as the two cities are only separated by a 45min train ride. Boat trips between these two hubs exist, but they are much slower and not all that interesting, so we suggest you skip those and take a sightseeing cruise in either city instead. The city’s Central Train Station (Hauptbahnhof) is one of the country’s major hubs, so you’ll find short and long distance services offered daily. Conveniently located, the train station is within walking distance to the Old Town Center.
The International Airport is one of Germany’s busiest and connects the city to more than 17 international destinations. AirBerlin, the country’s low cost carrier, offers very good deals on domestic flights so if you are tight on time could save you on a long-haul train ride. The S7 and S11 train lines connect the airport to the city, on rides which take just over 10 minutes. If you wish, you can purchase a Düsseldorf Card, which includes unlimited transport and discounts on over two dozen attractions in town.
How to Get Out and AboutThe city is well serviced by buses, trams, as well as underground and overground trains. Being such a spread out city, and if you’re spending more than two days here, you’ll arguably be hopping on one or all of these. You can download and print a transport map (here) before you even had to Düsseldorf, so you can get a fair idea of how widely you are likely to use public transport.
Düsseldorf also offers a relatively decent hop-on/hop-off bus, however this is only convenient if you literally have just a single day at your disposal. It really doesn’t cover much distance and is not exactly cheap, but if you’re short on time it is still quite convenient.
AccommodationConsidering how well serviced the city is, it matters little where you choose to stay. If you wish to save a few Euros on accommodation, looking for suitable options on the western side of the Rhine, or the far eastern one, is certainly a good idea. However, do note that if you intend to visit during one of the over 100 trade fairs the city hosts every year, you’ll find prices skyrocketing and availability quite scarce, so do book ahead.
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Author: Laura Pattara. Last updated: Jul 20, 2015