You never know what you’ll find on the Rhein… Kate Rothwell explains how best to spend a few days in the ‘Dorf’.
Düsseldorf is known as a city of affluence, and with grand offices and costly jewellers aplenty, it is not hard to see why it has acquired this reputation. Commercial dignitaries flock to the city’s large trade fair venue or ‘Messe’ for important business events, and enjoy the luxurious retail therapy of the ‘Kö’ (Königsallee), a glamorous street which boasts numerous shopping centres, five star hotels and designer boutiques.
However, Düsseldorf’s true charm is not to do with the prosperity of a select few, but the down-to-earth friendliness of its more regular residents. These are the people you will meet when exploring the city’s long-time lifeline, the River Rhein. An open air cinema and barbeque-friendly green spaces are just some of the attractions based on its banks during the summer, as well as the enormous and ever-popular fairground, the ‘Kirmes am Rhein’.
Riverside bars and floating restaurants make for picturesque dining and drinking, but those on a budget can take in the atmosphere, and perhaps even catch an impromptu performance from local punks or breakdancers, while sitting on the Spanish Steps. Further along the river, past the eagle eye view of the Rheintower and the quirky modern architecture of the Medienhafe, there are sandy and secluded ‘beaches’ frequented by surprisingly few visitors, even on a warm summer’s evening.
While Düsseldorf boasts a thriving, youthful nightlife, the outskirts location of its university means that it is not a ‘student city’ per se. The prestigious art academy has a more central location, which as a result harbours a student-aimed selection of bars, art shops, clubs and small galleries.
Modern art galleries are in good supply – even less than fervent admirers of art will appreciate a visit to the Kunsthalle, K21 or NRW-Forum. Kunst im Tunnel (Art in the Tunnel) is the only exception, as its unique underground location doesn’t make up for a minimal exhibition space.
Movie geeks will be in their element in the extensive and entertaining film museum, while lovers of art and history alike can pour over exhibitions at the ceramic and glass museums. Even an ardent literature fan might find the Goethe museum heavy going, but this can be made up for with a walk through the scenic Hofgarten, or by spicing things up at the mustard museum. Any football fan will enjoy the excitement of the Bundesliga in the Esprit Arena – just expect a heavy police presence during post-match celebrations in the city centre.
After a long day of sightseeing, you can replenish your energies in the pub of your choice, be it a grungy rock bar or traditional ‘Kneipe’. As well as enjoying a happy hour in one of the establishments which make up the Altstadt’s ‘longest bar in the world’, make sure to sample a sweet glass of house-brewed ‘alt’ beer in a ‘Hausbrauerei’.
Day trips from Düsseldorf include the busy football rival city of Cologne, the quaint town of Aachen, the enchanting castles of Benrath and Kaiserswerth and the ‘art in the wild’ Hombroich museum-island in Neuss. Nearby countries Belgium and the Netherlands also offer great day breaks, and can be reached by a mostly efficient (if somewhat expensive) railway service.
Düsseldorf prides itself on being a city of culture, but has much more to offer aside from the arts. It is a holiday destination overlooked by many, but once discovered it is hard to forget.