DThe people of Düsseldorf call their homeland “the 10-minute city”, because it rarely takes longer to reach their destination. That’s a tall claim for a place that has no fewer than 50 districts (mini-district) but it is supported by a subway and suburban train system that allows you to get around easily. And therein lies the great attraction of Düsseldorf: a small city with just over 600,000 inhabitants, with the infrastructure, the internationality and the cultural weight of a much larger place. Add in the fact that more than 57% of its area is green space and you can understand why a recent study ranked it the sixth best city in the world.
There’s plenty of wealth at stake here, much of it distributed along the tree-lined Königsallee, which borders a canal, one of Germany’s most famous shopping streets. As the post-war capital of North Rhine-Westphalia (established in 1946), the nation’s most populous state, Düsseldorf became a hub for global business and finance, and for the well-dressed glitterati who frequent the miles of designer shops known as “the Kö” have earned it a reputation for snobbery .
However, that is only a fraction of the story. Visit the old town in the evening and you’ll find a lively to boisterous center that cares more about good times than good taste and where the 300+ pubs, breweries, restaurants and clubs are so close together they like to call “the longest bar of the world”. Established districts like Bilk and Flingern – and up-and-coming ones like Derendorf and Pempelfort – are home to different population groups that combine daytime chic with an energetic nightlife. Thanks to the city’s art school, there’s a teeming counterculture, and Germany’s largest Japanese community is in Niederkassel and along Immermannstrasse (AKA Little Tokyo), where the ramen can’t be beat.
The imposing Rhine has long been a place for heavy shipping; Today, it’s a place for a stroll or for drinks, skateboarding, and ice cream thanks to the boardwalk that runs along its eastern shore. At its southern end is the Medienhafen, where the old port has been transformed into a vision of the ultra-modern. Since the arrival of Frank Gehry’s three curvaceous buildings at the end of the last millennium, a kind of architectural Epcot has sprung up around them, in which the interplay of the many new structures is as fascinating as their individual designs, all overlooked by the needle Rhine Tower with Panorama -Viewing platform and revolving restaurant.
On the other side of the river is Oberkassel, the somewhat exclusive district where sheep still graze on the pretty meadows along the banks; they keep the view clean and tidy for the owners of the expensive Art Nouveau buildings they overlook. Wherever you are in the city, however, there is a wide range of parkland to choose from, from the expansive courtyard garden with the iconic curves of the Schauspielhaus for the Performing Arts to the romantic ponds in front of the former state parliament building, the Ständehaus. There are also community gardens and allotments in the south of the city, where you will find cafes, beer gardens and even a petting zoo.
where should we eat
There’s a huge variety of dishes to enjoy, from authentic Italian at San Leo in Old Town to Nashville hot chicken served with biodynamic wine at Vibey Hitchcoq in Pempelfort. Crossover and fusion food are also very trendy, be it Asian-Mediterranean at Bar Olio, French-Rhenish at Fleher Hof or Waya Kitchen, where “Asian-North American-Latin American” soul food includes teriyaki chicken sliders and Korean schnapps. Excellent Japanese food can be found all over the city, not just on the Little Tokyo Strip, and downtown Nagaya has a Michelin star.
The daily market at Carlsplatz is a great place to buy coffee and pastries or a bite to eat for lunch. and on Lorettostrasse in Unterbilk, the independent boutiques are punctuated by some of the city’s best casual restaurants. Chef Murat Avcioglu at Noa cooks with vegetables he has grown in his own garden, while at Rob’s Kitchen you can enjoy gastronomic cuisine at bistro travels.
It’s hard to leave Düsseldorf without seeing – or tasting – the Altbier that the Rhineland is justifiably proud of. Five pub breweries brew this ‘top-fermented’ beer, most in the Old Town, where diners accompany their brew with traditional dishes like bratwurst, potato salad and giant pork knuckles. For a historic setting, try Uerige’s cavernous barrooms – or for a more contemporary twist, microbrewery Brauerei Kurzer is the real baby of the group at just 12 years old.
The art academy has had a lasting impact on the art and perspectives of the city. In the 19th century this art school was known for its landscape painters; in the 20th for his photography and for teaching the sculptor and activist Joseph Beuys. Today, it continues to fuel a heady mix of mainstream and underground culture, and the sheer volume of contemporary art collections and galleries means Düsseldorf far exceeds its weight on the international stage. At Grabbeplatz you can walk straight out of the three-story K20 art collection with its Kirchners, Klees and Klimts into the contemporary exhibition space of the Kuntshalle, while at K21 (the art collection’s second location) you can climb around from inside the glass roof of the former parliament building on a giant spider web, as part of a long-running installation by Tomás Saraceno.
The music scene has long since become just as edgy and original: Düsseldorf has been the birthplace of influential bands like Kraftwerk, Neu!, La Düsseldorf, Rheingold and DAF, and the bars and clubs remain a pioneering venue for all manner of electronica. The old town is usually busy, especially at weekends, and one of the best places to start is in the laid-back Salon des Amateurs, which doubles as the art gallery’s café by day and becomes a hip meeting place for the artistic crowd at night, spilling onto the steps outside. The new company Lucy’s Sky hosts club nights in a speakeasy-style venue on Flinger Strasse. You must ring a doorbell hidden between two storefronts to gain access to its colorful underground world.
Of all Düsseldorf’s districts, Flingern is a particularly fascinating day trip. It actually consists of two separate ones districts, each with its own flair, from the quiet town village of Flingern-Nord to the punky Flingern-Süd. Its Kiefernstrasse was a notorious squat in the 1980s, home to anarchist gangs. Today its homes are the liveliest in the city, their facades covered in colorful artwork chosen by the residents who have built a vibrant alternative community here. An iconic punk and hardcore club, AK47 lives on in a dingy glory, while hot new restaurant 5P Style, just around the corner, serves up homemade burgers with truffle fries.
A 15-minute walk north brings you to Birkenstrasse and Ackerstrasse, the two streets at the epicenter of Flingern’s gentrified northern district of leafy squares and independent cafes. Artist studios and galleries punctuate the array of vintage boutiques and upcycled shops; It’s the kind of place where you can buy a couture hat on one side of the street and a tattoo on the other. Among the many nice restaurants, the Bulle Bistro stands out with its sister wine bar and cousin bakery, while the fabulous cakes at Cafe Hipgold deserve the claim of being “world-famous in Flingern”.
Where to sleep
Dusseldorf’s post-war architecture, built in a rush to rebuild a city largely destroyed by bombing during World War II, wasn’t always popular. But the 1950s-style Ruby Luna, which opened in May 2021 (doubles from £85 B&B), has found plenty to celebrate at its Old Town location. The open-plan lounge and restaurant is an elegant homage to mid-century space-age design, and the rooftop bar offers truly great views over the city (if you don’t already have one from your window). The city’s love of rock music isn’t to be underestimated either, with a Marshall amp in every room and a guitar at the ready at the front desk.
Passport provided by Interrail; Prices start at €185 (for four travel days within one month). The journey has been arranged from Düsseldorf Tourism