Should You Visit Düsseldorf?

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Summary: Skip Cologne, this is the best city to visit on the Lower-Rhine and comparable with Hamburg or Leipzig for its cultural offerings.

Düsseldorf is one of Germany’s largest cities and belongs to the large urban region that stretches along the Lower Rhine. Unlike its neighbor Cologne, Düsseldorf is often not present on tourist itineraries for the Rhineland, and this is is a major travesty. Cologne is among the worst tourist destinations in Germany, but Düsseldorf is among the best, and so I hope to help illustrate this difference with this article.
Justin Bunch | CityscapeTravel

Just as a general disclaimer, the Lower-Rhine region is generally not worth visiting. Without a desire to see or experience something specific like Carnival, you will be disappointed. If in doubt, go to Belgium, even Liege, its not much further away and it is the objectively superior travel destination. Most of region, including Düsseldorf was destroyed in the war.

Justin Bunch | CityscapeTravel

That being said, Düsseldorf is an exception for the region. The city has both the only surviving old-town and local traditions that are worth experiencing. Here you can still drink a traditional Düsseldorfer beer in an old pub from the 19th century while enjoying the company of local residents. Alternatively, you can slurp soba noodles in one of the most authentic Japanese restaurants in Europe. Düsseldorf is a modern city with much to offer.

Should you Visit Düsseldorf?

Rating CategoryScore
Tourism7
Historical Preservation5
Cultural Immersion8
Interaction10
Final Score7.5
I try to give ratings relative to the best that Europe has to offer. For Germany, and its war-torn cities, 7.5 is very high, typically you would expect a score 5-6.

Tourism

Düsseldorf is a major trade-fair city and is a major center for the services industry. As a result, it has more than sufficient infrastructure for the volume of tourists and businessmen that the city receives. There are plenty of hotels, restaurants and space for the summer tourist hordes. Additionally, there are plenty of things to see and do which will keep you occupied for at least one to two days.

The main downside is that the city is very dirty, especially the nice parts of the old-town. The tourist districts also happen to be the party districts, so every Friday and Saturday evening the alleys of the old-town become fields of garbage and broken glass. It goes without saying that you don’t want to stay overnight in the old-town. The other main downside is the lack of any single tourist attraction, like the Cologne Cathedral, which might be the focus of a trip. This is a city where you enjoy the atmosphere and the food rather than the sights.

Overall, Düsseldorf scores highly with a 7/10.

Historical Preservation

Düsseldorf has an enormous urban core by German standards, and virtually none of it survived the war. This will be obvious when you leave the main station. Since the city was spared the bulldozer and not reconstructed tabula rasa, the city is full of modern buildings built on the historical city grid.

In the old-town, care was taken to tastefully integrate new construction. Stylized new buildings blend into the old-town cityscape and provide an immersive feel, despite the overall low-level of preservation. This is an approach I think more German cities should have adopted, as Düsseldorf ranks leagues above other cities like Stuttgart and Cologne. I would give the city a 5/10.

Cultural Immersion

Düsseldorf is of the best cities in Germany to visit for the cultural scene, especially for the arts, trade fairs and cultural events. While nothing compared to Berlin, I think Düsseldorf is comparable to Munich in this regard and it deserves a lot of praise. Instead of drinking a watery pils with bus-loads of tourists in the Hofbrauhaus in Munich, you can stand outside Uerige in Düsseldorf with aggravated businessmen who just want a beer after work.

Düsseldorf is also known for having the better Carnival parade over Cologne, though there party is considered better. That Düsseldorf even competes in this regard, shows the lively urban culture that the city has. I subtract two points, to give it an 8/10 only because the city is still kind of boring during the week. It’s not in the same league as Berlin.

Interaction

Düsseldorf is one of the most interactive cities in Germany, comparable with Hamburg or Leipzig (though certainly not on par with Munich or Berlin). The city has museums, art galleries, churches and restaurants galore. Additionally, the tourist industry is very professional, meaning that all the museums, churches and etc, have websites and published opening hours. So the city gets top marks at 10/10.

The Conclusion: Yes you should visit Düsseldorf, but not at the expense of somewhere more interesting.


Traveling Around Düsseldorf

The first thing to consider when travelling around Düsseldorf is public transport. The city is huge, and walking from the main station to the old-town is a 20-30 minute endeavor. Walking across the old-town itself can also be exhausting, and might also get boring after awhile. Furthermore, driving is not really an option in the old-town and the city’s roads are a labyrinthine mess. I would highly recommend not driving within the city, and instead take advantage of the subway and light rail systems.

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The next thing to consider is exactly where to go. For those people interested in hunting down the surviving bits of Art Nouveau and Historicist architecture public transit is a necessity (spoiler: you will be disappointed).

Areas of Old-Town

The core of the Düsseldorf old-town is the city center. Here you will find a partially preserved district with buildings representing the 13th to the 21st centuries. The old-town is remarkable for having survived in some form to the present. You can read a more in-depth guide to the old-town here:

Justin Bunch | CityscapeTravel

Travel Guide to Düsseldorf

Despite wartime losses, Düsseldorf has a cityscape offering examples of virtually every period in architectural history. It offers Germany’s most varied architectural cityscape and is a must for anyone interested in the history of architecture.

Justin Bunch | CityscapeTravel The surviving bits of pre-war architecture are scattered across the city. Most are not worth seeing.

In general, you will find four areas of higher-density old-town outside the center:

  • The prettiest district are the two surviving streets on the other side of the river in Oberkassel. You might see the beautiful Gründerzeit facades from the old-town and think there was more to see, and you would be wrong. It’s really just the waterfront and a couple of side streets.
  • To the north near Kolpingplatz and Frankenplatz there are some side streets as well as isolated housing blocks with high quality examples of the “Heimatschutzarchitektur”, a rather tasteful German interpretation of the arts and crafts movement. I think these examples here are the best you get in Germany, outside of a handful scattered in Wiesbaden and Berlin.
  • Near the Railroad around the Friedrichstadt you will find the best surviving examples of Düsseldorf’s once spectacular Art Nouveau cityscape. Some of the best examples are facing the tracks and you may see them as you arrive at the station.
  • The area around Völklingerstraße has the closest you will get to a preserved neighborhood. It’s mostly comprised of mid-quality late historicist buildings, many of which have been stripped of their facade. The district south of the Völklingerstraße station has a medieval church and a few nice streets as well.
  • To the far north of the city center are the Japanese Gardens, which are quite beautiful, but may not be of interest to every tourist.

Life in Düsseldorf

The first thing to experience in Düsseldorf is the beer. I before going any further I would recommend planning some visits to your nearest brewery.

Justin Bunch | CityscapeTravel

You can read more about Düsseldorf’s food and drink culture in this article:

Conclusion

Düsseldorf is an underrated destination for those interested in well preserved old-towns. Though it ranks highly relative to most German cities, it should still lie quite low on a global list of places to visit in this regard. Indeed, the main reason to visit Düsseldorf is the complete cultural experience. Discover some new beer, some new friends and walk through the old town.

Otherwise you can explore some of the more interesting sites in the region:

Return to the Lower-Rhine

Lower-Rhine Valley

As the industrial heartland of Germany, this region suffered greatly in WWII and today is home to modern cities with few remnants of their prewar legacy

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