Summary: Skip Cologne: this is the best city to visit in the Lower Rhine Valley and is comparable with Hamburg or Leipzig for its cultural
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, which is a major travesty. Cologne is among the worst tourist destinations in Germany, but Düsseldorf is among the best, so I hope to help illustrate this difference with this article.
As a general disclaimer, the Lower Rhine region is generally not worth visiting. You will be disappointed without a desire to see or experience something specific like Carnival. If in doubt, go to Belgium, even Liege. It’s a little further away and is the objectively superior travel destination. Most of the region, including Düsseldorf, was destroyed in the war.
That being said, Düsseldorf is an exception for the region. The city has the only surviving old-town and local traditions 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 Europe’s most authentic Japanese restaurants. Düsseldorf is a modern city with much to offer.
For a more detailed guide to Düsseldorf
Travel Guide to Düsseldorf
Summary: Despite wartime losses, Düsseldorf has a cityscape offering examples of virtually every period in architectural history. Düsseldorf is…
Should you visit Düsseldorf?
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 of 5-6.
Düsseldorf is a major trade-fair city and a major service industry center. As a result, it has more than sufficient infrastructure for the volume of tourists and business people that the city receives. There are plenty of hotels, restaurants, and space for the summer tourist hordes. Additionally, plenty of things to see and do will keep you occupied for at least one to two days.
The main downside is that the city is somewhat 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 big-ticket 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.
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 central 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 integrate new construction tastefully. 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.
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 pilsner with bus-loads of tourists in the Hofbrauhaus in Munich, you can stand outside Uerige in Düsseldorf with hordes of business people who just want a beer after work.
Düsseldorf is known (by its residents) for having a better Carnival parade than Cologne (debatable though), though the party in Cologne is considered objectively 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.
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, etc, have websites and published opening hours. So the city gets top marks at 10/10.
Should You Visit?
Yes, you should visit Düsseldorf, but not at the expense of somewhere more interesting.
Traveling Around Düsseldorf
The first thing to consider when traveling around Düsseldorf is public transport. The city is enormous, and walking from the central station to the old town is a 20-30 minute endeavor. Walking across the city can also be exhausting and might get boring after a while. Furthermore, driving is not really an option in the old town, and the city’s roads are a labyrinthine mess. I highly recommend not driving within the city and instead taking advantage of the subway and light rail systems.
The next thing to consider is exactly where to go. Public transit is necessary for people interested in hunting down the surviving bits of Art Nouveau and Historicist architecture (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.
In general, you will find four areas of higher-density old-town outside the center:
- The prettiest district is 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 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. These examples 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 pleasant streets as well.
- To the far north of the city center are the Japanese Gardens, which are quite beautiful but may only be of interest to some tourists.
Düsseldorf Opening Hours
Düsseldorf is a highly interactive city with many things to do and see. Below is an outline of when things are open and where they are located. This should help plan…
Life in Düsseldorf
The first thing to experience in Düsseldorf is the beer. Before going any further, I would recommend planning some visits to your nearest brewery.
You can read more about Düsseldorf’s food and drink culture in this article:
Traditional Food and Drink of Düsseldorf
Düsseldorf is the best place to be in the Lower-Rhine Valley. It has all of the best restaurants, culture and…
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 new beer and friends, and walk through the old town.
Explore the region around Düsseldorf
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Exploring the Lower Rhine Valley
As the industrial heartland of Germany, the Lower Rhine region has one of the largest and most densely populated urban landscapes in the world, a title it has held for centuries. The urban regions of the Lower Rhine…