Last Updated on 3rd May 2019 by Sophie Nadeau
From walks along the Rhine to drinking beer in the old town to checking out an art scene that could rival many capital cities, there’s something for everyone to see and do in this vibrant city. Here’s a quick guide to Dusseldorf, including the best things to do and what you must see!
Oodles of history, plenty of good weather and world-famous beer: the city Dusseldorf is located in Western Germany and is the capital of North Rhine-Westphalia. It’s a city of paradoxes; old and new co-exist side by side, each element demanding your attention in equal measure.
Best things to do in Düsseldorf
Altstadt (Old Town)
“You’ll never be lost in Dusseldorf,” our guide cheerfully told us as we were walking down the Rhine. The city may be large and filled with green spaces but many of the ‘must-see hotspots’ are concentrated in the area directly around the Rhine. One such location is the Aldstadt (literally ‘old town’).
Full of history, interesting architecture and plenty of bars, the old town is situated in the very heart of the city and is a hub of activity. So-called ‘the longest bar in the world’ (längste Theke der Welt) because there are up to 300 bars, restaurants, and clubs within a 0.5 km radius surrounding the Town Hall, highlights of this area include the Basilica, Rhine Tower, Old Town Hall (Rathaus in German) and the Shipping Museum.
If you want to experience the best of old town Duesseldorf on a more local level, then you might consider booking a guided tour like this one.
Sample Altbier in the ‘longes bar in the world’
This copper drink originates in the area and has become one of the city’s most iconic exports. The name ‘altbier’ (‘old beer‘ in English) comes not from the age of the ingredients used but the style of recipe. The beer is fermented at a warm-ish temperature and it’s top-fermented (as opposed to bottom fermented).
Although I first encountered altbier almost as soon as we arrived (within the first hour at lunch!), I found that one of the best ways to experience the beer- as well as the history- was by embarking on the ‘Altbier Safari‘.
On the tour, we visited a number of bars, some of which have breweries on site and managed to drink plenty of beer (I’m talking more than five!) Other beer tastings and tours you can book include this well-reviewed 3-Hour Beer Tour with Local Dishes and this 2-hour German Tour through the Old Town & Beer Tastings.
Also interesting to note is that as soon as your beer glass is verging on empty, someone will come around and top it up for you. This will happen until you firmly place your coaster on top of your glass, indicating that you’re just about done with beer drinking activities for the day!
Medienhafen (Media Harbour)
Just a short fifteen-minute walk from the Old Town of Dusseldorf sits the Media Harbour. The high rise buildings and quirky architecture are barely a kilometre from the older part of town but are in stark contrast to the 18th Century architecture (see what I mean about the old and new existing side by side!) Once an important shipping port, the harbour is now home to many media, fashion and design offices (hence the name).
Architects from across Germany regularly compete for the chance to design a new, innovative and iconic building to sit in the post-modern architecture harbour. Current buildings include a trio of post-modern houses designed by famous architect Frank Gehry (he also designed the dancing house in Prague).
On the other side of the harbour, there’s a public area complete with ‘beach bar’. It’s the perfect spot to soak up some sun and enjoy views across the media harbour and across to the city. Finally, if you want to experience the Media Harbour in more depth, then this well-reviewed MedienHafen Tour is an hour and a half long walk around with a guide.
Explore highlights of the River Rhine
Aside from the old town and the Rhineturm, one of the more iconic sights of Duesseldorf is the River Rhine itself. Although you can obviously stroll alongside the waters, some of the more unusual and alternative ways to enjoy the city include going on a Segway tour like this one or booking a panoramic cruise like this one.
Green Spaces in Duesseldorf
The city is packed full of green spaces. And I can tell you that visiting Dusseldorf was a welcome reprieve from the sometimes claustrophobic nature of living in London! Although the population of the city hovers around 600,000, parts of Dusseldorf such as the Old Town and even some of the park spaces made the city feel a lot friendlier and smaller.
Düsseldorf Street Art and Museums
Dusseldorf well and truly lives up to its name as a cultural center and hub for museums of many different interests. There are quite literally dozens of museums scattered across the city. From the ‘Kunst im Tunnel’- KIT- (modern artists often display contemporary works in this quirky underground space), to the Museum Kunstpalast (a fine art museum which regularly displays exhibitions and works from artists such as Miró, Dalí, Warhol and Caravaggio), to a ceramic museum, there’s plenty to see and do for everyone.
Plus, if you want to see particularly good street art, then you’ve come to the right city! The street art around Dusseldorf rivals that of much larger cities and regularly attracts worldwide art enthusiasts. If you’re searching for the best, then one district you absolutely have to visit is Flingern! In recent years, the area has become known for its nightlife, Techno Music, and incredible outdoor artwork. And the best place in the area to see the street art? Kiefernstraße! Literally, every single house on the street is painted in a thought provoking/ colourful or quirky way.
Rheinturm (Rhine Tower)
Now, of course, you can’t visit Dusseldorf without at least noticing the Rheinturm (so-called because of the tower’s position alongside the Rhine). I mean, it rises up above the city skyline to a height of over 240m. This means that the view from the top is absolutely phenomenal (and a little bit scary!).
The view from the top is made even scarier by the fact that the windows lean outwards at the top. What I mean by this is that you can literally lean against the windows facing downwards and it feels a little like the moment before you go bungee jumping! To be honest, my hands are sweating at the mere memory of this. After all, I couldn’t go up the tower and not lean against the windows.
Plus, the view is not all that the Rheinturm offers. This tower is so famous that it’s in the Guinness Book of World records! At night, there is a series of lights on the side of the tower facing the Old Town which allow you to tell the time. Due to the tower’s impressive height, this means that it’s also the largest digital clock in the entire world.
Of all the places to visit in this guide to Dusseldorf, Kaiserswerth may well be my favourite! Kaiserswerth is an adorable district on the fringes of Dusseldorf, located around half an hour from the town centre (there’s a direct metro line from the main train station and trains depart every 20 minutes or so throughout the day).
The district is also one of the oldest and most historic parts of the city; there are plenty of buildings from the 1700s still standing. Here you can find the ruins of the once grand 12th-Century Castle Barbarossa. The walls are up to 4.5 meters thick in some places!
Located right next to the Rhine, it’s close by to a lovely little beer garden where you can enjoy a cool altbier on a sunny day, whilst looking out over the river. Kaiserswerth is also home to the Deaconess’ Institue of Kaiserwerth, famously where Florence Nightingale worked! This area is the perfect place to escape the city for a couple of hours while soaking up some history.
Things to know before visiting Düsseldorf for the first time
With many cobbled lanes throughout Kaiserswerth, you’ll want to wear comfortable walking shoes. Furthermore, though most people speak English, you’ll want to learn a few words of the local language, in this case, German. Bring along a simple phrasebook like this one to help you get by.
Next, Germany, like much of mainland Europe, uses type C and F. This means that if you’re travelling from the US, Canada, the UK, and many other countries, then you’ll need to purchase a travel adaptor. This all in one adaptor contains USB ports and works with several different plugs.
Where to stay in Düsseldorf
As you can imagine from a city of hundreds of thousands of residents, there’s no shortage of places to stay in Düsseldorf. With this being said, the best accommodation fills up fast, especially during peak season (i.e. summer) or during special events. As such, I highly recommend booking your hostel, hotel, or B&B as soon as you know your travel dates. Check the best accommodation rates for Duesseldorf here.
Guide to Dusseldorf: Getting to Düsseldorf and Travelling around the City!
Duesseldorf is a thriving city; an airport with as many destinations as a much larger one serves an ever-growing international population. What’s more, is that the airport is one of the closest to a city that I’ve ever seen; it’s just fifteen minutes by train from the city’s main station. A full guide to Düsseldorf transportation can be found here.
Once in Dusseldorf, it’s possible to see many of the more ‘touristic’ hotspots by foot, and of course, by bike. There is also the possibility of purchasing a Düsseldorf Card; valid for differing amounts of time. This pass also gives you unlimited rides of public transport in the city. I used one during my stay and found that it was incredibly helpful for getting around. Check card prices and availability here.
Otherwise, if you don’t want the discount card but still wish to explore the city via bus, then you can always book this Düsseldorf Hop-on Hop-off City Tour. The full route takes an hour and a half to complete, but the actual ticket is valid all day, meaning that you can explore the city’s many attractions as you wish. If you want to experience the city from another perspective, then you might consider purchasing this combi bus and River cruise ticket.