DUsseldorf residents call home “the 10-minute city” because it rarely takes longer to get where you want to go. That’s quite a claim for a place that has no fewer than 50 Stadtteile (mini-districts), but is supported by a U-Bahn and S-Bahn transit system that gets you around easily. And therein lies the great attraction of Düsseldorf: a small city of just over 600,000 inhabitants, with the infrastructure, internationality and sheer cultural weight of a much larger place. Add 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 to live in.
There is a lot of wealth at stake here, much of it spread along the tree-lined, canal-adjacent Königsallee, one of Germany’s most famous shopping streets. As the postwar capital of North Rhine-Westphalia (established 1946), the nation’s most populous state, Düsseldorf became a center for global business and finance, and the fashionable celebrities who frequent the stretch of a kilometer-long designer shops in “los Kö” have earned it a reputation for snobbery.
However, that is only part of the story. Visit the Altstadt (Old Town) at night and you’ll find a lively, bustling center that cares more about good times than good taste, and where more than 300 pubs, breweries, restaurants, and clubs are so closely aligned that you like it. call it “the longest bar in the world”. Established neighborhoods like Bilk and Flingern, and emerging ones like Derendorf and Pempelfort, are home to diverse populations, combining daytime elegance with energetic nightlife. There’s a plentiful counterculture courtesy of the city’s art school, and Germany’s largest Japanese community can be found in Niederkassel and along Immermannstrasse (aka Little Tokyo), where the ramen is second to none.
The mighty Rhine has long been a site of heavy transport; today it is a place to stroll or have a drink, to ride a skateboard and eat ice cream, courtesy of the boardwalk that runs along its eastern edge. At its southern end is Medienhafen, where the old harbor has been transformed into a vision of ultra-modernity. Since the arrival of Frank Gehry’s three flexible buildings at the end of the last millennium, a kind of architectural Epcot has sprung up around them, where the interplay of the many new structures is as fascinating as their individual designs, all overlooked by the needle style. The Rhine Tower, with its panoramic viewpoint and revolving restaurant.
Across the river is Oberkassel, the somewhat exclusive district where sheep still graze in the beautiful meadows by the water; they keep the sight neat and tidy for the owners of the expensive art nouveau buildings looking down on them. There are plenty of green spaces to choose from anywhere in the city, however, from the sprawling Hofgarten, home to the iconic curves of the Schauspielhaus performing arts center, 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’ll find cafes, beer gardens and even a petting zoo.
Where to eat
There’s a wide variety of cuisines to enjoy, from authentic Italian cuisine at San Leo in Altstadt, to hot Nashville chicken served with biodynamic wine at Vibey Hitchcoq in Pempelfort. There’s also a strong trend for mixed food and fusion, whether it’s Asian-Mediterranean at Bar Olio, French-Rhenish at Fleher Hof, or Waya Kitchen, where “Asian-American-Latin” soul food includes teriyaki chicken burgers and schnapps. Korean. . You’ll find great Japanese food all over the city, not just on the Little Tokyo strip, and Nagaya in Stadtmitte has a Michelin star.
The daily market on Carlsplatz is a great place to pick up a coffee and cake or a bite to eat for lunch; and on Lorettostrasse in Unterbilk, independent boutiques are dotted with some of the city’s best casual dining. Chef Murat Avcioglu in Noa cooks with vegetables he has grown in his own garden, while at Rob’s Kitchen you can enjoy gastronomic cuisine at bistro prices.
It’s hard to leave Düsseldorf without having seen, or tasted, the altbier the Rhineland is justifiably proud of. There are five breweries that create this “top-fermented” beer, most of them in the Altstadt, where customers wash down their drink with traditional dishes like sausages, potato salad and huge pork knuckles. For a historic setting, try the cavernous bars of Uerige, or for a more modern take, the microbrewery Brauerei Kürzer is the real baby of the bunch, at just 12 years old.
The Kunstakademie has had a profound influence on the city’s arts and outlook. In the 19th century, this school of fine arts was famous for its landscape artists; in the 20th, for his photography, and for the teaching of the sculptor and activist Joseph Beuys. Today, it continues to foster a heady mix of mainstream and underground culture, and the sheer number of contemporary art collections and galleries means that Düsseldorf far outweighs its weight on the international stage. At Grabbeplatz you can walk straight up from the three-story Kunstsammlung K20, with its Kirchners, Klees and Klimts, and into the contemporary exhibition space of the Kuntshalle, while at K21 (the Kunstsammlung’s second location), you can climb inside the the glass roof of the old parliament building on a large spider web, as part of a long-running installation by Tomás Saraceno.
The music scene has always been just as cutting-edge and original: Düsseldorf was the birthplace of influential bands like Kraftwerk, Neu!, La Düsseldorf, Rheingold and DAF, and the bars and clubs remain a pioneering space for all kinds of electronic music. . There’s usually plenty to do in the Altstadt, especially on weekends, and one of the best places to start is the laid-back Salon des Amateurs, which serves as the Kunsthalle’s café during the day, and at night becomes a hot spot for the artsy crowd that spills onto the steps outside. Startup Lucy’s Sky hosts club nights at a speakeasy-style venue on Flinger Strasse; you have to ring a doorbell hidden between two storefronts to enter its colorful underground world.
Of all the neighborhoods in Düsseldorf, Flingern is a particularly fascinating day out. It actually comprises two Stadtteile, each with a distinct feel, from the laid-back urban village of Flingern-Nord to the punk attitude of Flingern-Süd. In the 1980s, the latter’s Kiefernstrasse was a notorious squat, home to anarchist gangs. Today its houses are the most vibrant in the city, its facades covered with colorful works of art chosen by the residents, who have built a lively alternative community here. An iconic punk and hardcore club, AK47, lives on in its dingy glory, while just around the corner, the trendy new eatery, 5P Style, serves up artisanal burgers with truffle fries.
A 15-minute walk north brings you to Birkenstrasse and Ackerstrasse, the two streets at the epicenter of the gentrifying North Flingern neighborhood with tree-lined squares and independent cafes. Artists’ workshops and galleries punctuate the route of vintage boutiques and upcycling shops; it’s the kind of place where you can pick up a couture hat on one side of the street and a tattoo on the other. Among the many pleasant restaurants, Bulle Bistro, with its sister wine bar and premium bakery, stands out, while the fabulous cakes at Cafe Hüftgold deserve their claim of being “world famous in Flingern”.
Where to stay
There hasn’t always been much love for Düsseldorf’s post-war architecture, built at breakneck speed to restore a city that was largely destroyed by bombing in World War II. But Ruby Luna (double from £85 B&B), opening May 2021, has found plenty to celebrate in the 1950s-esque style of its Altstadt location. The open lounge and restaurant are a stylish homage to mid-century space-age design, and the rooftop bar offers a truly great view of the city (if you don’t already have one from your window). The city’s love of rock music is also a tip of the hat, with a Marshall amp in every room and a guitar ready to go at reception.
Travel pass provided by Interrail; prices start from €185 (for four travel days in a month). The trip was provided by Düsseldorf Tourismus