Chic Dusseldorf is not just North Rhine-Westphalia’s capital but its Knightsbridge or Upper East Side – a sophisticated, cosmopolitan city of swish hotels, contemporary art and designer labels. Though its surface glitter is underpinned by the business acumen of its banks and corporate headquarters, fashion houses and advertising agencies, it’s the confident ease with which Dusseldorf enjoys its prosperity that strikes visitors most forcefully, from the Altstadt’s bars and restaurants to the chichi boutiques on stately Konigsallee.
Dusseldorf’s worldly flair is evidently nothing new, for when Napoleon passed through in 1806 he thought the city a “little Paris.” Today Dusseldorf offers an inspiring dichotomy of ancient history and an invigorating contemporary art and architectural movement which seems to have sprung out of the soil via Frank Gehry and Will Alsop. The city is pleasantly walkable and easily explored on foot in two days. Here are the Top 10 Things to See and Do in Dusseldorf:
1) Breidenbacher Hof
The most uber glitzy of all Dusseldorf’s five-star hotels opened in 2008, though it harks back to the original of 1812. For nearly 200 years, Breidenbacher Hof has epitomized the ultimate in European luxury and hospitality, hosting the international “who’s who” of high society, including royal guests such as Russian Czar Alexander II and Prince August of Prussia. Located right on the Konigsallee in historic downtown Dusseldorf, the hotel features 106 luxurious guest rooms and suites which feature L’Occitane bath products, rainmist showers, plush king sized bed and a mini bar stocked with sot drinks free of charge. Elements of art deco and the empire style inspire the interior design, exuding a feeling of timeless elegance. Sculpted marble meets rich hardwoods in spaces evocative of a prestigious past, while entirely suiting the needs of today’s modern traveler.
2) The Spa at Breidenbacher Hof
The Spa and Beauty Lounge at Breidenbacher Hof offers a chic urban oasis for those in the city looking to treat themselves to a little rest and relaxation. Guests are free to use the hotel’s state of the art fitness facility, intimate indoor heated pool, dry sauna and steam room. The hotel’s new Schnitzler Beauty Lounge melds time-honored tradition with current trends. Guests are pampered via extensive menu of spa treatments which combine eastern and western traditions and are based on the five elements wood, fire, metal, earth and water. I lulled myself to sleep during a one hour signature massage treatment featuring bright mint oil which unravelled on a comfy table in the spa’s tranquil Water Room.
3) Carlsplatz Market Pop by Carlsplatz, the city’s Farmers Market, during the lunch hour to swoon over all the cute boys in dapper suits who come here to enjoy a fresh al fresco feast. Take the time to wander through the markets various alleyways and you’ll discover lush floral bouquets, smoky Butcher, swoon-worthy cheese shop, fresh rye at the bakery and pretty produce. 4) Currywurst with Fries Carlsplatz is also the city’s best bet for serious street food. There are a few restaurants within the market that offer proper seating but most are nothing more than a few high tables where strangers stand together in communion while wolfing down their meal. I opted to sample one of Germany’s most iconic street snacks, Currywurst with Fries. Germany’s most popular fast food dish consists of steamed, then fried pork sausage, cut into slices and seasoned with curry ketchup served alongside crispy fries which locals like to dip in creamy mayonnaise.
5) K20 Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen
A visit to the Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen is an unforgettable encounter with outstanding art works of the 20th and 21st century. Three houses – K20, K21 and F3 – are united under a common “roof”: available here for the permanent presentation of one of the most important European art collections, ranging from classic modernism to the present day.
Facing the Kunsthalle across Grabbeplatz is the sinuous, glossy black facade of the K20 Museum, which houses an outstanding collection of modern art including around a hundred works by Paul Klee as well as work by Joseph Beuys, a substantial Cubist collection including work by Braque, Leger and Picasso, and postwar American art from Pollock to Warhol.
6) Uerige Brewery
No trip to Dusseldorf is complete without a visit to the city’s famed Uerige Brewery. Beer enthusiasts should book themselves a tour here which offers a detailed review of the brewing, cooling, maturing and bottling process. After the tour guests are served crispy fried knuckles of pork with coleslaw and Treberbrötchen, a roll made of spent grains as well as ice cold glasses of fresh Uerige Alt, the breweries signature move.
Of all German beers, Uerige Alt has the highest content of bitter constituents. Uerige’s top-fermented speciality has been brewered here since 1862, and is made of barley malt, caramel malt, roasted malt, umbel hops, water and a proprietary yeast. I also sampled a bottle of Fassbrause (literally: fizzy cask lemonade), which comes in two flavours: elderberry flower and rhubarb. The tart rhubarb brew pours a pretty pink and was so easily sippable it would be an absolute danger to have a few bottles laying around the inside of your fridge on a hot summers day.
7) Lambertus Church
The distinctive spire of St Lambertus forms the visual focus of the agreeably walkable Altstadt. The church’s spire owes its twisted shape to the use of unseasoned timber when it was rebuilt after a lightening strike in 1815. Inside, the highlights are the rocket-like fifteenth-century Gothic tabernacle and the splendid Renaissance memorial to Duke Wilhelm V.
8) Frank Gehry at Media Harbour
Over the past decade, the redundant harbour south of the parliament has been reinvented as the hip Medienhafen, with advertising agencies alongside slick nightclubs, restaurants and eye catching buildings by celebrity architects. Particularly distinctive are the wobbly silver-and-white Neuer Zollhof towers by Frank Gehry. If you enjoy an agreeable day of weather this is Dusseldorf’s best hood for strolling, bar hopping and people watching.
9) Cocktail Sips at Meerbar
Located on the main floor of one of Frank Gehry’s iconic Neuer Zollhof towers, hip Meerbar offers a chic interior and sun drenched patio for those looking to sip the city’s top cocktail creations. The extensive cocktail list offers classic concoctions, creative spins and champagne infused sippers. I ordered a trilogy of thirst quenchers: mint muddled Sour Rhubarb Mojito, peach perfect Bellini and lemon twist finessed Gimlet.
10) Schloss Benrath
The pretty, pink ensemble of Schloss Benrath is arranged symmetrically around a large pond a short drive from downtown Dusseldorf. Built between 1755 and 1770 for the Elector Carl Theodor by his French court architect Nicholas de Pigage in a style that is on the cusp of Rococo and Neoclassical, the complex has a doll’s-house neatness that belies its size.
Once inside, it’s apparent that the Schloss’s modest external appearance disguises a sumptuous palace. The rooms display the same grace and lightness of touch as the exterior, though the circular dome hall aspires to a monumental status. Be sure to wave hello to the cute and chubby infant angles floating above. Visitors follow their guides while wearing wool-pressed clogs, an attempt to protect the palace’s marble and hardwood floors. You’ll find it hard not to chuckle as you slip and slide like an Olympic speed skater under opulent chandelier’s.
My visit to Dusseldorf was a press trip coordinated by Tourism Germany. Flights, accommodation, restaurant visits and activities featured in this destination guide were complimentary.