Heading to Düsseldorf? Here's our guide to Germany's most underrated city, featuring awesome things to do, where to stay and how to get around!
Officially the sixth best place in the world to live, Düsseldorf is exactly that: a very liveable city.
It's a place that doesn't feel overrun with tourists. There are no picture menus nor souvenir lined streets, men trying to sell your reduced-priced tours or tickets to your next destination and although you'll spot the odd stag do crowd on a weekend, refreshingly, they seem to be German and not British. The busy bars in the centre or by the river are very much full of locals. It is a place to discover on foot, or by bike, and a city where even with a big SLR slung around your neck, it is easy to disappear into the crowds.
And whilst Düsseldorf is not Europe's prettiest city (the beautiful old buildings that so enthral visitors to London, Rome and Paris no longer exist here, destroyed by bombs during the second world war), this does not mean that it shouldn't be seen.
In fact, after a few days exploring its streets, we will be telling all that cross our paths, that Düsseldorf, a city full of art, culture and innovation, offers up great weekend break. Here's how you should spend your time in Germany's ninth largest city.
Become acquainted with Altbier
Ask a local what defines them, and chances are you'll hear mention of 'Altbier' more than once.
You see, in a country that is famed for its beers, Düsseldorf has long produced one of the most unique. Not bound by laws and regulations that aimed at limiting beer production in the last century, and by adopting only a handful of modern brewing practices, they have cultivated a style of beer that simply doesn't exist elsewhere in the country. Literally translated as 'old beer', this is one of the few beers in the world that has changed little since its inception hundreds of years ago.
There are eight traditional breweries in Dusseldorf, all of which all brew altbier on the premises (handily, all within stumbling distance of each other!) They represent every beer lover's dream watering hole - they make the good stuff in the back and it's a never-ending supply on tap!
Be aware that the grumpy men serving (it's always men) are sort of required to be grumpy to customers because various local traditions - don't be offended and instead view it as part of the experience.
The breweries are all located in the 'Altstadt', and you can either form your own little pub crawl, or join one of the Altbier Safaris.
Wander the old town
As with most European cities, it is the old town that most attracts and beguiles the tourists. After all, it is here that you will find the museums, the history and the bulk of Düsseldorf's 'must sees'.
Additionally, let's not forget that this is also where you'll find the beer! Street upon street lined with small bars and pubs and kerbside tables filled with people out socialising over a cold one at the merest hint of a sunny sky.
Given the city's size, the cobble stone streets of 'Altstadt' can be explored in just a few hours - just leave the heels at home!
Sit on the banks of the Rhine and watch the boats float by, or opt for one of the water-edge bars for a drink or two.
Explore Dusseldorf's Japanese Side!
What most people don't know (or at least what we didn't know until we visited) is that Dusseldorf is home to a substantial Japanese population - 7,000 to be exact. And whilst the numbers have decreased in recent years, for much of the last century, their numbers surpassed those of even London or Paris.
Wander along Immermann Straße and you will discover streets lined with ramen houses, the Niko hotel, Japanese homeware stores and, well, Japanese-German people.
In a place where German is very much the language of the people, in this curious part of the city, it is very much Japanese that fills the air.
The question then is not if you should check out one of the many restaurants in this neighbourhood, but more so which one? Ask a local, and you'll inevitably be guided toward Na Ni Wa, a place so popular that even at 11.30 on Sunday morning there are queues to get in. If, like us, you choose to go on a Tuesday however, you'll have to pick another option - it seems that even they need a day off.
Thankfully, there's another highly recommended restaurant just around the corner - Tamuki. And we can attest, that it was the finest bowl of veggie ramen that we've ever tasted. Whilst it's not terribly cheap (the veggies soup came in at around 13 Euro), you get free tea and the giant bowl will have you filled for hours!
And the Japanese-themed extravaganza doesn't end at noodles! If your dream has always been to visit Japan during the cherry blossom season, Düsseldorf may well be able to satiate your wanderlust for a little while longer.
Check out the street art
You know us.
If we visit a new place and don't see at least one decent piece of street art, we feel we've missed something. Thankfully, Düsseldorf has sprinklings of epic art all over the city, as well as entire street dedicated to the stuff!
Although a little out of the way, urban art fans should make sure they save an hour or two to check out Kiefern Staße in the east of the city. Here you'll find an entire street full of graffiti, with every house painted by a different artist. Just a word of warning however; if you're planning on taking photos, try and visit earlier in the day - we went around 4 p.m and the light was crazy bright.
You can also find murals dotted over buildings in the Bilk district.
Get lost in Düsseldorf's hipster district
As much as we love exploring old towns, new towns and everything in between, when we visit a new city, it's the 'hipster districts' that we're most drawn to - Düsseldorf is no exception.
Whilst there are a number of areas that come close to encapsulating this, one neighbourhood that fulfills all criteria is 'Bilk'.
Street art, an abundance of cool coffee shops, vintage furniture and clothes stores, tasty vegan food and an plenty of painfully fashionable 20-somethings. Bilk really does have it all.
Don't miss Wandel (Friedenstraße 62) - a huge 1,300 exhibition space of all things vintage. Antique furniture, Art Nouveau, Art Deco, Bauhaus, industrial design.... with over 200,000 items for sale, you'll soon be wondering why you chose hand luggage only!
This is a neighbourhood to explore on foot. Take your time to stop for a great latte, browse shops that catch your eye, disappear into one of the many independent galleries or and stop for a rest in the sun in one Bilk's small parks.
Take a subway tour
Back in 2001, a joint proposal by Klussmann and Darmstadt-based architecture practice Netzwerkarchitekten won a competition to design five stations on the new U-bahn line. Here, instead of artists being sought after the design was already completed, the five artists (all with links to Kunstakademie - the city's renowned art school) worked in collaboration with the architects to develop five very unique concepts - and a free art gallery that is now enjoyed by more than 50,000 people a day.
Incredibly well received by the international art community and locals alike, this ambitious project may however go over the heads of those not aware of its story.
The 3D walls, the words spelled out in wire, the birdsong on the stairs inspired by Leonard Cohen, the galaxies and live kaleidoscope of the street outside on big screens.
If you plan to visit the five stations yourself - Kirchplatz, Graf-Adolf-Platz, Benrather Strasse, Heinrich-Heine-Allee and Pempelforther Strasse - we'd recommend that you read a little here, or consider taking the informative walking tour held every Sunday.
Get on your bike!
There's something rather exciting happening in Düsseldorf this summer - it's hosting the start of the Tour de France! From June 29th to July 2nd 2017, The Grand Départ of the most famous bike race in the world will be held in and around the city.
Even if you aren't visiting during the race, then renting a bicycle still offers one of the best ways to get acquainted with the city on sunny day.
Head over to Oberkassel
Remember how we said that Düsseldorf wasn't the prettiest European city? Well, as always, there is one section of the city that proudly goes against this - the neighbourhood of Oberkassel.
Looking out across the Rhine on our first day in the city, we spotted these beautiful, colourful houses, and just knew that we just had to head over the bridge and explore.
And, if you happen to see a flock of sheep mooching nearby, then don't worry - you aren't hallucinating! Someone in local government had the quite fantastic idea to let these guys munch on the grass on this side of the river to keep it orderly all year round.
Explore the museums and galleries
Düsseldorf, a city with a population of only 600,000 has no fewer than 100 museums and galleries. And, thankfully, these aren't limited to the type which only really excite pottery enthusiasts.
Instead, there are an abundant collection of contemporary and cutting edge galleries. From Kunst im Tunnel, which is housed underground in an old tunnel road to NRW-Forum and K21 (with the amazing interactive installation by Tomás Saraceno) - we were genuinely surprised at how much the city has thrown behind attracting artists and establishing Düsseldorf as a European cultural hub.
We were fortunate enough to time our visit with the annual 'Nacht der Museen' (Night of Museums) where 40 museums open up their doors late into the night, and a host of one-off cultural events, performances, workshops and displays take place throughout the city. In true German style, it's tremendously organised as well, with several special shuttle buses bringing culture vultures around the route at regular intervals so you don't have to worry about traipsing all over the city. All entry and transport only cost us 14 Euros each!
As with many European cities which built their reputation on the maritime trade, industrial changes and increasing globalisation meant that the harbours which had long formed the heartbeat of the local economy fell into disrepair and disrepute.
Suffering from this same fate - one local told us her mum wouldn't allow her to go there in the 80s - Düsseldorf's harbour has undergone a regeneration to make it a business and, as the new name suggests, media hub.
There's an eclectic array of modern architecture, ostensibly supposed to incorporate elements of the port's old purpose. Head here on a Saturday morning and you'll see an array of locals in kayaks.
Getting to, from and around Düsseldorf
Düsseldorf has a fantastic public transport system which includes trams, buses and the underground. Although you could theoretically pay for each journey individually, we'd highly recommend buying the DüsseldorfCard instead. Available in one to four day packages, it also provides free or reduced price admission to a number of tourist attractions. Find out more here.
Getting to/from the airport is incredibly simple, and the city centre can be reached in around 25 minutes with a direct train or 40 minutes by bus. The airport has 30 minutes free wifi, and google maps will be able to advise you of the best route.
A word of warning about cheap flights to and from Düsseldorf: do not fly with Ryanair, whose airport is actually based 70 miles away from the city!
Where to stay
As with any decent sized city, Düsseldorf has an abundance of hotel options, catering to all budgets.
Mid-range: We stayed at Hotel Friends, located in the east of the city. It's a fantastic new boutique hotel with a variety of themed rooms - but with its fantastic eclectic design and retro feel, the real highlight is the communal space downstairs. Its breakfast is also superb! Click here to discover more or make a booking.
Budget-friendly: We also spent a couple of nights at Backpackers Dusseldorf. This small hostel is secure (key pads on each room and individual lockers), provides a free breakfast, has friendly staff and is in a great location. It's nothing fancy, but it's reasonably priced and somewhere we'd stay again. Click here to discover more or make a booking.