Düsseldorf: A city with no obligations
The beautiful thing about visiting Düsseldorf, Germany is that there isn’t a list of must-dos before you get there. What do I mean? Let’s say you’re going to Paris. You tell your friends. They will inevitably give you a bunch of advice. Those that haven’t been may romanticize the Eiffel Tower, walks along the Seine, or looking at the Mona Lisa. Francophiles will suggest a cafe that serves the best croissant, or a secret alleyway that gives you the ultimate view of the Notre Dame Cathedral, maybe even a child-friendly pizza shop that gives kids balloons after their order is placed so they can be spotted at the playground when the pizza is ready.
Tell someone you’re going to Düsseldorf and they’ll likely have no idea what should be seen, or where the hidden secrets are. The best thing about Düsseldorf? It isn’t usually one of the must-see cities on people’s list, but it is a beautiful city that appeals to a variety of people with all of the charm associated with more popular destinations.
So, with that out of the way, let me tell you about one of my favorite areas that most people will gravitate towards when their travels bring them to Düsseldorf.
Düsseldorf Altstadt (Old City) and the Rhein Promenade
Düsseldorf’s Altstadt is a pedestrian-friendly area lined with 3-5 story buildings and cobblestone streets. The buildings are clustered together, with many of them slightly slanted and more ornately decorated than modern German architecture allows. The Altstadt is famous for it’s 250-300 bars, making it the longest bar in the world. However, during the day it is a great spot to pick-up unique trinkets and eat a variety of food.
The Rhein Promenade is a nice walkway separating the Altstadt from the actual Rhein River. There are pathways for walkers, bikers, and a line of restaurants directly on the Rhein. The Rhein Promenade and Altstadt are a casual escape offering choices for the whole family.
Celebrations in the city
My favorite thing about this area of Düsseldorf is that there is always a celebration, festival, or special event for visitors. On a random Sunday in June I was surprised to see that a temporary path had been created restricting pedestrians along the length of the promenade. After a few minutes of trying to figure out what was going on, we realized we were there for the triathlon. We watched the bikers race by several times, and then caught up with a small fest in their honor at the start of the running portion of the race. Other annual festivals include the popular Christmas Market, which takes place throughout the city; Vive La France, celebrating the French culture around Bastille Day; Japan Day, in honor of the large Japanese population that has settled in Düsseldorf; Carnival, a time to mark the beginning of lent and even includes a children’s parade; and a Cart-wheeling Tournament, a popular image and statue seen throughout the city is the cart-wheel; as well as many other options.
Enjoy the views
The Rhein Promenade starts at Burgplatz and continues to the grassy area right before the Rheinknie Bridge. Burgplatz is one of the popular meeting points for visitors. During the day people sit on the large steps and watch the ships on the Rhein. In the evening it is the perfect spot to watch the sunset over Oberkassel, the section of Düsseldorf across the Rhein River.
Burgplatz is marked by a small tower. Burg means castle in German and it’s fitting that this is the former site of Düsseldorf’s Castle. The only part of the castle that remains is the tower that now houses the Shipping Museum. Entrance is only 3 Euros. After visiting the exhibit, go to the top for cake and coffee and views of the city. While this is a family-friendly museum, it is not a stroller-friendly one. If you have a stroller or want to see the view of the city from a higher vantage point, head past the bridge on the other end of the Rhein Promenade. The Rheinturm is only 4 Euros and the floor to ceiling windows offer panoramic views of the city. You cannot bring strollers to the top, but you can park them on the ground level. And yes, there is coffee and cake for purchase there, too.
If you are scared of heights or just want to look at the city from another angle, try one of the cruises. The ships dock along the promenade. You can choose from one-hour trips within Düsseldorf, learning more about the Altstadt and Media Harbor, or day trips to neighboring cities. If you want to be on a ship, but not sail, one of the ships is permanently docked and is now a restaurant.
Unfortunately, Düsseldorf is often rainy or cold. Many people will just put on their raincoats and go about their day, but there are indoor options as well. The Altstadt/Rhein Promenade area has several museums worth visiting. I mentioned the shipping museum earlier. There is also a Film Museum , the Düsseldorf City Museum (with wonderful gardens on the premises), several Art Museums, and even a mustard museum!
When it’s time to eat, the Altstadt and Promenade are the perfect places to grab a bite. My first choice is usually to eat at one of the festival stands. Otherwise, I pick up items for a picnic at the Carlplatz Markt.
If I want to dine in there are many choices for cuisine. The Promenade has outdoor restaurants along the Rhein that are perfect on warm days.
The Altstadt has not only traditional German restaurants (the Zum Schiffchen Brewery is the most famous), but food from all over the globe. For example: Lebanese, Thai, Korean, Japanese, Italian, Mexican, Greek, and Irish to name a few. There are also several steakhouses, seafood restaurants, and fast food options. My favorite places are the Spanish restaurants, which can be easily located by finding a popular piece of art inlaid on one of the corners (see image above). Unless you go to a fast food restaurant, expect slow service. Mealtime is for lingering, so be prepared. Also, many restaurants do not have high chairs so you may have to pull your stroller up to the table.
Once your meal is over, it’s time to really live like a local. Find an ice cream shop (there are plenty and they are all good) and order a scoop (or two) of your favorite flavors. Then walk along the Rhein and enjoy the atmosphere. You’re in Düsseldorf and you have no other obligations here.
Ann Belle is an American expat living in Germany with her husband and two kids. She blogs about traveling with kids and offers tips and tools to help children and families embrace travel at her blog, Travel Turtle.