I took the train to Düsseldorf – here is my guide to the city

I took the train to Düsseldorf – here is my guide to the city

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Düsseldorf residents call their home “the 10-minute city” because it rarely takes longer than that to get where you want to go. That’s a big claim for a place that has no less than 50 stadtteile (mini districts) but is supported by a U-Bahn and S-Bahn transit system that takes you easily. And therein lies the great attraction of Düsseldorf: a small city of just over 600,000 inhabitants, with the infrastructure, internationality and cultural weight of a much larger place. Add in the fact that over 57% of its area is green, and you can understand why a recent study ranked it the sixth best city in the world to live in.


There’s a lot of wealth at stake here, much of it being spread out along the Königsallee, one of Germany’s most famous shopping streets, lined with trees and adjacent to the canal. As the post-war capital of North Rhine-Westphalia (established in 1946), the country’s most populous state, Düsseldorf has become a hub for global business and finance, and the well-dressed celebrities who frequent the half-mile stretch of designer stores on “the Kö” has gained a reputation for snobbery.

That’s only part of the story, however. Visit the Altstadt (Old Town) in one night and you’ll find a lively to noisy center that cares more about good times than good taste, and where the more than 300 pubs, breweries, restaurants and clubs are so lined up that I like to 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, blending daytime chic with energetic nightlife. There’s a buzzing counterculture courtesy of the city’s art school, and the largest Japanese community in Germany can be found in Niederkassel and along Immermannstrasse (AKA Little Tokyo), where ramen can’t be beaten.

A canal divides the Königsallee shopping street.

A canal divides the Königsallee shopping street. Photography: Miro May/Alamy

The mighty Rhine has long been a place of heavy shipping; today it’s a place to stroll or drink, skate and eat ice cream, courtesy of the boardwalk that runs along its east bank. At its southern end is Medienhafen, where the old port has been transformed into a vision of ultramodernity. Since the arrival of Frank Gehry’s three curved buildings at the end of the last millennium, a kind of architectural Epcot has sprung up around them, where the interplay of many new structures is as fascinating as their individual designs, all neglected for their needle-like appearance. Rhine Tower, with its panoramic platform and revolving restaurant.

Sheep graze in the meadows of the Rhine near Oberkassel.

Sheep graze in the meadows of the Rhine near Oberkassel. Photography: Jochen Tack/Alamy

Across the river is Oberkassel, the somewhat exclusive district where sheep still graze in the beautiful seaside meadows; they keep the view clean and tidy for the owners of the expensive art nouveau buildings that overlook them. There are plenty of parks to choose from wherever you find yourself in the city, however, from the expansive Hofgarten, which houses the iconic curves of the Schauspielhaus performing arts center, to the romantic ponds in front of the former state parliament building, the Standehaus. There are also community gardens and subdivisions in the south of the city, where you’ll find cafes, breweries and even a zoo.

Where to eat

People hang out at a cafe in Altstadt Dusseldorf.

People hang out at a cafe in Altstadt. Photography: theendup/Alamy

There’s a huge variety of cuisines to enjoy, from authentic Italian at San Leo in Altstadt, to Nashville hot chicken served with biodynamic wine at the vibey Hitchcoq in Pempelfort. There’s also a strong trend towards crossover and fusion foods, whether Asian-Mediterranean at Bar Olio, French-Rhenish at Fleher Hof or Waya Kitchen, where “Asian-North American-Latin” soul food includes teriyaki chicken and liqueur sliders. korean. You’ll find excellent Japanese food all over the city, not just in the Little Tokyo strip, and Nagaya in Stadtmitte has a Michelin star.

Related: Took the train to Strasbourg, France – here’s my guide to the city

The daily market on Carlsplatz is a great place to grab a coffee and cake or a snack for lunch; and on Lorettostrasse in Unterbilk the independent boutiques are punctuated with some of the city’s best casual restaurants. Noa’s chef Murat Avcioglu cooks with vegetables he grew in his own garden, while at Rob’s Kitchen you can enjoy gourmet cuisine at bistro prices.

It’s hard to leave Düsseldorf without having seen – or tasted – the altbier the Rhineland is proud of. There are five brewpubs that create this “top-fermented” beer, most of them in Altstadt, where diners accompany the drink with traditional dishes like sausages, potato salad and huge chunks of pork. For historic settings, try the cavernous bar lounges of the Uerige – or for a more modern take, the microbrewery Brauerei Kürzer is the real baby of the bunch, at just 12 years old.


Art by Dorothee Clara Brings on display at K21.

Art by Dorothee Clara Brings on display at K21. Photography: Dpa Picture Alliance/Alamy

The Kunstakademie had a profound influence on the city’s arts and outlook. In the 19th century, this school of fine arts was known for its landscape painters; in the 20th century, for his photography and 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 is far above its weight on the international stage. At Grabbeplatz you can walk straight out of 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 roof. of the former parliament building in a vast spider’s web, as part of a long-standing installation by Tomás Saraceno.

The music scene has been so bold 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 types of electronic music. There is usually a lot going on in the Altstadt, particularly 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 popular hangout for the artistic audience that spill out onto the steps outside. The new Lucy’s Sky development hosts club nights in a speakeasy-style venue on Flinger Strasse; you have to ring a bell hidden between two shop windows to enter its colorful underground world.


Flingern is one of the liveliest areas of Düsseldorf, with a community spirit and a history of rebellion.

Flingern is one of the liveliest areas of Düsseldorf, with a community spirit and a history of rebellion. Photography: Jochen Tack/Alamy

Of all the districts in Düsseldorf, Flingern is a particularly fascinating day out. In fact, it comprises two stadtteile, each with a distinct feel, from the sleepy urban village of Flingern-Nord to the punk attitude of Flingern-Süd. In the 1980s, the latter’s Kiefernstrasse was a notorious squatter, home to anarchist gangs. Today its houses are the most vibrant in the city, their facades covered with colorful artwork chosen by the residents, who have built a lively alternative community here. An iconic punk and hardcore club, AK47, lives in dark glory, while around the corner the new restaurant opening 5P Style serves artisanal burgers with truffle fries.

Related: A local guide to Düsseldorf by music writer Rudi Esch

A 15-minute walk north takes you to Birkenstrasse and Ackerstrasse, the two roads at the epicenter of North Flingern’s gentrified neighborhood of leafy squares and independent cafes. Artists’ ateliers and galleries dot the array of vintage boutiques and upcycling shops; it’s the kind of place where you can get a couture hat on one side of the street and a tattoo on the other. Among the many pleasant restaurants, Bulle Bistro stands out, with its sister wine bar and cousin bakery, while the fabulous cakes at Cafe Hüftgold deserve the title of “world famous in Flingern”.

Where to stay

There hasn’t always been much love for Düsseldorf’s post-war architecture, built at high speed to restore a city that was largely destroyed by bombing in WWII. But Ruby Luna (doubles from £85 B&B), which opened in May 2021, found plenty to celebrate in the 1950s style of its Altstadt location. The open lounge and restaurant are an elegant 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). There’s a tip of the hat, too, for the city’s love of rock, with a Marshall amp in each room and a guitar ready to go at the front desk.

Travel pass provided by Interrail; prices start at €185 (for four travel days in a month). The trip has been arranged by Düsseldorf Tourismus

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