Long an important destination for commerce and trade, Düsseldorf puts on a serious face when it comes to business. But on closer look, this big little city of 600,000 people has another side — and that’s precisely the appeal.A blend of avant-garde and Gothic architecture, resplendent palaces and sprawling parks, a tony shopping avenue and an Old Town that tests the mettle of any beer enthusiast, Düsseldorf seamlessly fuses its medieval past to its cosmopolitan present. Even better, during warmer months, a wealth of outdoor cafés and festivals invites locals and visitors alike to languish in the sun and soak up the city’s vast culture into the wee hours of the night.
STAY: The 200-year-old Breidenbacher Hof, a Capella Hotel is a paragon of Old World tradition and luxury and has hosted the crowned and the titled for the last two centuries, including composers Chopin and Schubert, who are said to have performed at the hotel. Whether you prefer comedy or tragedy, Stage 47 gets a standing ovation for design. Next door to the Savoy Theatre, the hotel decor radiates a dramatic theme, including large portraits of famous German actors in each room. Situated in the city’s edgy Media Harbour district, the Radisson Blu Media Harbour Hotel offers 135 contemporary rooms and affords guests easy access to the city center, the Rhine Tower and the peaceful riverside promenade.
EAT AND DRINK: Ask anyone about Düsseldorf, and one memory often flickers, hazily, back: beer. Düsseldorf’s Old Town, or Altstadt, is the Olympics for well-trained pub crawlers and has been dubbed “the world’s longest bar,” thanks to the nearly 300 drink establishments crammed into a half-square-mile of cobblestoned space. The copper-colored altbier is Düsseldorf’s favorite elixir. Tour the Uerige brewery, established in 1862, and sip it straight from the barrel. For a true Düsseldorf experience, head to Zum Schiffchen, a 380-year-old restaurant/brewery that serves traditional Rhineland cuisine like herring in a sour-cream sauce with apples, onions and bacon potatoes. South of the center, former working-class neighborhood Bilk is a buzzing outpost where old factories and worker flats are now occupied by trendy bars and restaurants; it also houses the city’s large student population.
SEE AND DO: What’s a trip to Europe without a palace? Düsseldorf has several, including Jägerhof Palace, completed in 1772 and restored in 1811 on the occasion of Napoleon’s visit. The palace is home to the Goethe Museum, dedicated to the famous German poet. Benrath Palace, just outside the city center, was built in the 18th century as the summer palace of Prince Elector Carl Theodor von der Pfalz. The pink edifice and surrounding gardens provide a popular excursion. Architecture enthusiasts will love the Media Harbour district, where ultramodern oeuvres from some of the world’s most renowned architects loom over Düsseldorf’s former Rhine harbor. If retail therapy is what the doctor ordered, fill the prescription on the Königsallee, also called the Kö, a spendy stretch of tree-lined street that’s home to fashion’s most exclusive designer boutiques.
CHILL OUT — AND UP: The incredibly scenic Rhine river promenade links the Old Town to the Media Harbour and affords a pleasant walk, bike or skate past the numerous cafés and beer gardens that overflow during warm months. The city’s tallest landmark, the Rhine Tower, is visible from here. Work your way up 168 meters (550 feet) to the platform for panoramic views.
If You Go...
Breidenbacher Hof, a Capella Hotel
From $318 to $414
From $180 to $783
Radisson Blu Media Harbour
From $135 to $200
Hammer Strasse 23
See & Do
Jägerhof Palace/Goethe Museum
Schloss Jägerhof, Jacobistrasse 2
Benrather Schlossallee 100-106
Eat & Drink
Berger Strasse 1