I really enjoy visiting Germany and noting that Eurowings had flights departing from Manchester mid-evening on a Friday we decided to head there for a weekend break. It was just a short 65 minute hop over to Düsseldorf, the state capital of North Rhine Westphalia and our first experience of Eurowings, the low cost arm of Lufthansa. We had only praise for them as they were punctual with a bright, clean cabin and pleasant cabin crew.
On arrival in Düsseldorf international airport we took the Sky Train, an elevated tram line that dangles between the terminals and railway station. From there we only had to wait a few minutes for an S Bahn (suburban railway) service to Wehrhahn Station close to our hotel. Before leaving home we’d arranged the Düsseldorf Card which covers both transport and attractions and as this can be printed at home, it meant that it could be put into use immediately saving us from the expense of purchasing train tickets from the airport.
We received a warm welcome at the Holiday Inn Express Dusseldorf City which was to be our home for the next three nights and after a good night’s sleep and a hearty breakfast we were ready to embark on a full day of sightseeing.
As the hotel was only a short distance from the city centre we decided to enjoy a morning stroll, popping into some of the shops along Schadowstrasse where we found many high street brands and German retailers such as Peek and Cloppenburg. This is one of my favourites so we had a good look around there, coming out with a couple of small purchases.
Our walk continued to Königsallee, Düsseldorf’s one kilometre long famous luxury shopping boulevard. Along here you will find exclusive malls and designer stores galore including Prada, Gucci and Chanel as the city isn’t known as Germany’s fashion capital for nothing. It’s said to be the place to be and to be seen especially from one of it’s inviting cafes. I can only imagine how delightful it must be to sit outdoors once the weather warms up, sipping coffee whilst watching the world go by!
Running through the middle of Königsallee is the Kö-Graben, a canal of the Düssel which is lined with Chestnut and Sycamore trees. Strolling along here, we thought it looked picture perfect even on such a gloomy winter’s day.
Connecting the canal is the Hofgarten Park, a tranquil green space in the heart of the city and a perfect place to unwind when you’ve had your fill of shopping. Created in the late 17th century it’s Germany’s first park featuring numerous sculptures, monuments and fountains. We sauntered along footpaths crossing a bridge onto the Landskrone peninsula in the middle of the lake where we watched ducks and swans glide by then decided it was time to find somewhere to cosy up with cups of coffee.
Feeling warmed up, we continued along to Altstadt, Düsseldorf’s old town where we made use of our Düsseldorf Card to visit the Stadt Museum which we found interesting as it explained how the city developed and was re-built after much of it was destroyed by allied bombing. It covers the history of Düsseldorf from its early days to more recently when the city played host to the 2017 Grand Départ of the Tour de France cycle race.
Leaving there, we moved on to the Film Museum which was just around the corner, also included in the Düsseldorf Card.
We’d much enjoyed our visits to the film museums in both Frankfurt and Girona and were eager to find out what was in store for us here. There were lots of hand-on activities and by flipping a series of cards over or turning a handle we could understand how single frame photography developed into moving images. As with the City Museum, all signage was also in English making it easy for us to understand what we were looking at.
1.00 p.m. was fast approaching so we headed off to the Tourist Information office to join a 90 minute walking tour of the old town, €12 (£10) with a 50% discount for Düsseldorf Card holders. For a winter’s day there were quite a number of people waiting to take the tour so we were split into smaller groups before setting off promptly with Jonas our English speaking guide.
We enjoy taking these tours as, although we like nothing more than wandering around by ourselves, we always learn so much more from the local guides.
We were taken along to the Town Hall, Cathedral, and along the Rhine embankment. Stopping by the clock tower Jonas pointed out that it wasn’t an ordinary clock but one that measures water depth. You see, if we had passed this by ourselves, we would just have thought the clock had stopped working, not knowing its actual purpose.
We also learnt that Düsseldorf is the city of cartwheels and this gymnastic activity is an icon of the city. Statues of children cartwheeling can be found throughout the city, some with two feet in the air and others with two arms held aloft.
The walking tour provided us with an in-depth knowledge of the old town, very well presented and not at all boring allowing plenty of opportunities to ask questions and to pause to take photos.
After the tour ended we were starting to feel hungry so we headed off in the direction of the city’s central market at Carlsplatz just south of the old town with its bustling covered market filled with stalls offering fresh vegetables, meat, fruit and flowers.
Carlsplatz also has an abundance of inviting cafes and our bowls of thick pea soup from Dauser were just what we needed to warm ourselves up and probably the tastiest pea soup I’ve eaten. The cafe has a large outside terrace and a smaller indoor section and it took us a few minutes to find a table as it was so popular but were lucky and spotted some people leaving so grabbed the table. It’s self-service from a hatch outside but definitely worth the short wait and inexpensive at under €10 (£8.30) for the two of us, just remember to take cash as they don’t accept card payments.
A little more window shopping followed before it was time for us to begin our second activity of the day, an Altbier Safari. Düsseldorf’s Altstadt is home to more than 200 pubs crowded together in an area of less than one square mile and is affectionately referred to as the longest bar in the world. Back in the mid 20th century there were around 200 Altbier breweries but nowadays there are fewer than 10.
Tours of 5 micro breweries begin from Schlossturm in Burgplatz on the Rhine embankment at 5.00 p.m and include a beer in each. Cost is €27.50 (£22.90) with a 10% reduction for Düsseldorf card holders.
We were split into two groups of 15 before setting off together to our first brewery Füchschen, about a five minute walk away on Ratinger Strasse. Our friendly guide ordered our first round of drinks and these soon arrived for us to enjoy. Each region of Germany is known for its special kind of beer and in Düsseldorf its Altbier. It’s darker than regular beer and has a slightly bitter, fruity hop taste. I’m actually more of a lager drinker but my first taste of Altbier hit the spot nicely.
After finishing our beers without needing to rush, we were then off to Kurzer, the newest Altbier brewery in the city. Kurzer has only been open 10 years and has become a firm favourite with younger drinkers and students.
I liked its industrial chic interior of exposed brick and pipe work and cosy seating. It was in Kurzer that we were able to learn a little about the brewing process, smelling both the hops and malt. We discovered why it’s brewed in Düsseldorf and this is because the city has the perfect climatic conditions for brewing cold-conditioned ales as the temperature never gets too hot or too cold.
Our tour continued onto three more breweries, Schumacher, Zum Schlussel and Uerige where we sampled more Altbier, each slightly different from the other. You might think that the Altbier Safari sounds like a pub crawl which I suppose in essence it is but it’s much more refined and extremely enjoyable.
Our group were a mixed bunch of Swiss, Dutch, German, Portuguese and just us from the U.K. with our guide alternating between German and English. There were people of all ages and each of them very friendly. I think we all enjoyed the camaraderie of being huddled together around a table with a drink in our hands, happily chatting together. After over two hours it was time to bid our farewells and as our 5 glasses of Altbier (one litre in total) had left us feeling hungry we wandered back to Burgplatz, the tour’s starting point to have dinner in The Schwan Restaurant overlooking the square.
As it was a Saturday evening we had reserved a table and were shown to a cosy corner by one of the windows. Schwan has a relaxed, informal atmosphere with its dim lighting and candles on each table. Menus are available in English and as we anticipated that the dishes would be of generous proportions we decided to go straight for the mains.
I felt like comfort food and my goulash served with creamy mashed potato and red cabbage was perfect on such a cold winter’s evening. Across the table my son opted for his favourite schnitzel, it had to be done, he couldn’t come to Germany without ordering one. This went down a treat and we then succumbed to the temptation of desserts, for me apple strudel served with vanilla sauce and a huge slice of cheesecake for him. Verdict, delicious food, reasonably priced and a great place to eat in Düsseldorf being so close to the river.
It had been a busy but thoroughly enjoyable first day in Düsseldorf and we reflected on our experiences whilst travelling back to the hotel on the U Bahn underground rail. Stay tuned to discover how we spent our second day in the city.
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