Swotting up for a weekend away in Düsseldorf, Stephen Davy-Osborne made the mistake of consulting a Cologneophile for some top tips before he left…

“THE best thing about Düsseldorf? The fact it’s only 50 minutes away from Cologne!” a good friend of mine cheekily replied when I foolishly went to him for advice.

To be fair to him, logistically-speaking he is entirely correct. You don’t even have to change trains from Düsseldorf airport to arrive in Cologne beside its magnificent cathedral, which makes the airport a great choice when exploring the westerly German state of North Rhine-Westphalia.

But aside from that technical point, his answer is entirely wrong. And limiting yourself to just the interior of Düsseldorf Hauptbanhof as you speed your way south to Cologne would only lead to you missing out on the longest bar in the world, among many of the other delights this forward thinking city has going in its favour in the ever increasing game of one-upmanship.

Among British tourists though, Düsseldorf may not be the first choice for a weekend getaway, and that is largely down to the fact the city has something of an image problem here in the UK. Aside from the sound of its name being rather amusing in the English language, it is also often the butt of the joke – most recently in the Sky One drama Delicious, which portrayed the city as being the last place on earth anyone with a sense of adventure wanting to travel the world should visit.

Factor in that it’s twinned with Swindon’s M4 arch-rival, Reading, and for some that’s just the final nail in the coffin.

But rivalries exist when there is a clear jostling for power, and Düsseldorf wouldn’t be in any position to lay claim to Cologne’s crown unless it really was a thriving city worthy of your attention. Forget the grey suits that have helped turn this city into a business hub, in its time it has also counted Andy Warhol as a fan, who treated the city as a favourite haunt in the 70s and 80s. This is a city that lives and breathes carnival, and their season is a spectacle to behold.

The rivalry still runs deep to this day, though mainly now in terms of beer and football. Luckily Fortuna Düsseldorf and FC Köln are rarely able to remain in the same league as each other, so the rival fans rarely come face to face in the stands.

Beer on the other hand, is another issue – and that can only be decided upon by giving it all a very good try. But this is probably a conversation best saved for one the city’s magnificent bars, where any city dweller will be happy to explain to you why you’re best off saving your Euros and staying in Düsseldorf, rather than following the Rhine south to Cologne where thousands of pensioners dock on their riverboat cruises every week.

Düsseldorf knows that beer is big business and here it plays to its strengths. It is very keen to showcase the huge variety of different beers on offer in a number of microbreweries that have sprung up in recent years, and helped the city retain its title of having the longest bar in the world. Or perhaps that should be the longest bar crawl in the world, as the oldest part of the city is home to around 300 bars and clubs. It does minimise the need for long drunken walks (or stumbles, depending on the point in proceedings) from one bar to the next.

The district retains its title as in theory each establishment’s bar lines up alongside the one next door. Maybe don’t spend too much time worrying about the semantics, and instead enjoy the wide variety of beer on tap.

But where on earth do you start when faced with 300 bars, each the favourite of a different group of locals from across the city? If it’s a bit of everything you’re looking for, or even just a starting point, Altsbier Safari has it covered. In just two hours you will be whisked around the city and given a taster at five of the finest bars, each with their own take on that German staple that has put the country on the map around the world.

Chances are after making your way around some of the night-time highlights you will be in need of some good old fashioned German sustenance too, so set your course for brewery Zum Schiffchen - the city’s oldest restaurant, which can trace its origins back as far as 1628. The landlord even welcomed Napoleon through his doors back in the day. Here you can tackle traditional roasted pork knuckles bigger than your head, deliciously fresh fish dishes and generous steaks. All washed down with the city’s finest tipple of course.

If all of that sounds far too stereotypically German for your liking, don’t write Düsseldorf off just yet – for there is far more elegant side to the city too. At the heart of the city is the beautifully chic Königsallee. This sweepingly wide tree-lined boulevard is home to top-end designers and smart boutiques on either side of a landscaped canal. For a moment you could almost be in Paris.

Stop and take a look at the architecture adoring the exterior of the Galeria Kaufhof – which is a striking building in itself – but look skyward and more closely at some of the adornments on its upper parts. Built between 1907 and 1909 by Joseph Maria Olbrich, he hid some rather cheeky busts in plain sight for all to see.

Not too far from the kilometre-long Königsallee is the permanent market, Carlsplatz, where you can find everything from fresh local cheeses, seafood, charcuterie and freshly baked breads. Just wandering through its maze of stalls is a feast for the senses.

And it’s not all superficial spending either, the city is home to more than 100 art galleries and the world-renowned Kunstakademie arts school, which allows it to punch far above its weight among larger cities with its thriving artistic credentials.

But leaving groundlevel behind, the best way to view the city and get a real grounding for what it has to offer is to scale the Rheinturm - a 240.5 metre high telecommunications tower that dominates the skyline of the city.

Sure, a concrete telecommunications tower may not sound like a rival to Cologne Cathedral, but consider that you can scale the tower at a rate of four metres a second in its central lifts rather than taking on the 533 steps needed to make it to the base of the cathedral’s spire, and it becomes far more appealing.

And once you’re up there, it’s very hard to want to leave. Built at the turn of the 1980s, today it boasts a viewing platform offering unrivalled views out across the city and far beyond. Here you can see the River Rhine snake away into the distance. It also boasts a glass-fronted 180-seat restaurant that rotates on its axis once an hour to give you a full view of the city as you enjoy your meal.

But the tower also puts on a great public service to those enjoying an evening stroll along the riverbanks by using a series of lights on its shaft to tell the time. It may take a bit of head scratching to get your head around, but it really is rather clever - as well as being the largest digital clock in the world.

After all, the tolling of cathedral bells is so last century.


Düsseldorf has such a reliable transport network that runs late into the night that you don't even need to stay within the city walls to make the most of it. Maritim Düsseldorf is located next to the airport, making it the ideal base after an evening flight in. The luxurious hotel offers 533 rooms and suites, with prices starting from €99 a night. It also boasts three restaurants and three bars, as well as a wellness complex with pool, sauna, steam bath and a fitness area. www.maritim.com

How to get there

bmi flies from Bristol to Dusseldorf daily (excluding Saturdays) with fares from just £86 one way. All fares are inclusive of 23kg hold luggage, allocated seating and complimentary in-flight drinks and snacks. www.flybmi.com