Düsseldorf is the vibrant and cosmopolitan capital city of North Rhineland Westphalia, Germany’s most populous state. I currently live in its nearby rival city, Cologne, but my husband works in Düsseldorf, so I spend plenty of time there. Düsseldorf offers a rich history and culture, a thriving arts scene, and a lively nightlife. Plus, it is beautiful – especially the architecture!
The people of Düsseldorf are known to be posh and a little snobby, a reputation that I think is well-deserved. But it certainly doesn’t detract from the enjoyment of this proud German city. I think Düsseldorf offers visitors a great contrast to Cologne, which has a much more down-to-earth culture in a much less beautiful package. Because of their close proximity to one another, it is quite easy for travelers to visit both Cologne and Düsseldorf on the same trip. I’ve got plenty of suggestions for Cologne activities if you need them!
But back to the topic on hand. There is no shortage of things to do in Düsseldorf, whether you’re interested in history, culture, or just having a good time. In this blog post, I’ll be sharing the best things to do in Düsseldorf, from exploring the city’s beautiful parks and gardens, to visiting its world-class museums, to enjoying its delicious food and drink. Whether you’re planning a short trip or a longer stay, these are the 12 must-see attractions and activities that will make your visit to Düsseldorf unforgettable.
A Local’s Guide to the Best of Düsseldorf
Unique Düsseldorf Activities
For a long time, Düsseldorf was a primary destination for shipping companies in the lower Rhine valley so it’s harbor was busy and robust. This prominence began to dwindle over time in favor of cities further north and south, and Düsseldorf’s harbor became less important. In the 1980s, the city decided to redevelop the harbor (hafen in German) to be the professional center for fashion, media and startup companies in Düsseldorf.
The architectural development started with the construction of the TV tower (more on that below), which is where you should start your modern architecture walking tour. City officials began inviting architects from around the world to develop buildings in the harbor area, which has since become known as Mediahafen. The designs could be as diverse and modern as the architect desired, as long as the scope of the proposals included some homage to the maritime history of the harbor.
The Mediahafen has blossomed into a hub of modern architecture, and now it has one of the highest concentrations of award-winning buildings in the world. You will marvel at office buildings by Steven Holl and stand in awe of the Frank Gerry trio of curved buildings. You can buy a cheap guided walking tour via the city’s tourism board if you want to learn a lot about the Mediahafen, or you can just wander around the area on your own. Because this is largely an office area, there aren’t a lot of shops, bars or restaurants and it gets really sleepy after 6:00pm.
Window Shopping Konigsallee
One thing that you’ll sense right away in Düsseldorf is the high density of wealth. It is a more luxurious and ritzy city than Cologne, hence why it has a snobby reputation. A walk along the Konigsallee shopping street, which translates to King’s Alley, is ground zero for luxury shopping in Düsseldorf with shops like Louis Vuitton, Gucci and Prada along the canal. If you’re like me and can’t afford to shop at spots like this, the tree lined canal and ornamental bridges make for a nice backdrop to walk along as you sip a latte and windowshop.
The area roughly from Burgplatz on the north end of the city to Spee’scher Graben garden on the south end can be considered Düsseldorf’s Altstadt. While it may look far on a map, it only takes about 15 minutes to walk from one end to the other, with plenty of beautiful spots to stop along the way. Sights to see in the Altstadt of Düsseldorf include the charming Rathaus with its flowers and blue shutters, the Schlossturm which has a maritime museum inside, the historic St Lambertus Church whose steeple has a slight bend to it, and the famous Cartwheeler (Radschlägerbrunnen) fountain.
Food & Drink
Surprising to many, Düsseldorf has one of the largest Japanese diaspora populations in all of Europe. Some have even coined it “Tokyo on the Rhine” with neighborhoods like Japantown or Little Tokyo. There are many shops and restaurants dedicated almost entirely to Japanese culture and food. As such, it is probably unsurprising to learn that the Japanese food in Düsseldorf is authentic – and delicious! To get a taste for this amazing food, I would definitely recommend sampling one of the renowned ramen restaurants in Düsseldorf.
My home city of Cologne doesn’t offer the best options for Asian food, so anytime I am craving a hot bowl of ramen, I take the 30 minute train ride up to Düsseldorf. Some places specialize in chicken broth ramen or tonkotsu ramen, so there are options abound perfectly matched to your personal preferences. Regardless of which type of ramen you choose, I am sure you’ll be impressed by the quality of the Japanese restaurants in Düsseldorf!
You can’t come to Düsseldorf without sampling the local brew – Altbier. Similar to Kölsch in Cologne, the people of Düsseldorf are dedicated to their beer and will drink nearly nothing else. Altbier doesn’t have the same protected status as Kölsch, but offers a fuller and richer flavor. Altbier tends to be slightly more malty and hoppy than Kölsch, and has a dark caramel color.
Sometimes called the “longest bar in the world,” the Altstadt is Düsseldorf’s party district with roughly 300 brewpubs, clubs and cafes packed into a half square mile. There are many Altbier brewhouses that you could try in Düsseldorf, but the most traditional one is probably Uerige. I love the patio at Uerige, and I think their Altbier is really, really good. Another favorite is Füchschen Brewery whose taproom can be found on the northside of the Altstadt. My husband’s favorite Altbier is from Brauerei Kürzer because of it’s small batch brewing and rich, full taste.
Perhaps my favorite activity in Düsseldorf is shopping the rows and rows of fresh food at Carlsplatz Market. It is a stylish yet functional farmer’s market in the heart of the city, which offers a range of food options from raw fish and vegetables to currywurst and a wine bar. Spread across five different lanes of stalls, I could spend hours sampling all of the food at Carlsplatz! It is such a fun spot for foodies to explore because you can get a sense of German cooking and ingredients, while also sampling finished dishes and local drinks. This is a great place to come for a breakfast or a light lunch with a group of people interested in different foods, because there is a little something for everyone.
K20 & K21 Art Museums
If you’re an art lover, the K20 and K21 are highly recommended with their impressive collections of 20th-century artists as well as famed German artists like Joseph Beuys and Gerhard Richter. The K21 is built inside the city’s former Parliament building, whose neo-Renaissance style was updated with a glass dome in which Tomás Saraceno’s built an interactive art installation made of steel and glass orbs. To save a few euros, consider the combination ticket which includes entrance to both museums as well as a shuttle bus between the two museums which are at different ends of Düsseldorf.
One of the most visible buildings you’ll see on Düsseldorf’s skyline is the TV tower. In a city full of incredible architecture, the TV tower is the OG modern building. Standing at 240 meters tall, the tower was completed in 1981. At the time, it was a first of its kind building in Germany, featuring a unique design with a triangular cross section and a spherical top. It also kicked off a revitalization campaign of the Rhine riverfront area, which eventually led to the development of the Media Hafen that I mentioned above.
Today, visitors can ride up the tower in a high-speed elevator to enjoy panoramic views of the city. It is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Düsseldorf. Offering stunning views, the observation deck is open daily and also features a souvenir shop and a small exhibition on the history of the tower. In addition to its observation deck, the tower also houses a high-end Japanese restaurant, which serves some of the best sushi in the city. With its view, this is a great place to come for a unique date night in Düsseldorf.
Another marvel of Rococo design, Benrath Palace is a favorite of influencers and Instagrammers for two big reasons — the pale pink exterior and mirrored grand hallway inside. Every room on the interior is gorgeous, ranging from colorful wallpapered bedrooms to an impressive marble-clad entryway. Unlike some of the other palaces and castles on this list, you are fully able to photograph inside the palace. It is popular place for wedding photos, so you may need to wait a few minutes to snap the perfect photo.
This palace is much, much smaller than other palaces in Germany, but it is perfectly restored and largely unknown so you can expect minimal crowds. The largely untamed gardens behind the palace are a nice place to go for a long walk. There are lovely wooded paths leading all the way to the Rhine River.You’ll see lots of locals going for a run or walking their dogs in this relatively unknown, yet lovely park.
My favorite place in Düsseldorf is the Rhine riverfront. This is also one of my favorite places in Cologne, so it shouldn’t come as a shock that I’m listing it as one of the best things to do in Düsseldorf. I grew up in Wisconsin on the shores of Lake Michigan, so cities along waterfronts are always nostalgic to me.
In the 1990s, Düsseldorf made the decision (and massive investment) to bury its riverfront highway in a tunnel. This reclaimed the riverfront for pedestrians, and to this day, it’s one of the largest traffic calming projects in Germany. The result is a peaceful, picturesque and relaxing promenade perfect for a stroll without the echo of car traffic. On a sunny day, it has an atmospheric vibe to it. You’ll see locals sunbathing, sipping cocktails at one of the bars along the river, or hopping on a boat for a sunset tour along the Rhine.
The riverfront is also home to a number of historical landmarks, including the Rhine Tower, TV tower and the St. Lambertus Church. These and other historical landmarks on the riverfront give visitors a glimpse into the city’s past and make it a fascinating place to explore. I especially like the tree covered walkway! Whether you’re looking for history, culture, or just a relaxing afternoon by the water, the Rhine riverfront has something for everyone.
Düsseldorf is a popular destination to visit for people who love Christmas markets, because there is a big variety of different markets around the city. It is one of the best times of the year to visit! Like most Christmas markets in Germany, the markets in Düsseldorf typically run from late November to December 24th, making them the perfect place to get into the holiday spirit.
Düsseldorf’s Christmas markets are known for their festive atmosphere with stalls selling traditional handmade crafts, ornaments, and gifts. Visitors can also enjoy delicious food and drink, including fried potato pancakes and roasted almonds. I wrote a blog post all about my favorite Christmas markets in Düsseldorf, which is organized as a DIY walking route between the city’s best markets.
Start your second day in the oldest park in Düsseldorf – Hofgarten. Centrally located in the heart of the city, this park is packed with gardens and natural areas which are bisected by the Düssel canal. There are also a large number of monuments and public art pieces to discover as you walk along the tree-lined paths. You’ll find a charming museum inside the Schloss Jagerhof at the east end of the park where you can learn about the life and work of Germany’s legendary poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.