This post is part of my series of city guides, designed to give you a bit of an introduction into the city in question: activities, accommodation, transport, restaurants, food and nightlife. It’ll also basically act as a contents page for everything I’ve ever written about the place.
I visited Dusseldorf in August 2014 for a two-week work placement at a company based in the city’s Medienhafen. Not only was it my first experience of working abroad but it was also the only time I have travelled solo. I wasn’t sure what to expect in Dusseldorf but I was pleasantly surprised. Admittedly, it is not the kind of place you’d go on your summer holiday but if you are travelling around Germany, or Europe in general, I’d definitely recommend stopping off. Dusseldorf is also a good base to visit other cities in the state. Alternatively, if you are flicking through Ryanair’s flights, looking for a good deal for a city break, then you should seriously consider Dusseldorf. The city is also a hub for business so if you are going on a placement abroad in Germany then you may well end up here- that is no bad thing.
I had heard mixed reviews about Dusseldorf, I’d heard that it was a very industrial city. There were parts that lived up to that reputation but the Altstadt was not one of them. Instead the Old Town was pretty much how you would imagine a picturesque German town, with cute buildings, churches and cobbled streets. Then were the buzzy bars with people spilling out into the streets but not in a drunken way, just in a merry way.
Shopping on Königsallee
If you are travelling on a budget, like I was, shopping on the Kö is a window shopping experience only: many of the shop windows were filled by some rather luxurious occupants. It is such a scenic street, with canal running through the centre of it, trees lining the pathways and bridges going across the water, that it is worth wandering along even if you have no interest in shopping. Happily, when I was there, there was a world food festival being held on the Kö, so I spent a while exploring the stands, surrounding by the smells of meats and cheese.
If you do fancy some shopping on a more modest budget then I found the area around Heinrich Heine Allee to provide such an option, with recognisable brands such as Mango, Zara, H&M and Primark. Sadly, because I was with friends, I couldn’t tell you on which streets exactly all theses shops can be found.
During my one weekend in Dusseldorf, I was invited out shopping during Saturday day and to a friend’s for dinner Saturday night. I had work to do on Sunday but I had some time to fit in one more attraction. For me the answer was simple, it was going to be a museum or gallery. I decided on the latter after I read a recommendation for it. It turned out to be a good decision. My favourite era of art is the Renaissance period but I love modern art galleries like this one because I find them more enjoyable. I don’t feel the need to read about every image, instead I try to come up with my own interpretation of the abstract objects and images. I can have more fun and relax that way. This gallery reminded me of the Tate Modern in London, with its collection including Picasso, Jackson Pollock and sculpture of Venus facing a pile of rags, which I had seen in the Tate Modern several years before.
Tour of the Medienhafen
Taking a guided tour of Dusseldorf’s Media Harbour is worthwhile if you are interested in architecture as there is an eclectic mix in the area. Sadly, because my tour was in German and my friends had to translate for me, I missed out on the detail, but I’m sure that there are other language options available.
One of several social activities organised by my company for the interns was dinner and bowling. I could not have been more excited; I hadn’t been bowling in years but I used to like it a lot. I was excited right up until I realised one tiny detail: in Germany, they don’t play with the sides up. Needless to say, out of the entire group, I lost/came in the bottom in all the games. With that in mind, my team gave me a massive cheer when I managed to get a fluke strike and congratulated me often when I manged to actually hit the pins. It was definitely a good way to get us all to bond!
What did I miss?
One of my internship employers told me that during my time in the city, I had to take advantage of the good train service to go and see some of the neighbouring towns. Since I only had one weekend free, I decided I should probably spend it in Dusseldorf itself but it was a shame not to see more of the surrounding area.
Although I did go to a few bars, I didn’t experience Dusseldorf’s club scene. Having said that, from the amount of hen and stag parties I saw around the city, I would assume the nightlife has a good reputation.
In my description above of the Altstadt I didn’t go into detail about a key detail: the bars. Germany is famous for its beer and you can find it in the Altstadt in abundance. This is where you go if you’re in the mood for a drink, after work or on the weekends. Or any other time. I found one where the waiter kindly came and replaced my glass every time I finished it with a fresh beer. You had to be careful, he kept a tally of the drinks but it would have been easy for me to forget what I was ordering.
On the first night of my internship, the company held a cocktail workshop in order for us all to network and get to know each other. It was a really good idea. We had to make each cocktail in groups and then shared the spoils. Before this, the only cocktail I’d really made was vodka with some various juices. This was the real deal. We mashed fruits and used a selection of spirits and mixers and came out with some tasty results.
I loved my two week stay at the Kastens Hotel. It wasn’t particularly snazzy and my room may have been a little old-fashioned but that’s why I liked it so much. I was staying for quite a while so I was happy to be somewhere cosy, where the staff were friendly and helpful and which, most importantly, felt homely. Breakfast was included but it wasn’t quite the same as the spreads I enjoyed in Berlin. Having said that, I grew very attached to my morning meal of a bread roll with cheese, meat and gherkins- oh so many gherkins. That wasn’t the only option- I could have had fruit, a cooked breakfast or cereal- it was just my favourite one.
For the most part, I ended up walking everywhere. It took about an hour (or maybe more, I can’t remember) to walk from my hotel on Jürgens Platz to the main train station and places like Königsallee were on the way. It took me about 20 minutes to walk from my room to my office and maybe the same distance from work to the Altstadt. It was even less time from my hotel to the Altstadt by food. Probably. In the Altstadt itself, you’re going to want to be walking in order to explore it.
The underground train network in Dusseldorf isn’t nearly as extensive it is in other cities but it’s a good option if there is a station near where you want to go.
The tram system seemed to me to be more extensive than the underground trains so this is probably going to be your go-to option. It costs a few Euros and you can buy your ticket on the tram, from a machine at the front.
When all else fails, get a bus. I’m not a bus person myself because I get motion sickness and buses are the main culprit but, at the end of the day, if it’s the only option, it’s the only option.
Restaurants & Cafes
Apart from being a lovely restaurant by the Medienhafen, where I was able to order a giant, tasty currywurst, this is also the only place in Dusseldorf (so I was told) where you can buy Cologne’s Kolsch beer. Basically, there is a serious rivalry between the large cities Cologne and Dusseldorf, partly due to the fact that Dusseldorf was named the capital of the state they are both in, North Rhine-Westphalia, over Cologne. In typical German style, this rivalry can be seen in the beer, Kolsch in Cologne and Alt in Dusseldorf- as well as in things like carnival and sport.
My trip to Dusseldorf was my first experience of travelling alone and working abroad so, when I arrived, I was understandably quite nervous. I went out looking for dinner but didn’t really feel like going anywhere I saw, until I saw Yomaro, a frozen yogurt bar. I had my thick creamy yogurt covered in brownie and cookie bits and it was good, until I remembered that I don’t actually like frozen yogurt. sat on a bench outside and munched away nonetheless until it started raining and my yogurt got waterlogged.
During my working day, I would always go for lunch with my fellow interns at one of the eateries below, located conveniently close to my office.
Cafe D was the place I went most frequently. It was designed as a canteen and had a couple of different dishes which changed everyday, a salad bar and a rooftop seating area. The selection of pre-made meals meant that I could be in and out quickly and so spend the rest of my lunch break having a wander in the sun. There was generally a pasta option which I went for most of the time, as this was a filling option and meant I would be okay with a light dinner in my hotel room. I did this so often that the woman behind the counter knew what I was going to ask for before I had actually asked.
Bogarts was more of a restaurant than Cafe D. It had a bigger menu and the options didn’t change as regularly. Since, understandably, I had to wait longer for my meals here, a trip to Bogarts would generally take up my entire lunch hour, so as good as it was (I had a great pizza from there) I didn’t go that often.
Julian’s, along with Bogarts and Cafe D, was one of my regulars and it fell right between Cafe D and Bogarts. It served a couple dishes which changed each day, and the food came quickly, but in a restaurant setting. I didn’t like it as much as Cafe D and Bogarts but sometimes it was just the best place to go for all of us.
Woyton’s salad bar
One day, my fellow interns and I decided to mix it up and move away from our standard three places. Sometimes salad can be disappointing and leave you hungry. Other times, there is nothing more satisfying and it is healthy, filling and tasty. Thankfully, Woyton’s fell into the latter category; my salad was huge and delicious. I have tried to recreate it since I got back to England but I just can’t get it quite the same.
Since I was on a budget and eating out for lunch with my fellow interns, I couldn’t really afford to eat out for dinner too. Also, by the time I got off at 7pm, after a long day, the only thing I wanted to do was curl up in bed and watch the programmes I had downloaded from BBC iPlayer in preparation for my trip. I therefore would go, every night, to either Netto or Kaisers in search of food that didn’t need to be cooked- the remnants of which I’d store in what little space remained in my hotel room mini-bar. I was hoping to live off picnic food and pot noodles but sadly the only kettle was kept in the hotel lobby and the one time I tried to use it, I ended up drinking cold tea. German supermarkets also didn’t stock much cold, ready to eat food so I basically lived off a combination of pasta salad, potato salad and olives. It may have been an unhealthy, beige diet but it filled me up.
Of all the local cuisines I have sampled, this is one of my favourites: sausage in curry sauce. That may not sound particularly appetising but think about it: you probably like sausages and you probably like curry sauce, so why would they not be fantastic together? I pretty much crave this all of the time. I thought it was a Berlin delicacy but I was happy to realise I was wrong and it was a thriving snack in places like Dusseldorf as well. Admittedly, the one in the picture below was not great but you have to allow for the odd exception.
… and the blogs
- Dusseldorf Part One: cocktails, confused faces and plastic forks
- Dusseldorf Part Two: food, coffee and table football
- Dusseldorf Part Three: shopping, art and fond farewells
- Live from Dusseldorf: street art