If anticipating Düsseldorf makes you turn cartwheels, you’re not alone: this custom is credited to the children of Düsseldorf who turned "flips" after learning their city had won the 13th-century Battle of Worringen.
Düsseldorf’s history dates back to the 7th century, when it was a small fishing community on the river Düssel, a Rhine tributary. The first written mention of Düsseldorf was in 1135, by which stage the town had become a fortified outpost due to its strategic riverside position. The town was subsequently ruled by the Bergs, whose struggle for power with the Archbishop of Cologne lead to the cartwheel-inducing Battle of Worringen.
After the battle, Düsseldorf thrived, and by 1380 the town was appointed the regional capital. During the following centuries, the city’s fortunes fluctuated, flourishing throughout the 15th–18th centuries before being plunged into poverty as a result of the early 19th-century Napoleonic Wars.
In the mid-19th century Düsseldorf enjoyed a revival of fortunes courtesy of the Industrial Revolution, and to this day it remains a wealthy city. Modern-day Düsseldorf is known for its fashion, media, telecommunications, and financial industries—evidence of which can be seen throughout the city’s architecture.
Düsseldorf was heavily damaged during World War II and as a result is full of modern architecture. Pockets of history remain, and the combination of the two provides a wonderful backdrop to Düsseldorf’s other attractions.
From the Hauptbahnhof, Düsseldorf’s excellent tram system will take you to the Mediahafen "media harbor." Contemporary architecture doesn’t get much better than this: the Neuer Zollhof comprises three twisted buildings clad in steel, brick, and plaster by world-famous architect Frank Gehry.
Nearby is the Rheinturm, a 240-meter telecoms tower with an observation deck at 170 meters. It offers a panoramic view while a light display on the side doubles as the world’s biggest digital clock.
A stroll north along the Promenade is the Burgplatz, a beautiful square where the Düssel meets the Rhine. Its lonely castle tower marks the start of the Altstadt, the "old town," which was faithfully reconstructed after wartime damage and is home to the 14th-century St. Lambertuskirche and the 16th-century Town Hall.
Once you’ve exhausted the city’s architecture, pay a visit to the tree-lined avenue of Königsallee, Düsseldorf’s upmarket fashion shopping destination. It comes with a considerable price tag, but window shopping along the canal-side "Kö" can be every bit as enjoyable as a shopping trip in earnest.
With more than 300 pubs and brewpubs, the Altstadt is known as the "longest bar in the world." It’s as popular with D’dorfers as it is with tourists, and it's a great place to grab a beer or a bite to eat. Most bars serve food, which ranges from specialties such as Rheinischer Sauerbraten (pickled roast beef with stewed raisins) to lighter snacks, including meatballs and Halve Hahn. Gourmands beware—Halve Hahn is not a half chicken, but a rye bread roll topped with cheese, mustard, and gherkin.
A visit to Düsseldorf must involve a trip to a brewpub, even just to marvel at the crowded benches on the cobbled streets outside. The Altstadt is the birthplace of Altbier: dark brown ale brewed on the premises. It is served in small glasses, waiters replenish empties even before another "Alt" is ordered, and a tally is penciled on your beer mat.
Düsseldorf also has a healthy number of non-German restaurants thanks to its Turkish, Greek, Italian, and Japanese populations; you’ll find international options dotted from the bars on Bolkerstrasse to the restaurants on Ratingerstrasse, and everywhere in between.
Just 33 kilometers south of Düsseldorf is Köln (Cologne), Germany’s fourth largest city. If you decide to head to Köln for a getaway, be careful whom you tell: there is a strong rivalry between the two cities, usually demonstrated via humorous retorts and snide jokes. But don’t let this deter you; even the most ardent Köln-basher will admit the city has plenty to offer. The train into Köln takes you past the city’s magnificent Kölner Dom, a gothic cathedral described by Unesco as an "exceptional work of human creative genius.” Scale the spiky South Tower’s 509 spiral steps for a commanding view of the city.