Long known as a destination for stag and hen do’s, Düsseldorf has a well-earned reputation as a party city—after all, it is famously home to the “longest bar in the world.” While not exactly accurate—that “bar” is actually a dense cluster of around 300 bars, pubs and restaurants set in the city’s Altstadt (Old Town)—who cares about semantics when there’s drinking to be done?
Apart from bar-hopping, the Old Town’s winding, cobbled streets showcase seven centuries of Teutonic history and offer up plenty of medieval charm. Just a (cobble)stone’s throw away is the mighty Rhine, flanked by a scenic promenade where the city’s iconic Rheinturm (TV tower) is always in view. Toss into the mix an unexpectedly stellar ramen and sushi scene—one of Europe’s largest Japanese communities is here—and you’ve got more than enough to keep you satisfied.
This is Germany, so there’s no shortage of places serving traditional sausage-and-potato dishes. But Düsseldorf also boasts a seriously good Japanese food scene, nurtured for decades by its large Japanese population—the city is known as “Little Tokyo on the Rhine.” Just a few blocks west of the main shopping avenue you’ll find the compact Japan Quarter, chock-a-block with sushi restaurants, ramen joints, Asian supermarkets, tea shops, and Japanese bakeries.
Ramen is the reason there’s a line—and there’s always a line—at local favourite Naniwa Noodles & Soups. The menu lists 20 different varieties of the comforting noodle dish. Choose from the standard shoyu, shio, or miso or spice things up with a curry broth. Most come with chicken, pork, or beef but vegetarian ramen is also available. Customise your ramen with various ingredients, from a soft-boiled egg to seaweed. The €12.50 lunch special is a great deal and includes your choice of ramen plus side dish.
Just around the corner is the equally popular ramen spot Takumi. Its noodles are imported from the Hokkaido region of Japan, considered the epicentre of ramen culture, and the strong flavour of the soups is what has fans lining up out the door. Like Naniwa, Takumi offers similar lunch specials on weekdays.
For dinner, the Japan Quarter is teeming with excellent sushi spots. There are pricey options, like the Michelin-starred sister restaurants Nagaya and Yoshi by Nagaya, but Kikaku is a great affordable alternative. It’s been around since 1977—and the dining room looks like it hasn’t been updated since then—but what Kikaku lacks in ambiance, it more than makes up for with super-fresh sushi and sashimi. Order a la carte or try one of the generous combinations which start at €20.
Day or night, the Altstadt’s “longest bar” is where you can always find a party. Packed into a half-square-mile of pedestrian-only streets are hundreds of drinking establishments, with raucous revelers crawling from one to the next sinking Altbier, the celebrated local brew. The tables on the terraces fill up when the weather is fine as Köbes (waiters) carrying trays of amber-coloured ale expertly navigate the crowds. (Tip: Be sure to place a coaster atop your glass when you’re done or the Köbes will automatically bring you another.)
Though you can drink “Alt” at just about every bar in the city, there are only a handful of places in Old Town where it’s still brewed onsite. Zum Schiffchen has been making it since 1628, and it’s said that Napoleon downed a cold one here in 1811. The old-school, ship-themed beer hall is a popular spot and its long communal wood tables reach capacity on weekends. In addition to brewing its own beer, Zum Schiffchen also makes its own schnapps; try a shot or one of the regional specialties like Krumme (a sour cherry and vodka spirit) or Killepitsch (a spicy-sweet herbal liqueur).
Zum Uerige is another traditional craft brewery, an enormous space comprising six different rooms (upstairs and down) kitted out with wood panelling, chandeliers, stained glass, roaring fireplaces, and shelves of antique beer steins. The Brauhof, or brewery courtyard, sports a glass roof and atmospheric murals dating from 1959.
For a more contemporary brewpub experience, Brauerei Kürzer keeps things plain and simple: white walls, Scandinavian-style wood tables, a short food menu, and excellent Altbier. Opened in 2010, the microbrewery has become a favourite of the young, hip local crowd who dig the cool, kitsch-free vibe and late-night hours.
One of Düsseldorf’s most scenic areas and a lovely place to stroll, the riverfront is where to go, especially when the weather is fine. The mile-long Rhine Embankment Promenade starts in the Altstadt at Burgplatz, a historic square that’s home to the famous Radschlägerbrunnen (cartwheeler fountain) and extends to MedienHafen, a hub of exciting, cutting-edge architecture.
The wide, paved pathway along the upper level overlooks the Rhine and is ideal for cycling, while the adjacent gravel path is pleasantly shaded by trees. Along the way, pop down to the Burgplatz pier and lounge on the terrace of one of the many riverfront cafes, where you can grab a drink and soak in views of the passing boats. (You can also hop on a river cruise from here, many of which include free, unlimited drinks.) At the southern end of the promenade, you’ll find locals picnicking or sunning themselves on the grassy banks; this is also a popular spot for catching sunsets.
Head under the Rheinknie Bridge, where just beyond stands the city’s iconic needle-shaped Rheinturm (telecommunications tower), standing 787 feet high. If you fancy a sundowner with a view, head up to one of the tower’s two bars, the M 168 bar or the swankier QOMO Bar.
Continue on to see the architectural wonders of MedienHafen, a former derelict harbour that’s been revitalised with eye-popping glass and stainless-steel high-rises. Among the highlights are a tilting trio of buildings designed by Frank Gehry and the fancifully coloured windows of the Colorium skyscraper.
Max Brown Hotel Midtown
Situated in the vibrant Japan Quarter, the Max Brown Hotel Midtown is a five-minute walk to the shopping hub of Königsallee and about 15 minutes by foot to the Altstadt. The hip boutique hotel sports vintage-style furnishings and funky décor throughout, including Crosley record players and eye-catching graphic artwork in its 65 cosy rooms.
Hotel The Fritz
Another wallet-friendly option is Hotel The Fritz, a modern stay located at the southern end of Königsallee and near the edgy contemporary art museum K21. Decorated in a minimalist style, the three-star property doesn’t have many bells and whistles but it does count the superb one-Michelin-star restaurant Fritz’s Frau Franzi on the ground level.