A guide to the most underrated German city everyone should visit (and I am only slightly biased):
When people think of city to spend a weekend at in Germany Berlin tends to first one everyone’s list. Sure Berlin has, in the last decade or so, developed a real “hip” factor but in my eyes that comes with its very unique set of problems. For example, it has become pretty impossible for a visitor and none German speaker to experience a more authentic Berlin, in essence seeing a very skewed version of it, gravitating towards areas deemed “cool” where the menus come in English now, the staff are rarely locals and everything feels just a little bit too contrived and driven by the idea that everyone is here to have a crazy techno party weekend. I
Of course, I know I am generalising here and there is a lot more to Berlin but it has always annoyed me that most foreigners think of it as the only real desirable destination in Germany (that and Munich if you are into beer or Hamburg if you are into the Beatles or on a stag do). Well I am here to prove them all wrong because Dusseldorf is, in my eyes, definitely worth a visiting- a beautiful city that offers an amazing array of food, culture, places to stay and has plenty of things to do and see. It is the ideal place for a long weekend away that won’t break the bank and I hope the below guide will make you reconsider your next weekend getaway destination. I may be from there but every friend I have taken has been more than positively surprised, Dusseldorf is quite the beauty worth discovering.
HOW TO GET THERE:
Getting to Dusseldorf is surprisingly quick, easy and cheap. Return flights rarely cost over £100 and I usually either fly with Eurowings out of Heathrow or, as recently discovered, with Flybe out of City airport which makes the overall journey time even shorter (City is a dream if you live in East London, with a door to door journey to the airport of around 35 minutes). The flight is just under an hour long which makes it bearable even for someone with a pretty bad fear of flying like me. Once landed you can hop on any local train and be at Dusseldorf’s main station in less than 30 minutes, all for less than 3 euros. I told you getting there was easy! Makes me wonder how we end up spending a small fortune at times to get to some of the “London” airports….
WHERE TO STAY: 25HOURS DAS TOUR
Now, I have tended to stay at airbnb’s whenever I went to visit my mum previously in Dusseldorf but after my local friend Marcel took me to 25hours Das Tour one evening to have a drink on their rooftop (more on that later), I knew I had to find a way to stay at this newly opened boutique hotel which is part of the 25hours hotel group. Each of their hotels (and they have quite a few across Germany as well as Austria and France with plans to expand globally) have it as their mission to offer stylish yet affordable accommodation, geared towards a younger crowd that wants beautifully designed yet functional interiors without having to pay several 100 euros for a night.
Each hotel follows a bit of a theme and here it is all about the humble bike (the hotel encourages you to discover the cyclist friendly town with one of the bikes they are happy to provide you with) and a certain French flair. After all Düsseldorf is not too far from the French border and the hotel is incidentally also in the newly created Le Quartier Central district of town. The Swedish design team put in charge of dreaming up the hotel interiors therefore successfully fused German functional design with a little artsy bohemian French touch, something you can spot in all the little details that each room comes with. The result is a stylish and modern hotel, designed for a young crowd, Instagram ready from almost every angle with its slick interiors yet still managing to retain a friendly and homely feel.
Our room had so many fun and useful touches like the embroidered slogan pillows, a super good Bluetooth speaker, ready for you to connect to your phone to, a little stuffed penguin toy hiding behind the sheets and a bathroom stocked with great body lotion, shampoo and shower gel. I particularly loved the black tiled bathroom and black toilet, not your usual hotel look but all the better for it and attention to detail payed to the theme, books on cycling placed on the desk in the room and an old school dial up phone as another vintage inspired touch.
Sometimes the attempt to be hip was taken perhaps a little too far, instead of water glasses there were only metal enamel cups in the room which irritated me a little when I simply wanted a glass of water and the mini bar was filled with kettle crisps and artisan cola rather than your standard diet coke and wine (I am girl of simple tastes sometimes) but those are very minor niggles, overall our room was simply fantastic, particularly considering the price per night per room (which start at 79 euros).
Breakfast is not included but can be added on for a small fee and I have to say it was rather spectacular. 25hour Das Tour, I have yet to mention, is also all about the views, being 17 stories high, and the hotel restaurant Paris Club, at which breakfast served each day between 7am and 11:30am offers spectacular views across the city. The buffet was of a flawless quality- alongside your standard cooked egg and fruit offering there were also artisanal French pastries and jam, smoked salmon and, hold your hats, fresh oysters and Cremant for you to help yourself to, not that I could stomach more than a glass of fizz at breakfast at 9am, but it was still a luxurious touch I very much enjoyed.
The dining room is beautifully designed and feels like a proper dining room (the restaurant is also popular with locals outside breakfast hours with its French cuisine focused menu) and we spent quite some time here on the Sunday morning before my flight leisurely eating, drinking Cremant and watching the world go by.
That leads me to the other major plus of the hotel, it is not simply a hotel that you sleep at and leave as soon as you can, because we all know hotels CAN be a bit naff, it happens to also be one of the most popular hangout spots for drinks in Düsseldorf right now, to be more precise its amazing rooftop bar which is part of The Paris Club and located one floor up from the restaurant on the 17th floor.
Inside there are cosy log fires, plush sofas and a slick looking long bar, staffed by super friendly and skilled bartenders - I recommend you order their twist on the spritz, the Paris Club Spritz, homemade French appértif liquour, rose cremant and soda which is all kinds of yummy and way too drinkable, while on the outside balcony space you can perch with your drink, leaning against the glass balustrade and enjoy the wonderful near 360 view of Düsseldorf. Particularly on a sunny day it is THE place for an after drink or to start your weekend night out in style which means it can get busy but it also means that you can literally get in the lift from your room, go up a few floors and instantly be at the coolest spot in town – talk about easy!
Overall I can’t recommend 25Hours Das Tour enough. Service was super friendly and accommodating, the space is designed for 21st century travellers that care about design as much as getting good value for money and having the rooftop bar at your disposable is a pretty perfect finishing touch. The location is great, not straight in the centre but an easy 15-minute walk away and I for one am keen to try the other 25hours hotels now, this hotel proving that staying at a stylish and cool hotel does not have to break the bank and that hotels don’t have to be stuffy, boring and outdated affair.
WHERE TO EAT:
I have made it a tradition to always book a table for dinner here for the first night when I am back in town and Münstermann Kontor has yet to let me down for making that decision. Indeed, it has a Bib Gourmand (a recognition by the people behind the Michelin star for more casual dining establishments) for a reason, serving some of the best and most imaginative seasonal and sophisticated cooking I have had in my time. They have their classic dishes like a huge Schnitzel served with fries and tangy cucumber salad or my usual order- seared tuna sashimi on a bed of Asian vegetables, curry fries and sesame sauce dip, that are always great no matter what but I do recommend you order from their constantly changing seasonal menu section as this really shows of the skill and imagination of the chefs at work here. On this occasion, white asparagus season had started (a big deal in this part of Germany where it is one of our favourite vegetables) so there was a heavy emphasis on this ingredient across the dishes.
My pan fried sole with grilled jumbo prawn, ratatouille, green and white asparagus, potato gratin and a saffron foam was out of this world good, each ingredient and component of the dish cooked to utter perfection. Not that it was easy to settle on the main dish, so much of the menu sounded so utterly fantastic that I could eat here every day and not tire of the food. We also shared a fantastic asparagus soup to start, illustrating once again how each dish shows an incredible attention detail and understanding of flavours you seldom find when dining out, even in London.
It is not cheap, mains range from £15 for a vegetarian option, all the way up to 32 euros, with most mains at the 22-euro mark but I think here the splurge is worth it. Wine is well priced, a bottle will only set you back about 20 euros and service has always been great. This place is ALWAYS packed, which is why I reserve a week before my arrival but that is for a reason. The locals flock here for consistently flawless cooking and I recommend you do the same, Münstermann Kontor is a true restaurant treasure, cooking amazing dishes in a relaxed bistro environment and I for one will be back the minute I am back in town.
A little bit of a trek away, on the other side of the Rhine, and in the upmarket more residential part of town called Oberkassel, is Brasserie Hulssman, another iconic dining spot in town that serves European and German cuisine in a buzzing brasserie environment. They don’t take bookings so come early or be prepared to wait because this place is always rammedl, filled with all types of people and ages, which makes it such a fun atmosphere. Service was fantastic and I loved my traditional German asparagus dish of white asparagus with sauce hollandaise, potatoes and incredible smoked salmon.
The menu is vast so there will be something for each taste and the cooking is reliably good. A great option for a sophisticated yet fun dinner venue with good and honest cooking and well-priced wine. Be warned they only take cash so make sure you swing by an ATM beforehand.
WHERE TO DRINK:
This little gem by the main market square serves seriously good coffee (not always that easy to find in Germany) in a retro environment. For coffee snobs like me the perfect spot to start a day of exploring
Bazaar on first inspection may look like just a café, indeed also serving very good coffee and breakfast, but is as it turns out also a great little spot for an afternoon or early evening drink. There is a lovely outside space and terrace for warmer days, overlooking a cobbled square with fountain, and a big enough inside space to always find a seat with an old school Italian espresso bar flair. A spritz will only set you back €4.40, a dream coming from London where I have gotten used to splashing out nearly a tenner, while a glass of prosecco is a steal at €3.8. Me and my mum love sitting here watching the locals (it has been a local favourite for many, many years), catching up over bubbles and enjoying the unpretentious vibe. I don’t need a fancy bar to have a good time and Bazaar is the perfect spot for some pre-dinner beverages!
AND FOR IN-BETWEEN:
My favourite ice cream palour in town! Da Forno has been serving locals proper Italian gelato for over 100 years and the old-school interiors and family recipes, past down the generations, are testimony to this. Don’t expect experimental flavours, here they do the classics and they do them bloody well! In the summer, there is nothing better than grabbing one of their outdoor seats, slightly worn out plastic garden furniture of course, and enjoying a Spaghetti Eis, the best Spaghetti Eis in town I may add (for those that don’t know this is what I am talking about). As close to having a gelato in Italy without being there as you are going to get and a place that I hope will stay open another 100 years!
AND DON’T FORGET…
TO PICK UP SOME CHAMPAGNE TRUFFLES FROM HEINEMANN
This chocolatier claims to make the best champagne truffles in the world and after having done quite a bit of taste testing in my time I can only agree! Make sure you swing by one of their several branches in town and pick up a packet of their dark chocolate champagne truffles, they are literally perfect and impossible to describe in a way that does them justice without having tried them. Heinemann also sells some rather amazing cakes including a Champagne buttercream 5 layer cake so if you have a sweet craving in Dusseldorf I say head here and have it satisfied in style.
*I was invited by 25Hours for one night complimentary stay but paid for the other