The best day trips from Düsseldorf

Seen all there is to see in Düsseldorf? Check out these adventure-packed day trips both within and across the border.
Cologne, Germany
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Located in the heart of western Europe, Düsseldorf is a great jumping off point for exploring Western Europe. In two hours by train, you can be in Brussels; in three, Amsterdam. It feels like the world is at Düsseldorf’s doorstep. But there are also incredible options even closer to home: day excursions that’ll have you admiring the arts or getting a feel for that uniquely German notion of waldeinsamkeit—being alone in the woods. Hop a southbound train to Cologne for its happening arts scene or carry on further south to Bonn for a politics and history lesson in the former capital of this divided country. Grab your hiking boots and hit some of the 235 kilometers of wooded trails, freshwater lakes and empty fields that make up the Neanderland Steig. Cross the border and enjoy Eindhoven, the eastern design capital of The Netherlands or head north for the industrial aesthetics that inspired the electronic beats of hometown boys Kraftwerk in the Ruhr Metropol, the three cities comprising the Ruhrgebiet’s cultural capital. No matter which trip you choose, there’s plenty to see and do just outside the city.

Day trips from Düsseldorf

Cologne
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/James Darpinian

Cologne

Germany’s fourth largest city and home to immigrants from around the world, Cologne has a diversity unparalleled in Germany and that comes through in its variety of offerings. Bisected by the Rhine river, the city stretches out across nearly 100 square kilometers, making it impossible to cover everything in just one day. While most visitors head straight for the Gothic cathedral (the Dom) that inspired Notre Dame, getting out into the neighborhoods will give you a better feel for the city and its inhabitants—including urban artists and prominent thinkers. Keup Strasse in the Muehlheim district will have you feeling like you’ve taken a trip to Little Istanbul. Street art and food truck festivals in Ehrenfeld will give you a view of the city’s younger, hipper side. Or put on your walking shoes and tour the galleries, museums and shops that draw art-loving tourists from around the world. 

EAT:

As the stomping grounds for many local celebrities and media professionals, the Belgian Quarter and streets surrounding Brusselerplatz are full of lively restaurants. Try the Indonesian curries at Warung Bayu; grab a coffee or grappa at Cafe Noa; snap up Insta-worthy sushi at Daikan or brunch at one of three Cafe Schmitz locales on Aachener Strasse.

DRINK:

You can pop into any old brewery or corner pub and grab a “short but sweet” glass of the local brew—Koelsch—traditionally served in two-centiliter glasses. Or you can head to the late-night club district in Ehrenfeld and party like a rock star (and the German football team) does at Halle Tor 2, an indoor/outdoor late night techno venue that draws all the local celebrities.

DO:

With one of the largest collections of pop art, the Museum Ludwig right beside the Cologne Cathedral is an important contemporary art museum housing classic works by the “degenerate” abstract expressionists, including Paul Klee and Max Ernst. Rotating exhibitions draw young crowds, as do evenings with techno music in the foyer or art films shown throughout the week at the adjacent Film Forum. 

STAY:

Named after a local arts and fashion magazine, the Qvest Hotel is a well-kept secret catering to the design-conscious in gorgeously renovated city archives in the Gereon Quarter. Each room is unique, with design elements including cross vaults or hand-painted wooden ceilings dating back to 1390 and invaluable artworks throughout the property.

If you do just one thing…

It should be a visit to the uber-creepy bone room at St. Ursula’s church just north of the main train station. One of the city’s 12 Romanesque churches which originally date back to around the 12th century, St. Ursula and its collection of bones are said to hold the secrets to the city’s history and tell the legendary story of the church’s patron saint, a virgin said to have sacrificed herself so the city would not fall to heathens.

Eindhoven, the Netherlands
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Wikimedia Commons/User: (WT-shared) Justme at wts wikivoyage

Eindhoven, the Netherlands

Day trips across the border have become increasingly easy thanks to the Schengen agreement, and it’s not uncommon for locals to travel between the Netherlands and Düsseldorf on a whim. That ease of transit has helped several eastern Dutch cities, like Maastricht and Herleen, increase their international appeal and sell themselves as design meccas. The biggest of these southeastern cities, however, is Eindhoven, a city of 200,000 residents that still feels like a small town. Surrounded by farmland, fantastic nature and overgrown areas memorializing World War II, Eindhoven draws a young crowd thanks to its internationally-acclaimed arts university. A new revitalization project in former Phillips warehouses known as Strijp-S has done a lot to give the city a hip edge.

EAT:

Close to the Van Abbemuseum, Dijk9 is a happy medium in a city where there are Michelin-recommended restaurants alongside turn-and-burns. The continental menu allows for smaller meals or you can select up from an ever-changing set menu that goes up to five courses. 

DRINK:

No college town would be complete without a plethora of pubs and nightclubs and in Eindhoven, there are two main areas where you’ll find them: Stratumseind, where the younger crowd hangs out and the older and more intimate De Bergen area. If you could only choose one bar, though, make it De Vooruitgang, a forward-thinking restaurant/night club housed in a beautiful centuries-old building at the market square with a lively crowd and nice pour.

DO:

The warehouse district at Strijp-S is a must-stop for anyone visiting Eindhoven. Open Wednesday to Saturday, the converted factories house shops, restaurants, cafes, art galleries, a skate park and a film studio.

STAY:

The joke around town is that Phillips brought light to Eindhoven when the electrics company first opened its factories there over 125 years ago. The landmark Phillips Light Tower has since been converted into the Inntel Arts Eindhoven Hotel, a central place to stay with a uniquely Dutch design touch.

If you do just one thing…

Make it a stopover at the Van Abbemuseum. Dutch Design Week may draw in visitors from around the globe, but if you’re keen on seeing what’s on in the contemporary art world, the Van Abbemuseum has an unsurpassed collection and does a bang-up job on creating thought-provoking rotating exhibitions.

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Neanderlandsteig
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Wikimedia Commons/Velopilger

Neanderlandsteig

Germany is an underrated hiking destination; the farmlands and forests around Düsseldorf provide just a sampling of what the country offers in the way of wooded trails for all ability and fitness levels. One of the lengthiest through trails is known as the Neanderland Steig, which consists of 17 legs that make up 235 kilometers of trails. Located east of Düsseldorf in Kreis Mettman, the Neanderlandsteig is a relatively flat series of trails that you can enter at any stage and will have you stumbling upon castles, churches and even a World War II-era bunker.

EAT:

Before heading out on the trails, be sure to check locally to see if there will be dining options when you return, as in the rural areas food is often only served on weekends or holidays.  One place where you’re guaranteed to find something is in the town of Ratingen; check at the Gut Hoehne, a converted farm with thoughtful organic dishes.   

DRINK:

Germans think beer goes with everything, but they’re especially found a frothy one after a long day of exercise. Feel the same way? Then the Frankenheim Brauhaus in Essen’s Kettwig neighborhood should be right up your alley.

DO:

Hike, hike, hike. While the trails run near larger cities like Solingen and Wuppertal, the real reason to visit the area is for the exquisite nature you can only by crossing the moors and prairies on foot. If the weather doesn’t cooperate or you need a break from the trek, check out the Mona Mare thermal baths in Monheim am Rhein for a rejuvenating soak.

STAY:

It’s not every day you get to stay in a castle whose history can be traced back to the 8th century. Although the knight’s abode on the outskirts of Essen that now houses Schlosshotel Hugenpoet dates to 1647, amidst the Thirty Years’ War, the building’s impressive exterior and lengthy story is a reminder of the area’s history.

If you do just one thing…

It should be a visit to the Neanderthal Museum, where you can see the artifacts of the ancient former inhabitants of the region and which have given them their name.

Landschaftspark Duisburg Nord
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Wikimedia Commons/Zairon

Ruhr Metropole

The Ruhrgebiet region doesn’t attract much attention outside of western Germany, but you’ve perhaps heard of the cities that comprise it: do Essen, Bochum, Dortmund or Duisburg ring any bells? Although separate and distinct cities, they share a common history, as the heavy industry and coal mining in the area was what helped contribute to Germany’s post-war Wirtschaftswunder—the economic miracle of the '50s. The coal mines, steel plants and power plants are no longer in use but their industrial aesthetic has been repurposed to create a cultural destination that attracts international attention. The Zollverein in Essen is a converted coal refining facility—one of several mixed-use culture spaces in the area—which now hosts concerts, sporting events and a museum dedicated to the Ruhrgebiet’s history. It’s one of many venues that will host theater and arts performances as part of the Ruhr Triennale, held each summer through 2020 as a contrast program to the once-in-a-decade Documenta that draws art lovers.

EAT:

The economic miracle of the ‘50s brought migrants from southern European to the area and their impact is still felt in the cuisine on offer in the region. Ruhr Bodega/Zur Alten Post on a lakefront in Bochum is a great example of how the cultures combined to create something extraordinary—Spanish tapas in a German beer garden atmosphere. 

DRINK:

There’s no shortage of breweries in the Ruhr region; in Essen, the best place to get your drink on is at Webster Brauhaus, which also serves standard German pub fare.

DO:

Landschaftspark Duisburg Nord is a remarkable response to the region’s polluted history and shows just how well Germany confronts its past and ties it to the present. An abandoned industrial area was converted into an urban leisure-time oasis, complete with climbing walls, a diving facility inside an old gasometer, a children’s play area and art installations the reflect the aging industrial architecture. 

STAY:

It doesn’t get any more kitsch than the Road Stop Dortmund hotel, an homage to “all things American” with rooms dedicated to US pop culture. The Bar & Grill restaurant has Harleys as decoration and each room is uniquely themed, with names like the Jail House Cell and Jim Beam Log Cabin. 

If you do just one thing…

Buy tickets to a BVB football game. A visit to the Borussia Dortmund stadium will give you great insight into how attached the German working class is to footy—and to their team’s mythology.

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 Schloss Augustusburg, Bonn
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Wikimedia Commons/Martin Falbisoner

Bonn

For 50 years, this village surrounded by farmland was a political hotspot. The former capital of West Germany, Bonn played an important role in reconstructing Germany after World War II and remnants of those days remain in the city. There’s history everywhere you look. Although most federal business has shifted to Berlin, some ministries and think tanks can still be found in the sleepy Federal Quarter. Butting up to the Rhine river, the Federal Quarter is where you’ll find the UN offices, broadcaster Deutsche Welle, the World Conference Center (housed in the former parliamentary chambers), the Federal Art Museum (Bundeskunsthalle) as well as the castle-like President’s home—a beautiful building rarely used. Bonn has likewise served as home to Beethoven and expressionist August Macke, both of whose former residences have been converted to museums fans can visit. And like many German cities, the city center around the main train station has been pedestrianized, making shopping a favorite pastime for locals. In the summer and during Beethoven Fest, the market square framed by the colorful rococo facaded Old Post Office frequently becomes an open-air concert hall.  

EAT:

The more residential Poppelsdorf neighborhood near the Poppelsdorf Castle doesn’t have many touristy sites, though what it lacks for sightseeing, it makes up for in drinking and dining options. A favorite among students and young professionals is Cafe Von und Zu, which serves inexpensive tapas and small dishes that reflect the city’s global worldview. 

DRINK:

A serious university city, Bonn doesn’t see much late-night action, but that shouldn’t stop you from grabbing a beer at the riverside beer garden Alter Zoll, near the university’s main building. Only open when the weather permits, the beer garden is popular for its green location and all-ages approach to leisurely day drinking. 

DO:

Although not Bonn exactly, the suburb of Bruehl is home to a UNESCO World Heritage Palace, the Schloss Augustusburg, which once acted as the government’s official location for receiving prominent guests like Queen Elizabeth. Take a guided tour and then head out into the surrounding gardens and forest for a walk to the gilded hunting lodge of an 18th century archbishop.

STAY:

There are plenty of hotels for business travelers, but for those looking for something off the beaten path, there’s BaseCamp Bonn, located just south of the Federal Quarter. A converted warehouse, Base Camp is filled with Airstreams and retro mobile homes so you get your own little home on wheels without the inconveniences of camping and poor weather.

If you do just one thing…

Pay a visit to the Museum of Contemporary German History (Haus der Geschichte), a free archive that will lead you through the history of modern-day Germany. The self-guided tour will take you from the end of the war and hometown hero Konrad Adenauer’s plans for the republic through the German love affair with cars and confrontations with its past as a divided nation up until today.

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