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.
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.
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.
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.
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.