The Eurovision Song Contest meets fine art and sophistication in this attractive and surprising city on the Rhine.
Why go now?
Düsseldorf's elegant art museum, the Kunstpalast has reopened after an extensive two-year renovation. If your tastes veer towards a more disposable aesthetic, Düsseldorf is also hosting the Eurovision Song Contest final today in the huge Esprit Arena at LTU Arena Strasse 1 (00 49 211 15 98 1200; espritarena.de). Even if you're not an art buff or a Eurovision fan, this bustling modern city is worth a weekend visit. It's not overwhelmed with foreign tourists, but with stylish boutiques, a creative buzz and energetic streetlife it has long been a popular destination for Germans.
I flew with Air Berlin (0871 5000 737; airberlin.com), which flies from Stansted up to three times daily to the main Düsseldorf airport, Rhein-Ruhr. Lufthansa (0871 945 9747; lufthansa.com) flies from Birmingham, Edinburgh, Heathrow, Inverness, Leeds/Bradford, Manchester and Newcastle. Flybe (0871 700 2000; flybe.com) flies from Birmingham, Exeter and Manchester. EasyJet (0905 821 0905; easyJet. com) flies from Gatwick. Frequent trains (€2.30) take about 10 minutes to the city centre. A taxi costs about €15.
Ryanair (0871 246 0000; ryanair.com) flies from Edinburgh, Leeds/Bradford and Stansted to the former military air base known as Weeze or Niederrhein; connecting buses take about an hour.
Get your bearings?
Düsseldorf spreads along the right (east) bank of the river Rhine, with the airport to the north of town and the redeveloped harbour district to the south. The Hauptbahnhof is about 1km east of the busy Stadtmitte (city centre). The picturesque Altstadt (old town) lies between the Stadtmitte and the river. The Altstadt tourist office is at the corner of Markstrasse and Rheinstrasse (10am-6pm daily); a second is located at the Hauptbahnhof (9.30am-7pm daily except Sunday; 00 49 211 17 202 854; duesseldorf-tourismus.de).
On the west bank of the Rhine are the sedate suburbs of Niederkassel and Oberkassel.
The Düsseldorf Welcome Card (00 49 211 17 20 28 54; dusseldorf-tourismus.de) provides free public transport and reduced admission to many local attractions. A 48-hour ticket costs €14 from tourist offices, ticket offices and various hotels and museums.
The Hyatt at Speditionstrasse 19 (00 49 211 9134 1234; dusseldorf. regency.hyatt.com) is a sleek high-rise hotel, in a dramatic post-industrial setting overlooking the spruced up harbour. It boasts all the usual five-star perks. Doubles from €175, without breakfast.
The Hilton at Georg Glock Strasse 20 (00 49 211 43770; hilton.co.uk) is a smart business hotel between the Altstadt and the airport. It offers free bike hire and a 24-hour gym. The helpful staff more than make up for the impersonal architecture. Doubles from €129, including breakfast.
A fine budget option is Backpackers at Fürstenwall 180 (00 49 211 302 0848; backpackers-duesseldorf.de). A bed in a dorm costs from €14, including continental breakfast and free Wi-Fi.
Take a hike
The nicest (and the simplest) walk is along the east bank of the Rhine, from Theodor-Heuss Brücke. Stroll through the leafy Rheinpark and along the lively promenade that flanks the Altstadt. The steps just below the Schlossturm make an ideal midway stopping point, with fine views across the river and lots of cheap and cheerful spots to eat and drink near the Rheinkniebrücke.
Take a view
Take the lift to the top of the Rheinturm at Stromstrasse 20 (10am-11.30pm daily; €3.80). Whether you regard this 240m-high TV tower as an icon or an eyesore, the view from the observation deck is well worth the entrance fee. There is also a revolving restaurant on the floor above (00 49 211 86 32 000; guennewig.de). For a more sophisticated (if less spectacular) vista, head away from the river for the airy cupola of K21 at Ständehausstrasse 1 (00 49 211 83 81 204; kunstsammlung.de). This avant-garde gallery focuses on international art since 1980. Saturday and Sunday 11am-6pm, Tuesday to Friday 10am-6pm, closed Monday. Admission €8.
Lunch on the run
Düsseldorf's old dockland has been reinvented as a slick Medienhafen (‘media harbour’) with iconic buildings by ‘starchitects’ such as Frank Gehry. The terrace of Julian's at Speditionstrasse 11 (00 49 211 4939 2007; julian-s.com) is the perfect place to drink in the view. The food is good, too: an unpretentious mix of Teutonic staples and pan-European classics. At weekends, pay about €20 for two courses; during the week, a two-course business lunch costs about €10.
Take a ride
If you're feeling footsore, the Düsseldorfer City Tour (00 49 211 405 69690; citytour.de) gives a good overview of the city. The red double-decker buses depart from the Hauptbahnhof hourly from 11am-5pm daily. The tour takes about 90 minutes. The €12 ticket is valid for two days, and you can break your journey at any stop en route.
With a vast array of designer outlets, the Königsalle is one of Europe's most exclusive shopping streets. Its central canal and tree-lined boulevards make it a pleasant place to wander, but the shops are mainly international, and with the euro at its current rate you're unlikely to find many bargains. For stylish secondhand clothes walk a few blocks to Noblesse Second Hand at Steinstrasse 35 (00 49 211 329 722; noblesse-secondhand.de).
Düsseldorf's Altstadt has been called Europe's longest bar, on account of its several hundred pubs. Only a few places brew their own; the most atmospheric of these is Zum Schlüssel at Bolkerstrasse 41-47 (00 49 211 8289 550; zumschluessel. de). A glass of its crisp, clear home-brew costs only a couple of euro, or you can book a brewery tour, including a couple of drinks, for €8. Open Saturdays from noon (Monday-Friday from 7pm).
Dining with the locals
The restaurant to be seen in is Monkey’s, housed in a handsome old post office at Graf-Adolf-Platz 15 (00 49 211 649 63710; monkeysplaza.com). It is named after Monkey's Island, Düsseldorf's first beach club, which used to squat in the nearby harbour, and is furnished with bold, contemporary art. The innovative menu is similarly chic: modern European fine dining in Monkey's
West, and Mediterranean cuisine in the more informal Monkey's South next door. Four courses at Monkey's West costs from €45, two courses at Monkey's South from €20 — which is good value for such delicate, delicious dishes. The Monkey's South Tricolore is even more economical: a three-course lunch for €14.90, daily except Sunday.
Sunday morning: go to church
Mendelssohn and Schumann both performed in the St Lambertus Basilica on the Stiftsplatz (00 49 211 132 326; lambertus kirche.de) and this homely, historic church still resonates with the echo of their divine music. Services are from 10.15am to 11.30am on Sundays only, and 4.15pm to 6pm daily. If you're sightseeing rather than worshipping, you're welcome to attend from 10.15am to 6pm daily.
Out to brunch
Discreet and debonair, with an arty, upmarket clientele, Malkasten at Jacobistrasse 6 (00 49 211 173 040; mk-1.de) feels like an exclusive private member's club, but it is actually open to all. You can sit out on the terrace when the weather is fine, in a secluded corner of the Hofgarten. The Sunday brunch (from 10.30am to 3pm, €24.50) is a local institution, serving up a vast buffet of cold and hot dishes, from pastries and fruit salad to German sausage — be sure to book ahead.
A walk in the park
From Malkasten walk through the Hofgarten, past the palatial Opera House at Heinrich Heine Allee 16 (00 49 211 89 25 211; rheinoper.de) and on to Düsseldorf's prettiest concert hall, the Tonhalle at Ehrenhof 1 (00 49 211 89 96 123; tonhalle.de). This beautiful rotunda (originally built as a planetarium) is home to the Düsseldorfer Symphoniker, and has hosted intimate concerts by stars such as Sting and Nigel Kennedy.
The permanent collection of Düsseldorf's elegant art museum, the Kunstpalast at 4-5 Ehrenhof (00 49 211 899 0200; smkp.de), includes a superb range of German art from medieval masters such as Lucas Cranach to 20th-century iconoclasts including Düsseldorfer Joseph Beuys. Admission is free until 22 May (€12 thereafter).
K20 at Grabbeplatz 5 (00 49 211 83 81 130; kunstsammlung.de) houses a brilliant collection of 20th-century art. A particular treat is its rich hall of German Expressionists, with haunting paintings by modern masters including Otto Dix, Ernst Kirchner and Max Beckmann. Open 11am to 6pm at weekends (from 10am other days, closed Mondays; €10). There's a free bus to and from its sister gallery, K21, and a ticket for both galleries costs €15.
Icing on the cake
Düsseldorf isn't just the adopted city of Brahms, Schumann and Mendelssohn. It's also the hometown of Kraftwerk, the influential electronic ensemble that inspired a generation of synthesiser groups, and countless musicians ever since. The band met as music students in Düsseldorf. You can buy German language versions of their landmark albums at the music store A&O Medien at Schadowstrasse 11 (00 49 211 860 6049; aundo-medien.de).