Germany’s hidden cosmopolitan gems, Cologne (Köln) and Dusseldorf, are the perfect destinations for experiencing authentic German life. Although often overlooked for the more well-known cities of Munich and Berlin, travelers “in the know” visit these two jewels of the North Rhine-Westphalia state, separated by an easy thirty-minute train ride.
These fierce rivals in sports and politics both boast fabulous food, unique architecture, world-class museums, quaint cobblestone streets, distinctive world-famous beer, and an immersive experience devoid of the hordes of tourists clogging other European cities.
Here are my tips on how to spend three action-packed days in Cologne and Dusseldorf.
Day 1: Welcome to Cologne
Your first stop must be the massive UNESCO World Heritage Site gothic Cologne Cathedral, Germany’s most visited attraction. Travel back to 1248 when the first stone was laid! Take in the crypt, chapels, works of art, and elaborate stained glass windows.
Next, add your love lock to the thousands hanging from the Hohenzollern Bridge, and then explore the pedestrian-friendly and colorful Old Town. Settle in at one of the traditional cafes to lunch among locals. For some laughs, check out the outrageous Carnival costumes in specialty stores all over! After this, visit the National Socialism Documentation Center, a former Nazi Gestapo prison. This emotional memorial moved our family.
Stroll Europe’s busiest shopping street, Schildergasse. Snack on an oversized pretzel from a local bakery (a fun photo-op), and pop into the House of 4711, a perfume house dating from 1792 to see (and smell) the original Eau De Cologne dripping from the fragrance fountain.
For dinner among locals, either head to the buzzing Belgian Quarter, or dine off-the-beaten-path at the well-priced Ristorante Toscanini. This stylish hotspot serves creative wood-fired pizzas and tasty Italian dishes. Save room for their to-die-for tiramisu!
Day 2: Dash to Dusseldorf
Hop a quick thirty-minute train ride to Dusseldorf, the uber-wealthy capital of North Rhine-Westphalia.
Kick-off your day with a thrill! Surprise your crew (like I did) by inviting them to climb into Tomás Saraceno’s art installation “In Orbit” at the K21 Modern Art Museum. K21 supplies overalls and shoes – you supply the nerves! Four stories off the floor, your gang will flip for this once in a lifetime experience!
Refuel at Curry, a neighborhood joint known for fries and flavorful sausages. Cross the street to stroll among Media Harbor’s ultra-modern buildings. Zip to the top of the city’s icon, the Rheinturm (Rhine Tower), and grab a coffee while admiring the spectacular views.
Next, either walk along the waterfront or hop a Rhine Boat sightseeing tour. Since we visited during wintertime, we meandered along the riverside promenade – an ideal spot to people-watch.
Be sure to take a spin on Dusseldorf’s Wheel of Vision, a mega Ferris Wheel with fabulous views, then shop ’til you drop on “Ko Street,” the nickname for upscale Königsallee Avenue.
End your action-packed day exploring Little Japan and dining among locals at Takumi. Be prepared to wait in line (it does move quickly) at this uber-popular spot! We delighted in Takumi’s delicious ramen, flavorful noodles, and tasty gyoza.
At some point during the day or night (even better), wander through the Aldstadt, the world’s longest bar with 200 separate establishments.
Day 3: Perfection – Sports, Chocolate, Art & Beer
Hit the ground running by playing soccer on the rooftop of the interactive Deutsches Sport & Olympia Museum. This fun-for-the-whole-family museum houses cool sports memorabilia. Step into a boxing ring, see torches from every Olympic game since 1936, slip into a bobsled, and so much more.
Next, head across the way to the Italian chain Vapiano for a quick freshly-cooked lunch, then follow your nose to the Chocolate Museum! Wander through a greenhouse, watch the assembly line in action, gobble up samples, and marvel at the towering chocolate fountain.
After this, have fun while being cultured at the chic Museum Ludwig. Take in 21st-century art including lots of big names like Warhol, Lichtenstein, and Picasso.
We found the perfect finale to our trip at Früh am Dom, an authentic brewhouse. Dining in an atmospheric cellar of this meat and Kölsch lover’s dream transports you back in time! (The menu has tasty vegetarian options as well).
Where to Stay
Steps away from the central train station and walking distance to most attractions, the welcoming Hilton Cologne makes navigating the city a breeze and hopping a train to Dusseldorf just as easy. This family-friendly hotel offers an expansive delicious breakfast buffet, helpful staff, and well-appointed spacious suites.
Our family loved our three days experiencing the varied culture, attractions, and cuisine of cosmopolitan Dusseldorf and Cologne! Pack your bags and get ready to experience the absolutely fabulous, authentic, and energetic neighboring German cities, Cologne and Dusseldorf.
The tourism offices provided Lisa’s family with some complimentary passes and one meal so that she could try them and review them for your information. Lisa chose the above attractions and restaurants based on their reviews.
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