The idea of a traditional German town conjures up visions of old cobbled streets, leaning church spires and pitchers overflowing with beer – all of which can be found in Düsseldorf’s picturesque Altstadt (Old Town). Set between the city’s exclusive shopping boulevard Königsallee and the eastern bank of the river Rhine, the area is a picturesque way to experience the diverse charms of Düsseldorf.
Raising the bar
Hundreds of taverns and bustling bars populate the Altstadt’s main thoroughfare, leading the road to be known as ‘the longest bar in the world’. But while the area’s own Alt beer is a main attraction, the Altstadt also has plenty of cultural sights and shopping opportunities.
A stroll down the riverside promenade reveals stately town houses nestled in-between centuries-old churches and historic museums. The Rathaus (Town Hall) is a fine example of Düsseldorf’s late-Gothic architecture and provides a striking backdrop to one of the city’s most famous landmarks, the statue of Jan Wellem, a duke who was born in Düsseldorf in 1658.
The Schlossturm in the city’s central square, Burgplatz, is another of the quarter’s cultural highlights. The tower is the only part remaining of a baroque palace and now houses the Schiffhartsmuseum (Shipping Museum), which chronicles shipping on the Rhine as far back as the 1400s. The tower also boasts a panoramic view over the Altstadt. When up there, look out for Düsseldorf’s largest church, St Lambertus Basilica, which is instantly recognisable by its famous twisted spire. If you have time to visit St Lambertus, you’ll discover its lavish Romanesque interior, as well as the relics of St Apollinaris, the patron saint of Düsseldorf. Another church worth a visit is the Neanderkirche, whose traditional pipe organ draws in throngs of people to its lunchtime concerts.
Art lovers will not be disappointed with the Altstadt, as the city’s renowned K20 art museum is located within its domain. Recognisable by its black granite exterior, K20 holds nearly 100 works of modern art by Paul Klee, the famous Swiss painter who once taught at Düsseldorf's National Academy of Art. The museum also displays work by artists from Picasso to Matisse, along with Bonnard, Léger, Dalí and Pollock, making it an essential port of call.
As well as the bars and cultural attractions, visitors to the Altstadt will find a number of small, family-run stores selling traditional German products which make ideal souvenirs. Gewürzhaus (Spice House) on Mertensgasse is unassuming-looking store stocking local mustard, made using a time-honoured recipe and presented in hand-decorated jars. Other local wares can be found during the winter months at the city’s world-famous Christmas market outside the town hall. Running during November and December, this is the place to visit for ornate handicrafts including handmade candles and glass-blown vases. While here, make sure to try a glass of warming glühwein (mulled wine) and eierpunsch (eggnog).
Boulevard of luxury
A short walk away, you will find Düsseldorf’s most famous shopping boulevard, Königsallee. ‘The Kö’, as it’s known locally, provides a seemingly endless stretch of international fashion houses such as Louis Vuitton and Prada, alongside home-grown luxury labels. FreyWille has recently opened a flagship store here, stocking its inimitable hand-decorated jewellery pieces, based on the works of 19th- and 20th-century artists. Some pieces are only stocked in Düsseldorf and Munich, so visitors are sure to find something rare here.
Königsallee’s reputation for exquisite design continues down the boulevard, where shoppers are met by impressive malls such as Kö Galerie. This newly refurbished centre provides an outstanding range of fashion under its glass-domed roof, including branches of prestigious brands including Jil Sander and Lacoste. Gentlemen should seek out the Porsche Design store; renowned for combining timeless design with impressive technical innovations, Porsche Design is ideal for fashion, accessories and gadgets for the modern man.
The diversity of the Altstadt and its surrounding area means it has something for everyone. From the beer connoisseur to the cultural doyenne, the souvenir hunter to the luxury label lover, all tastes are catered for in this vibrant city quarter.