(Editor’s note: This post on Düsseldorf is the first in a series of quick-trips we believe better reflect the expat lifestyle in Europe.)
Think about it … we expats don’t have the same travel experiences as “normal” people, tourists and locals.
Americans in particular rarely are willing to take a break from work for a month of travel in, say, Greece or Italy.
But one of the best parts of our expat lifestyle is instant access to Europe’s wondrous cities. Unfortunately, we tend to zip in and out on business, or over a weekend. I have no idea how many times my wife and co-CEO Cheryl and I have been to Amsterdam, for example, But we’ve only been able to devote one full weekend since 2016 to one of our favorite cities.
To that point, there are cities that must be explored (Paris, Berlin and Rome) and cities where you can have a terrific adventure in a few hours.
So we’re launching a different sort of travel series that better reflects our expat lifestyle than the “we went there and it was beautiful” conventional story.
Last week, we drove an hour from Dispatches’ HQ in Eindhoven to Dusseldorf. We had pretty low expectations because we lived in Germany for four years and found a lot the cities to be kind of non-descript. Plus, everything used to close at 4 p.m. on Saturdays, which made it tough when you have kids.
So, we’d put off this trip for a couple of years.
Big mistake. There are few cities in Europe where there are so many people indulging in ostentatious displays of wealth, which makes Düsseldorf interesting just on that level. I mean, how many Birkin bags do you really need?
Anyway, on with the show ….
We go to cities for five experiences:
1 – Museums
2 – Shopping
3 – Dining and drinking
4 – General hanging out
5 – Ambiance/architecture
So, let’s see how Dusseldorf rates:
Shopping – 10 out of 10, maybe 11
The only place that really compares to Dusseldorf’s Köningsallee luxury retail district is the Champs-Élysée. You scoff, but we’ve been to both in the last year, and the KÖ, as it’s known, is better.
Every store – even the mid-range fast-apparel brands and department stores such as Kaufhof – have huge video displays with product videos and some remake of 90s pop songs, which seem to be cool now. Great ambiance, lots of energy and packed with people.
That’s for starters. Then, there are the luxury retailers/ultra luxury. Every upscale brand isn’t merely here, they all have huge stand-alone stores including Hermés, Brunello Cucinelli, Cartier and Gucci.
Both Gucci and Cartier had lines of shoppers waiting to get in on a Saturday afternoon. It was fun sitting in a cafe and watching the show, with Düsseldorf’s monied class working it down Königsallee on what is essentially a blocks-long fashion show runway. (Dear lady in that crazy colorful coat who kept strutting up and down past the Armani store: You rock!)
The KÖ also beats the Champs-Élysée because there are no tourist come-ons like the guys hustling rides in Ferraris and Lambos on every corner. That could be because Düsseldorf doesn’t seem to get the low-end package tours or the lads’ parties (although we did see one of those). Most of the “tourists” we saw were more likely were internationals working in this finance, tech and manufacturing center.
But the KÖ is just the most storied a dozen shopping districts. Another great area is a short walk due north to the Joachim-Erwin Platz, where there’s a huge Apple store and a Tesla dealer. This is one glossy centrum.
General hanging out – 9 out of 10
This is complicated. Germany is a nuanced society. We live in the Netherlands, where most people are really, really friendly. By comparison, let’s just call Germans “reserved” and let it go at that. We lived for years in Turkey, Germany and the Netherlands, and we only made lasting friendships in Turkey and the Netherlands.
I’m not judging. We know lots of Americans and Turks who married Germans. So I think it’s just us. But don’t expect to strike up spontaneous friendships in Dusseldorf.
That said, the day we visited was a football game, and the entire section of the Burg Platz into the Rheinuferpromenade along the Rhine River was packed with beer-drinking fans singing at the top of their voices. And we got so many smiles and waves as we passed by. The promenade along the Rhine is reason enough to visit in the summer.
I dunno … I have to give Dusseldorf at least a 9, maybe a 9.5
Ambiance/architecture – 9 out of 10
Düsseldorf is Germany’s Rotterdam, a showcase for cutting-edge futurist architecture. But unlike Rotterdam, Düsseldorf still has elegant boulevards and tree-lined streets where you can see classic 18th-century German architecture. (Reconstructed after World War II, of course.)
As with Rotterdam, this is a very large city spread out along both sides of a wide river with multiple interesting areas you’re not going to get to in one visit. But you definitely want to stroll through the MeidenHafen, where the Gehry buildings are in the Der Neue Zollhof. (See the vid above.)
This is just a ridiculously interesting city. And remember, this is just one city in a huge Rhine-Ruhr metroplex that includes Köln, Bonn and Essen.
Dining and drinking – a provisional 8
We didn’t get to do enough drinking and dining, which is why we want to return sooner rather than later. We grabbed a quick lunch of Indian food at Manju in the Saturn Mall, where there are dozens of fast-casual restaurants.
Then we cruised along the Rheinuferpromenade, which has an endless selection of mostly beer-and-schnitzel spots on the Rhine River. But doing pre-visit research, I found that Düsseldorf has a pretty credible foodie scene with legendary restaurants such as Nagaya. In fact, we noticed Düsseldorf has this whole Asian restaurant thing going on in a section called Japantown. Who knew? See what happens when you keep going to the same cities – Paris, Amsterdam, Brussels and Den Haag – over and over again?
Here’s a great insider’s guide at Time Out Düsseldorf.
We’re a little jaded because there are two 2-star Michelin restaurants in Eindhoven. I suspect Düsseldorf doesn’t rate a 10, which we would likely give to cities such as Strasbourg. But there are plenty of alternatives if you’re not into sausage and hefeweizen.
Museums – No score
It was sunny, and there was no chance in hell we were going to spend one of the first warm days of spring inside. But we walked through the Museum Quarter. Nice.
Bonus – free exotic car show
Remember how we were talking about unapologetic displays of wealth? Well, this a city where you will see more 100,000 euro-plus exotic cars per block than any other in this region. (Munich has more, but that’s a post for another day.)
In fact, we ran into two 16-year-old Dutch kids who’d come down on the train from Rotterdam for that reason. When we first pulled into the Altstadt area, we spotted Nathan Starmans and Oscar Galjaard staking out a corner across from the Hermès, shooting each exotic that came down Königsallee. They rank Düsseldorf up there with Monaco, London, Vegas and LA, some of the other cities they’ve traveled to expressly to photograph supercars they post on Instagram and Pinterest. Mind you, these are 16-year-olds who can’t even legally drive in Europe. And they weren’t disappointed.
We saw an Aston-Martin, like a thousand 911 Cabriolets, several AMG Mercedes (above) and various and sundry HIGH high-end Jags and BMWs.
What? You don’t have a Bugatti? You’re good.
Coming from the Netherlands, Düsseldorf is so easy to get to. We literally drove straight down the A2/Autobahn 52 in our Honda into Dusseldorf and parked. A tip: Park at the Sevens Saturn Mall parking. You come up the elevators right into the mall food court. Then you exit on to Königsallee.
If you’re coming from other parts of Europe, the Düsseldorf Airport discount hub is just north of the city, and you can take a train the central station, which puts you within walking distance/subway of most of the attractions and shopping.
Thumbs up or thumbs down?
TWO enthusiastic thumbs up. We’re already planning to return for in-depth posts about Düsseldorf’s charms.