Why go now?
There's a buzz in the air in Bonn. Next month sees this elegant German city celebrate Ludwig van Beethoven, who was born in Bonn in 1770. The month-long Beethovenfest (beethovenfest.de) starts on 5 September. Among the 68 events planned are concerts, films and lectures held across the city in venues as varied as castles and tram depots. The highlight this year is a performance of Fidelio, the composer's only opera.
Cologne-Bonn airport is 16km north-east of Bonn. The main airline is Germanwings (0906 294 1918; germanwings.com), which flies from Edinburgh, Manchester, Stansted and Heathrow. It is also served by easyJet (0843 104 5000; easyjet.com) from Gatwick.
The Airport Express (swb-busundbahn.de) bus departs every half-hour (hourly on Sundays) and calls at Markt (1), the city's central square, on its way to the train station (2) on Am Hauptbahnof. The journey takes 30 minutes for a one-way fare of €7.40. A taxi will cost about €40.
You can also reach Bonn by rail in under five hours from London St Pancras, with changes at Brussels and Cologne.
Get your bearings
Bonn sits on the banks of the Rhine in western Germany, 30km south-east of Cologne. Overlooked somewhat by its big neighbour, Bonn hasn't always been in the shadows. For more than 40 years, from 1949, it was West Germany's federal capital. But with reunification came a shift in power and the Bundestag (national parliament) was transferred to Berlin in 1991.
The city centre – compact, leafy, largely pedestrianised and where you'll spend the majority of your time – is concentrated on the right bank. Opposite is the residential neighbourhood of Beuel.
The tourist office (3) (00 49 228 77 5000; bonn-region.de) is close to the train station (2) at Windeckstrasse 1. A 24-hour welcome card – with unlimited public transport and admission to some sights – costs €9.
Queen Victoria checked into the Stern Hotel (4) (00 49 228 72670; sternhotel.de) at Markt 8 in 1845. She loved it so much she presented the property with an oversized portrait of herself. It's since been destroyed but the iconic 80-room hotel remains a popular choice in the heart of the city. "Eco" doubles at weekends start at €110, including breakfast.
The trendy Hotel Königshof (5) (00 49 228 26010; hotel-koenifshof-bonn.de) at Adenauerallee 9 has been one of the city's best places to stay since opening in 1872. Today, it has 129 cosy rooms, a spa and terrace overlooking the Rhine. Doubles from €144, including breakfast.
The 19-room Beethoven Hotel (6) (00 49 228 629 7520; beethoven-hotel.de) at Bonngasse 17 – just across the road from the composer's birthplace – is a simple but comfortable option. Doubles start from €99, with breakfast.
Take a hike
Start on Kaiserplatz (7) staring down Poppelsdorfer Allee – a one-kilometre stretch lined with chestnut trees – towards the Baroque Poppelsdorf Palace (8), which was once the holiday home of Archbishop Joseph Clemens.
Walk north-east along Am Hofgarten and take the first left into Regina-Pacis-Weg and the Hofgarten (9). This leafy park is dominated by another striking palace, now part of Bonn University (10), decorated with an 18th-century golden statue of Regina Pacis on the roof.
Take the first left and pass under the archway. Look out for the bronze plaque on the left (above the sushi bar) that reveals where Karl Marx lived while studying here in 1835. Continue straight ahead, crossing Markt (1) with its cafés, ice-cream shops and sweet-smelling fruit stalls. You can't miss the exquisite white Rococo-style Old Town Hall (11), the gilded balcony of which has played host to royalty and presidents.
Turn right into Bonngasse, finishing at the pretty pink house at number 20, Beethovenhaus (12), where Beethoven was born in 1770 (00 49 228 981 7525; beethoven-haus-bonn.de). Pop inside to see his piano and other personal belongings. Open 10am to 6pm daily; entry €5.
Lunch on the run
A few doors down is Im Stiefel (13) at Bonngasse 30 (00 49 228 69 6596; gasthausimstiefel.de). The Rhenish menu includes dishes such as marinated beef with raisin sauce and dumplings. The interior is fitted out with iron chandeliers and a wooden staircase carved with scenes of workers tending to grapes and vines. Mains from €10.
Bonn's most eclectic shopping can be sourced on Friedrichstrasse (14). You'll find everything from vintage clothing and cutting-edge jewellery to classic German wines, modern art and Asian ceramics. Typical opening hours are 10am to 6pm Monday-Saturday. Most shops are closed on Sunday.
Alter Zoll (15) (00 49 228 24 1243; alterzoll.de) on Brassertufer is Bonn's loveliest beer garden. Tables are laid out beneath a 200-year-old chestnut tree with views across the Rhine. A pint of Cologne's famous Kölsch beer is €3.40.
For an even more local tipple, try Bonnsch (16) (00 49 228 65 0610; boennsch.de) at Sterntorbucke 4, which brews its own beer on site. A half-pint costs €2.55
Dining with the locals
The Em Hoettche (17) (00 49 228 69 0009; www.em-hoettche.de) at Markt 4 is one of Bonn's oldest restaurants, dating back to 1389. It's thought Beethoven once wined and dined a lady friend here. Food is traditional and hearty, with mains from €11.
Alternatively, try Elbe Am Rhein (18) (00 49 228 969 65371; elbe.co) at Rosental 105. The star dish of this fine riverside eatery is saumagen – a pork, potato and sauerkraut delicacy from the Palatinate region (€15).
Sunday morning: go to church
Dominating the city with its pointy Romanesque spires is one of Germany's oldest cathedrals. Completed in the 13th century and named after two saints said to have been beheaded here in AD235, the Basilica of St Cassius & Florentius (19) (00 49 228 98 5880; bonner-muenster.de) on Münsterplatz suffered great damage in the Second World War. However, there's still much to see, including wall art from the Middle Ages. Sunday mass is at 10am (open 9am-8pm Sunday; 8am-7pm other days).
Out to brunch
A German breakfast of smoked turkey, Gouda cheese, eggs and crispy rolls (€7) at Roses (20) (00 49 228 433 0653; roses-bonn.de) at Martinsplatz 2a will set you up for the day. The brunch menu also includes pancakes with maple syrup.
Walk in the park
Rheinaue Park (21) comprises wide open spaces, a serene Japanese garden with bonsai trees and pagodas, and a lake with rowing boats (from €6) on Ludwig-Erhard Allee. It is a pleasant spot to while away a few hours and can be reached by buses 610 and 611. Alight at the Post Tower (22).
To the north-west is a cluster of museums along Friedrich-Ebert-Allee known as Bonn's Museum Mile. The Kunst Museum (23) (00 49 228 77 6260; kunstmuseum-bonn.de; entry €7; open 11am- 6pm Tuesday to Sunday; until to 9pm Wednesday) at No 2 focuses on art from Expressionism to contemporary.
At No 4 is the Art and Exhibition Hall (24) (00 49 228 917 12000; bundeskunsthalle.de; €15; 10am-7pm Thursday to Sunday), which has temporary exhibits including one on Cleopatra until 6 October.
Nearby is the fascinating House of German History (25) (00 49 228 91650; hdg.de) at Willy-Brandt-Allee 14, which details the post-1945 period (10am-6pm weekends, 9am-7pm Tuesday to Friday; free).
Take a ride ...
... along the Rhine. Cruises with Bonner Personen Schiffahrt (00 49 228 63 6363; b-p-s.de) depart from the pier near the Alter Zoll (15) and head south to Linz am Rhein (around two hours). Boats depart from 7.30am to 3pm. Returns cost €36.
Icing on the cake
Cologne (cologne- tourism.com) is easily reached by regular trains, granting you two city breaks for the price of one. Trains leave Bonn's station (2) every 20 to 30 minutes, taking half-an-hour to reach Cologne's Hauptbahnhof, opposite the city's cathedral (€7 for a one-way ticket).