Somewhere for the Weekend: Düsseldorf

There's no better time to visit the city best known as a business destination, writes Mark Rowe, than when a million people decide to party - at 10.49am precisely


WHY GO NOW?

WHY GO NOW?

Carnival is the time when Düsseldorf, dismissively referred to by those Germans who don't live there as "the office desk of the Ruhr", decides it's time to party. Fortunately, David Brent is not in charge. In all, a million people will take part or watch the parades. Tomorrow (Thursday 27 February) is the first of carnival's "crazy days", when women wear fancy dress to work before everyone heads to the Alter Markt, where the street carnival is officially opened. From here on you are confronted with 96 hours of more or less unrelenting partying, eating, dancing and drinking, starting with Thursday evening's bender, known as Weiberfastnacht. Friday represents something of a pause for breath but the bars open early on Saturday morning to serve pick-me ups, or "Frühschoppen". On Sunday, school children parade through the city centre in fancy dress while the evening is taken up with more street parties and masked balls. Everything climaxes with the official parade on Rose Monday, 3 March with a colourful spectacle of thousands of people in fancy dress, colourful carnival figures, cart-wheelers, clowns and bank staff wearing red noses. The timetable says the fun starts at 10.49am and, this being Germany, it almost certainly will. Neighbouring Cologne's carnival is bigger but also more contrived and industrial.

For more information on the carnival, contact the Düsseldorf tourist office at www.duesseldorf.de, e-mail tourist@duesseldorf-tourismus.de, or call 00 49 211 172 020. In the UK, the German tourist board (020-7317 0908, www.germany-travel.org.uk) can also provide details.

DOWN PAYMENT

Buzz (0870 240 7070; www.buzzaway.com) flies from Stansted to Düsseldorf with fares this weekend from £105. By booking in advance and travelling at less popular times, fares can cost around £65 return. British Airways (0845 77 333 77; www.ba.com) flies from Heathrow with last minute flights for the carnival starting at £102. Düsseldorf can also be reached by train (Rail Europe, 08705 848 848; www.raileurope.co.uk) involving a change in Brussels to join the high-speed rail link to Germany. Fares start from £130. From the airport, the frequent S-Bahn (€1.20, £0.80) takes only 10 minutes to reach the central station, from where it is a 10-minute walk into the centre and the main hotel area. A taxi from the airport costs around €22 (£15).

INSTANT BRIEFING

Düsseldorf is a contrary place where grand Imperial buildings and shopping arcades jostle with medieval cobbled streets and squares. Its main drag, the Königsallee, known as the Kö, lays claim to being the most opulent street in Western Europe, while the old town, with its churches, cobbled alleyways and snug pubs, sprawls towards the river Rhine. Düsseldorf's abundant museums are close by too. Everything you could want to see is within easy walking distance of the centre, but if you don't want to walk, the WelcomeCard (€14/£9.50 for 48 hours) gives you free public transport as well as museum entry.

REST ASSURED

In a city where hotels are mainly geared to trade fairs, it is worth the 10-minute walk from the centre to the lovely Hotel Windsor (Grafenberger Allee 36; 00 49 211 914 680; www.windsorhotel.de) with rooms from €85 (£58). This is a homely boutique hotel with wrought-iron balconies. An excellent choice in the centre is the St.Georg (Hunsruckenstrassse 22; 00 49 211 602230; www.hotel-st-georg-duesseldorf.de) with swish rooms from €95 (£64.50) for a double, though ask for a room at the back to avoid street noise. For medium to budget range try Hotel Haus Hillesheim (Jahnstrasse 19; 00 49 211 386 860; www.hotel-hillesheim.de), a spotless, convivial family pension. Rooms from €35 to €75 (£24-51).

MUST SEE

Düsseldorf has more than 200 museums and galleries, the finest of which lie in the museum quarter, offering a wealth of classical and 20th-century art. The Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen museum (Grabbeplatz, €6.50/£4.50, 00 49 211 8381 130; www.kunstsammlung.de) is the pick of the bunch, featuring Klee, Picasso, Dali, Chagall and Pollock. The museum is open 10am-6pm on weekdays, 11am-6pm on weekends and closed Mondays. The more classically inclined should head for the Museum Kunst-Palast (Ehrenhof 5, €5/£3.40, 00 49 211 892 4242; www.museum-kunst-palast.de) where the old masters include a Rubens altarpiece. The museum is open 11am to 6pm but closed Mondays. The churches in the old town merit some time, particularly the 14th-century St Lambertus, with its twisted spire. Also take a stroll around Düsseldorf's answer to London's regenerated Docklands – the New Media Centre, the highlight of which is Frank Gehry's shimmering office block, known as the dancing towers because they lean against one another as though locking arms in the fashion of drinkers in a German bierkeller. For an overview of the city, head for the 234m Rhine Tower (€4/£2.70). The Opera House, Opera an der Rhein (00 49 2 11 8 908 211; Heinrich Halle Allee 16a), has a terrific reputation in Germany. Tickets can be bought up to two hours before performances.

MUST BUY

Porcelain is high quality, and Franzen (Königsallee 42, 00 49 211 130 780) offers fine bone china dinner services popular with European royalty. Much more accessible is the Galeria Kaufhof ( www.galeria-kaufhof.de) at the top of the Kö, a huge department store offering quality and well-priced household goods. Nearby at no 60 is the Kö Galerie, a luxury arcade of quite mesmerising opulence. Be sure to pay a visit to the wonderful Gewürzhaus (Mertensgasse 25), a tiny store that has sold mustard and spices since the 18th century.

MUST EAT

Tante Anna, Andreastrasse 2 (00 49 211 131 163; www.tanteanna.de) offers lamb salad, truffled fois gras and iced vanilla mousse washed down with a bottle of Riesling for €54 (£36.50) per person. For traditional German dishes head for a brauereigaststätten, the food-based bierkellers. Zum Schlüssel, Bolkerstrasse 45 (00 49 211 8289 550; www.zumschluessel.de) is among the best. For cakes, head for Heinemann's in the arcade at Königsallee 30 and for something more exotic, Libanon Patisserie, Bolkerstrasse 32.

INTO THE NIGHT

Everyone will tell you the old town is "the longest bar in Europe". The cobbled maze of squares is given over to countless bars and pubs selling the ubiquitous Alt, a dark, malty affair. Most bars in the old town around Bolkerstrasse and Berger Strasse will stay open as long as you can keep drinking. For something more modish, nibble some tapas at Café Madrid, Bolkerstrasse 23-25 (open until 2am), while a lively crowd gathers at the bar Schaukel Stuhlchen, Kurze Strasse 18.

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