Things to Do in Rhine River
With its imposing Gothic façade and dramatic twin towers, the Cologne Cathedral (Kölner Dom) is the city’s most recognized landmark. Protected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the magnificent cathedral is one of the most important in Germany and dominates the city skyline.
The traditional heart of the city and one of Germany’s most famous nightlife districts, Dusseldorf’s Old Town (Altstadt) is where visitors spend the majority of their time, home to many of the city’s top attractions. As well as the scenic Rheinuferpromenade running along the waterfront and the famous Königsallee shopping boulevard just a couple of blocks east, highlights of the Old Town include the Burgplatz, with its landmark castle tower and unique City Monument; the Neander-church and Old City Hall (Rathaus), two of the only buildings still standing after WWII; and a number of museums, including the Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen and the Filmmuseum.
The historic district is at its most atmospheric in the evening hours when locals and tourists gather to drink and dance at “the longest bar in the world” – the nickname given to the almost 300 bars, bier-halles and pubs that stretch throughout the area, built so close together that the bar counters are said to run from one venue to the next. There’s a huge range of nightclubs, music venues and cocktail bars to choose from, but be sure to head to one of the traditional brew pubs to sample local specialty, Altbier, a dark beer brewed in Dusseldorf since the 19th century.
The waters of the mighty Rhine split Cologne in half, and the city is united across a series of seven bridges, with none more splendid than the spans of the Hohenzollernbrücke, which stretch 1,342 feet (410 meters) across the river in three great steel arches.
This spectacular city landmark is almost as famous as Cologne’s twin-spired Gothic cathedral – the largest in Europe – and was completed in 1911, with four railway lines joining Cologne to cities across Europe. German troops destroyed the bridge at the end of World War II in the face of advancing Allied soldiers but it rose phoenix-like once more in 1948. Today it is both a pedestrian and rail bridge with around 1,200 trains passing over it daily and pairs of equestrian bronzes punctuating both ends.
A curious tradition has recently grown up around the Hohenzollernbrücke; lovers affix padlocks to its sides and throw the key into the Rhine in exchange for eternal love. So far the city fathers believe over two tonnes of extra metal is now attached to the bridge.
Opened by local chocolatier Hans Imhoff in 1993, theCologne Chocolate Museum (Schokoladenmuseum) is devoted to Cologne’s chocolate-making history. This fun family attractions lets visitors peek behind the scenes of a working chocolate factory, learn about the farming of cacao beans, and sample delicious Lindt chocolate.
With its rows of designer boutiques and luxury department stores bordering a serene tree-lined canal, King's Alley (Konigsallee) is surely one of Germany’s prettiest boulevards, as well as being Dusseldorf’s busiest shopping street. First laid out back in 1802, Konigsallee was originally named Kastanienallee (Chestnut Avenue), but was renamed in honor of King Friedrich Wilhelm IV in 1848, as an apology for the notorious incident in which Dusseldorfers bombarded his carriage with horse manure.
Today, the famous shopping street is best known by its nickname ‘Kö’ and is a popular hangout for both locals and tourists, offering a huge range of shops, restaurants and cafes to suit all tastes. Along with an impressive number of flagship designer outlets and jewelry boutiques, the Kö is home to the Sevens mall, the Kaufhof Kö department store and a number of 5-star hotels, while many shoppers can be found escaping the crowds for a stroll beneath the chestnut trees or a coffee break on the banks of the canal.
A riverside highlight, Loreley Rock is one of the Rhine’s most storied landmarks. The slate rock soars some 433 feet (132 meters) in the air, and, according to mythology, was once frequented by a beautiful siren who lured sailors to their deaths. Today, the promontory is a popular sightseeing stop.
Among the most iconic landmarks of Dusseldorf’s picturesque Alstadt (Old Town), St. Lambertus Cathedral is famous for its distinctive twisted tower. Originally built in the 14th century, the church tower was rebuilt after a fire in 1815 and the use of wet arbors caused it to twist. Legend however, tells a different story – a bride dressed in white came to the altar pretending to be a virgin, and the tower turned, allegedly to only return to its previous form when a real virgin appears at the altar.
Today the medieval church is among Dusseldorf’s oldest buildings, with highlights including the bronze-coated door by Ewald Mataré, the exquisite Rieger organ and the tomb of Duke Wilhelm V of Jülich-Kleve-Berg.
With its grand Renaissance style façade and clock tower crawling with ivy, the Rathaus, or City Hall, is among Dusseldorf’s most attractive buildings, as well as being one of its oldest. Dating back to the 16th century, the Rathaus is one of a handful of buildings that remained intact after the WWII bombings, and forms an eye-catching backdrop to the city’s annual Christmas markets.
The most memorable landmark of the Rathaus is the bronze equestrian statue of Elector Jan Wellem, an iconic sculpture designed by Gabriel de Grupello in 1711, which now takes center stage at the front of the building. Inside, visitors can explore the ornately decorated council hall, the Jan-Wellem hall and the Lord Mayor’s reception hall, renowned for its beautiful ceiling paintings by artists Domenico Zanetti and Johannes Spilberg.
Towering 234 meters over the modern Media Harbor, the futuristic Rhine Tower (Rheinturm) telecommunications tower is Dusseldorf’s tallest building and most distinctive landmark. Built in 1982, the tower quickly became one of the city’s top tourist attractions, with its 172-meter high observation platform offering dramatic panoramic views along the Rhine riverfront, the nearby Old Town (Altstadt) and the sea of high-rises that form Dusseldorf’s commercial district.
High-speed elevators take visitors to the top of the tower, where there is also a glass-fronted revolving restaurant, but the views are equally mesmerizing from the outside, with the illuminated tower also serving as the world’s largest digital clock.
Dusseldorf’s historic harbor was given an impressive facelift during the 1990s, transforming the bleak silos and shipping warehouses, into a lively cultural hub and one of the city’s most stylish districts. Taking its name from the abundance of media and communications company headquarters that sprung up in the area, the new Media Harbor (MedienHafen) is characterized by its ultra-modern architecture, and the glass-fronted office blocks, looming Rheinturm TV Tower and wave-inspired Gehry buildings form a sleek silhouette along the waterfront.
As well as being the postcard image of modern-day Dusseldorf, the Media Harbor is also home to a selection of upmarket restaurants, bistros and bars and offers a glamorous setting for the city’s most exclusive nightclubs.
More Things to Do in Rhine River
The triangular spur of land created where the might of the Rhine and Moselle converge is one of the most poignant memorials to German unity in the country. In 1897, an equestrian bronze was placed on this spit in honor of Keizer Willem I with an inscription that read in German: "Never will the Empire be destroyed, so long as you are united and loyal."
That statue was badly damaged by American shelling during the Allied advancement in 1945 and was eventually taken down. Following World War II as part of a reparation package, Germany was split into the capitalist west and the communist Democratic Republic, and at this juncture President Heuss of West Germany reinstated Deutsches Eck as a monument to German patriotism by placing the coats of arms and flags of all the regions on display there.
After the Berlin Wall came down in 1989, three sections of the wall were installed at the site, and in 1993 came a replica of the original statue of Willem I, which was placed on a massive neo-Classical plinth that can be seen for miles around. Recent additions have seen the inclusion of the U.S. flag in honor of the dead of 9/11. In 2002 Deutsches Eck became a UNESCO World Heritage site, and now more than 2 million people journey each year to see the monument.
Germany’s soccer legacy takes center stage at the German Football Museum (Deutsches Fussballmuseum) in Dortmund—a fitting tribute to the highs, lows, and cultural importance of the sport. Opened in 2015, the museum is packed with memorabilia, multimedia displays, and fun interactive exhibitions, making it a must for soccer fans.
A popular destination since Roman times, the spa town of Wiesbaden has long attracted visitors to its thermal waters. Today, a trip to the provincial capital—located between Mainz and Frankfurt along the Upper Rhine—reveals heritage architecture, glitzy shopping streets, and numerous wellness facilities.
SEA LIFE® Königswinter takes visitors on an undersea odyssey filled with close encounters with an astonishing variety of sea creatures. The aquarium’s 36 pools are home to more than 2,000 sea creatures of more than 120 species, from exotic fish such as surgeonfish, paddlefish, and clown fish to turtles, rays, octopus, and moray eels.
Sitting on the banks of the Rhine River, the Museum Kunstpalast first opened in 1913 but was given a facelift by architect Oswald Matthias Ungers at the backend of the last century and reopened in 2001. Its five permanent collections embrace European sculpture from medieval times, stellar Renaissance and Baroque paintings such as the acclaimedAssumption of the Virgin by Rubens, and contemporary art from Expressionism to modern times. The museum also holds more than 70,000 pieces of graphic art and drawings, including sketches by Raphael and Kirchner.
One of the biggest draws of the Kunstpalast is the exquisite Hentrich Glass Collection, which traces the story of European glassware from the early Roman period right up to hand-blown pieces by the likes of Art Nouveau supremo Emile Gallé and Czech glassblower Stanislav Libenský. It also home to major league temporary exhibitions including Dalí, Warhol and Miró; recent draws have included Jena Tinguely’s madcap installations and Carl Buchheister’s vibrant abstract paintings.
Stretching along the west bank of the Rhine River and presided over by the UNESCO-listed Cologne Cathedral, the Old Town (Altstadt) is both the navigational and historical heart of Cologne. With its colorful old buildings, beautiful Romanesque churches, and scenic riverside promenades, it’s an obvious starting point for any exploration of the city.
The Museum Ludwig, opened in 1976 with a gift of some 350 pieces from the Wallraf-Richartz Museum, which is housed in the same building. While the Wallraf-Richartz exhibited some modern art, the Ludwig was the first museum in Cologne dedicated to contemporary art. Its collection includes pieces by Warhol, Lichtenstein and the largest collection of works by Picasso in the world, many of which were donated or given on personal loan from Pop-Art collectors Peter and Irene Ludwig.
The museum's unique architecture is a series of rounded roofs, giving one the impression of a series of steel waves. It is situated in between the Gothic bombast of the Cathedral of Cologne and the Rhine River, and its elegant, modern design is a stunning contrast to the looming imposition of the Cathedral, even more so given the purposes of both institutions.
Also emerging from the Wallraf-Richartz museum is the Romano-Germanic Museum. now housed in a building east of the Ludwig. This collection of antiquities leads visitors on a journey into the city's Roman heritage, displaying stone, clay and bronze statuary, mosaic fragments and even remnants of architecture.
Part antiquities collection, part archeological dig, the Roman-Germanic Museum (or Römisch-Germanische Museum) sits atop the last vestiges of the Roman town villa. In the museum's basement is a well-known Dionysus mosaic, undisturbed from its original installation.
Remnants of Roman architecture, inscriptions, portraits of Caesar Augustus and his ceramics and more piece together the story of Cologne's development from a Germanic tribal settlement (the Ubii), to the Roman Cologne, to the capital of the Lower Germania.
Other highlights of the museum are the 15 meters (50 foot) high sarcophagus of Poblicius, a legionnaire from the first century AD. Like the mosaic and the Roman road outside, this funereal monument was uncovered during excavations in the city. The collection also contains the largest collection of Roman glass, more mosaics and ceramics, as well as the stone, clay and bronze idols specific to various Roman cults.
Tours are available, but the museum is fairly easy to negotiate by oneself. Given the wealth of archeological finds in the surrounding area, the Roman-Germanic Museum is one of the most important museums in the world, and is one of the most popular museums in all of Germany.
One of the lace of fantastical castles perched along waterways near the Rhine, Burg Eltz is Gothic in style, and its many towers and turrets have dominated its lush, green valley since medieval times. Like many of the German Rhineland castles, this could easily have been the model for Disney’s Sleeping Beauty Castle, appearing to morph out of its rocky crag and almost completely surrounded by the sinuous curves of the River Eltz.
With spots as high as eight stories up, it has its origins in the 13th century, when it was built high above the valley floor for defense purposes. Building continued for centuries, with further expansions being added hundreds of years later.
Amazingly, Burg Eltz has been owned by three branches of the same aristocratic family since the 13th century. It's built around a central courtyard and was one of the few castles that escaped the last world war unscathed. Guided tours incorporate the armory, medieval frescoes, masterpieces by Cranach and elaborate wooden carvings of the Knight’s Hall, where generations of the three families have held their celebrations. In fact, so picture-perfect is Burg Eltz that it is featured on the DM500 note of the now-defunct German currency.
North Rhine-Westphalia came into being after Germany was restructured following WWII, and with more than 18 million people it is Germany’s most populous state. The state’s parliament building is the first completely new parliament building to be built in the history of the German Federal Republic. The parliament building (Landtag), which opened in 1988, represents the first time a German parliament designed its future home itself.
The building was designed to be comparatively modest. At 344 feet wide, 640 feet long, and 70 feet tall, the Landtag building is more noted for its interesting shape than its size. Right angles were consciously avoided. The circular meeting chamber, which holds 300 people, is located in the center of the building. Four rooms for the parliamentary parties form a circle off the chamber, with a lobby that both connects and separates the spaces. A great way to see the interesting architecture of the Landtag is from above. The Rheinturm (Rhein tower) provides sweeping views from its deck, and there are various cafes, bars, and a revolving restaurant there.
Step into the sensory world of Giovanni Maria Farina, the legendary Italian perfumer who created the original eau de cologne in 1709. The Farina Fragrance Museum chronicles the rise of the family’s perfume dynasty in Cologne and offers a fascinating insight into perfume-making throughout the centuries.
Sitting opposite Koblenz on the banks of the Rhine, there has been a castle of some sort at Ehrenbreitstein since the early Middle Ages. Its current form dates from the early 19th century, when it was expanded into Europe’s largest fortress to protect the town on the outer reaches of the Prussian empire.
Today the castle has a more peaceful task: to house the Regional Museum of Koblenz, which is in the casemates and is dedicated to the wines of the region. It also houses an exhibition on Rhineland inventions and commercial successes (which include Audi cars) as well as a small collection of archaeological artifacts excavated from across the region.
A visitor trail through the complex encompasses canons, a multimedia show on the history of the fortress, and peerless view from the viewing platform of the flag tower; it provides the perfect vantage point overlooking Deutsches Eck (German Corner), the country’s premier memorial to reunification.
Maulbronn Abbey, located in Germany's Black Forest, is one of Europe's most complete and best preserved medieval monastery complexes. It combines many architectural styles, including Romanesque and Gothic, making it an interesting place to explore. Visitors can see the different styles between the church, the cloister, and the fountain house. Since the buildings have been maintained so well, visitors can still see what life was like here for the monks from the 12th to the 16th centuries. Explore the grounds where the monks farmed and the sophisticated water management system is still intact.
The courtyard is surrounded by towers, a half-mile long defensive wall, outbuildings, and imposing living quarters. After the Reformation, the complex was converted into a Protestant boarding school. Today it still serves as a school and theological seminary. The monastery complex is also used as a concert venue due to its exceptional acoustics. It has been a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1993.
With its two-tier walkways tracing the scenic Rhine waterfront and dotted with benches, grassy picnic areas and food vendors, walking the Rhine River Promenade (Rheinuferpromenade) not only offers a tranquil retreat from the busy city center, but it also links many of Dusseldorf’s top attractions.
Start your walk beneath the Burgplatz castle tower, then follow the riverside paths through Dusseldorf Old Town, passing the Old Harbor (Alter Hafen); the Marketplatz, home to the historic City Hall (Rathaus) and the City Museum (Stadt Museum), before reaching the grassy Rheinpark, where you can look out over the striking waterfront of the nearby Media Harbor. As well as being popular with joggers, cyclists and roller-bladers, the promenade also hosts a number of seasonal events, including an open-air cinema, exhibitions and markets.
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