Travel to West Germany, North Rhine-Westphalia (with Map & Photos)

A frontier land, balanced from one nation to another for centuries, the North Rhine-Westphalia region is also one of the most economically prosperous, a perfect destination for a week-long trip through Germany.

Cologne North Rhine Westphalia Germany
Cologne North Rhine Westphalia Germany

Aachen, Bonn and Cologne have in their subsoil the traces of Roman cities, which with their settlements established a belt along the Rhine river to extend the Empire against the Germanic tribes. These Roman castrums underlie, with sites such as the Praetorium in Cologne (and the Roman-Germanic Museum), or the remains of the Roman baths in Aachen.

In the front line of fire, being the first German territory (and the westernmost) during the Allied advance towards Berlin, the cities along the Rhine were heavily bombarded. Cities like Cologne or Düsseldorf were razed and had to be converted. As a result, today they are a reference in architecture and urban planning that goes hand in hand with quality, sustainable and creative tourism.

Today, the Westphalia region is an example of the commitment to the defense of Europe, with an open-minded population, to which its universities contribute with students from all over the world, and a border (now invisible) with its neighboring countries of Belgium and the Netherlands.

Our trip focused on visiting Bonn, Aachen, Cologne and Düsseldorf, but there are many places that can be included in a week-long route, such as Münster, Wuppertal, the medieval town of Zons or the palaces of Augustusburg and Falkenlust in Brühl, UNESCO World Heritage Site. Even Maastricht in the Netherlands is so close that it is well worth a trip to see it.

Cologne North Rhine Westphalia Germany
The fun Cologne Carnival

The Cologne Carnival called us as the main focus of the trip, but after closing the tour we discovered many tourist attractions for a tourism that sometimes only focuses on Germany under the lights of Berlin, Munich, Black Forest or Hamburg.

What to see and do


All time spent knows little when we have before us cities with some of the best museums in Germany, with collections that bring together the best of German Expressionism, of the trends of the 20th century with Salvador Dalí, Miró, Picasso, Klimt, Delaunay, Andy Warhol, or one of the most transgressive of this incipient 21st century.

Cologne North Rhine Westphalia Germany
Painting by August Macke in the Kunstmuseum in Bonn

But art is not only within museums, architecture is another reason that invites you to taste cities such as Bonn, Cologne or Düsseldorf, with urban art that decorates facades and walls, and sculptures turned into symbols as in Aachen.

Alaaf of Cologne - The best carnival in the world?


Cologne boasts of celebrating the best carnival in Germany, and it cannot be argued because “Rose Monday” is one of the best parades of allegorical, mocking and provocative floats. However, Düsseldorf, Bonn or even Aachen also celebrate carnival very intensely, so there is nothing better than participating in all of them to give your opinion.

Cologne North Rhine Westphalia Germany
Cologne carnival parade

What really defines its carnivals is citizen participation, where the strange thing is not wearing a costume, and where from the youngest to the oldest, they get intoxicated with joy, merriment and the desire to celebrate.

Cologne


If the British Ken Follett had been born in Germany, it is most likely that the Cologne Cathedral would have become his "stone muse" to write The Pillars of the Earth. And the fact is that the verticality, grandeur and harmony of its cathedral alone make a visit to Cologne necessary.

Cologne North Rhine Westphalia Germany
Colonia's cathedral

However, Cologne is much more. In its museums we will learn about its Roman roots, the horror of war in El De Haus -where the Gestapo carried out torture during World War II- or the Schokoladenmuseum Chocolate Museum, a paradise where children will enjoy the history of cocoa and the transformation process into sweets that they greedily devour.

Cologne beats calmer when viewed from the Köln Triangle, the vantage point atop a modern skyscraper on the other side of the Rhine, from where the cathedral rises steadily above the sea of ​​clouds in the historic center.

Crossing the Hohenzollern Bridge again, the colorful houses of the old Fischmarkt fish market are the photographic counterpoint to the Groß St. Martin church.

Cologne North Rhine Westphalia Germany
St Martin's Church with Cologne Cathedral in the background

Düsseldorf


Düsseldorf inevitably recalls Bilbao, and beyond the titanium skins of the Guggenheim Museum that Frank Ghery also used in one of the three houses of the Frank Gehrys Häuser, there is something in the metamorphosis of the city that bears similarities with the town of Bilbao. Perhaps it is that stubborn, entrepreneurial and manufacturing character that permeated both cities, and that after the industrial past, has given rise to an urban reconversion in which the old heart and the new body coexist. It is especially noticeable in the snake's ability to change its skin, to grow and make life better for its citizens. Düsseldorf has dressed up with new buildings, but above all it has provided quality of life with its cultural offer, with its accessibility (pedestrian, road and sustainable), or its parks and green areas; and at the same time with business options for companies, attracted here as a new technological pole.

Cologne North Rhine Westphalia Germany
Photo of Düsseldorf at night

Cosmopolitan city par excellence, the confluence of cultures has its maximum expression with the Japanese community, one of the most important in Europe, and which offers the possibility of traveling to Japan through a visit to the EKO-Haus der Japanischen Kultur, a cultural center with Japanese gardens and temple.

The Haffen district retains its industrial skin with the old loading cranes today turned into metal sculptures that contrast with the modern buildings of famous architects such as Frank Ghery or the modern and colorful hotels of the Medienhafen dike. The Rheinturm tower watches over the city from above, overlooking the center of Düsseldorf (Altstadt), and the residential neighborhood on the western side of the Rhine, where the largest community of Japanese in Germany forms another part of this cosmopolitan and avant-garde city.

Cologne North Rhine Westphalia Germany
Düsseldorf architecture

Bonn


The former capital of West Germany or Federal Republic of Germany (FRG) between 1949 and 1990 has wasted no time in nostalgia and melancholy, managing to position itself as an academic benchmark with its university and in a prosperous business city.

Cologne North Rhine Westphalia Germany
Beethoven statue in the center of Bonn

The birthplace of maestro Ludwig van Beethoven, Bonn boasts one of the most celebrated composers in the history of music. His presence is constant in the city, with sculptures, mentions, musical cycles and a route that includes Beethoven's birthplace.

Another prodigal son - although he was not born in Bonn - was August Macke, stronghold of the German expressionist group Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Horseman), and whose works are enjoyed in the Kunstmuseum (Bonn Art Museum). Almost attached to the Kunstmuseum, the contemporary art space of the Kunst- und Ausstellungshalle der Bundesrepublik Deutschland is decked out with groundbreaking exhibitions. Its huge blue cones...

On the outskirts of Bonn, following the course of the Rhine, you reach Königswinter, a quiet town with elegant residences overlooking the river, and from where you ascend (on foot or with the small funicular) to Schloss Drachenburg, one of the most beautiful castles from Germany. It should be noted that more than a castle we are facing a palace that combines all the neo-Gothic architectural influences of the current of German Romanticism at the end of the 19th century.

Cologne North Rhine Westphalia Germany
Drachenburg Castle

Aachen


If the Roman footprint is present, the Carolingian brand is what defines Aachen, better known in Spain as Aachen. Carlo Magno raised it as the axis of his intention to build a new Empire, following the Roman trail, integrating territories with a thought that seems to anticipate the humanism that flourished in Europe centuries later.

Cologne North Rhine Westphalia Germany
Aachen cathedral interior

The cathedral gives the stature of the flourishing commercial city in Carolingian times and during the Middle Ages, and those who want to see it in a couple of hours are wrong, since Aachen hides a great patrimonial, human and gastronomic treasure, which is evidenced by the many chocolate shops that make their windows authentic museums full of works of art. In fact, the Belgian influence of the chocolate masters and the refined taste for food, inherited from its French past, characterize the gastronomic circuit through its historic center.

The hot springs in Aachen are no fluke. Looking back two thousand years ago, the city of Aquae granni, -which takes the name of the local pre-Roman god Grannus who was venerated for his water supply-, which later led to Aachen, already had numerous thermal baths as evidenced by archaeological remains. Nowadays the same thermal rites are repeated, with local and foreign tourists that are attracted to thermal baths such as those of Carolus Spa.

How to get


Bonn / Koln (Cologne) and Düsseldorf airports are two of the most direct options to get there, with flights connecting them from Spain.

Transport - How to get around


Germany Bahn's public rail transport network works really well, being the best way to get around (unless we have a rental car). The frequency of trains that go from Bonn to Cologne (and then continue to Düsseldorf), and the interchange connections in Cologne to reach Aachen allow you to reach any of the cities in an hour and a half at most. There are fast trains and regional ones, somewhat slower (not much) and cheaper.

Train tickets have to be validated before boarding, if we do not want to take risks and be penalized with a really high fine, it is better not to forget.

Accommodation


For the Spanish public, we will find the Melia Innside hotels in Aachen and Innside in Düsseldorf very hospitable, highly recommended for their perfect location and for their friendly treatment with the traveler. In Cologne, a very convenient, inexpensive and comfortable proposal is the Hostel Koln, perfect for groups coming to Carnival.

Gastronomy and Universe of Beers


The Westphalian brewing tradition is indisputable, and compared to the Weissbier of Bavaria or the Schwarzbier of Thuringia and Saxony, the brewers of Cologne or Düsseldorf enjoy international prestige.

In this region of Germany, two beers vie for quality leadership, Kölsch and Altbier. Kölsch has a hoppy taste and is less bitter than typical German Pilsner. Its fermentation takes place at higher temperatures, and although it does not reach the temperature values ​​of the Ales, it can be considered one of them. Another curiosity is that the Kölsch can only be produced in Cologne, being protected by an appellation of origin.

West Germany travel tips


The people of North Rhine Westphalia are said to be warmer compared to other parts of Germany. And the truth is that perhaps the heat of Carnival makes them very attentive, polite, friendly and open-minded. Although we do not know or master German, they are always willing to give us advice or help, and of course share a chat in a bar.

It is important to bring cash because in some places you cannot pay with a card. Likewise, and although the level of English is quite high among most of the population, they always appreciate that we master some words of German.

Finally, it should be noted that sometimes some museums only have the information on exhibitions in German, while in others it is also available in English. Information and brochures are occasionally available in Spanish, but this is not common.

Cologne North Rhine-Westphalia Map