Thinking about a quick Christmas break? Germany is a reliable go-to, but broaden your horizons from tried-and-tested Berlin and Munich, and you're in for a treat that most visitors miss out on.
With a sprawling Christmas market setup that's among the best in the country (and that's saying something), classy Dusseldorf is one of our favourite festive destinations for an authentic German Christmas experience, along with great shopping, food and nightlife. Here's our guide to the must-dos for a Christmas trip to Dusseldorf.
This is what it's all about. In Britain we tend to refer to a city's Christmas market (singular). In Germany that kind of setup just doesn't cut it; rather than a single grouping of stalls, most German towns and cities of any size traditionally have several markets, and from late November Dusseldorf is completely taken over by stalls, huts and rides. There are officially seven separate Christmas markets in locations around Dusseldorf:
The main event. Set out in front of the city hall, the market here is everything you're expecting – gluhwein and hot chocolate aplenty, served from little wooden huts, along with lots of Christmassy goodies from local craftspeople, such as handblown glass baubles and woodcrafts – you might see the odd demonstration too. The century-old restored carousel is also a fixture here.
With the cutesy name of Engelchenmarkt (Little Angel Market), this market in front of the famous Carsch Haus department store is one of Dusseldorf's most recognisable Christmas sights for the spectacular canopy of lights covering its art nouveau bandstand – the prettiest market in the city.
It's not enough that Marktplatz and Heinrich-Heine-Platz get their own markets – the street that links them has to have one too, creating a sort of mega-market stretching all the way from one square to the other. Just in case you forgot to load up on gingerbread at the Marktplatz you can stop off here en route to the next stop on your market tour. It's known for its colourful 'gluhwein pyramid' – an illuminated display of decorations.
Along with the usual sweet treats, gluhwein and handicrafts, you'll find the outdoor ice rink at the market in front of the Kö-Bogen, the modern landmark designed by star architect Daniel Libeskind, as well as kids' entertainment.
Styled as a snow-covered Scandi winter paradise, this market is also handily located if you're en route to the Kö-Bogen and its smart shops
This busy shopping street is also lined with Christmas market stalls where you can get a drink between shops or just enjoy some festive people-watching as you wander along.
This one is known as the Sternchenmarkt (Little Star Market) for its twinkling lights and delicate crystal decorations, set in the courtyard of Wilhelm Marx House in the centre of the Altstadt; it's a good place to pick up handicrafts including jewellery and handmade Christmas decorations.
If you're keen to do some Christmas shopping while you're in town or if you have a passing interest in fashion, Dusseldorf's Königsallee is an essential stop anyway. But a stroll along this legendary boulevard is also a must-do in December for the mass of twinkling Christmas lights covering the chestnut trees that line the Königsallee either side of the Stadtgraben canal that divides the street. Think a much leafier Bond Street with a Christmas lights setup that trumps Oxford Street. Even if you're not interested in designer window-shopping (Prada, Armani and Tiffany & Co. are just some of the names here), there's a lovely festive atmosphere, and the combination of glitzy shops, Christmas lights and unique natural canopy provided by over 100 trees makes this a special place.
Naturally, you're never far from a steaming urn of gluhwein, but there are some uber-regional drink specialities that the city takes great pride in and, if you get talking to locals for any length of time, you're likely to have thrust upon you. Top of the list is altbier, the city's very own beer style and source of immense local pride. Visit one of the eight altbier breweries to try it; four are in the altstadt, and the Uerige brewpub is under 100m from Marktplatz, where the main market action takes place.
If you're adventurous, you could also seek out Dusseldorf's spirit of choice, Killepitsch – a local way to warm up in the Christmas chill. As a taste guide, unless you're some kind of herbal liqueur connoisseur you'll probably struggle to tell the difference between it and Jägermeister. Suffice to say it's not for everyone and tastes distinctly medicinal. Et Kabuffke, a hot, noisy, shoulder-to-shoulder bar in the altstadt is synonymous with the drink and is the place to chat with friendly locals.
The Christmas markets are all very pretty individually, but they become downright spectacular when you see them all at once from 170m above the city. The view from Dusseldorf's iconic Rheinturm is fantastic, and with the city fully decked out in its Christmas finery twinkling below you, it's as close as you can get to magical. You can take it all in from either the Restaurant Top 180 if you fancy a special dinner or the Panorama bar if you'd just like to go for drinks – cocktails are available from 1700.
If you've got a little longer, you'll find that the whole state of North Rhine-Westphalia is Christmas Central. The nearby spa city of Aachen is particularly famous for its sprawling Christmas market, set around the city's UNESCO-listed cathedral, which is worth a visit alone. Hire a car and it's just an hour away, or take the train for a 90-minute journey.
If you're ready to plan your trip, check out our current offers on Dusseldorf breaks and get a great deal on your flight and hotel by booking them together.