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    Why you should visit Dusseldorf. Yes, Dusseldorf

    A promenade along the Rhine River is a popular gathering spot.
    Dusseldorf Tourism
    A promenade along the Rhine River is a popular gathering spot.

    DUSSELDORF, Germany — When we heard friends talk about their fun trip to Dusseldorf, we thought: huh. Dusseldorf? Never gave it a thought. But, curious, we checked it out and discovered that this city on the banks of the Rhine River in western Germany is contemporary, lively, and booming. Overshadowed by its better-known neighbors (Berlin, Munich, Cologne), avant-garde Dusseldorf is fast-becoming known for its cutting-edge architecture, fashion, and art. The historic city (it celebrated its 725th anniversary in 2013) has dozens of new developments, stylish shopping districts, impressive modern art, and leafy parks. It also has Altbier, the local brew that is considered among Germany’s best beers.

    Catch a flight, and in less than seven hours, you’ll be in Dusseldorf; take a quick nap, and then do this. For more information, visit www.duessel
    dorf-tourismus.de/en/home
    .

    Walk the Rhine promenade

    Join the locals and stroll the broad riverside esplanade, linking Altstadt (Old Town) to the modern MedienHafen (Media Harbor). The boardwalk was constructed in the 1990s, when the main artery and highway that once divided the river from the city was buried underground. (Dusseldorf’s own version of the Big Dig.) Today, the foot and bike path, lined with some 600 plane trees, is a beloved gathering spot. You’ll find rows of restaurants, cafes, and coffee shops. Or grab a bench and watch the barges ply the Rhine and the people pass by.

    Go shopping

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    Wealthy consumers from around the world crowd the Konigsallee — called the “Ko” by Dusseldorfers (www.koenig
    sallee-duesseldorf.de/en/start
    seite.html
    ). The world-famous shopping boulevard is the Champs-Elysees of Germany, and its list of stores reads like a Who’s Who in the fashion industry. You’ll find all the big names (Armani, Gucci, Tiffany, et al.) and several smaller designer shops. A glass of Riesling is about all we can afford on the Ko. But the avenue, with a small canal, mature trees, bridges, fountains and sculptures, is worth a stroll even if you only window shop. It’s also one of the best spots in the city for people watching. Cafes line the street, with tables facing toward the shops — perfect for gazing at fashionistas strutting their new stuff.

    Savor art and architecture

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    The city has a longstanding reputation as a world-class art center, beginning with the founding of its renowned Arts Academy in 1762. Today, it’s a hot bed for contemporary art. K20 Grabbeplatz is home to a collection of European and American modern art, including works by Pablo Picasso, Jackson Pollock, and Joseph Beuys. It also includes some 100 works by Swiss-German artist Paul Klee. But we preferred the edgier K21. (You can take a shuttle bus between the two venues.) The museum is housed in a stately 1880 building; inside it’s surprisingly open and light-filled. The museum showcases the works of young international artists (www.kunstsammlung.de/en/
    home.html
    ).

    Art lovers will not want to miss a visit to the stunning Sammlung Philara museum (www.philara.de/en), located in a former glass factory in the trending Flingern district. Works from the private collection of real estate developer and art enthusiast Gil Bronner are shown in rotating exhibits.

    When the city decided to renovate its old commercial harbor, filled with abandoned warehouses, they went ultra-modern, inviting cutting-edge architects to submit designs. Known as “architectural mile,” the Medien Hafen (Media Harbor), touted as a groundbreaking example of successful urban planning, is filled with a collection of contemporary buildings, housing about 700 companies, trendy restaurants, hotels and bars. (This is where Trivago got started and is building their new headquarters.) The stunner is Frank Gehry’s NeuerZollhof, a set of three topsy-turvy, twisty, leaning buildings. The Dusseldorf tourism office (www.duesseldorf-tourism
    us.de/en/public-guided-tours
    ) offers guided tours of MedianHafen, or simply meander the neighborhood, gawking at the architecture and enjoying water views.

    Enjoy a pub crawl

    Altbier (literally translated means “old” beer) is a specialty of Dusseldorf that is very mellow, malty, and smooth. We found it “sehr leicht” (very easy) to drink! Our first introduction to the traditional top fermented brown ale was at Uerige (www.uerige.de) in Altstadt, where we sat outside and were served by a crabby waiter. We were told that in the past, brewers would work all night and then — tired and grumpy — would have to wait on folks during the day. When we shook our heads to say no to a second glass, our waiter ignored us. (Pub waiters in Dusseldorf will continue to fill your glass, until you place your coaster over the top of it.) When we asked for water, he asked if we also wanted soap. Later, we visited Zum Schlussel (www.zumschluessel
    .de
    ), Brauerei Schumacher (www.schumacher-alt.de), and the more modern Kurzer brewery (www.brauerei-kuerzer.de), each serving their own take on Altbier. Our final stop of the day was Et Kabuffke (www.kille
    pitsch.de/seite/de/aktuelles
    ), a tiny, cramped tavern that hasn’t changed much since it opened in 1955.

    Visit Old Town

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    Altstadt (Old Town) is known as the “longest bar in the world.” It’s not really a single, long bar but rather some 260 bars, pubs, nightclubs, and breweries crammed into one square kilometer. Suffice it to say that after dark it can be a boisterous place, especially along the main street. We preferred the side streets and narrow alleyways lined with cozy restaurants, one-of-a-kind shops, and old, spired churches. Some hits: Backerei Hinkel (www.baeckerei-hinkel.de), a German bakery with a fine selection of pastries, cakes, and breads; the Gut und Gerne chocolate shop (www.schokoladen
    fachgeschaeft.de
    ); Dusseldorfer Senfladen (www.loewen
    senf.de/ueber-loewensenf/
    senfladen.html
    ), with a variety of fine German mustards, and Gewurzhaus (www.gewuerz
    haus-altstadt.de
    ), a tiny shop with more than 300 spices for sale. For a traditional meal, eat at Brauerei Zum Schiffechen (www.brauerei-zum-schiffchen
    .de/en
    ), the oldest restaurant in Dusseldorf. There’s a special plaque above a table in the back corner where Napoleon sat in 1811.

    Diane Bair and Pamela Wright can be reached at bairwright@
    gmail.com
    .