Beyond Dortmund, Germany
There’s a wunderbar time to be had in North Rhine-Westphalia’s fantastically forward-thinking city of Dortmund. Whether you come for the football, the famous green spaces or something completely different, you’ll find a wealth of excellent activities to suit all tastes on hand. Cast your net a little wider, however, and you’ll find a whole lot more fantastisch things going on around the Ruhr.
23 milesComing into its own in the days of industrialisation, Essen retains much of its hard-working character throughout its many districts. But interwoven into its streets is an architectural flare for the dramatic. Bauhaus buildings sit seamlessly alongside "beautiful" UNESCO-approved coal mines and slick opera houses stand proudly next to timbered old town dwellings. It’s a breath of fresh air and not only because it has been named Europe’s Green Capital for 2017.
Should rain put a dampener on your day, busy yourself by paying a visit to one of Essen’s more artistic establishments. The Folkwang Museum is a fascinating and ever popular choice that incorporates all sorts of exhibits. Everything from fine art and antiques to propaganda posters and photography from throughout the centuries are displayed here, while the Red Dot Design museum puts modern products front and centre. If all else fails, simply take inspiration from the town’s name ("essen" – "to eat" in English) and indulge in a platter of genuine German fare — we hear a slice of pumpernickel with Pfälzer Spundekäs (a creamy, cheesy, quirky dip) is quite delicious.
30 milesFor a simple and surprising trip out of Dortmund, wind your way southwest to this much smaller city in the wooded Wupper River valley, where a lush carpet of green stretches out before you at every turn. You will never be more than a few minutes stroll from a pleasingly leafy public park to people watch, and you can always pick up a "pioneering" map from one of the tourist offices to get a more in-depth taste of the area’s history.
The main reason to pay Wuppertal a visit, however, is the magnificent Schwebebahn — a suspended railway that floats nearly 40 feet above residents as it snakes its way above the water and through the woods on a 8-mile commuter route. In service since 1901, it has been copied numerous times by other cities around the world, but this original is still a sight to behold. Hop on for a 30-minute ride you won’t soon forget.
32 milesA relatively young city compared to many of its neighbours, Oberhausen is a thriving settlement that has seen its economic and entertainment fortunes rise during the last few decades. Well known for its absolutely stellar shopping opportunities at contemporary locations such as CentrO, as well as more traditional trading outlets in the old market, the place offers a great mix of amusements that include cinemas, sea life centres and other attractions that the whole family can enjoy.
The Gasometer is undoubtedly a must-see attraction — the only art exhibition space in a converted gas tower we can recall — because of the very cool views from its high windows. Couple this up-to-date attraction with the more picturesque schlosses scattered about the place (Vondern and the castle after which the town was named, for example) and you’ll have a jam-packed itinerary. Oberhausen was also once home to everyone’s favourite football predicting cephalopod, Paul the Octopus. But you probably already knew that.
44 milesA metropolis that combines the very best of old and new, Düsseldorf is a flourishing capital to which many other cities can only aspire. An outstanding music scene comes courtesy of homegrown legends like Kraftwerk, while the stylish art and media set keep things fashionable from the Rathaus to the Altstadt.
The diverse mix of cultures in the city can be seen throughout the wide array of delicious dining establishments, and the roster of events grows ever more interesting by the hour. For a rewarding insight into what it’s really all about, head over to Königsallee (known simply as ‘Kö’ to those in the know) on a Friday or Saturday night and make friends with the ever-so-sociable locals.
56 milesAn off-kilter choice though it may be, this imposing fortress to the east of Dortmund shines a fascinating light on the darker history of the region. It was once leased to SS officer Heinrich Himmler as a training facility for the organisation’s more bizarre cultish activities — pagan rituals, baptisms, occult ceremonies and other more obscure proceedings.
Distinct due to its triangular shape, the 17th-century castle was earmarked by the Nazis as a base of operations that would one day lead to Wewelsburg being declared the "centre of the world." Fortunately for everyone, that plan never came to fruition and the Renaissance-built stronghold now houses a museum that displays both the absurd ideas and the abhorrent actions the party left in its wake. In addition, one of Germany’s largest youth hostels is located in its east wing.