When we decided to move to Germany, we thought we’d be travelling to a new European country every other month. Reality turned out to be a bit different. For one thing, it wasn’t until our fourth month in Germany that we got that golden passport to all the countries in the European Union – a permit doubling as a Schengen Visa. And for another, Germany has been consistently stunning us with its natural beauty and striking architecture; so much so, that we’ve been more than busy exploring our own backyard – the gorgeous and very friendly North-Rhine Westphalia (Nordrhein-Westfalen).
North-Rhine Westphalia: 10 Must-Know Facts
- Capital City: Dusseldorf
- The most densely populated state in Germany (18 million+)
- Famous for its nature reserves
- North Rhine & Westfalen came together in 1946 to form NRW
- The state flag consists of three colours: red, white, and green
- The coat of arms includes a white horse (westfalen)
- One of the highest percentages of foreign immigrants in Germany
- Home to the Rhein River, the longest river in Germany
- Has 37 Michelin-starred restaurants
- Has five UNESCO World Heritage Sites
10 Things To Do in North Rhine Westphalia
As we live in Bonn, this guide is partial to attractions within a two-hour radius of Bonn, Cologne, and Dusseldorf. And we aren’t talking about world-famous landmarks like Cologne Cathedral and Beethoven House. However, this is a very good sampling of all the wonderful attractions that this state (Bundesland) with an industrial past has to offer. Also do check back for a more exhaustive guide on must-see places, and best day trips in and around Bonn and Cologne.
National Parks | Eifel National Park
We visited Eifel National Park during autumn, and came away amazed by its riverside trail and dense forests. The park is famous for its population of wild cats, and we fancied that we spotted and heard a couple, but we have no proof! There are various trails that you can follow within the 110 sq km sanctuary, and overnight stays are also possible. Eifel is in fact a low-lying mountain range, and was once a part of the empire known as “Prussian Siberia”. Thanks to Ursula & Günther for alerting us about that fact.
Mountains | Drachenfels
The Siebengebirge is a mountain range of 40 ancient volcanic hills spread out between Konigswinter and Bad Honnef. Drachenfels is one of its seven most prominent hills, and an easy trek (or train ride) to the top offers stunning vistas of the Middle Rhine, including the river, and surrounding hills, towns, and greenery. The ruins of Drachenfels Castle are also worth exploring. On the way, there are a number of paid attractions such as the newer Schloss Drachenburg, and a reptile museum.
Forests | Kottenforst
A part of the Rhineland Nature Park, the 40 sq km Kottenforst crisscrosses across Bonn, offering wonderful detours into unfettered greenery and postcard-perfect landscapes without going too far from the city. There are various entry points, but you will inevitably end up on an upward path that takes you deeper and deeper into the woods. As the forest cuts across villages, you may, at times, see beautiful houses and horse stables. It is a popular site for jogging, walking, and hiking.
Castles | Godesberg Castle
NRW is not as famous for its castles as other provinces in Germany, but it is still home to dozens. No German town is complete without a castle or two! Not much is left of Godesberg Castle except the main tower, but there are many viewing points, including one adjoining a beautiful restaurant. And for a stunning sunset view, make it to the top of the castle tower (the stairs are quite well-maintained). Nearby, there’s a tranquil cemetery, and of course, the erstwhile spa town of Bad Godesberg.
Vineyards | Oberdollendorf
Though Ahr Valley is the major wine destination in NRW, Konigswinter is also home to pretty little vineyards, some of which are family-owned. We had a lovely time trekking up the Oberdollendorf vineyard (it will only take around 30-45min) and roaming amidst the not-yet ripened grapevines. From the top, we had beautiful views of the surrounding region. Beyond the vineyards, there’s a forest where you can continue hiking if you wish.
Islands | Insel Grafenwerth
Imagine finding a green little island in the middle of the Rhine, accessible by a bridge with fairy-tale views from Bad Honnef. You’ll see lovely boats anchored to the banks while on the bridge. A 15 hectare park constitutes a lion’s share of the island. We visited during summer to see the Frisbee tournament and what fun it was! Lying back on the grass under the shade of huge trees was immensely relaxing. Later, we sat by the riverside and enjoyed a picnic lunch.
River Gardens | Freizeitpark Rheinaue
With idyllic lakes, lawns, and groves, Freizeitpark Rheinaue is 160 hectares of pure natural beauty. It is a popular destination for walking, jogging, playing various sports and games, and outdoor barbecuing. On the third Saturday of every month from spring to autumn, the park hosts a wonderful flea market with steal deals on everything that you can think of. We think it’s wonderful that Germany has so many sprawling city parks. For instance, Berlin has the Tiergarten, and Frankfurt has the Wallparkanlage.
Animal Parks | Lindenthaler Tierpark & Waldau
We discovered the concept of animal parks where one can feed, touch, and at times, even play with the animals, in Germany. Waldau in Bonn is tucked away inside Kottenforst, a city forest, and is home to wild pigs, fallow deer, badgers, and tawny owls among others. There are many animal parks in Cologne and surrounding regions as well. We visited Lindenthaler Tierpark and loved its denizens including Highland cows, woolly sheep, and beady-eyed goats. The adjoining park was also very beautiful.
Ruins | Kaiserpfalz Kaiserswerth
Dusseldorf is a very charming city, and home to the impressive ruins of the Imperial Palace Kaiserswerth. Emperor Friedrich Barbarossa expanded the palace into a formidable fortification in around 1193. The area is quite large, comprising of a garden, a trail through the wilderness by the River Rhine, and the ruins themselves, consisting of various walls and viewing points. In 2014, an interesting work of art by German sculptor Peter Schwickerath was installed in the grounds.
Timbered Houses | Muffendorf & Bad Honnef
Tourism in Germany is often synonymous with timbered houses, characterized by visible posts and beams that endow the structure with unique personality. Some of the best restored timbered houses we saw were in nearby Frankfurt. But in NRW, we’ve spotted beautiful examples in Muffendorf, a village in Bad Godesberg, and Bad Honnef, south of Bonn. The houses in Muffendorf date back to the 18th and 19th centuries, and narrow cobble-stoned streets lead you up steep ways to cat-guarded doors.
Read: 13 Days in Bonn
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