Tips for free days out
Castle grounds, museums and concerts
On a tight budget? Not to worry. In your NRW, there are plenty of interesting things to see and do for free.
Day trip destinations with a stately air
The baroque gardens, majestic castle grounds and terraced gardens dotted throughout NRW provide hours of leisurely enjoyment with no admission charge. In Rhine-Erft-County, for example, the grounds of Paffendorf Castle are open to visitors seven days a week. The natural discoveries that await include ancient redwoods, gingkoes and western giant cedars. Alongside the tree plantations, the landscape is dominated by expanses of water and marshland plants. Every month, visitors can take a guided Sunday nature walk along the Inden water meadows or climb the Sophienhöhe hill.
The castle grounds in Brühl along with the castles of Augustusburg and Falkenlust were included in the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites back in 1984. A particular highlight is the embroidery-like vista of circular fountain basins and mirror pond lined with ornamental box trees.
Not in world heritage league but just as impressive are the Gardens of Kleve on the Lower Rhine. These are the creation of 17th-century Brandenburg governor Johann Moritz, who wanted to transform the town of his residence into an unparalleled park landscape – the results of which are still enjoyed today.
Staying on the Lower Rhine, Kamp Abbey has a terraced garden on the site of a former vineyard which calls to mind the grounds of Sanssouci in Potsdam. The spectacular park with its steps, terraces, flowerbeds and fountains is laid out with perfect symmetry and is open to the public free of charge all year round.
www.niederrhein-maas.de | www.kleve.de
The park surrounding Türnich Castle near Cologne is also open to the public. Water from the Erft river is used to fill the moats and ponds, and these features along with the orchard park, the wood and the natural meadows form an extensive biotope hosting a wide variety of wild herbs, fungi and birds. A particular highlight is the 300-metre-long avenue of 111 lime trees, which provides welcome shade in the heat of summer. For an extra treat, it is well worth bringing a euro or two to enjoy a delicious slice of cake in the castle café.
Making the most of nature
Hikers can discover Eifel National Park on a free guided tour led by rangers and forest guides. The tour guides have a huge trove of knowledge and anecdotes about the region and there is no need to pre-book. A different route is offered on different days of the week. On Fridays, for example, the tour sets off on the Abbey Route with an interesting stop at Mariawald Abbey.
On the Lower Rhine, a visit to the Rhine floodplains provides a treat for all the senses, with the singing of skylarks and the buzzing of wild bees providing a relaxing soundtrack. Many species of flora and fauna have found an ideal habitat here. A huge choice of routes will help you explore the natural wonders of the Rhine floodplains, whether you prefer cycling or hiking.
Visitors who want to see more of the beautiful Lower Rhine should check out the Sequoia Farm in the “Kaldenkirchener Grenzwald” forest on the border between Germany and the Netherlands. The park has been planted with giant redwoods, dawn redwoods and coastal redwoods, but the oldest tree among the giants in the Sequoia Farm is actually a 220-year-old small-leaved lime.
In the hiking paradise of Teutoburg Forest lies the “Dörenthe cliffs” natural monument. A climb to the top of the 40-metre-high series of rock formations is rewarded with a panoramic view of Münsterland. The most famous formation is the “crouching woman”. According to legend, this was a woman who carried her children on her back to protect them from a huge flood. Equally fascinating are the Externsteine rocks, which can be found in the nature reserve of the same name at the edge of the Teutoburg Forest in Horn-Bad Meinberg. The rock formations are surrounded by a landscape of heath, forest and moor.
Curtain up – the stage is set!
“The boss recommends music” is the idea behind the “philharmonic lunch” of the Kölner Philharmonie. Every Thursday at 12:30, the orchestra opens its doors to music-lovers who can listen to a half hour of rehearsals for free.
Those who are more into comedy are also well-catered for in Cologne. During the summer, the Wirtzhaus venue above the Atelier Theater puts on free comedy shows featuring newcomers and established entertainers alike.
An eclectic choice of museums
Former post office official Klemens Beckemeyer has spent decades collecting all manner of documents connected to postal history. As well as telephones and postmarked stamps costing just six pfennigs, Postmuseum Mettingen also displays documents from the era of the mail-coaches. An array of uniforms and badges bear witness to the strict hierarchy that was formerly observed among post office officials.
History buffs will also be pleased to find the Tüöttenmuseum in Mettingen. Three half-timbered houses containing furniture and everyday items give visitors insight into the home life of the travelling salesmen known locally as the “Tüötten”. Active in the 17th and 18th centuries, they founded clothing chains that are still around today like C&A and Peek & Cloppenburg.
The sandstone found in the Baumberge hills near Münster is known as the “marble of Münsterland”. Many castles and churches in the region have been built from blocks of this stone, which is also popular with sculptors. Visitors can learn more in the Baumberger Sandstein-Museum.
The Museum Folkwang in Essen in the Ruhr Area houses a large collection of paintings, sculptures and photographs. Admission is free until June 2020 for the permanent collection and the special photography and graphic art exhibitions. Visitors only have to pay for the major special exhibitions.
The “Städtische Galerie im Park” is a draw for visitors to Viersen on the Lower Rhine. Housing diverse collections, the municipal art gallery organises five to six exhibitions per year, each running for several weeks. Young local artists are also given space here to display their work.
From archaeology to monastic culture to natural history: there is something for everyone in the 17 museums of the “Landschaftsverband-Westfalen-Lippe” regional association. With free entry to at least one museum on certain days of the week, there is no excuse not to visit!
Industrial heritage everywhere you look
Visitors to the Ruhr Area should not leave without seeing the remarkable coal mines or one of the decommissioned smelting works. Entry is free to the grounds of Zollverein Coal Mine in Essen and to North Duisburg Landscape Park. The Zollverein Coal Mine Industrial Complex has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and is rightly regarded today as an architectural masterpiece and the most beautiful coal mine in the world! The Landscape Park in Duisburg is open day and night, and a visit after dark to admire the spectacular lighting is strongly recommended.
Anyone interested in seeing the oldest example of industrial architecture in the Ruhr Area should make their way to Moers. The star attraction here is the 48-metre-high winding tower of Shaft IV. Employees of the “Grafschafter Museums- und Geschichtsverein” museum and historical society volunteer to provide tours of the collection and explain how the machinery worked.
A display of art is the last thing you would expect when climbing a slag-heap. The Ruhr Area has over 20 accessible slag-heaps where mining waste, slag and building rubble were formerly piled high. Today, these have been transformed into places for recreation and walking and some even have art installations. The Tiger & Turtle landmark in Duisburg, for example, is a walkway that looks like a roller-coaster while the “Halde Beckstraße” slag-heap in Bottrop boasts a structure in the form of a tetrahedron. Some of these man-made hills can also be found on the Lower Rhine. The “Halde Norddeutschland” slag-heap features a “half-timbered house” structure and a “stairway to heaven”, both of which look particularly impressive when lit up at night.
www.neukirchen-vluyn.de | www.ruhr-tourismus.de
Other things to see and do
Between October and January, the centre of Essen is transformed after dark by millions of LED lights. Every year, a different country becomes the focal point of the “Essener Lichtwochen” light festival, with images inspired by art, culture and tradition creating a magical impression around the city.
In the warmer season, numerous events and leisure activities are organised from July to October as part of the “Unter freiem Himmel” programme in Emscher Landscape Park. With over 100 events taking place, including family festivals, a scavenger hunt, an artisan food market and picnics, there is definitely something for everyone to enjoy.
Most football clubs in NRW provide free behind-the-scenes access to professional footballers. Fans can attend open training sessions to admire the skills of their favourite stars – and even grab an autograph afterwards if they are really lucky.