The most popular landmarks in Germany, the most northerly flamingo colony in Europe and a globally unique form of transport – North Rhine-Westphalia offers excursion destinations that really are worth seeing. These also include sights that are less well known but just as impressive.
Five World Heritage Sites
City and countryside offer world class culture
Whether in the heart of a metropolis or further out into the countryside: Outstanding culture of international significance can be found all over North Rhine-Westphalia. The five Unesco World Heritage sites in NRW are representative of this: Aachen Cathedral founded by Charlemagne, Cologne Cathedral, Germany’s most popular sight, and the Zollverein in Essen, which used to be the world’s biggest coal mine, are some of the historical eye-catchers in the cities. The castles of Augustusburg and Falkenlust in Brühl, as well as the former Benedictine monastery and current Castle Corvey in Höxter are away from the hustle and bustle of the big city and invite you to enjoy them in idyllic, green surroundings.
Suspension railway in Wuppertal
A globally unique landmark
For locals, it is a form of transport; for the rest of the world, an entirely unique vehicle: Passengers on the Wuppertal suspension railway feel like they are flying. At heights of eight to twelve metres, it travels through the Bergisch city from station to station over the Wupper river for large parts of the journey. Passengers can gain an authentic impression of its early years in the ‘Kaiserwagen’ (Emperor’s carriage): This reproduction recalls how Emperor Wilhelm II and his wife went on a test run in 1900. Coffee rides, brunch rides and illuminated night rides are available all year round.
Bison and other wilderness highlights
NRW is home to wild animals
The Siegen-Wittgenstein forests are home to the only bison herd living in the wild in Europe. With a lot of luck, visitors can observe them there, but the chances are better at Wisent-Wildnis am Rothaarsteig (Bison Wilderness on the Rothaarsteig) in Bad Berleburg, where a small group of bison roam an enclosed plot of about 20 hectares. Other examples of unspoilt nature in North Rhine-Westphalia include Europe’s most northerly Flamingo breeding colony, wild Arctic geese and wild Dülmen ponies.
Highs and lows in Sauerland
Mountains, caves and natural monuments
Sauerland impresses with highs and lows: The “land of 1,000 mountains” not only has the highest highland peak in North Rhine-Westphalia but also some quite remarkable protrusions. Rare plant and animal species, the exciting story of its geological origins and ramparts dating from the Ice Age have made Bruchhauser Steine a national monument. And a unique lookout point with a fantastic view over Sauerland. Deep inside the earth, the underground passageways of stalactite caves such as Atta Cave, which is the largest continuous cave system in Germany, or Dechen Cave, which now has a cave museum too, will impress.
Water, forest and wild animals
Experience nature at Eifel National Park
Imposing beech woods have remained untouched here since 2004 and are transforming themselves into a real jungle, where rare plants and animals like the shy wildcat are at home. An overview of the specific characteristics of the flora and fauna is provided by the Vogelsang IP forum: An experience exhibition presents natural highlights on the grounds of Vogelsang Castle, which sits enthroned above the Urftsee lake and was once intended as a Nazi training ground. A second permanent exhibition addresses the location’s Nazi history. The huge site also has a café with an unusual view of the landscape and a historical tower with a viewing platform.
Eifel National Park even has attractions that are worth seeing by night: There is hardly any other place in Europe where the stars shine as brightly and clearly as the Eifel National Park International Star Park.
Crazy about football
Matches, stadiums and the German Football Museum
Friends of the beautiful game will enjoy themselves in North Rhine-Westphalia: Not only because top class teams are at home here, with about one third of the clubs in the first division of the Bundesliga coming from NRW, it is also home to more amateur clubs with more registered members than any other state in Germany. With the German Football Museum in Dortmund, NRW is also a place of pilgrimage for fans between matches. The title of the interactive permanent exhibition is ‘Goals and Triumphs’, but it also focuses on aspects of international understanding within the sport.
Magical and full of history
Visiting Drachenburg Castle
Why did the owner have the magnificent Drachenburg Castle built and then never lived in the splendid rooms and halls? Nobody knows. One thing is certain though: This magical castle, which sits enthroned above the Rhine near Bonn, half way up to Drachenfels, is really worth seeing and is steeped in history like many other palaces and castles in NRW. The carefully restored parlours and private rooms of Drachenburg Castle paint a picture of the lifestyle and attitude to life toward the end of the 19th century.
Higher still on the summit plateau of Drachenfels, in addition to the breathtaking view, there is also the ruins of a castle dating from the 12th century as well as a panorama restaurant. Anyone who doesn’t want to make their way up or down on foot can take the historical cog railway.
One very special highlight is the Christmas market with its castle lights, which takes place every year on the first three weekends of Advent at Drachenfels Castle. The castle is lit up in lots of different colours - just like a fairytale.
Coal mines, coking plants and walk-in art works
Experience industrial culture in NRW
Mining has defined North Rhine-Westphalia – and provided special excursion destinations No other German state has such a wide and varied range of industrial monuments, including mines, gasometers and smelting works. Landschaftspark Duisburg-Nord shows how much fun can be had at a former industrial site: What was once a smelting works is now one of the most important industrial monuments in Europe, with a high-wire course, climbing walls in the ore deposit bunker, the biggest indoor diving pool in Europe in the flooded gasometer and an extinguished blast furnace as a viewing tower.
The mountains of the Ruhr Area also provide magnificent views: Slagheaps that are up to 140 metres high, artificial hills made from the waste products of mining, provide unusual views of the surrounding area and feature walk-in artworks that can be seen from afar at the summit, which are real eye-catchers themselves.
Roman history on the Rhine
Discover relics of ancient construction
The Romans left their traces in many places in NRW and numerous relics of this period can still be found today, especially along the Rhine. For example Xanten on the Lower Rhine, now a tranquil little town in the countryside, was once one of the largest metropolises in Rome’s Germanic provinces. On the site of the Roman city, Xanten Archaeological Park, Germany’s biggest open-air museum, invites you to journey back through 400 years of Roman history. The harbour temple, amphitheatre and the LVR-Römermuseum with over 2,500 exhibits.
In Cologne, various city tours pass by witnesses dating from this era, such as the praetorium, the Roman governor’s palace under the town hall and a section of a Roman sewage canal. An enormous relic of Roman construction is to be found between Nettersheim in Eifel and Cologne: The Römerkanal-Wanderweg (Roman canal hiking trail) runs for about 100 kilometres along the route of an ancient aqueduct, which still stands today in several locations.