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Europe > Central Europe > Germany > North Rhine-Westphalia
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North Rhine-Westphalia (Nordrhein-Westfalen) is the most populous state in Germany, with 17.5 million inhabitants, located in the west of the country. It consists of two historically independent parts - Nordrhein, the urbanized area over the river Rhine in the southeast, and Westfallen in the northwest, which is quite diverse as it includes both the heavy industrialized and densely populated Ruhr Valley and the very green Teutoburg Forest.

The region contains many of the most-often visited cities of Germany, both for business and tourist reasons. Here you can find are numerous headquarters of Germany's large and mid-sized corporations, European outposts of Asian and American multinationals, as well as world-reknown factories. Many of the globally important trade fairs take place in Düsseldorf and Cologne, the latter is also a major cultural centre. The beautiful historic city of Bonn was Germany's de facto capital until 1990 and still contains many federal institutions, both governmental and cultural.

With the large population accumulated within a small area, as well as equally sizeable tourist traffic, North-Rhine Westphalia possesses the appropriate transportation infrastructure, with three major international airports and a very efficient railway and motorway network. Accommodation and gastronomic opportunities are aplenty as well. There is always a lot going on and getting between destinations is easy and quick.

Regions

Cities

  • Düsseldorf — the state capital on the Rhine, known as the media and professional services hub
The Imperial Cathedral in Aachen
  • Aachen — Capital of the Holy Roman Empire since the 8th century, under a Charlemagne
The Post Tower - headquarters of the Deutsche Post - in Bonn
  • Bonn — the capital city of West Germany from 1949 to 1990 with many federal and international institutions remaining
Schloss Benrath in Düsseldorf
The Dom (cathedral) and Hochenzollernbrucke (railway bridge) are two of the most recognizable landmarks of Cologne
  • Cologne (Köln) — the largest city in the region picturesquely located over the river Rhine, famous for its cathedral,
A museum in the former coal mine in Dortmund
  • Duisburg — the world's biggest inland harbour, spectactular at night
  • Gelsenkirchen — at the heart of the Ruhr Valley, a former coal mining town which has completely reinvented itself
The peaceful old town of Münster
  • Münster — a historic city with a particularly bike-friendly infrastructure and population
  • Paderborn — founded and frequented by Charlemagne, famous for its cathedral and ornate town hall
  • Wuppertal — with the vintage suspended monorail (Schwebebahn) over the river Wupper
Port of Duisburg at dusk
Schloss Moyland, one of the many castles of North Rhine-Westphalia
Landmark of Bochum - the Pitheardtower of the German Mining Museum

Other destinations

The Middle Rhine Valley is traditionally considered to end in Bonn, although the demarcation is anything but dramatic. You may want to continue to explore the valley upstream to Rhineland-Palatinate when in North Rhine-Westphalia.

Understand

North Rhine-Westphalia (short version NRW) is a German state and founded 1946 by the British government. The state capital is Dusseldorf while Cologne is the most populated. It consists of, as the name indicates, the province Westphalia in the east and the northern Rhinelands in the west. The hyphen symbolizes the attempt to bind people whose nature is so very incompatible and stands also for the gap between the ethnic groups. This gap runs from the southeast to the northwest for 283 km across the state.

The Westphalian is said to be a little bit tight-lipped but very reliable while the Rhinelanders are full of life and sometimes a little bit noisy. Knowing this makes it easier for a visitor to understand some attitudes, furthermore handle it like the locals: take it lightly.

The northern part of North Rhine-Westphalia is flat farmland and is known for its expertise in horse breeding, while the southern part is mountainous, up to 1000 m above sea level. Its numerous brooks turned the wheels of numerous handicrafts before the steam engine was invented.

In the middle of all aspects, geographic and ethnic, there exists the Ruhr Area (Ruhrgebiet), the name of the river at whose banks the region is situated. It arose during the past 150 years by immigrants from all over Europe but has strong roots in Westphalia and the Rhinelands also. The region was and still is a bit the heart of heavy industry in Germany, based on coal and steel. Although mining has mostly come to an end, the people strongly derive their identity from heavy industry.

North Rhine-Westphalia has about 18 million inhabitants, which makes it the most populous state in Germany and the fourth largest in area. The Ruhr is the third largest urban region in Middle Europe, after London and Paris. Also, 34 of the 100 largest companies in Germany and 9 of the 100 largest European companies have their headquarter in North Rhine-Westphalia.

Talk

In most large cities the regular Hochdeutsch is spoken everyday, due to the communities there being mixtures of locals and immigrants from all parts of Germany, Europe and the world. The local dialects are mostly present in the form of unique vocabulary, otherwise you should find local German easy to understand (if you know any, that is).

In larger cities, English is spoken by those performing service jobs, and chances are any person you encounter would speak at least some English too. Do note, however, that this is not a rule and you may still encounter persons who do not speak communicative English.

Get in

By plane

The major airports within North Rhine-Westphalia are:

  • Dusseldorf Airport - one of Germany's largest airports, with intercontinental flights, as well as connections to all major European cities and aviation hubs
  • Cologne-Bonn Airport - just an hour away from the former, very well connected to the rest of Germany, as well as Europe, with flights to even smaller airports across the continent
  • Dortmund Airport - mostly used by low-fare carriers who avoid the lofty fees of the other two airports

Additionally, both Bonn, Cologne and Düsseldorf, as well as many other cities in the region, can be reached by a direct high-speed train from Frankfurt Airport.

By train

Several ICE high speed lines go through the state, among them the Frankfurt Cologne mainline with speeds of well over 300 km/h. Regional trains are sometimes cheaper and often take more "scenic" routes that are too curvy for high speed trains. In the immediate border area with Belgium and the Netherlands (the Euregio) special discount tickets for local trains apply making day trips across the border very affordable indeed.

By bus

see also: Intercity buses in Germany

There are a number of inner-German as well as international bus lines with stops in most major cities of the state. As the domestic market only became deregulated in 2012, there is still a lot of change and routes may appear and disappear on relatively short notice.

By car

As this is the most densely populated state of Germany, numerous long distance Autobahnen run through this state and across the border. Due in part to the high population density, they are however also prone to congestion, especially at the first and last weekend of major holidays or during rush hour.

Get around

Public transport is very good with a high density. You need only one ticket for local, regional train RB and regional express trains RE (no high-speed trains, though their top speed is usually 160km/h [~100mph]), light rail systems S-Bahn, metro (U-Bahn/Stadtbahn), trams/streetcars (Straßenbahn) and buses in the whole North Rhine-Westphalia. You don't need to purchase another ticket when you change from local train to bus, light rail and tram.

Example: You purchased a ticket from Aachen to Wuppertal for local, regional and express trains. With this ticket, you can use the monorail (Schwebebahn) and the city buses in Wuppertal.

See

There is plenty to see and explore in the NRW. The most obvious recommendations are the large cities, with both rich history and bustling contemporary life, full of events, including the famous Carnival of Cologne. But if you want to escape from the hustle and bustle, the Eifel mountains in the southeast are a very different environment, peaceful, quiet and full of great sights. Aachen Cathedral with parts of the building dating back to the 800s is well worth a visit. For more modern history check out the German Mining Museum in Bochum.

Do

The abundance of rivers provides for plentiful river cruising opportunities. Many locals own boats and, as the Rhine is also connected naturally and via canals to many other major rivers and bodies of water, enjoy travelling around Europe's waterways at their whim.

North Rhine-Westphalia is also home to many sports clubs. Borussia Dortmund soccer club has been particularly successful in the 2010s.

Eat

There is no particular North Rhine or Westphalian cuisine, but this doesn't mean you are not in for some culinary delights. Due to the abundance of ethnic minorities, there is a variety ethnic restaurants of all shapes and sizes - from the local Döner Kebab stand to exquisity fine dining establishments. Of note is the fact that Düsseldorf has a sizeable Japanese population (1% of the city), which is there mostly due to Japanese companies having their European headquarters there. Therefore, you will find quite a few higher-end Japanese restaurants in the city.

Drink

Beer is the drink of choice in the region, with every city being proud of local breweries and the unique kinds and brands of beer that they make - like the Kölsch in Cologne. Head over to the local Bierkeller and mingle with the locals if you speak some German (or just enjoy the atmosphere and people-watch, if you don't). In larger cities you will also find other kinds of busy nightlife, with nightclubs catering to various cultural groups and music tastes.

Sleep

As the area is densely urban and well-travelled by both business and leisure travellers, the accommodation base is plentiful and offers a wide choice, from exquisite boutique hotels in historic monuments, through efficient and comfortable business-oriented hotels down to small and cozy (and inexpensive) local Pensions.

Go next

  • Lower Saxony forms a geographic continuum with Westphalia, and offers all kinds of attractions, bot natural, historic and modern
  • Rheinland-Pfalz and Hesse are further up the river Rhine, and you can get there by all means of transportation, including boats. Apart from beautiful natural landscapes and world-famous wineries, you can also visit another major German city, Frankfurt, which has frequent and fast railway connections with both Dusseldorf, Cologne and Bonn
  • Netherlands and Belgium border North-Rhine Westphalia, and there are many transportation options to get there, even for a day trip



This region travel guide to North Rhine-Westphalia is a usable article. It gives a good overview of the region, its sights, and how to get in, as well as links to the main destinations, whose articles are similarly well developed. An adventurous person could use this article, but please feel free to improve it by editing the page.