Here are the Best Free Things to Do In North Rhine Westphalia, Germany!
Have I mentioned that when I was housesitting in northwest Germany I was not only pleasantly situated near the Dutch border but also had the extreme fortune of meeting a beautiful, amazing native German girl who acted as my own personal travel guide? I probably have. But seriously, thanks to a neat little Facebook group for solo traveling women I was able to meet up with a new friend halfway around the world – one who should really consider a career as a tour guide because I saw much more of Germany than I ever expected thanks to her skills and generosity. Don’t you just love the internet sometimes?
Although the northwest is not always the most popular region of Germany for tourism, there are so many underrated things to do in North Rhine Westphalia that are fun, less crowded than the more heavily trafficked tourist spots, and absolutely free! Without further ado, here are 8 of the best things to do in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany.
- Go for a walk!
There are so many beautiful, easy trails to explore near the Dutch border. In Niederkrüchten (the tiny village that was my temporary home) I found myself smack dab in the middle of Elmpter Schwalmbruch and Dilborner Benden – two of several nature preserves that span the Dutch-German border. These preserves feature miles of preserved woodland paths perfect for hiking and biking. The trails connect many small towns so even if I hadn’t had a friend willing to drive me around I still would have been absolutely fine with just my own two feet! Every day I found a new path or walked to a neighboring town for provisions.
If you’re confident on a bicycle, even better! The trails are perfect for a little backcountry biking and you’ll be in good company. My host told me that Dutch people are born on bicycles, which sounds very uncomfortable. Personally I fear for the lives of others whenever I mount one in a public space so I opt for walking, but to each their own.
At Elmpter Schwalmbruch you’ll find the largest juniper heath in the Low Rhine region, and a tall wooden overlook to give you a spectacular view of what is more reminiscent of the Savannah than the German countryside.
- Go Watermill Hunting
Okay, apparently this is not such an exciting thing for the locals, but I’m pretty enthralled by watermills. I don’t know what it is, but I think they’re cute. So my gracious friend/tour guide went out of her way to take me on a watermill hunt while I was in town. To be fair, I got the idea from a brochure so I can’t be the only one who cares about these wondrous water wheels. There are quite a few in the region and most are accompanied by beautiful nature walks or impressive preserved architecture. Some you might seek out include Mühlrather Mühle on the Hariksee (a lake located in Schwalmtal)- complete with hotel and restaurant, Brempter Mühle in Niederkrüchten, Alte Brüggener Mühle in Brüggen, and Holtmühle in Wegberg.
- Go Castle Hunting
Again, the “castles” that exist in this region may not be the fairy tale type that you’re expecting – although I did see one of those as well, but more on that in another post. These fortresses, lordly estates, and renaissance palaces are just as enchanting and well worth the trip. We squeezed in visits to Schloss Rheydt – a renaissance estate in Mönchengladbach, Schloss Tüschenbroich, and Schloss Dyck (heheh). If you’re lucky you will be visiting during a special festival like your girl here who got to enjoy a gorgeous light display on the grounds of Schloss Dyck.
- Visit the lake
In terms of nature I could not have gotten a better place to house sit for 3 weeks. I was in the little village of Niederkrüchten, you will know all about that if you read my house sitting post, which was steps away from the Venekotensee – a huge man made lake with fishing, camping, and hiking abound. Technically you weren’t supposed to swim, but that didn’t stop most of the weekenders who showed up with their portable grills and bathing suits. If you’re visiting in the summer it’s the perfect time to explore some of the water-based activities Germany has to offer. At Venekotensee and Hariksee I found boating, swimming, putt putt golf, horseback riding, restaurants, and lots more – these lake communities are like mini resorts!
- Stand over a mining excavation
This was such a unique experience and something that was highly recommended by my gracious guide – for good reason! Lookout Jackerath Garzweiler Skywalk, although a mouthful, is a platform suspended over a massive crater formed by Germany’s extensive surface mining initiative. It’s both jaw dropping and heartbreaking to see the mutilation caused by our need for fossil fuel. As you make your way to the excavation you will witness ghost towns created from government relocation of entire communities. And if you’re scared of heights, well, try not to look down; the platform is made of grating that you could lose a set of keys through.
- Climb a staircase roller coaster
If you’re confused by that statement, well, so was I. I couldn’t quite imagine what a “staircase roller coaster” called Tiger and Turtle Magic Mountain would possibly look like. And you won’t either until you see it for yourself, and then you’ll be like, “huh, yeah, that’s a staircase roller coaster for ya.”
This was so fun to explore, make sure you visit at or after dusk so you can witness the whole structure aglow with lights. And pro tip, don’t wear a skirt like I did, you’re gonna be climbing up pretty high and, again, the floor is metal grating. You’ll find this perplexing art project in Duisburg, which leads me to my next activity.
- Explore an industrial landscape park
This is another completely unique experience that you just need to see with your own eyes. In Duisburg there is an old ironworks site that has been transformed into an industrial playground complete with light displays, tunnels to explore, art installations, and loads of photo opportunities. When we visited there was a concert going on, of course, we had no tickets, but if you get lucky or do a little advance research you might be able to catch a show! Plus it’s a great chance to get educated on Germany’s industrial heritage.
- Visit Düsseldorf
Alright so I didn’t have the most traditional city experience in Düsseldorf, this is true. BUT, that doesn’t mean I don’t recommend a visit. I trapsed around this city in full earth child get-up with a garbage bag and a pair of gloves, picking up cigarette butts and plastic (and other unmentionables). Why? I was asked if I wanted to participate in the Rhine river cleanup and rep for a brand new eco-friendly athleisure brand. I don’t say no to things like this, so yes, my Düsseldorf experience was as a trash lady – and I regret nothing. After becoming very familiar with the city’s streets, parks, and littering habits my new friends and I took a stroll down the riverfront, had a leisurely late lunch of baked potato, and made it home before sundown. If I had the chance, I’d go back and see what else Düsseldorf has to offer.
My one regret while I was staying in the lower rhine region was not visiting Cologne – or Köln if we’re being accurate. You will recognize this as the location of the stunning Cologne cathedral, and if I could choose one thing to go back and do I think it would be a visit to this ancient city. So if you’ve been to Köln let me know in the comments; overrated or worth your time?