Düsseldorf – First impressions as a place to live

I just got back from a 2-week trip to Düsseldorf. I'll share my first impressions of the city in this post.

First, some context. Why are we here, some 600km from Berlin?

After 3.5 years in Berlin, we've started to ask ourselves whether Berlin is the place we'd want to live in for the next 10 years. Our answer was a wobbly "maybe not." Not going into the details of why in this post; if you're curious, let me know and I may write a separate post.

We then asked ourselves, what about Germany? Do we see ourselves living in this country for the next 10 years?

Our answer burst out much quicker this time. Yes! We love it in Germany. The question is, which city, for the next 10 years?

See where I'm going? Düsseldorf!

Our daughter keeping herself busy with the toys and books we brought with us.

Trip setup

Here’s the background of our trip in bullet points:

  • Drove our van here in one go. 5 hour drive from Berlin.
  • Rented 2 Airbnb apartments back-to-back, first for 10 days, second for 3 days.
  • The first apartment is in Bilk in District 3.
  • The second apartment is in Pempelfort in District 1.
  • Total Airbnb bill: 1604 EUR for 14 days.
  • I worked remotely 4 out of 5 days in the first week. Was on paid time off for the second week.

(I know... I pinch myself whenever I remember how lucky I am to have a well-paying and flexible job as a software developer, which allows us to do this kind of thing with very little planning! *pinch*)

Okay, so now that you have the context, here's what I've learned from our trip.

The "village" vibe

Okay, so you might be wondering, WTH is a village vibe? I don't know, I guess I would say a place has a village vibe when people acknowledge more often than ignore one another?

This feature of the populace may not be culturally unique to Düsseldorf. It may just be a factor of population size, as in, any smaller city would have this kind of feeling. Maybe. I don't know. But I think it is accurate to say that Düsseldorf gives a kind of village vibe.

We arrived in the city on Saturday. On Sunday morning, I asked ChatGPT (yes, why not?) to come up with an itinerary for us. The first thing it said: go to Cafe Hüftgold in Pempelfort and have a nice breakfast and coffee.

Being compliant humans, we went, and we happen to sit next to a young couple. The man smiled at Charlotte (our daughter) and then at me as we walked to our table. Sensing a willingness to engage, I started some small talk.

We're now friends. And I mean been to their apartment twice, went to brunch and dinner and visited a Wildpark together kind of friends. What! This has never happened to us in Berlin before, and here in Düsseldorf, it happened on our first day out. Wild.

We went a few days later to suss out a residential area that our new friends from the cafe recommended. As we walked the neighbourhood with our 1.5-year-old daughter, who was doing her usual undirected, back-and-forth stroll, a Korean man stopped on his patio on the ground floor and looked up at me.

I said hi, and he returned the greeting. We started talking, peppering him with questions about how he finds life in Düsseldorf and his particular neighbourhood. It was cold, so I interjected with, "Are you cold?" He went inside and put on a jacket and came back out to talk to us over his fence. We parted ways, but not before he wished us "welcome to Düsseldorf" and "have a good stay!" I learned that he was born in Düsseldorf and is happy living here.

Around 50 percent of people in cafes and restaurants establish eye contact with us. Of that, 50 percent smiled. In Berlin, I'd estimate the numbers to be 20 percent eye contact, and only 10 percent of those came with a smile.

Is this a trivial point? As I get older, I've come to view "good vibes" for what it is – a composite indicator of a good quality of life. So this is a big one for us for Düsseldorf.

One more thing contributing to the village vibes – Düsseldorf is a city of near distances. Almost every place you'd want to go to takes under 30 minutes to get to by public transport. It's even faster by bike (I didn't try, but I could tell from Google Maps and observation of the bicycle lanes in use). Even faster by car. It's possible to go from south to north of the city in 30 minutes. And yet, the city doesn't feel crowded.

We managed to walk through a substantial portion of the city in an hour, from Flingern to Little Tokyo to the riverfront promenade.

There are some tall buildings in the city centre, like the EY building, that give it a big city flair but a small village vibe. Lovely combination, like a middle ground between Singapore and Berlin.

Verdict: thumbs up 👍

Much cleaner than Berlin

It's much cleaner in Düsseldorf than in Berlin. Not as impeccably clean as Singapore (where I'm from), but it is a big step up from the litter-strewn streets of Berlin. Cleanliness and orderliness make every outdoor experience more pleasant. The U-Bahn is mostly litter-free, well-lit, and comes equipped with passenger lifts. Hedges along the roads are trimmed.

Verdict: thumbs up 👍

Many speak English

Yep. This surprised me. I don't know why, but I guess I assumed when people kept saying that "Berlin is not really Germany, cuz everyone speaks English there" that they meant that a city 6 times smaller would for sure not have many English speakers. I assumed wrong.

To be clear, being able to navigate social and bureaucratic life in English instead of German is useful for people who are new to Germany. Three years on, I can confidently say that I speak and understand enough German to get by and thus, this is more a matter of fact than a factor that draws us to Düsseldorf.

Verdict: meh 🤷‍♂️

Rheinufer promenade is awesome

One of my favourite places in Düsseldorf is the riverfront promenade (Rheinuferpromenade). You know how every large European city has a river that runs through it? Berlin has the river Spree, but the public spaces along the river just don't compare to those along the river Rhein in Düsseldorf.


I think it's because of the way the promenade is designed. You'll find a stretch of beautiful, 5-6 storey buildings flanking either side of the river, but not directly – there's a large stretch of grass separating the buildings and the riverbank. On one side, that grass patch slopes gently into the river. That unobstructed view of the powerful river is awesome. I felt like I was in big nature.

We took a short trip (45 mins by car) to Cologne one day and drove by the promenade. The same river Rhein cuts through the city, but wow, what a different feeling! I felt nothing about the promenade in Cologne. It was plain, not particularly well designed for enjoyment, and wholly uninspiring. A critical thing to say, I know. It's how I feel.

Verdict: thumbs up 👍

A bit posh

I feel I should be embarrassed to say this – we had 4 brunches in 7 days, each time in a different cafe. We were on leave from work! Anyway, I noticed that there are cafes catered to the more posh crowd who would pay 14 euros for an Eggs Benedict and 4 euros for a cappuccino. I fall for that stuff despite myself sometimes.

At eatTokyo, a Japanese restaurant in Little Tokyo.

There were some pretentiously expensive restaurants where the food quality did not match up to their prices, like Restaurant DEN in Flingern Nord. They charged 16 euros for an 8-piece salmon sushi roll and gave us our bill in a gold-plated plastic ball. I bought a döner on the way home that night.

I grew up in an increasingly posh country and so this isn't new to me. But having lived in Berlin for the last 3.5 years, I'd forgotten how easy it is to squander money on frivolous things that don't nourish one's heart (or stomach). Düsseldorf seems to have many of these establishments, and I expect we'd need extensive trial and error to separate the wheat from the chaff.

We had ramen when we got back to Berlin. Two bowls of ramen cost 25 euros here. In Düsseldorf's Immermannstrasse? 33 euros. I don't know about you, but I feel these things add up, fast.

Verdict: thumbs down 👎

Are we moving?

Hard question! We're still contemplating the details. For now, after speaking to my partner, we're leaning towards... well, nowhere. We're on the fence about Berlin vs Düsseldorf for living out our 30s with our toddler-age daughter. My butt is starting to hurt from sitting on it. Will need to decide soon.

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