Düsseldorf is a major international business centre in western Germany that sprawls prettily along the Rhine, but its core is the compact Altstadt (old town). The main tourist office is at the corner of Markstrasse and Rheinstrasse (10am to 6pm; duesseldorf-tourismus.de). To the south-east, the Stadtmitte area of wide streets extends to the Hauptbahnhof, where the tourist office opens 9.30am-7pm daily except Sunday. The rest of the city spreads along the Rhine's right bank, with Carlstadt immediately south of the Altstadt and the 240-metre Rheinturm (Rhine Tower) marking the boundary with the rejuvenated harbour district, the MedienHafen, to the south.
Take a view
From Burgplatz, dominated by the old castle tower, the Schlossturm, you get a fine panorama up and down the ever-busy Rhine and the Altstadt to the east. From this perspective, you can understand Düsseldorf's roots as a village (dorf) rather than a city: despite all the development, it retains a human scale.
Saturday morning sees Düsseldorf's impressive retail offering at its busiest. Start in the Old Town, where the ABB Gewürzhaus at Mertensgasse 25 (gewuerzhaus-alt stadt.de) is a spice shop that has been dispensing aromas for nearly three centuries, with the look of an old-fashioned apothecary.
Southeast from the Altstadt, surplus wealth is easily disposed of along Königsallee, which marks one of the original city walls. The tree-lined moat has been preserved, while premium brands such as Swarovski, Armani and Prada have stores on the east side of "the Kö".
For an independent antidote to big brands, on the other side of the railway, Ackerstrasse is the main street of the proto-bohemian Flingern quarter. Here, 4Wände Marie at number 80 (4waendemarie.de) sells art and retro fashion.
The city's central market spreads across Carlsplatz in the south of the Altstadt. It is open and lively between 7.30am and 6pm, daily except Sunday.
Lunch on the run
The market is full of lunch options; a brimming bowl of thick soup plus a beverage will fill you up for €6 at Josef Dauser on the west side (dauser-on line.de). Or, pick up the ingredients for a picnic beside the Rhine.
Take a hike
Explore the Altstadt on the 90-minute guided walking tour that departs from the tourist office at 1pm year-round, and at 3pm and 4pm on Saturdays until the end of October. Expert guides will explain how Düsseldorf blossomed and was then resurrected after much of it was destroyed by Allied bombing.
If you prefer cutting-edge urban design, sign up with the tourist office in advance for the 2.30pm Saturday tour of MedienHafen, whose skyline comprises an array of signature buildings by contemporary architects. The meeting point is the Rheinturm. Each tour is in German and English and costs €10.
Your hike will include a stretch of Bolkerstrasse, the birthplace of the poet Heinrich Heine in 1797 and now the self-styled "longest bar in Europe" because of the dozens of pubs that flank it. For something less touristy, try Ratingerstrasse, which is especially convivial on a sunny evening.
Dining with the locals
You can dine at the Uerige Brauhaus on a sausage-heavy menu, or wander further south to the Bistro Zicke at Bäckerstrasse 5a (www.bistro-zicke.de) – a friendly, busy location with simple fare at good prices.
Go to church
The twisted spire of St Lambertus Basilica on the Stiftsplatz punctuates the Altstadt skyline. Its main spiritual draw is the shrine containing relics of St Apollinaris, the city's patron saint. Services are at 10.15am on Sundays only, 4.15pm daily; tourists welcome 10.15am-6pm.
Out to brunch
Düsseldorf won its waterside back at the time the Rhine-side highway was sunk into a tunnel. The open space now gives the city a Mediterranean air. But to find where all the traffic has gone, visit Kunst im Tunnel at Mannesmannufer 1b (kunst-im-tunnel.de; 11am-6pm daily except Monday; €4). This subterranean gallery occupies some of the spare volume between the underpasses (a map on the door shows how it fits in). The excellent KIT Café that stands above the gallery has a cosy modern interior if the weather does not permit you to enjoy the waterfront. Cheese- or sausage-based breakfasts are €3.90.
Walk in the park
You could wander southwest through the parkland beside the river to the footbridge for a good perspective on MedienHafen, or go inland to the Ständehauspark – venue for the dramatic K21 Gallery, an avant-garde gallery focusing on international art since 1980. Admission is €12, or €21 with its partner gallery, K20. Both are open 11am-6pm at weekends, Tuesday to Friday 10am-6pm and closed Monday; (kunstsammlung.de).
A free bus runs from K21 to K20 at Grabbeplatz 5, whose strong suit is German Expressionism – with additional highlights from Picasso, Kandinsky and Pollock. Wander north past the elegant Tonhalle at Ehrenhof 1 (tonhalle.de), which is home to the Düsseldorfer Symphoniker, and on to the city's most elegant art museum, the Kunstpalast (smkp.de; open 10am-6pm daily except Monday, and Thursday to 9pm). At present, part of the collection is closed because of a roof leak and entry has been cut to €5. Its rich repertoire of German art has its roots in the 17th-century collection of Elector Palatine Johann Wilhelm.
Take a ride
From the quayside, a one-hour bilingual cruise with KD Line (k-d.com) offers a panorama for €9.20. It departs every 90 minutes from 10.30am to 5pm or 6.30pm.