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North Rhine-Westphalia Travel Guide

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Cathedral of Cologne (photo by ger1axg - Creative Commons Licence)
Cathedral of Cologne.

Introduction

North Rhine-Westphalia (Nordrhein-Westfalen in German) is the most populous and most economically important state in Germany. The state was formed in 1946 by the merger of the Prussian provinces of northern Rhineland and Westphalia.

With a a population of 18,033,000 inhabitants, North Rhine-Westphalia would be the fifth most populous country in Western Europe, after France, the UK, Italy and Spain. The Rhine-Ruhr metropolitan region, which occupies most of the North Rhineland section of the state, is the main population centre with over 11 million inhabitants. It comprises among others the cities of Bonn, Cologne, Düsseldorf, Mönchengladbach, Duisburg, Essen and Dortmund. Its population density is a staggering 1,422 inhabitants per km² (3,684/sq mi), 3.5 times more than the (already packed) neighbouring Netherlands and Belgium, and over 4 times the German average.

North Rhine-Westphalia has a surface area of 34,084 km², just in between that of Belgium and the Netherlands, and scarcely bigger than the U.S. state of Maryland.

Before the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire in 1806, what is now North Rhine-Westphalia was composed of the Free Imperial City of Aachen, the Duchy of Jülich, the Duchy of Kleve, the Archbishopric of Cologne, the Free Imperial City of Dortmund, the Duchy of Berg, the County of Mark, the Prince-Bishopric of Münster, the Duchy of Westphalia, and the Bishopric of Paderborn.

Many famous German beers are brewed in North Rhine-Westphalia, including Dortmunder Export, Kölsch, König, Krombacher, Veltins, and Warsteiner (Germany's largest privately owned brewery).

Famous people from North Rhine-Westphalia include (chronologically): the composer Ludwig van Beethoven, the poet Heinrich Heine, the industrialist Alfred Krupp, the social scientist and political theorist Friedrich Engels, the physicist Wilhelm Röntgen, Chancellor Konrad Adenauer, Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, the F1 driver Michael Schumacher, the model Claudia Schiffer, and the model and actress Heidi Klum.

Attractions

Attractions are listed geographically, from west to east (left to right) and north to south (top to bottom).

West (Eifel)

Aachen
Aachen
outstanding The capital of Charlemagne's empire, Aachen is still dominated by its medieval past. Its main sights, the Aachener Dom, was built in 786, making it one of the oldest buildings still in use in Northern Europe. It is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Monschau
Monschau
must-see Sitting right across the Belgian border, concealed in a forested valley, Monschau is one of the Rhineland's best kept secrets, a jewel of timber-framed architecture protected by medieval ramparts.
Augustusburg Palace
Augustusburg Palace
outstanding Former residence of the Archbishops of Cologne, Augustusburg Palace s one of the most impressive princely residences in Germany. It has been listed as a UNESCO cultural World Heritage Site since 1984.
Bad Münstereifel
Bad Münstereifel
outstanding Bad Münstereifel is an appealing historical spa town tucked in the Eifel mountains, and is one of the rare towns in regions (along with Monschau) to have preserved its ramparts.


Other attractions

very good Eifel National Park

Central (Rhine Valley)

Xanten
Xanten
very good Founded by the Romans to protect the border with Germania, Xanten is said to be the birthplace of the Germanic mythological hero Siegfried, the dragon slayer in the Nibelungenlied.



Düsseldorf
Düsseldorf
very good Düsseldorf is the capital of North Rhine-Westphalia. Wiped off the map in WWII, it has little historical to offer, but boasts some of the best shopping, restaurants, nightlife and museums in Germany.
Cologne
Cologne
very good Founded over 2,000 years ago by the Romans, Cologne is the largest city in the Rhineland, famous for its Kölsch beer, its Eau de Cologne, and of course its breathtaking black cathedral, which took over 600 years to complete.
Bonn
Bonn
outstanding Former capital of West Germany, Bonn remains a major centre of politics and administration. Its other claim to fame is for being the birthplace of Ludwig van Beethoven, whose house can be visited.
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East (Westphalia)

Münster
Prinzipalmarkt, Münster (© JKLH - Fotolia.com)
very good Münster is an independent city with a vibrant student community. Its traditional architecture has strong Dutch/Flemish undertones. Münster dubs itself the 'bicycle capital of Germany'.
Nordkirchen Palace
Schloss Nordkirchen (© clearlens - Fotolia.com)
outstanding Known as the "Versailles of Westphalia", the Palace of Nordkirchen was the residence of the Prince-Bishops of Munster.



Paderborn
Paderborn
very good Situated in the northeast corner of Westphalia, Paderborn is a university town with a history closely associated with Charlemagne.
Altena Castle
Burg Altena (© einnos2000 - Fotolia.com)
very good Built by the Counts of Berg in the 12th century, Burg Altena was the seat of the influential House of the Marck. It became the world's first youth hostel established within the castle in 1912, which is is still used as such today.

Other attractions

very good Freudenberg
very good Siegen

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Eupedia's Rating System

Cities, towns, villages & historic buildings

  • : Moderately interesting - nice for a quick stop
  • : Recommended - to visit if you have time
  • : Outstanding place - really deserves to be seen
  • : Best of the country - shouldn't be missed
  • : Best of Europe

Natural attractions

  • : Moderately interesting
  • : Recommended
  • : Highly recommended
  • : World-class natural attraction
  • ※ : UNESCO World Heritage site

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