One of Germany’s oldest cities after Trier, Neuss was started out the Roman camp Novaesium on the left bank of the Rhine in 16 BC. There are artefacts from the city’s earliest years at the Clemens Sels Museum, which also has a supreme collection of art from the 19th and 20th centuries.
In medieval times Neuss was ringed by a defensive wall, still visible at Obertor, which was able to repel the mighty Burgundian duke Charles the Bold in the 15th century. At the back end of the 1800s the city became an industrial harbour on the Rhine, and remains a key container harbour to this day.
Let’s have a look at the best things to do in Neuss:
1. Museum Insel Hombroich
The one thing you absolutely have to see in Neuss is this art museum a little way south of the centre of the city.
The site chosen for the Museum Insel Hombroich was a disused NATO rocket base.
And here the art collector Karl-Heinrich Müller collaborated with sculptor and architect Erwin Heerich to conceive a park that blends art, architecture and nature into something memorable.
Over roughly 20 years Heerich created ten imaginative walk-in pavilions in which a mesmerising assembly of art awaits.
We’re talking works by Rembrandt, Giacometti, Yves Klein, Alexander Calder, Lovis Corinth, Matisse, Klimt and Chillida, all amid ponds, meadows and woodland that are also dotted with outdoor installations.
2. Langen Foundation
On the grounds of the Museum Insel Hombroich is a museum for the astounding art that was assembled by the 20th-century collector Marianne Langen.
These works used to be on show at the properties Marianne shared with her husband Viktor in Meerbusch, Germany and Ascona, Switzerland.
Some of the pieces to relish here are by the likes of Francis Bacon, Andy Warhol, Max Beckmann, Sigmar Polke, Paul Cézanne and Yves Klein, to name just a small handful.
They’re exhibited alongside the Langens’ collection of oriental art in a stylish gallery designed by Tadao Ando and opened in 2004.
3. Basilica of St Quirinus
Dating from the beginning of 13th century, the city’s minster was constructed at the transition between the Romanesque and Gothic and was one of the final churches in the Rhineland to have a trefoil choir.
The westwork and facade are a haunting mass of pilasters, arched friezes and blind arches, hallmarks of the Lombard style, while the pointed arches in the tower point to the new Gothic design.
The war claimed some of the interior fittings and decoration, but much was saved.
The stalls in the north and south choirs go back to the 1450s, and there’s also a Roman sarcophagus, a plague cross from 1360 and images of Mary (15th century) and St Quirinus (16th century).
4. Clemens Sels Museum
On the northern fringe of the Rosengarten park, the Clemens Sels Museum has its roots in the 19th century and the collection of a local candle manufacturer.
After the previous venue was destroyed the current building dates to 1975 and was designed by the post-war Modernist Harald Deilmann.
The museum’s art runs from the Middle Ages to the 20th century, and pays special attention to Dutch Baroque painting, as well as later movements like the German Nazarenes, English Pre-Raphaelites, naive art and Symbolism from France, Belgium and the Netherlands.
Some works not to be missed are Maria Theresa Zambaco by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, but also the Rhenish Expressionism of August Macke and Heinrich Campendonk.
Also make time for the Roman exhibits like a 3rd-century ointment vessel and glass jewellery recovered from the site of Novaesium, the city’s Roman camp.
Just just next door to the Clemens Sels Museum, the historic Obertor is under the same management.
This weighty structure is Neuss’ last remaining city gate and was raised in the 13th century.
Amateur historians will be excited to know that this very gate was directly involved in the siege of 1474/75 by the Burgundians under Duke Charles the Bold.
There are artefacts from the siege like weapons and supplies on show inside the Obertor.
Neuss, then a very small town, held out against the siege until a larger Imperial army forced Charles the Bold to withdraw.
6. Haus Rottels
This fine townhouse on Oberstraße has a long and interesting past.
Originally it was a monastery building, before being bought and reworked by the Rottels family.
The house was part of a larger complex that included the family’s soap factory behind it.
The interiors are unchanged and offer a glimpse of bourgeois life in the 19th century, with an exhibition of objects from the end of the 18th century to the Second World War.
You can also see a scale model of Neuss’ Hauptbahnhof from 1876, while there’s an intact shop from the beginning of the 20th century stocked with authentic containers and posters from the period.
Finally, if you want to know about Neuss’ shooting corps, Haus Rottels also hosts the Rheinisches Schützenmuseum (Rhineland Shooting Museum).
7. St Marien
When Neuss’ population swelled in the last decades of the 1800s, St Quirinus was no longer large enough to hold the city’s congregation and churches like St Marien popped up in the new neighbourhoods.
This Gothic Revival church was completed in 1902. Just four decades later it was almost totally destroyed in the Second World War, and some well-known artists contributed to the decoration in the decades that followed.
In the nave, check out the stained glass windows by Emil Wachter, evoking the history of creation on the north side, and the apocalypse on the south.
The sculptor and stonemason Hein Hinkenberg also had a hand in the decoration, sculpting statues, a baptismal font, tabernacle and altar between 1928 and 1960.
By the 1990s this century-old park by the Stadthalle and Clemens Sels Museum had fallen into disrepair due to a mix of war damage and neglect.
But in the space of a few years the Rosengarten was replanted and revitalised: New flowerbeds were laid, and complemented by lighting and benches.
Now the park is billed as a “green oasis” in the middle of the city, and in mid-summer is the setting for one of the most popular cultural events in the calendar.
The Klassiknacht in late-June is a night of classical music.
Georgian clarinettist Levan Tskhadadze and French violinist Louise Chisson were two of the high-profile soloists to perform in 2017.
9. Botanischer Garten der Stadt Neuss
Neuss’ small but well-formed botanical garden takes up a hectare between Körnerstraße and Bergheimer Straße and now goes back more than a century to 1914. Among the individual gardens planted here are a potager and medicinal herb garden, and there are also beautiful exotic tree species like a bald cypress and a handkerchief tree native to China.
The park also has an aviary that was built in 1999 and has a vibrant set of inhabitants including zebra finches, king quails, lovebirds, cockatiels and Pallas’ rosefinches.
Off Mühlenstraße, also a few steps from the Rosengarten, there’s another enigmatic reminder of Neuss’ city fortifications.
The Semi-circular Butturm (Blood Tower) dates to the 1200s and was embedded in the walls.
The fearsome name comes from the Blutturm’s role as a prison and torture chamber.
Maybe the most famous inmate was Mathias Weber, also known as Der Fetzer, the chief of a gang of bandits who was tortured here in 1803 before he was guillotined in Cologne.
11. Zum Schwatte Päd
You have to come by for a look at this building, because Zum Schwatte Päd (The Black Horse) is the oldest burgher house in the Lower Rhine.
This Renaissance building with a crow-stepped gable is from 1604 and was built by the lieutenant and city counsellor Rembold Breuer.
The ground floor has been a restaurant for as long as anyone can remember.
At present it is operated by the beer brand Diebels, but there is talk of the municipality buying Zum Schwatte Päd and turning the house into a museum.
For now, you can stop by for a photo of the facade and its mullioned windows and masonry stone bearing the building’s date.
If you’re up for some shopping you can catch the S-Bahn out to this mall, which is by the Rhine a couple of kilometres from the centre of Neuss.
The Rheinpark-Center was rolled out in two phases at the beginning of the 2010s and has more than 140 shops and restaurants, so there’s enough for a long shopping expedition if the weather takes a turn for the worse.
For a small snapshot of the stores at the Rheinpark-Center, there’s H&M, Mango and Footlocker, and these are backed up by fast food chains from KFC to the German fish and chips brand Nordsee.
13. Turm Neuss
On Theodor-Heuss-Platz in front of the main post office there’s an art installation that was created in 1985 by the Austrian architecture and art collective, Haus-Rucker-Co.
At ten metres in height and built with a steel frame and wood panels, the tower was intended to blur the lines between architecture and sculpture and contribute to a discussion about perception and public space.
If you look through the openings you’ll see a tall, tapered cylinder made of brass and extending from the floor to the ceiling.
14. Neuss Schützenfest
The last week of August is time for a festival full of tradition and regalia, and attended by around 1.5 million spectators.
The Neuss Schützenfest is a marksmen’s festival in which the various corps from the city’s 7,860-strong shooting regiment parade through the city and take in a competition.
There are ten different corps, and each one has a lot of history.
Nine were founded in the 19th century, while the Platoon of the Scheibenschützen-Society goes back to 1415. These different brotherhoods all have their own uniform and symbolism, which are presented in all their splendour at a series of parades during the week.
The biggest of these is the royal parade starting on Markt in Neuss and involving 1,200 musicians.
Neuss is so close to North Rhine-Westphalia’s capital that you can catch a commuter train and be there in ten minutes.
Düsseldorf is the kind of city that could keep you busy for days.
The Altstadt is the area most people will already know, where some 260 bars are squeezed into just one square kilometre.
Be sure to grab a glass of altbier, the dark local beer, to go with something filling and traditional like Düsseldorfer Senfrostbraten, rump steak with a mustard crust.
Düsseldorf’s riverside promenade is the best on the Rhine, bending along the embankment down to the new harbour development, where architects like Frank Gehry have contributed designs.
And for high-end shopping, the Königsallee is a boulevard flanking a tree-lined canal and is a who’s who of luxury fashion, from Chanel to Gucci.