Explore Bonn, Germany’s former capital, on a budget
What happens when a capital city stops being a capital city? Bonn has had 32 years to get used to its new status as merely an exceptionally pretty place on the banks of the Rhine rather than being the political hub of Cold War Deutschland.
The embassies and visiting heads of state may have vanished to Berlin, but what remains is an infinitely more relaxed spot where Beethoven spent his childhood and where cobbled streets, a burgeoning food scene and vast green spaces exude the vibe of a Bonn that’s entirely at ease with its new identity.
Where to stay
Hotel Collegium Leoninum
Outstanding value rooms (book a garden view to look out over manicured lawns) abound in this vast former seminary which also has a heated indoor pool and friendly staff. The only difficult part is finding your way to your bed, such is the warren of corridors within.
B&B doubles from £91.50 (leoninum-bonn.de)
A 30-minute ride on the 600 bus from the centre of Bonn drops you off at this intriguing one-off in the heart of a forest.
Reinvented: Bonn (pictured) is the exceptionally pretty city on the banks of the Rhine where Beethoven spent his childhood
Amid the maple, lime and chestnut trees are funky modern rooms and three beautiful treehouses to spend the night in, complete with chic bathrooms and outdoor, branch-level seats where you may have one of the local squirrels for company.
B&B doubles from £90 (v-hotel.de)
Basecamp Bonn, pictured, is an old warehouse filled with 15 themed caravans, two vintage VW minivans and a duo of 1950s U.S. Airstream trailers
Above is one of the trailers in Basecamp Bonn, some of the most original (and keenly priced) accommodation in town
Fifteen themed caravans, two vintage VW minivans and a duo of 1950s U.S. Airstream trailers are parked inside an old warehouse to create a ‘muck in and get to know your neighbours’ bohemian vibe in what is some of the most original (and keenly priced) accommodation in town. It’s hugely fun, but not the best spot if you want a blissfully undisturbed sleep.
B&B doubles from £48.80 (basecamp-bonn.de)
Hotel Deutsches Haus
Hotel Deutsches Haus is an old, family-run hotel that’s located just five minutes’ walk from Beethoven’s childhood home
B&B doubles in Hotel Deutsches Haus’s ‘comfortable, albeit unremarkable, rooms’ are priced from £72.30
Load up on pineapple, berries and fruit for breakfast at Hotel Deutsches Haus
The comfortable, albeit unremarkable, rooms at this old, family-run hotel are bolstered by its location, just five minutes’ walk from Beethoven’s house, and a breakfast that is a release from the cold cuts-dominated, standard German ‘fruhstuck’.
Load up on pineapple, berries and fruit before heading for the streets.
B&B doubles from £72.30 (deutscheshaus-bonn.de)
Where to eat
Head to Cassius Garten by Bonn Central station (pictured) and enjoy a full buffet plate for no more than £9
Brauhaus Bonnsch, pictured, is the best bier hall in the city. Picture courtesy of Creative Commons
Get to this vegetarian buffet in a sleepy mall by the railway station at 7.45pm and you can fill an entire bowl of salads, stews and cakes for just €5.
It’s all part of the zero-waste policy of this charming cafe with garden that sells its array of wraps, hearty potato bakes and soups by the weight. A full buffet plate won’t cost you more than £8 to £9. (cassiusgarten.de)
The ceiling of this, the best bier hall in the city, is painted with pint glasses with angel wings, flying among the cherubs.
The food will bring you back down to earth with a satisfyingly calorific thud — traditional Rhineland favourites done to perfection, including goulash soup (£6) and roasted sausages with beer sauce and sauerkraut (£9.80). (boennsch.de)
Mr and Mrs Humus
Tasty dishes at Mr and Mrs Humus, a student favourite that’s famed for, naturally, its hummus dishes and low prices. Here an immense meze platter for two costs just £21
Bonn has a burgeoning food scene. Pictured is an outdoor cafe on Heerstrasse in the centre of the city
Look for the green and white fence festooned with a mosaic of old German children’s LPs and you’re at the entrance to the cute back garden of this student favourite; famed for, naturally, its hummus dishes and low prices.
Falafels and shakshuka are the order of the day here, with an immense meze platter for two (though it could feed four) costing just £21. (mrandmrshumus.de)
What to see
House of the History Of Federal Republic Of Germany
Don’t let the name put you off. This is one of the most fascinating museums in Germany, telling the story of the country during the Cold War. You’ll need two hours to see it properly but if you’re in a hurry, don’t miss the smaller exhibitions showing life on both sides of the Berlin Wall. (Free, hdg.de/haus-der-geschichte)
At Beethoven’s childhood home, pictured, visitors can see the composer’s original handwritten sheet music and his last pianoforte
He left for Vienna when he was 21, but Bonn is the home town of Ludwig van.
Roam the creakiest floors in Germany to explore his handsome childhood home, which is full of original handwritten sheet music, his last pianoforte and a collection of the immense ear trumpets the genius used to battle his increasing deafness. (£8.55, beethoven.de)
Bundesstadt and food market
Don’t miss the eateries selling local cheeses, meats and fruit galore outside Bundesstadt, the city’s baroque old town hall (pictured)
Everyone from Haile Selassie to JFK posed outside the baroque old town hall when Bonn was a capital city. The building is still a beauty, but the food trucks on the square outside are more lively these days.
There’s local cheeses, meats and fruit galore but the longest queues are, justifiably, at the Die Currywurst stand, which does an array of old-school bratwurst and the lesser known rindswurst (beef sausage) with chips for £5.
Bonn Botanical Gardens
Pictured are the huge water lilies at the Botanical Gardens, which are located on the outskirts of the city
Inside the Botanical Gardens, you’ll find Poppelsdorf Palace, pictured, a Baroque beauty that now belongs to the city university
Ducks and Nile geese galore strut with impunity around this serene retreat on the outskirts of the city. In summer, the water lilies grow so huge in the ponds that it’s claimed two babies could sit on them safely.
The lotus flowers and the Beethoven rhododendron are all eclipsed, however, by the honey and mustard-coloured Poppelsdorf Palace, a Baroque beauty that now belongs to the city university. (Free on weekdays, £2.50 weekends, botgart.uni-bonn.de)
Bonner Munster cathedral (pictured) has reopened to the public after four years of renovation. Make sure to visit its lily-filled cloister garden
Open after four years of renovations, this is a typically bombastic German cathedral complete with wonky steeple and a miasma of gold, gilt and marble.
Head through the building to the other side and you’re in one of Bonn’s best-kept secrets, the nearly always deserted cloister garden filled with lilies. (Free, bonner-muenster.de)
Eurostar (eurostar.com) has direct trains from London St Pancras to Brussels from £78 return. Deutsche Bahn (bahn.com) has trains from Brussels Midi to Bonn via Koln with a journey time of about 2hr 30min. Return tickets from £65. More info at germany.travel.