Düsseldorf: the art city

The Rhine Embankment Promenade
© Düsseldorf Marketing & Tourismus GmbH

In the third of our new series ‘On the European City Trail’, Abbe Bates visits the Rhineland city of Düsseldorf to reveal a destination home to an electic artistic, musical, fashion and media elite.

Amongst the major German cities, the role and character of Düsseldorf sets it apart as one of the more creative, even oddball, places. Lying on the Rhine, in the west of Germany, it has carved out a reputation for having a thriving artistic community, centred around the Kunstakademie. It saw the birth of electronica music thanks to the influential Kraftwerk, the band that still calls Düsseldorf home. Its Opera House is the base for the largest ballet ensemble in the country and its current director is notorious for pushing the boundaries in the genre. It is the fashion capital of Germany, with many high profile designers based here, has an enviable avant-garde media scene, and over 100 museums and art galleries, many centred around the Arts Axis, not to mention a reputation as a ‘garden city’.

With a history stretching back over 800 years, which includes a spell being governed by Napoleon, Düsseldorf also houses an historic Altstadt (Old Town) and has grown from a small fishing village into a bustling metropolis with a multicultural population of nearly 600,000 people. As the capital of the North Rhine-Westphalia region, it has much to attract visiting groups.

As Düsseldorf is compact – it is known as the city of small distances – guided tours are a great way to explore the varied streetscapes. You can read more about the different types and themes below in The düsseldorf guides.

It is often useful to arrange for your group to have Düsseldorf WelcomeCards, which offer unlimited use of the efficient network of trams and buses within the city and also free or discounted admission to museums and other attractions and leisure facilities.The cards can be bought in bulk for groups, with a 10% reduction for 100.

 

ARTS AXIS AND RIVERSIDE

Kraftwerk

Kraftwerk.

Düsseldorf is well known as the city of art in Germany. Its world famous academy of art – the Kunstakademie – is where internationally renowned artists such as Joseph Beuys, Gerhard Richter and Jörg Immendorff studied and taught, and where the founding members of the electronica band Kraftwerk met. For more on the band, see the panel on page 64.

A good place to start a tour then is at the Museum Kunstpalast, at the top of the city’s Arts Axis, which reaches from the Ehrenhof complex in the north to the Ständehaus in the south, and links nearly all the city’s large cultural institutions. The museum re-opened in May 2011 after a two-year renovation project, which saw a better displaying of the varied collections, one of the few in the Rhineland to house important paintings, sculpture, graphic works, crafts and new media all under one roof. Visiting groups are able to view some 450 selected artworks from the Middle Ages to the present day including the famous ‘Creamcheese’ installation, which recreates the interior of Düsseldorf’s former Cream Cheese club using 1967 artworks by Gerhard Richter, Heinz Mack, Ferdinand Kriwet and Günther Uecker. For more on the Cream Cheese club see the panel on page 64. Tours are available that highlight particular artwork along with ‘have a go’ workshops. Within the Kunstpalast complex, you will also find the Hentrich Glass Museum, with the world’s most important collection of medieval glass.

The Ehrenhof complex, built in 1926 to create a new home for the city’s burgeoning exhibition fair culture, is also home to the domed Tonhalle Düsseldorf, which was Germany’s first planetarium and is now the city’s concert hall, and the NRW-Forum Kultur und Wirtschaft, which presents exhibitions on the subjects of media, photography, architecture, fashion and design.

Making your way further south from the Ehrenhof complex down Oederallee and onto Grabbeplatz you will come to the K20 Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen. This gallery presents an enviable collection of 20th century art and was recently renovated to include a new extension. Groups can book tours of the permanent collection or current special exhibitions.

Close by, the Kunsthalle Düsseldorf offers changing exhibitions of cutting edge modern and contemporary art, and its concrete-block construction at the end of the 1960s is an ex­am­ple of the type of architecture that arose from the frugality of the immediate post-war years in Germany. It was extensively renovated at the beginning of this century but still retains its original cubist exterior and over its nearly 50-year history it has been responsible for introducing a num­ber of in­ter­na­tion­al artists into the Eu­ro­pean art mar­ket.

If you continue south through Hunsrückenstrasse, onto Kasernenstrasse, you eventually come to Ständehausstrasse and the K21 Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, the sister gallery to K20, which celebrates 21st century art, and is set in the city’s former parliament building.

As well as the Tonhalle, Düsseldorf has many other celebrated theatre and music venues including the Kom(m)ödchen, Germany’s first political cabaret, and the Deutsche Oper am Rhein, both close to the K20. More than 300 performances a year take place at the Opera House, which dates from the 19th century. It was extensively rebuilt after war damage in the 1950s and the interior is a lovely example of architecture and design from this era. The 1342-performance space is also home to the Ballet am Rhein, the largest ballet ensemble in Germany, which has been under the progressive charge of Martin Schläpfer since 2009, as well as two orchestras – the Düsseldorf Symphonic and the Duisburg Philharmonic. An extra-special option for groups is to arrange a tour of the Opera House’s costume department with a historian, who will take you through the backstage areas where some 50,000 costumes are stored!

The Rhine is a major feature of the city, running for 40 kilometres through its centre. As part of a stroll around the Arts Axis, take a walk down the Rhine Embankment Promenade, which is a great place to enjoy a drink or bite to eat, as well as being the base for river trips along the Rhine. It begins at Burgplatz, the centrepiece of which is a Cartwheeler Fountain, the cartwheel being the symbol of the city, and where it is said to have originated in the 13th century – there is even an annual cartwheeling competition in July (see panel on page 66)! The promenade is also home to several museums including the SchifffahrtMuseum im Schlossturm – the city’s maritime museum, set in the last remaining tower of Düsseldorf’s former castle, which was destroyed by fire in 1872.

Below the promenade is the KIT – Kunst im Tunnel, which sits nestled between two road traffic tunnels. Since it opened in 2007, this space has developed into a hub for contemporary art. The entrance is a glass pavilion on the promenade facing out towards the Rhine. It houses the KIT Bar, a terrace and a cafe, through which the 888 square-metre submarine-shaped exhibition space can be accessed. Each year, four to six temporary exhibitions take place and the programme focuses on contemporary art, and the fields of sculpture, painting, photography, video and installation art.

Just behind the Rhine Embankment Promenade is the Stadtmuseum, or City Museum, which is vast, and takes at least two days to explore to get the fullest experience. It is the oldest museum in Düsseldorf, founded in 1873, and is set over three floors; its permanent collection documents the development of Düsseldorf and the surrounding area from its early history to the present day.

Further outside the main city centre, if you talk a walk from the top of the Rhine Embankment Promenade and on up the river, you will come to one of many picturesque green spaces that give Düsseldorf a reputation as a garden city, the Nordpark. This is home to delightful Japanese Gardens, reflecting the influence of this culture in the city, which grew during the years after the Second World War, when an influx of Japanese came to the city to work in the steel industry. Further out still in this direction is the Kaiserswerth area, the oldest part of Düsseldorf, dating from the 12th century, which houses the ruins of Emperor Barbarossa’s imperial fortress.

 

OLD TOWN

The city’s Old Town or Altstadt has its origins in the 13th century, when the first brick buildings emerged in the city, although much of it now dates from the 17th century; as with many of Germany’s cities, parts of it have been largely reconstructed following bomb damage during the Second World War. It covers a square kilometre and houses 260 restaurants, inns and pubs, home to the region’s famous dark Alt beer, which has earned it the nickname ‘the longest bar in the world’.

St Lambertus Church with its twisted spire.

Hunsrückenstrasse is one of the main streets within the Old Town. At the northern end of this street is the 17th century St Andreas Church, one of a number of ancient churches that your group will find within the narrow streets, and amongst the Rhineland’s most beautiful baroque examples.

Walking past St Andreas Church and turning left onto Mühlenstrasse leads you to Liefergasse, at the end of which is another of the city’s religious architectural highlights, St Lambertus Church. This 14th century Gothic structure, set on the site of a former 12th century Romanesque church, has a distinctive twisted spire that easily identifies it.

Walking round the corner onto Burgplatz, you will find an interesting bronze sculpture by Bert Gerresheim, depicting the history of Düsseldorf and the date of 1288, when it was granted town status by Count Adolf von Berg.

Elector Jan-Wellem-Denkmal

The statue of Elector Jan-Wellem-Denkmal in the Altstadt.

Moving south again eventually brings you to Bolkerstrasse. It is worth a stop at the Heinrich Heine Birth Place here, the former home of one of Germany’s most important poets. At the western end of Bolkerstrasse is the Marktplatz, where you will find the Rathaus or Town Hall, which actually consists of three buildings, the ‘old town hall’, the ‘Wilhelminischer Bau’ (from the period of Emperor Wilhelm II) and the ‘Grupello house’. At the centre of the square is a statue of Elector Jan-Wellem-Denkmal – who ruled the Rhineland during the 17th and 18th centuries – on horseback. The monument is considered one of the most important Baroque equestrian statues north of the Alps and its sculptor lived at the Grupello house, named in his honour.

Not far from Marktplatz on Schulstrasse is the Maxhaus, a former Franciscan monastery that is now a restaurant; look out too for a more modern building, the Mannesmann Tower on the outskirts of the Old Town on Mannesmannufer, now home to Vodafone, but one of the city’s first skyscrapers, built by renowned German architect Paul Schneider Esleben (father of Florian Schneider, one of the founders of the band Kraftwerk) in the 1950s and now a protected monument.

 

MEDIA HARBOUR 

Dancing Houses

Frank O. Gehry’s Dancing Houses.

The area to the south of the Rhine Embankment Promenade and Düsseldorf’s Old Town has now become known as the Media Harbour and the city’s avant-garde mile. This former industrial harbour area has been transformed into a hub for Düsseldorf’s TV, film and radio industry in recent years. Signifying the area’s renaissance are the three Dancing Houses constructed in 1999 and designed by architect Frank O. Gehry who was responsible for the Guggenheim in Barcelona. These each reflect a different image – one of fish scales, one of an ocean liner and one of brick, and their uneven textures and lines give the impression that they are ‘dancing’.

The Rhine Tower.
© Düsseldorf Marketing & Tourismus GmbH

A great way to view not only the sights of the Media Harbour, including the Roggendorf Haus office building with its amazing ‘flossis’ (bright plastic figures that climb the outside), is to take a trip up the Rhine Tower, Düsseldorf’s most iconic landmark. The 240.5-metre high television tower also acts as a decimal clock of the world, and groups entering the building will see an electronic display explaining how this works. One of the most visited towers in Germany, it stands on more than 250 pillars over water in the former harbour. At its top is a revolving restaurant – the Top 180 – where groups can have a peaceful set menu meal. A viewing floor just below the restaurant allows panoramic views over the whole city. Highlights include the former 1930s police headquarters on Mühlenstrasse, now home to the Düsseldorf Memorial, which remembers local victims of the Nazi regime (currently closed for renovation), and the new parliament building, the Landtag, inaugurated in 1988.

Groups thinking of visiting Düsseldorf have a number of different accommodation options open to them. Those to consider include the four-star Hilton Düsseldorf hotel on Georg-Glock-Strasse with 375 rooms, and for something slightly different, DJH Hostels’ Youth Hostel Düsseldorf on Düsseldorferstrasse with 96 rooms.

 

HOW TO GET THERE 

The coach journey to Düsseldorf from the UK is fairly good taking around seven hours (from London to Düsseldorf Old Town it is 377 miles) using the short Channel Tunnel crossing or alternatively via the Harwich to the Hook of Holland ferry crossing, which takes slightly longer at around ten hours altogether. Düsseldorf is also well connected to the rest of Germany via the local autobahn network.

Düsseldorf is easily reached by rail too; perhaps the best route to take is via Eurostar from London St Pancras International or Ebbsfleet International in Kent to Brussels-Midi in Belgium and then onwards via Deutsche Bahn’s high speed ICE trains straight through to Cologne, with a short connecting train ride to Düsseldorf. This takes around four and a half hours at present but travelling time should be reduced by around an hour once planned direct ICE services from London St Pancras to Cologne begin. These were due to begin in 2013, but have now been postponed to 2015. Deutsche Bahn has an active groups department, with discounts starting at six or more people.

It is only a 10-minute drive from Düsseldorf International Airport to the city centre. Several airlines operate direct flights to the city from the UK including Lufthansa (from London Heathrow, Manchester and Newcastle) and easyJet (from London Gatwick).

 

THE DÜSSELDORF GUIDES

Tour guide Caroline West.

Caroline West and Joop Eskes were the very capable guides who took the author on her tour of Düsseldorf. Düsseldorf Marketing & Tourismus can arrange walking tours of the city for your group with a range of freelance guides.

Caroline in particular offers ‘We Love Music’ tours that come with a musical performance, first developed to coincide with the Eurovision Song Contest, which took place at the city’s ESPRIT arena in 2011, as well as ‘Arts in Düsseldorf’ itineraries.

Tour guide Joss Eskes.

Joop can offer tours on subjects such as architecture, history and breweries as well as tours designed specifically for less able bodied groups.

Another tour to look out for is ‘A City Changes its Face’, which focuses on the ongoing construction of the Werhahn Undergournd line and the redevelopment of the northern end of the Königsallee shopping area.

Open-top bus tours 

Hop-on, hop-off open top bus tours are a staple of any city offering and Düsseldorf is no exception. The HopOn HopOff CityTour lasts around 90 minutes and takes you around the whole city centre, before going right through the Old Town. It allows you to get on or off at any stop to explore areas in more detail, and you can learn further information enroute with a live tour guide commentary or through earphones. Reductions on prices are available for groups of 10 or more people. Bike and segway tours are also available, as are coach tours that include a visit up the Rhine Tower.

Airport tours 

Guided tour at Düsseldorf International Airport.
© Andreas Wiese

Tours of airports are popular in Germany and Düsseldorf International offers a chance to experience the apron – where the planes are parked – on guided tours. Lasting about two hours, there is the possibility to book an exclusive bus, just for your group. As well as the tour, the price includes free entrance to the observation deck and free use of the SkyTrain, which connects the Düsseldorf Flughafen airport railway station with the terminal. Web: www.dus-int.de/dus/besucherservice

 

Coach Parking Facilities 

For those travelling by coach, 17 free coach parking places are available near Fritz-Roeber-Strasse (north of the Old Town, parallel to the Oberkassel Bridge).

A number of charged for parking spaces are available on the Haroldstrasse (under the Rheinknie Bridge) for groups visiting the North Rhine-Westphalian Parliament (Landtag) and on the Tonhallenufer where there are 80 parking spaces near the concert hall.

Along with help in planning and booking itineraries, when special major events take place in Düsseldorf, the Düsseldorf tourist board offers a free coach parking reservation service.

 

THE AVANT-GARDE MUSIC SCENE 

Düsseldorf has an impressive avant-garde music scene. The most well-known artists to emerge from this are Kraftwerk, the influential electronic music band. The group was formed in 1970 by Ralf Hütter and Florian Schneider and pioneered the revolutionary electronica sound, which relies heavily on computer generated speech. One of the favoured haunts of these and other creatives including perfomance artist Joseph Beuys was the Cream Cheese disco – Germany’s first – inspired by the character created by Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention. It is now a jewellery shop on Neubrückstrasse, but as a disco is mooted to be the first place to use strobe lighting in Western Europe, and it is certainly worth looking up; there are several Cream Cheese Revival Parties held each year, where the experience is recreated at various venues.

The stone club

The Stone Club on Ratingerstrasse.

The Stone club on Ratingerstrasse, just around the corner in the Old Town, is also worth looking out for and is still an influential music venue in the city. It is cited as the birthplace of punk in Germany, where the band Die Toten Hosen first began, who have since gone on to become one of the most popular punk bands in Germany. You can learn more about the scene on a ‘We Love Music’ tour (see The Düsseldorf Guides above).

 

FESTIVAL CITY 

Over 10 days in July each year, the ‘biggest fun fair on the Rhine’ – Kirmes – visits Düsseldorf and sets up on vast grounds spanning 165,000 square metres on the western bank of the Rhine. It houses an eclectic and impressive range of fairground rides, both nostalgic and modern, as well as traditional bars – some of which revolve (!) – and restaurants. This year the fair will take place between 13th and 22nd July and marks the 111th time it has visited the Rhine meadows in Oberkassel. The fair is accessed from the main city centre by a short ride on the Rhine Ferry.

Kirmes

Kirmes.

Summer is also the time of the ancient Cartwheeling Tournament,which takes place in June next year, whilst November marks the beginning of the popular carnival season in Düsseldorf on 11th of the month. This runs until the 20th February and is marked by an opening celebration called Hoppeditz’ Erwachen (or Hoppenditz awakes) in front of the Rathaus. Another highlight on the events calendar is, of course, the Düsseldorf Christmas Market, which takes place throughout the city centre and Old Town and runs from 22nd November to 23rd December this year.

 

FASHION 

As the location for one of the biggest fashion fairs in the world – the CPD – twice a year, it’s no surprise that Düsseldorf is a centre for shopping.

The Kö-Galerie.
© Düsseldorf Marketing & Tourismus GmbH

Königsallee – referred to as Kö by locals – is the most famous of the city’s shopping streets and is Germany’s equivalent of 5th Avenue in New York, with a wide range of exclusive shops and luxury malls including the Kö-Galerie along its one-kilometre stretch.

You will find high street bargains on Schadowstrasse, which features the Schadow Arkaden with 70 shops, cafes and restaurants, and Friedrichstrasse is home to the Düsseldorf Arcaden, with 120 shops on three floors. The Old Town, meanwhile, is home to cool boutique-style shops whilst the Carlstadt area to its south is a haven for antiques and art lovers.

 

Our thanks to nalogo! tourism & leisure for arranging Abbe Bates’ visit to Düsseldorf, in conjunction with Düsseldorf Marketing & Tourismus, Deutsche Bahn and the Hilton Düsseldorf.

 

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION

Contact Düsseldorf Marketing & Tourismus GmbH, Postfach 10 21 63, D-40012 Düsseldorf

Telephone 00 49 (0) 211 17 202 854  Fax 00 49 (0) 211 17 202 3222

Email welcome@duesseldorf-tourismus.de  Web www.visitduesseldorf.de

 

Group Travel Organiser is interested in hearing about other towns and cities that have something to offer visitors to explore so please get in touch.

FRANKFURT: Germany’s Euro city

The Euro sign in front of the Eurotower.

The Euro sign in front of the Eurotower.

In the second of our new series ‘On the European City Trail’, Abbe Bates visits Europe’s banking capital, Frankfurt, to reveal the hidden delights that lie beneath the German city’s commercial face.

Amongst Germany’s many famous cities, Frankfurt is not one of those that would at first spring to mind as being worth an extended visit. But the very fact that it has developed a unique role and identity means that it has a range of interesting activities and places to visit, which add up to a very worthwhile group stay.

Unusually, a decision was made after the extensive Second World War damage not to rebuild as before, but to go for a new modern urban form. The development has continued with the flourishing banking industry spawning a range of towerblocks leading to the nickname ‘Mainhatten’, referring to its location on the river Main and its similarity to downtown New York.

The River Main in fact splits the city into the newly modernised part and a much more serene and classical area on the south bank called Sachsenhausen. A little confusingly, the modern part includes the residue of the original oldest part, a relatively small area of half timbered houses that have recently been restored – or more accurately rebuilt – to create a square with a flavour of the 15th and 16th century. The river itself is a flourishing place to be and there are plenty of opportunities for sightseeing alongside, over or on it. You can read more about these at the bottom of this feature.

The Frankfurt skyline at night. © The Frankfurt Tourist+Congress Board

The Frankfurt skyline at night. © The Frankfurt Tourist+Congress Board

Frankfurt has been a centre of trade since medieval times – in fact the first official mention of an autumn fair, from which the famous annual Frankfurt Book Fair evolved, was way back in 1150. Its location at the heart of Europe and Germany provided a central meeting point for travelling merchants from across the Continent, and it still plays a major role in the trade fair calendar including hosting the International Motor Show every second year in September, the largest motor show in Europe. As the seat of the German federal bank, and the headquarters of the European Central Bank since 1998, Frankfurt is a key player in the financial markets but complementing this industrious backdrop, it is also home to a bustling shopping district and a significant heritage offer. It’s pivotal role as a setting for the final of the FIFA Women’s World Cup this July and as a host city for a number of the FIFA World Cup matches in 2006 has also boosted tourism for the city. Added to this, it has a significant history of research and academia – Nobel Laureate Paul Ehrlich discovered chemotherapy here in the 19th century and Laois Alzheimer also discovered the illness that was to bear his name in the city.

Frankfurt is part of the Frankfurt Rhine-Main Metropolitan Region of Germany, and is the country’s fifth largest city, with a population of nearly three quarters of a million people. Its history dates back into the Roman period but was first officially recorded in 794, and the city became the electoral site for Germany’s emperors in the 14th century.
Frankfurt’s place as the financial capital of Germany was cemented in the 16th century with the creation of the city’s first money exchange whilst the 17th century saw an influx of Huguenot religious refugees from France. After the formation of the German Federation in 1815,the first German National Assembly met in Frankfurt. The city survived annexation by Prussia during the Franco-Prussian War, but was not so lucky during World War Two, and much of its landscape was destroyed by Allied bombing raids.

Once the war ended, rebuilding work began, but rather than reconstruct many of the city’s historic buildings, it was decided that a break with the past was needed and a range of more modern architecture sprung up from the 1950s onwards. Some were good examples of their type but other uglier examples are now being torn down to recreate a flavour of Frankfurt’s lost heritage, with architecture reminiscent of the more picturesque medieval styles of past centuries.
One such project is the ‘Das DomRömer Projekt’, which began this year within the city’s Old Town and aims to recreate a series of historic townhouses, using the original plans of what was Germany’s largest medieval old town, on the site where an unattractive 1970s office block once stood. As part of the project, there are also plans to make more of the Roman remains in the current Archeological Garden next to the site.

Frankfurt Zoo. © The Frankfurt Tourist+Congress Board

Frankfurt Zoo. © The Frankfurt Tourist+Congress Board

Frankfurt is easy to get around as it has an extensive and innovative public transport network, which you can read more about in the panel on p32, and there are various free coach parking lots dotted around the city. The Frankfurt Card provides free travel on the public transport network, as well as discounts at attractions across the city over one or two days and is available to groups at a special discount (for a maximum of five people on one card). Though walking in the centre and along the river is very pleasant, the bus, tram and metro are a great way to reach attractions such as Frankfurt Zoo, the Experiminta science centre – which opened in March – and the wonderful Struwwelpeter Museum, honouring the children’s character – Shock-Haired Peter – created by Dr Heinrich Hoffmann in the 19th century, whose stories have been the stuff of many a child’s nightmares! You can read more about the options for walking, bus and tram tours at the bottom of this feature.

The modern city centre

A good meeting point to start a city tour is the huge Euro sign that marks the site of the European Central Bank at the Eurotower in Kaiserstrasse. The towering skyscraper built in 1977 forms part of the high-rise skyline that has become known as ‘Mainhatten’. First coined as a derogatory term by locals, they have now more fully embraced the concept, and the buildings that came with it! Whilst the building will remain, the bank is set to relocate to the city’s former market hall within a new banking complex in Frankfurt’s Ostend district, due for completion by 2013.

Continuing down Kaiserstrasse and into Am Kaiserplatz brings you to the Commerzbank, currently the tallest building in the European Union at 300 metres high. Designed by Sir Norman Foster and completed in 1997, it was built using an innovative double facade technique that allows air to circulate between the outer and inner layers of glass, leading to huge energy cost savings and gives it a position as the city’s first ‘eco-building’. Sky gardens were created at certain levels and you can stroll through its impressive glass atrium on your way to our next stop, the Main Tower.

The view from the Main Tower. © The Frankfurt Tourist+Congress Board

The view from the Main Tower. © The Frankfurt Tourist+Congress Board

The Main Tower on Neue Mainzer Strasse is the only one of Frankfurt’s high rise buildings to have a viewing platform. Opened in 2000, the building is home to the area’s regional TV studio as well as a restaurant at its peak. Before you ascend, look out for the amazing wall mosaic on the ground floor by Stephan Huber, depicting 50 personalities from the 20th century, all with links to Frankfurt. Groups of 30 or more are offered a discount on the small entrance fee to access the platform, over 200 metres above the city. Here you can see panaromic views over the whole of Frankfurt against the hilly backdrop of the Odenwald, Spessart and Taunus Mountains, stretching from the beginnings of the Europaviertel (European Quarter), set to emerge in the next few years around a new ‘Central Park’ on the site of the former Main Freight and Marshalling Yard, to the Johann Wolfgang Goethe University campus that was once home to a factory making the deadly Cyclon B chemical, and was then occupied by the US Army when Frankfurt became part of the American Zone of Germany after the Second World War.

Close by on Schillerstrasse is the Frankfurt Stock Exchange, which was created in 1585. The current building dates from the late 19th century and also now houses an interesting mix of sculpture. Guided tours of the exchange can be arranged especially for groups to see traders in action on the floor.

In stark contrast to the modern monoliths around it, one of the few houses to be reconstructed in its original style after the Second World War was the Goethe-House, which lies a few streets away from the Commerzbank. The birthplace of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe in 1749, it was here that he began his career as a writer and, in particular, his famous work, Faust. The house, which features original furniture from his time and a recreation of his writing room, has now been extended to include a modern museum, which houses changing exhibitions of painting from his era.

The Alte Oper on Opernplatz

The Alte Oper on Opernplatz

Moving through Goethe- Platz, take a walk down Grosse Bockenheimer Strasse or ‘Fressgass’ – translated as Nosh St (!) – where you will find the pick of the city’s eateries in its culinary mile. You will eventually come out onto the beautiful Opernplatz, site of the Alte Oper or Old Opera House. Built in 1880, it was badly damaged in the Second World War but its facade and forecourt were rebuilt according to original plans in 1981; it is now an internationally acclaimed concert and congress centre, hosting over 300 concerts, balls and other performances across the year. Guided tours of the building can be arranged. The new Oper Frankfurt was built in the 1950s and can be found near Willy-Brandt-Platz, opposite the Eurotower.

Going back along Grosse Bockenheimer Strasse, you will come to the Hauptwache, a former guardhouse, originally erected in 1671 and reconstructed in 1728. It became a cafe in 1904 and the area around it is set to be converted into a public traffic-free square within the next two years.

The interior of My Zeil, which follows on from the vortex-shaped exterior. © The Frankfurt Tourist+Congress Board

The interior of My Zeil, which follows on from the vortex-shaped exterior. © The Frankfurt Tourist+Congress Board

Carry on going and you get to Zeil, Frankfurt’s main shopping promenade, featuring department stores, shopping malls and specialist stores.

One of the most impressive of the shopping malls here is known as ‘My Zeil’. Opened in 2009, it was designed by Italian architect, Massimiliano Fuksas, and features an incredible glass exterior, which recedes into a vortex shape – it really has to be seen to be believed!

Look out also for the Galeria Kaufhof and Peek & Cloppenburg department stores – the former with its eye-catching 1950s architecture and the latter with its 1980s New York-style opulence – and the Zeilgalerie with its roof terrace.

For upmarket designer stores, Goethestrasse, running parallel to Grosse Bockenheimer Strasse is your best bet whilst farmers markets on Schillerstrasse each Friday and every Saturday at the eastern end of the Zeil on Konstablerwache are also worthwhile stopping by if you get the chance.

The old town

Going past the Hauptwache and onto Neue Kräme brings you into Frankfurt’s Old Town, passing the city’s oldest shopping street Töngesgasse, as you go. Here you will find the Kleinmarkthalle, a wonderful indoor grocery market with a multicultural mix of products and some of the best coffee in Frankfurt. There has been a market on the site since the 19th century but the current structure dates from the 1950s and pulls off this retro look to perfection. Look out for the ice cream parlour as you come out of the Hasengasse entrance!

The Kleinmarkthalle. © The Frankfurt Tourist+Congress Board

The Kleinmarkthalle. © The Frankfurt Tourist+Congress Board

At the end of Neue Kräme, you will emerge onto the Römerberg, the city’s main historical square, most of which has been reconstructed since the end of the Second World War, as many of the original medieval buildings were sadly lost during bombing raids. Amongst these were the row of pretty half-timbered townhouses or Ostzeile, rebuilt in 1986 using original plans. The Fountain of Justice stands at the centre of the square, with a bronze 1887 figure of Justitia, the female champion of justice, at its heart, and it is an ideal place to grab a bite to eat during the day at one of the many traditional restaurants.

The Römer or city hall in the square was reconstructed soon after the war, meanwhile, and has been in use since 1405. It was where former rulers of the Holy Roman Empire were presented after their coronation. Take a look inside at the famous ‘Kaisersaal’ or Emperor’s Hall if you can.

Those rulers presented at the Römer were crowned at the nearby Dom, whose original architecture dates from the 13th century, and which became the official site of the elections of emperors and kings in 1356. After a fire in the 19th century, it was largely reconstructed in the Neo-Gothic style and further restoration work was undertaken in the 1950s after bomb damage. There is a small museum within its medieval cloisters and tours can be taken of the interior outside service times.

Frankfurt’s cathedral or Dom. © The Frankfurt Tourist+Congress Board

Frankfurt’s cathedral or Dom. © The Frankfurt Tourist+Congress Board

There are a cluster of museums around the Dom including the Historical Museum Frankfurt – currently shut until early 2012 whilst the 1970s building that it is housed in is replaced by a more modern structure – the Museum of Comical Art and the Museum of Modern Art (MMK) on Domstrasse. The MMK was opened in 1991 so celebrates its 20th birthday this year; designed by the renowned Viennese architect, Hans Hollein, it is thought of as one of the world’s most spectacular examples of postmodern museum architecture. It contains a fascinating triangular interior – and is often referred to as the ‘piece of cake’ – and showcases wonderful examples of European and American art from the 1960s, including work by Andy Warhol, amongst its collections, as well as the very latest international art.

Whilst on Domstrasse, make sure you stop at the window of the Bitter & Zart sweetshop, whose diplays are an artwork in themselves.

On the opposite side of the Old Town from the Dom is St Paul’s Church (Paulskirche), the seat of the first German National Assembly in 1848. Consecrated in 1833, it was rebuilt in the 1950s after bomb damge and incorporates an interior chain motif within its design to symbolise light and peace. There is now an exhibition space on its ground floor whilst its airy and round main chapel is used mainly for political and cultural events.

Look out too for the narrow green spaces that run along the former course of the Medieval City Walls, which were landscaped in the early 19th century and form a semi-circle around the Old Town.

Across the Main – the Museum Embankment and Sachsenhausen

As you leave the Old Town, you are greeted with the tranquil sight of the Main River as it winds its way through the city. The pedestrian-only Iron Bridge (Eiserner Steg) is one of several that span its width, but is one of the most interesting. It is over 100 years old and as you climb its steps, you can see markings on the wall depicting flood levels through the ages.

Once on the river’s southern bank, you will find the Museum Embankment and wider Sachsenhausen district, which has a more intimate surburban villagey feel compared to the northern side, survived much better during the Second World War, and is home to some grand houses and most of the city’s famous apple wine and cider bars.

The Städel Museum. © The Frankfurt Tourist+Congress Board

The Städel Museum. © The Frankfurt Tourist+Congress Board

The Museum Embankment is a series of 14 institutions that run side by side along the river, stretching from the Friedensbrücke (Peace Bridge) to the Alte Brücke (Old Bridge). The buildings are all villas dating from the 19th and early 20th century, which have been extended with modern additions and are now under a heritage protection order. The Museum Embankment Festival takes place every year in August and is Europe’s largest cultural festival, including arts and craft stalls, live music and food from around the world.

Amongst the institutions here are the German Film Museum – with a daily arthouse cinema programme – the German Architecture Museum and the Museum of Applied Art, one of the leading international museums of its type founded in 1877. It has a particualrly good programme of guided tours for groups.

The Städel Museum (Museum of Old Masters), meanwhile, has an impressive collection of art spanning seven centuries. Highlights include work by Botticelli, Rembrandt, Bacon and Picasso. February next year will see the unveiling of a new underground extension that will provide further space for the expanding collection.

A green wreath depicting an apple wine bar in the Sachsenhausen district. © The Frankfurt Tourist+Congress Board

A green wreath depicting an apple wine bar in the Sachsenhausen district. © The Frankfurt Tourist+Congress Board

Walking further on into the Sachsenhausen district – which was a separate village right up until the 19th century – you will find the pick of the city’s traditional cider and apple wine bars – or Ebbelwei pubs – particularly on the Klappergasse in Old Sachsenhausen, which did retain some of its original medieval half-timbered houses. The apple wine culture has played an important role in the city for hundreds of years and the huge popularity it still retains to this day first began in the 16th and 17th centuries, when it became a substitute for regular wine, the production of which suffered heavily from various vine diseases in Frankfurt at that time. It reached its peak in the middle of the 18th century, when a change in climate meant that grapes simply wouldn’t ripen anymore. Many publicans were forced to look for alternatives – and thus the first apple wine taverns were established. Upon obtaining official licenses, publicans were allowed to sell their own brews, a tradition which still exists today. A green wreath was displayed outside a tavern to show that apple wine was served within, and these symbols still depict venues that offer apple wine today.

There are also a wealth of good coffee shops and restaurants around the narrow and winding alleyways of the Sachsenhausen district. In particular look out for Depot 1899, the city’s old tram depot, which has been transformed into a modern bar and restaurant, and is ideal for group meals.

Tours with the Frankfurt guides

Anne Katrin Schreiner

Anne Katrin Schreiner

Anne Katrin Schreiner, who is also an artist, was the very pleasant and informative guide who took the author on her walking tour of Frankfurt. There are numerous options on subjects including the Jewish Frankfurt, Following in Goethe’s Footsteps and Criminal History in Frankfurt, and coach tours are also available. All Frankfurt Guides work on a freelance basis and are bookable through the Frankfurt Tourist+Congress Board – CityTours
Tel: 0049 (0)69 21 23 89 53
Email:citytours@infofrankfurt.de
Web: www.frankfurt-tourismus.de

If you have an iPhone or iPod Touch, then you can also download an audiovisual iTour of the city from the Apple Appstore, or hire an iPod Touch at Frankfurt’s Tourist Information Offices at the Hauptbahnhof railway station or at the Romer. Various free apps can be downloaded for smartphones to read special bar or ‘QR’ codes, and you can also find these codes dotted around at sights in the city, which allow the user to access further tourist information.

OPEN-TOP BUS TOURS

Open top bus

City Sightseeing operates open-top hop-on, hop-off bus tours around Frankfurt with a choice of a City Tour, covering the main sightseeing hotspots, or the new extended Skyline Tour, concentrating on the high-rise skyline and ongoing urban development of the city; passengers are also able to swap between the two. It is worth noting that private tours or charters are not available.
Web: www.citysightseeing-frankfurt.com

© The Frankfurt Tourist+Congress Board

© The Frankfurt Tourist+Congress Board

TRAM & AIRPORT TOURS

Another great way to explore the city is on the Ebbelwei (Apple Wine) Express. The period streetcar makes its way around the city whilst you sample a glass or two of Frankfurt apple wine. There are scheduled services on Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays, for which a free audio podcast can be downloaded (only in German) for mobile phones and MP3 players, but you can also hire the tram for your group, provide your own food, and use the services of a city guide onboard.
Web:www.ebbelwei-express.com

Tours of Frankfurt Airport also provide a different perspective on the city and options include Zeppelin Tours, which include a visit to the onsite Zeppelin Museum.
Web:www.frankfurtairport.com/content/frankfurt_airport/en/shop_enjoy0/airport_sightseeingtours.html

Frankfurt Airport © The Frankfurt Tourist+Congress Board Fraport AG

© The Frankfurt Tourist+Congress Board Fraport AG

Or why not try a bike or Segway tour by contacting the Frankfurt Tourist Board.

On the river

Exploring Frankfurt’s sights from the River Main is a great way to understand how the city interacts with the water, and also to spot some of the many river cruise ships that stop off in Frankfurt as part of longer Rhine, Moselle and Danube cruises.

River Main. © The Frankfurt Tourist+Congress Board

River Main. © The Frankfurt Tourist+Congress Board

Primus-Linie is a family-run company that has been operating in one form or another since 1880. Today, the fleet comprises five large modern ships operating daytime sightseeing trips, evening and dinner cruises on the River Main, and longer journeys to destinations further afield such as Rüdesheim and Mainz. Group rates and special harters are available.
Web:www.primus-linie.de

Köln-Düsseldorfer Cruise Lines also operates on the Main onboard the MS Palladium, which was launched in 2006. As well as daily river cruises, charter cruises are offered to groups of around 60 to 200 people.
Web:www.k-d.de/english/kd-round-trips/kd-round-trips-in-frankfurt/

Hotel with an illustrious story to tell

For those looking for a luxury stay whilst in Frankfurt, the Steigenberger Frankfurter Hof has been an iconic venue in the city for 130 years, and it still retains its 19th century facade. The five-star hotel is one of the top 100 in the world and a member of the Leading Hotels of the World group. Set right within the Banking District, it is an attraction in itself, housing valauble antiques including Goblin Tapestries. It has a critically-acclaimed gourmet restaurant, amazing bistro terraces from which to enjoy the world going by and a wonderfully elegant Authors’ Bar & Lounge. It has played host to many important visitors through the ages including presidents and heads of state such as Queen Victoria and Francois Mitterand, and musicians such as Elton John and The Rolling Stones.

Jürgen Carl

Jürgen Carl

One of the most unique facets of the hotel is its concierge, Jürgen Carl, who at 71 has been manning his desk for over 40 years, and is a member of the Clefs D’Or or Golden Keys, the international association of professional hotel concierges. He has become almost as famous as the hotel, not least because of the attentive service and wealth of information – particularly about literature and film – that guests can glean from him. He notoriety has spread so far, in fact, that he has written a book about his experiences, Concierge – Happiness is Being of Service to Others, currently only available in German.

If you are thinking of planning a stay at the Frankfurter Hof, then look for deals when the hotel is less busy with business travellers – during the summer months, at weekends, and in the festive period to coincide with the Frankfurt Christmas Market.

Ahead of the transport game

In recent years, Frankfurt has proven itself as leading the way in the progression of public transport technology. In 2010, the German national transport operator Deutsche Bahn’s ‘Touch & Travel’ mobile phone-based payment and ticketing project was rolled out to the city, allowing enabled smartphone users to check in via touchpoints at the start and end of their train journey; payment is then made from a linked Deutsche Bahn account and the customer is billed monthly via direct debit. Frankfurt’s own transport authority, RMV, introduced similar touchpoints this year at its bus stops and train stations around the city and Frankfurt’s transport operator, VGF, worked with them last year to place smart posters, known as Info-Modules, in carriages on Frankfurt’s U-Bahn underground network. This allows passengers to hover over bar or ‘QR’ codes and receive real time travel information as well as news of special events and local points of interest. The Ebbelwei Express uses similar technology, allowing customers to access photos and descriptions of sites enroute.

How to get there

The city’s international airport – where a new runway and terminal are being built – is only a few minutes via train from Frankfurt’s main railway station, Hauptbahnhof, one of the largest in Germany and an impressive sight with its Neo Renaissance and Neo Classical architecture; the city is also well connected to the rest of Germany via the local autobahn network.

Lufthansa now operates a total of 111 direct weekly flights from London City, Gatwick and Heathrow airports to Frankfurt, with the introduction of a new twice daily service from Gatwick beginning on 30th October. The airline also flies from Birmingham, Manchester, Newcastle, Edinburgh and will begin a new thrice-daily service from Aberdeen, also in October.

Hautbahnhof.

Hautbahnhof.

Frankfurt is easily reached by rail too; perhaps the best route to take is via Eurostar from London St Pancras International or Ebbsfleet International in Kent to Brussels-Midi in Belgium and then onwards via Deutsche Bahn’s high speed ICE trains straight through to Frankfurt. This takes around five and a half hours at present but travelling time should be reduced by around an hour once direct ICE services from London St Pancras to Cologne begin in 2013.

Our thanks to Frankfurt Tourist+Congress Board for its hospitality to Abbe Bates during her visit to the city.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION

Contact Gisela Moser, Manager International Marketing, Frankfurt Tourist+Congress Board
Telephone 0049 (0)69 21 23 03 98
Fax 0049 (0)69 21 23 78 80
Email tourismus@infofrankfurt.de
Web www.frankfurt-tourismus.de

The wonderful world of Cruising

A cruise combines the excitement of travel with the luxury and style of the ocean liner. And it opens up many new places to visit for groups. With more choice than ever, you might be surprised by what the market has to offer Tom Evans reports.

Heading towards a penguin colony with Hurtigruten

Heading towards a penguin colony with Hurtigruten

Cruises come in all shapes and sizes and GTOs now have a range of fantastic options to consider when planning a journey – including length of voyage, destinations and departure points, specialist activities, types of vessel and an assortment of excursions.
Liners leave from ports all over the world and groups can elect to travel from the British mainland, take the option of a fly-cruise or add a short voyage as an extra activity to an itinerary when visiting an area.
The world is your oyster, and to help pin point the different cruise lines around the world, at the end of this feature you will find a comprehensive map that lists all the major players in the market, and where they sail from and to.
The time spent on a cruise can vary immensely, from overnight trips to a 114-night round the world voyage. Most cruise lines now offer 3-, 4- or 6-day cruises and these are great options for those with budget limitations or those who do not want to spend their entire trip on a cruise.
Groups wishing to take a longer cruise do, however, have some wonderful destinations and routes to consider, including sailings from Southampton to Barbados, from Dover to Tallinn and from Liverpool to the Adriatic. Cruises provide the ability to see many different places in a relatively short space of time and a considerable benefit to GTOs is that they are fairly easy to plan; with no travel arrangements, hotel bookings or meals to sort out after boarding.
Another benefit of choosing a cruise as a group trip is the fact that there aren’t going to be many extra expenses, making it easier to budget.
A number of lines offer all-inclusive deals, and those that do not often include meals and entertainment in the booking price. Cruises also offer opportunities to explore places that you might not otherwise get to see, such as deserted islands, arctic wonders and the deep ocean – as well as cities that may be costly or not easy to reach by plane.
It is no wonder then that cruising is booming and now accounts for 11.7% of the total overseas package holiday market. Figures from the Passenger Shipping Association (PSA) show that British holiday makers took a record 1.62 million cruises in 2010, a 6% increase on the previous year. At the same time, cruising from British ports increased by 10%, with more than 650,000 people choosing to depart from the UK, while fly-cruises saw an increase of 3%. Over the five-year period from 2010 to 2014, 31 cruise vessels have been scheduled for delivery, further illustrating the optimism and continued success of the cruise sector. The figures, which are impressive considering the challenging year that most of the travel industry experienced, are attributed to greater value being offered by operators, as well as the high standards of service found on a cruise holiday. Yet the popularity of cruising is set to continue further, with the PSA forecasting that passenger numbers will reach 1.7 million in 2011, and a record breaking two million by 2014. A significant proportion of these are groups – although some are informal parties organised by friends who like the experience of sharing time together – and this number is growing.
The Mediterranean remains the most popular cruise destination for British travellers, with 43% of those booking a cruise choosing the region, whilst Northern Europe takes second place ahead of the Caribbean in third. Meanwhile, the introduction of more cruise options to less traditional destinations, such as the Amazon, Antarctic and Gulf States, and the diversity of liners, activities and cruise length, are changing the very nature of what a cruise can be and attracting new audiences. As William Gibbons, PSA Director, points out: ‘The sheer diversity of the cruise market means there is a holiday for everyone, whether it’s a cruise departing from the UK, an ultra-luxury experience in the Caribbean…or a photographic expedition to the fjords, many more people are getting onboard to discover a world of cruising.’
An increasing number of cruise lines are offering group packages and some are actively courting the group market, however recent figures on group travel in this sector are a little hard to come by.

A choice of vessels

The type of vessel chosen for a cruise can depend on the experience that you are seeking and the length of journey or destinations you choose.
The architecture, size and amenities vary greatly from ship to ship, with some able to carry more than 6,000 passengers over 16 decks, while others provide a more intimate environment, with room for just over 100 passengers over a couple of levels.
Royal Caribbean has six different class of ship, ranging from the Oasis class, which includes its newest and biggest vessels, to the Vision class, which are their most travelled liners and designed to go almost anywhere. The company’s ‘Oasis of the Seas’, along with its sister ship ‘Allure of the Seas’, is the largest cruise ship in the world – with a capacity of 6,296 guests – and truly is a feat of architecture and imagination. Measuring 1187 feet in length, it is designed around seven neighbourhood concepts, each with a distinct personality and range of sights and activities. Onboard guests will find the amphitheatre style AquaTheater and a revolutionary green public space, Central Park, home to more than 12,000 plants.

Dining onboard Fred. Olsen’s Balmoral

Dining onboard Fred. Olsen’s Balmoral

SeaDream Yacht Club, meanwhile, offers a different experience to big ship cruising. There is room for just 112 guests onboard its mega-yachts, where guests can enjoy the ultimate in luxury, privacy and pampering.
Another company offering a more intimate experience onboard yachtstyle vessels is Seabourn. Three of their ships carry just 208 passengers, while their newer ships, ‘Seabourn Odyssey’, ‘Seabourn Sojourn’ and ‘Seabourn Quest’, accommodate 450 guests. Innovative onboard features include Seabourn Square, which replaces the traditional reception lobby with a club-like room that combines a library and discreet guest services centre with a social lounge and konditerei-style coffee bar.
Windstar offers a slightly different cruising experience, with the choice of three magnificent looking sailing yachts that travel to nearly 50 nations. The ships feature towering triangular computer-operated sails and guests can enjoy alfresco dining underneath them on the teak-lined decks. The ships can accommodate between 148 and 312 guests and are available to charter.

Three tall ships, meanwhile, are operated by Star Clippers to destinations around the world. The company operates the largest barquentine and full-rigged sailing ships in the world. The four and five masted ships, ‘Star Clipper’, ‘Star Flyer’ and ‘Royal Clipper’, have been extensively re-furbished and provide the amenities and atmosphere associated with newer ships.
A range of mid-sized vessels are operated by Louis Cruises, which retain the look of a traditional cruise ship. Used primarily around the Mediterranean, the size of the vessel means that they are able to visit just about any port in the region and you can often walk straight down the gangplank to explore ashore.
Other lines that take the traditional approach with smaller or mid-sized vessels include Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines and the specialist services such as Hurtigruten.

A range of new cruise ships will appear on the seas over the next few years as lines replace old vessels or add to their fleet. Oceania Cruises’ new luxury cruise ship, ‘Marina’, was launched earlier in the year and is the fourth in the company’s fleet, joining ‘Regatta’, ‘Insignia’ and ‘Nautica’. Her sister ship, ‘Riviera’, is currently being built and will debut in April 2012. ‘Marina’ features 10 exceptional dining venues, a full-service spa and fitness centre and will carry 1,250 guests to the world’s most alluring ports in elegance and style.
The environmental credentials of cruising have been in the news recently and MSC’s latest ship, the ‘MSC Divina’, will, it claims, be a model for green cruises with a total of 1,739 cabins. The new vessel is expected to earn the top A rating for reducing carbon emissions from Shippingefficiency.org – a new website that allows users to consult independent energy efficiency ratings for ocean-going vessels.

MSC Cruise’s Sinfonia in port

MSC Cruise’s Sinfonia in port

Enhancing the cruise experience

Most cruise lines offer wonderful dining and leisure experiences, but some are adding to this with a range of themed cruises, specialist activities and learning opportunities.
Passengers onboard one of Celebrity Cruises’ ships, for example, can make the most of an assortment of activities designed to spark intellectual curiosity. The focus is on entertaining as well as learning with the ‘Celebrity Life experiences’, which include Hot Glass ShowSM, where attendees can witness the incredible art of glassblowing with an intimate demonstration. In addition, the line has introduced the ‘Celebrity Life Savor’ cruise series this year. Geared to those with a fine appreciation of food and wine, the special cruises will see a renowned guest chef or wine maker invited aboard to demonstrate different techniques and lead classes.
Those keen on outdoor fitness will be intrigued by Carnival Cruise Lines’ newest vessel, ‘Carnival Magic’. The ship’s innovative and expansive outdoor recreation area, portSquare, is an active cruiser’s paradise, featuring the first ropes course at sea and a huge outdoor fitness area. Guests can enjoy a round of golf on the two-level nine-hole miniature course and run along the 800-foot jogging path. The 3,690- passenger ‘Carnival Magic’ is set to debut in Europe with 7-, 9- and 12- night Mediterranean cruises from 1st May to 16th October 2011.
An extensive entertainment programme is offered by Norwegian Cruise Line, which stages a number of performances throughout an evening. Onboard its ships, guests can enjoy some wonderful musical productions, including Broadway shows, comedy and pianists in the bars. Additionally, the Blue Man Group, a world famous act that combines music, comedy and multimedia theatrics, can be enjoyed on the ‘Norwegian Epic’ liner. The wide-ranging programme ties in with the line’s free-style concept of cruising, which allows passengers to choose where and when they dine to fit in with different shows.
A number of cruise lines now offer themed cruises, especially during the quieter winter months. They can often prove good value for groups and cover a variety of activities or interest, from wine tasting and culinary experiences to Elvis-themed voyages. MSC, for instance, offers a transatlantic dance cruise, which includes lessons from professional dancers and costume evenings, while Crystal Cruises has a collection of themed cruises that cover digital filmmaking, jazz, big band and ballroom dancing, and floral design.
Meanwhile, Fred. Olsen Cruise Line’s new Vistas programme provides the opportunity for groups to indulge in a specialist subject or activity. The wide range of special interest cruises, further details of which can be found in the panel on the left, is brought to life by a team of world-renowned experts and provides a wonderful learning environment, where guests can attend informative talks and join excursions linked to the area of interest. In addition, many of the line’s cruises offer an exclusive package for golfers at an additional charge; Flagship Golf combines four rounds of golf, played at selected courses ashore, onboard professional tuition, practice sessions, and social activity for golfers and non-playing partners.

Travelling to different destinations

Hurtigruten’s MS Kong Harald

Hurtigruten’s MS Kong Harald

A growing number of cruise lines now sail from British ports, catering for the increasing number of customers who prefer not to fly. P&O Cruises is one of the largest lines operating from the UK, with seven ships based in Southampton. It offers a range of relatively short distance cruises to the Mediterranean, the Baltic and the Canary Islands, as well as more epic journeys, such as a 51- night voyage to Sydney.
Cunard also operates a selection of cruises from Southampton, including its famous transatlantic crossing to New York, which takes around seven nights.
Saga offers cruises from Dover and Southampton to the Arctic, Mediterranean, Canary Islands, Northern Europe and the Caribbean, while you can sail from almost any British port with Fred. Olsen.
Lines based overseas also offer sailings from British ports, primarily out of the main cruise port of Southampton. Celebrity Cruises provides the opportunity to sample an American-style of cruising while sailing from Southampton to the Mediterranean, Norwegian Fjords, Canary Islands and around Ireland, whilst MSC operates 13 cruises a year from the southern port, with a choice of 8 to 10-night itineraries to the fjords, the Baltics and Northern and Western Europe.

Cruising opens up destinations that other forms of travel are unable to reach and none are more remote than the Arctic and Antarctic Circles. Hurtigruten is one line that offers a comprehensive collection of voyages to remote, beautiful and dramatic coastlines in the far north and south. A range of popular sailings are offered along the Norwegian coast (you can read more on this in the ‘Searching for the Northern Lights’ section) and to more unusual destinations such as Greenland, which can take between 6 and 15 days. One of its unique cruises is the Polar Circle Quest, which departs from Buenos Aires and sails deep into the Southern Ocean to take passengers to the Antarctic Circle.
Exotic destinations, such as those in the Caribbean or Pacific Ocean, are great places to explore by cruise ship. The Virgin Islands, French West Indies, Barbados and Costa Rica can be seen with Windstar, on voyages lasting between 6 and 14 days.

One of Windstar’s yachts under sail in Porto, Portugal

One of Windstar’s yachts under sail in Porto, Portugal

Holland America, meanwhile, offers the opportunity to experience the Caribbean onboard their midsized ships and discover picturesque destinations that are not always accessible by larger vessels. Passengers can explore the line’s award-winning private island, Half Moon Cay, and choose from Eastern, Western or Southern cruises around the region. Alternatively, those looking to explore the Hawaiian Islands could take a 14- or 15-day cruise from San Francisco or Los Angeles with Princess Cruises.
Spirit of Adventure, meanwhile, offers a range of cruises to India and Sri Lanka. The two-week ‘Colour of India’ voyage balances days in vibrant cities, such as Mumbai and Colombo, with visits to traditional villages and the beautiful shores of Goa. Excursions on the enthralling ‘Colours of India’ cruise, meanwhile, allow passengers to get closer to and discover more about Indian culture, while the ‘Colonial Spice Ports’ cruise uncovers the colonial and indigenous histories of both Asia and the Indian subcontinent.
In response to strong demand for some of its more exotic itineraries, Seabourn will sail between Hong Kong and Singapore on five 14-day voyages in 2012, which include a call at the up and coming beach resort of Sihanoukville in Cambodia.
The Mediterranean is the most popular cruise destination for British holidaymakers and a number of lines offer services to its many ports and off shore islands. Groups can chose from 3 to 12-night cruises with Louis Cruises, which depart from France and Italy and travel to a range of ports including Rome, Venice, Barcelona and a number in the Middle East. Its widest range of itineraries are available between March and November, however winter sun cruises are offered and usually incorporate the Canaries and Madeira with southern Spain.
The Italian cruise line, and the largest operator in Europe, Costa Cruises, also offers a range of voyages around the Mediterranean, including trips to Croatia, Egypt, Greece, Slovenia and Romania. All ships have a certain Italian style and its large fleet means that regular sailings are available to most destinations.
Less traditional cruises to the Persian Gulf States are becoming more popular, with Dubai and Abu Dhabi, in particular, proving a big draw with their modern ports and tranquil beaches. Royal Caribbean has a 7-night round cruise to Dubai, sailing to Jordan and Abu Dhabi, while P&O Cruises sail its ‘Oriana’ vessel from Southampton to Dubai on an 18-night voyage.
MSC Cruises will deploy one of its top vessels, the 2,069 passenger capacity, ‘Lirica’, to Abu Dhabi and Dubai on a homeport basis from October 2011, further illustrating the area’s ambition to become an international cruise hub. The liner will offer 19 eight-day cruises,covering five destinations, between October and March 2012.

Attracting different audiences

As lines offer more cruises each year, many are attempting to differentiate themselves and attract new audiences, while retaining existing customers, by offering incentives, attractions and destinations aimed at particular target markets.
Some, such as Crystal Cruises and Cunard, reward regular passengers with membership to societies or clubs that provide onboard benefits and exclusive offers.
Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines has been very successful in developing a loyal customer base, boasting over a 50% success rate in repeat bookings across its operation. The line has been targeting those looking for an experience, and not just a standard cruise, with its Vistas programme and is actively courting the group market with tailormade packages.

Relaxing in the Thermal Suite with Holland America Line

Relaxing in the Thermal Suite with Holland America Line

With the rise in the number of holidaymakers choosing to cruise, lines are having to re-think the different experiences they provide. Many are attempting to attract first time cruisers, who may be put off by the tradition of evening dress codes and formal dining, by offering a less regimented cruise experience. Norwegian Cruise Line prides itself on its ‘Freestyle Cruising’, which offers passengers greater choice and freedom during a voyage. The concept is popular with a diverse crowd, but especially with families who enjoy the flexibility it provides.
The ‘traditional’ cruise passenger market, consisting of adults over 45, is still as important as ever to lines and a number now operate adult only ships. P&O will transform ‘Oriana’ into an adult-only vessel at the end of 2011, while Saga specialises in cruises for passengers over the age of 50.
The higher end of the market is targeted by a number of lines, which offer five- and six-star cruises. Many in this category use smaller vessels, to provide a more intimate feel, and travel to exotic and prestigious destinations. Regent Seven Seas provides a highly-personalised, all inclusive service across its ultra luxury fleet, which is designed for guests in the hundreds rather than the thousands. Silversea, meanwhile, aims to attract the top end of the market by offering a butler service, spacious ocean-view suites and enrichment programmes.
Activities, unusual destinations and themes are used by a growing number of lines to tailor cruises to niche audiences. Hurtigruten targets those over 50 who are not regular cruisers with its voyages to the Arctic and Antarctic, Windstar attracts active and adventurous cruisers, while Holland America provides a choice of cruises for singles.

A select look at specialist cruises and group cruise operators

Specialist cruises are being offered by an increasing number of lines and tour companies to cater for niche interest groups and meet the demand for more active holidays.
A new programme of special interest cruises has recently been launched by FRED. OLSEN CRUISE LINES. With the strapline of ‘Rewarding Curiosity’, the Vistas range of cruises, which replaces The ArtsClub, provides groups with the opportunity to find out more about subjects that interest them. Guests are free to participate in specialist talks and activities as the will takes them, all at no extra cost – although there may be a small charge to take part in wine tasting.
The specialist cruises cover a wide range of themes, subjects and interests, and include ‘The History of Weather’, ‘Photography’, ‘Ballroom Dancing’, ‘Antiques’, ‘Chocoholics’, ‘The Archers’, ‘Agatha Christie’, ‘Sporting Personalities’, ‘Gardens and Gardening’, ‘Wine’ and ‘Comedy’.

You can book a ‘Chocoholics’ cruise with Fred. Olsen

You can book a ‘Chocoholics’ cruise with Fred. Olsen

The Vistas programme promises even more rewarding experiences than its predecessor through offering an expanded variety of practical talks and engaging lectures. In addition, guests will be able to take their new knowledge ashore, with the option to book an excursion linked to the subject of interest. For example, painting or photography enthusiasts may get the chance to visit an artist’s house, or a particularly scenic site.
A host of well-known guest speakers will share their vast knowledge with guests in 2011 including: Martin Saunders, the BBC wildlife cameraman; Mike Cowan, former England Cricketer and fast bowler; Dr. Mike Maloney, OBE, the former Group Chief Photographer of Mirror Group Newspapers; Mike Purcell, watercolourist and broadcaster; and Rosalind Cooper, wine educator.
A dedicated new website, www.fredolsencruises-vistas.com, has been created to support the new onboard experience and provides information about guest speakers and the different themes available to groups.

Meanwhile, RAMBLERS WORLDWIDE HOLIDAYS has expanded its highly successful ‘Cruise & Walk’ programme, which it organises in association with Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines. The holidays range from 4 to 21 nights in duration and combine luxury cruising with a new destination each day, to explore on foot. Diverse walking programmes take in coastal ports, surrounding countryside, local sights and cultures, with local guides often used to take groups around towns and cities.

Ramblers travellers spend time onshore as part of a UK cruise

Ramblers travellers spend time onshore as part of a UK cruise

Cruises around Norway, including ‘Fjords of Norway’ and ‘Land of the Midnight Sun’, are some of the most popular trips that the company organises, while the new ‘Norwegian Winter’ cruise travels to beyond the Arctic Circle, mixing daytime city sightseeing with views of the spectacular Northern Lights at night.
In the springtime, coastal walking and sightseeing can be enjoyed in Portugal, Spain and Gibraltar on board the ‘Western Mediterranean’ cruise, while a winter sun trip, in November, travels to Portugal, the Canaries and Cape Verde.
Groups can sample Europe’s northern capitals of culture on one of the ‘Baltic Discovery’ cruises, while those wishing to explore destinations closer to home can take advantage of the ‘Roaming Around Britain’ programme, which allows groups to enjoy some superb coastal walks.
Some cruise operators are simply not set up to accommodate group business directly, with calls often answered by retail sales administrators inexperienced in the groups market and its specialised focus. A number are adapting to the needs of groups and now offer a dedicated service, but GTOs may like to consider using one of the group cruise specialists who can assist with the booking process, help tailor packages and negotiate rates. CRUISE FOR GROUPS, for instance, is a cruise business dedicated to group cruising and aims to provide GTOs with a one stop shop when booking a voyage. The company can help with brand selection, group allocations and negotiating the best deal for group cruises. Ship visits, which are offered frequently throughout the year, can also be arranged and provide a great way of assessing ship facilities, such as cabin layouts and wheelchair accessibility.
A number of liners, including HURTIGRUTEN, LOUIS CRUISES, FRED. OLSEN and SPIRIT OF ADVENTURE, do offer incentives for groups though, such as special fares, cabin upgrades, complimentary activities or room hire, free onboard spend and assistance with travel planning. GTOs are advised to check with individual lines about the benefits they provide or use a group cruise specialist who can help find the best deals.

Round the world cruises

Sailing around the globe is viewed as one of the great travel experiences and offers a once in a lifetime opportunity to see the world’s most famous cities, beautiful islands, intriguing cultures and natural wonders in a single trip.
There is no other voyage to match the thrill, excitement and luxury of cruising around the world and in 2012 SAGA are offering a 114-night cruise, taking a westbound route from Southampton to visit 38 ports.

The deck of the Saga Ruby

The deck of the Saga Ruby

The journey is taken onboard ‘Saga Ruby’, which takes passengers back to a more gracious era of ocean cruising with her classic lines, broad decks and elegant furnishings. Evening shows, classical recitals, lectures and a spa add to the experience and provide something for everyone, day or night.
The trip begins with a classic transatlantic crossing to the Caribbean and South America, after which a host of Pacific islands, such as Papeete in Tahiti, are explored. New Zealand and Australia are then visited, before the mysteries of the Far East, India and Oman are investigated. There is then the chance to explore Egypt, Malta and Lisbon, before the liner sails back home to the UK.
Before setting off, a welcome cocktail party and Captain’s Dinner provides the opportunity to meet fellow cruisegoers, the Captain and senior crew members and, during the trip, guests can enjoy fine dining, excursions and a range of onboard activities.
A number of other cruise lines also offer round the world trips, with the choice of eastward and westward routes.
In 1922, CUNARD was the first operator to offer a cruise around the globe and to celebrate the 90th anniversary of this elegant tradition, two of its famous ocean liners, ‘Queen Mary 2’ and ‘Queen Elizabeth’, will depart from Southampton on 10th January for 107 and 108 days respectively.
P&O offers two round the world trips a year, with a 98-night cruise onboard its ‘Aurora’, which follows the traditional westward route, and a 97-night cruise onboard the ‘Oriana’ that takes the more unusual eastward route.
SEABOURN, meanwhile, will offer a 109-day world cruise from Fort Lauderdale, in Florida, to Venice, Italy onboard the ultra-luxury liner, ‘Seabourn Quest’ when it launches in June.
Also sailing out of Fort Lauderdale, HOLLAND AMERICA has a 112-day round-trip which travels westwards around Cape Horn to Antarctica, the South Pacific, Asia, India, and the Mediterranean.

Searching for the Northern Lights

The natural phenomenon of the Northern Lights, caused by electrically charged solar particles passing into the Earth’s atmosphere, have drawn visitors to the north of Norway for years and can be viewed today on a cruise to the area.
All HURTIGRUTEN Northern Lights Cruises operate in the region where sightings are most likely, with the best time to visit being in late autumn and in winter/early spring when the lights are at their most frequent.

Northern Lights 1

The company offer a series of classic voyages, including a 7-day trip north and a 6-day trip south along the Norwegian coast, as well as a round sailing that combines both routes and takes 12 days. On the round trip, passengers join the ship in Bergen, Norway’s second largest city, to embark on a journey that takes them from the beautiful south, to the wild and remote north, and then back again. Regular optional excursions are available along the way and the ports that are passed during the night on the northbound voyage are visited by day on the return south, ensuring you get to fully experience this fascinating coast.

Northern Lights 2

Those looking for a more active experience may like to consider one of Hurtigruten’s Northern Lights Adventure cruises. The trips vary in length, between 6 and 11 days, and offer the opportunity to sledge with reindeer, cook King Crab cakes up on deck and learn about the Arctic night sky while hunting the lights.
The northern part of Norway is sometimes referred to as the ‘land of light and darkness’ – the midnight sun in summer and the northern light in the winter. The phenomenon of midnight sun, which can only be seen north of the polar circle, can be experienced on one of Hurtigruten’s summer cruises, from May to July. Travelling during 24 hours of continuous sunlight, the trips at this time of year offer the opportunity to sightsee day and night and enjoy a number of different excursions, such as attending an intimate midnight concert or visiting Svartisen – Norway’s second largest glacier.
Discounts of up to 30% are available to groups, depending on the season, and the company has a dedicated groups department based in the UK.