Why Travel to Heidelberg, Germany?
“Ich habe mein Herz in Heidelberg verloren” as the old song goes (translation: I lost my heart in Heidelberg). I studied here from August 2011-August 2012 and as corny as it sounds… really did lose my heart here. However, Heidelberg is often overlooked by American tourists, who may have never heard of it. With the beautiful architecture, castle, and history, there is so much to explore.
It is also a rare surviving relic from an older time. Most of Germany was destroyed during World War II, but Heidelberg remained intact. Specific cities were spared from the Allied bombings, with Heidelberg being one of them.
How to Get to Heidelberg, Germany
The easiest way to get to Heidelberg is by flying through Frankfurt, Frankfurth-Hahn, or Stuttgart. Frankfurt is the larger airport, so this will likely be the way you come in from the United States. Once you arrive, it is possible to drive. However, Germany has a great public transportation system, so I recommend taking advantage of the trains and buses. Most of the city center in Heidelberg is pedestrian-only anyway, so you don’t need a car.
When you come to Frankfurt, look for the “Fernbahn” or long-distance trains. The train ride will be relatively quick to Heidelberg and you’ll be dropped off at the Heidelberg Hauptbahnhof (Heidelberg Main Train Station). From there, you can grab a bus to the city center.
If you are studying abroad, you may take RyanAir and come through Frankfurt-Hahn. In this case, you can grab the bus (Flixbus is very convenient) to the Heidelberg Hauptbahnhof.
Planning Your Trip: When to Go
There are always festivities going in Heidelberg. Below are a few:
The castle is lit through Bengali flares creating a magical view from afar. Later there are fireworks over the Neckar (which is the river that runs through Heidelberg). This is generally held twice a year and is absolutely gorgeous.
German Christmas markets are famous world-wide (and for a reason!) Heidelberg’s Christmas market is very charming, with an ice skating rink and lots of shops. While many people have heard of Gluehwein (mulled wine), I recommend going for Feuerzangenbowle. Sugar is lit on fire and drips into the wine, forming a delicious drink. Be sure to also grab a souvenir glass (These come with the drinks). They show festive scenes and are created each year for each city.
Heidelberg Herbstfest (Heidelberg Autumn Festival):
If you’re not big on crowds, this may not be the time to go for you. However, this festival has live music and lots of events. It’s very popular among locals and US military personnel, who are stationed in Germany.
In my opinion, there’s no bad time to go to Heidelberg. There’s always plenty to do. Heidelberg does have four seasons, but it doesn’t snow as much as where I am originally from (Northeast US).
What to See in Heidelberg
Heidelberg has so much to see! Find a list below of the main highlights. I’ve grouped each of these by section to make it easier to plan your day.
The Castle and the Surrounding Area
1. The Castle
This is the most well known site in Heidelberg and is kept in its current condition (since that’s how tourists recognize it). The castle has been repeatedly been attacked and even struck by lightning.
So what can you do when you visit the castle?
- The Pharmacy Museum
- The Castle itself – There are also tours available in both English and German.
- The Wine Barrel – This is the world’s largest wine barrel and can hold 220,000 liters (Yum!)
The best time to see the castle is during the Schlossbeleuchtung (as noted above). It’s truly stunning to see the castle at night.
A train will take you all the way up to the top or you can hike. Koenigstuhl offers arguably the best view of the city. Just in case being 1,700 feet up isn’t enough of a reason to go, there is also a falcon breeding station and a fairytale-themed park for children.
The Altstadt (or the Old City)
Please note that as you enter the old city that most of Heidelberg had been burnt to the ground. This has actually given Heidelberg a very unique look. The roads all date back to the middle ages, while most of the houses date back to the Baroque time period. I’d recommend booking a tour since there is so much history here
The Sudentenkarze is the old student prison. Yes, you read that right. Student prison.
In the days before Bismark, the university operated as its own system. There was, however, a door (which is now locked) to connect the prison to the old university so that students could still attend school.
The student prison became a rite of passage especially among fraternity brothers. You can still see their colors and graffiti on the wall. (Also – these fraternities still exist. On the way to the castle, look for the big houses with flags!)
The silhouettes with the hats were done by the fraternity members who stayed here.
For ticket information, click here
4. The Old University
This is included in your ticket to the University Prison. Heidelberg University is the oldest university in Germany and one of the oldest in all of Europe.
One of the highlights of this part of the museum is the “Alte Aula” or the auditorium. Hint: Look closely around the room and see the names of famous professors lining the top. You’ll notice that Bensen, who invented the Bensen Burner, is at the back. They had forgotten to put his name in originally.
For ticket information, click here
5. The Old Bridge
This is not the first bridge linking the sides of the Neckar. However, after all the destruction caused by the fire, Prince Karl Theodor ordered the construction of this bridge in brick. Be sure to check out to take a picture with the bridge monkey of Heidelberg and try some Heidelberg beer at Vetter’s, which is right down the road.
That’s the monkey ❤
7. Heiligesitkirche (The Church of the Holy Spirit)
This church was constructed in 1398, making it one of the oldest buildings in Heidelberg. Prior to being this church, there was a small Romanesque basilica in its place, which was probably destroyed in a fire in the 14th century. A Gothic church was then built, where the opening mass for the University of Heidelberg was held here on October 18, 1386. However, this would be again replaced through the larger Heilgeistkirche.
8. Hotel Zum Ritter
Hotel zum Ritter is located near the Heiligeistkirche and was constructed in 1592. Heidelberg caught on fire in 1693, making this one of the few buildings to survive. Even if you don’t choose to stay here, it’s amazing to look at its facade and to see how it compares to the other surrounding buildings.
Disclaimer: I have never stayed here, since I lived in Heidelberg at the time.
Thingstaette, Philosopher’s Way, and the Monastery
9. Philosopher’s Way
Plan a full day for this, since you will be hiking. For some of the best views of the city, cross the old bridge (though there are several entrances) and embark on a journey up Philosopher’s Way. This is the main trail, but there are numerous other hiking trails, if you’re in the city for a while. The hike to the top takes about 2 hours.
View from Philosopher’s Way in the wintertime.
At the top, you will first see Thingstaette. This was modeled after the Greek style and was built in 1935. It was used during World War II for rallies by the Nazis and is now a historical site. It was built as part of the Thingspiel movement, where over 400 amphitheaters were planned, but only about 40 of them were built.
12. Monastery Ruins
If you climb Thingstaette’s steps, you will come across some more ruins from St. Michael’s Monastery.
St, Michale’s monastery was built in 1023 and the ruins are still able to be visited today. The monastery marks the top of Heiligenberg (Holy Hill/ Mountain) and the end of Philosopher’s Way. In 1503, the steeple collapsed, killing the last of the monks living there. In 1589, the university senate decided to tear down the monstery and sell the remains. However, an engraving from 1645 notes that the monastery was still standing, indicating these sales never transpired.
My friends and I also played a game Capture the Flag here back in 2012. Definitely a highlight of study abroad and well worth the hike ;).
Climb these steps to get to the monastery
12. Burg Schauenburg
As mentioned above, there is so much hiking to do in Heidelberg and the surrounding towns. Via a quick tram ride, you can head over to Dossenheim and explore some hiking trails there. Those trails have beautiful red cliffs (which I would always stare at from my room im Neuenheimer Feld, the part of Heidelberg over the Neckar). There are also the ruins of a castle called “Burg Schauenburg”, which was constructed in the 12th century.
Any more places you really think people need to check out? List in the comments below:
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