Heidelberg, Germany Travel Guide: Top Things to Do and See in Germany
I’ve lost my heart in Heidelberg…. On the banks of the Neckar river, the romantic city of Heidelberg nestles itself in between the trees of the Odenwald forest. With ancient cobblestone streets, a magnificent castle and wonderful views of the valley, this city is spectacular in every way. Whether you are looking for an action packed, active adventure or a romantic getaway, you are bound to have an unforgettable time.
Heidelberg boasts one of the oldest Universities in Europe, the Ruprecht Karls University. This means that the city is mostly a student hub during the winter months and is alive with young enthusiastic people from across the globe. These students study everything from Arts and Languages to Medicine and Physics. The city was spared during the second world war meaning that many old buildings are still beautifully intact.
Many Americans still call Heidelberg home ever since the war, and due to the massive number of expats coming to the University and the Max-Planck institute, the city is very international. Therefore, it is probably the city where most Germans can speak English. But this is also a city where you will probably get along with French and Italian as well.
Things to do
- Heidelberg Castle: Take the Cable Railway from the Old town up to the Castle. If you are feeling energetic you can take the 300 plus stairs that start at the bottom of the mountain next to the Cable Railway Station. Once you make it to the Castle grounds, buy a ticket for the English Castle tour inside the Ticket office. Make sure to visit the Castle Gardens and take pictures of the City from the famous Vantage point at the back of the Castle. Once you have finished your trip to the castle, take the Cable railway further up to the top of the mountain for another spectacular view and refreshments at the vendor. Make sure to check the weather when you plan a trip to the top since strong winds and mist may be a problem.
- The Old town: The Main street of the Old town is called Hauptstrasse. Here you can shop for everything from clothes to food or electronics. The old town is especially beautiful between the last week of November and Christmas. Late night shopping hours and Christmas market stalls all along the street and the smell of waffles and Gluehwein brighten up the winter season.
- The Old Bridge: The Old bridge is a famous landmark of Heidelberg. It is especially beautiful at night and a total must for romantic walks with a loved one.
- Odenwald: Many visitors lose out on the extraordinary forest simply because it isn’t that prominent in visitor’s information. The forest of the Odenwald is a big attraction for Nordic walkers, Mountain bikers and Trail runners. Here you can go for a romantic stroll or a hardcore off-road training session. There are plenty of ways to make your way into the Odenwald:
- Via Philisophenweg: To find Philisophenweg, Cross the Theodor Heuss bridge from the Old town towards Neuenheim. Turn right at Moro café and then left at River café. The next road to your right is Philosophenweg. Follow this road all the way up passed the villas into the forest.
- Via Schlangenweg: The passage of Schlangenweg starts on the opposite side of the road directly next to the old bridge on the Northern side. It is an ancient, very romantic pathway that winds all the way up to the famous Philosophenweg. Along the path you will find 2 vantage points that also make for romantic picnic spots.
- Via the Monastery: East from the Castle on the opposite side of the river you will find the Monastery. There are beautiful buildings and landscapes to be seen here. There is also a restaurant and a small farm shop. This is a favorite among the Mountain bikers and runners for a pitstop. Enter the forest by following the road that passes the Monastery.
- Ladenburg: This suburb of Heidelberg is one of the oldest towns in Germany with Roman ruins that date back 120 years B.C. A beautiful town with an Old town, Green grass next to the river and a very insightful museum found at the entrance of the Old Town on the right-hand side.
- Food Markets: For a true local, German experience, visit a weekly food market. There are food markets all over the city but in my opinion the market in Neuenheim and the one on Friedrich-Ebert Platz in the Old town are the best.
- Christmas Markets
- If you want to visit Heidelberg in the winter, make sure it is during the first three weeks of December. Drink Gluehwein, eat Crepes and go Ice skating at the outdoor Ice rink next to the Rathaus.
- A new addition to the city is the Body Worlds Museum in the Altes Hallenbad. This is an exposition of real human bodies and is an absolute must if this is a topic you are interested in.
- Sledding at Koenigstuhl
- Neckar river
- In the summer Heidelberg transforms into a holiday resort and the Neckar river is the main attraction. Pack some snacks and a blanket and have a picnic on one of the green banks or go for a paddle boat ride from the Theodor Heuss Bridge. Take a ride on one of the luxury passenger boats or rent a paddle ski or Kayak. Volleyball grounds can be found on the West side of the Theodor Huess bridge in Neuenheim.
- Schlossbeleuchtung (Castle fireworks)
- 3 times during the summer the City presents the most amazing firework display at the castle and the old bridge. Check the three dates on the Heidelberg City Website before visiting. The best spots from which to watch the display are from Philosophenweg and directly at the Old bridge.
Where to eat
- Red: Serves Vegetarian food on a self-service basis. You dish up from their breathtaking variety of salads and warm dishes, they weigh your plate and you pay according to the weight of the food. Stunning atmosphere and they have delicious gluten and dairy free dessert options.
- Weisser stein: A traditional German restaurant found at the top of the Mountain in the Odenwald on North side of the River. This is also a perfect pitstop for Hikers and Bikers.
- Hans im Glueck: A Burger joint with a twist in the Old town. This is a very popular restaurant and booking is essential.
- Dean and Davids: For a fast food that tastes great and is super healthy. Here you can pop in for a Smoothie, a curry or a salad.
- Weinstube: If you want to splurge on Gourmet food, make a booking at the Weinstube at the Castle. Prices start at 95 Euros per person and dress to impress.
Where to stay
- Neuenheim, Weststadt, Altstadt, Bergheim and Handschuhsheim are your top picks for areas to book accommodation in.
- There are lovely apartments to rent in the Altstadt and on the banks of the river with beautiful views of the Neckar in Neuenheim. If you are looking for a romantic stay, the Heidelberg Boutique Hotel at the Old Bridge is your answer.
Tips and Tricks
- Opening hours: As a general tip when visiting Germany, always check the local holidays of the area you will be visiting. In Germany all shops are closed on Public holidays and Sunday except restaurants and bakeries. But if you want to get your Croissants on a Sunday make sure you get to the bakery early in the morning. They usually close at 1 pm on Sundays.
- Transport: Public transport is very easy to use and relatively inexpensive. Tickets for trams and buses are bought at ticket machines and must be validated once you get inside the vehicle by placing your ticket inside the ticket reader. A 60 Euro fine is issued even if you have a ticket bur have failed to stamp it by the machine.
- Cash: Always have cash on you. Many restaurants only take cash payments and many shops have difficulties processing international bank cards. Some don’t take credit cards at all and if they do, they always want to see identification so make sure you carry your passport or ID with you always.
- Weather: Heidelberg is surrounded by vineyards, meaning the weather leans more towards Mediterranean than the rest of Germany. Winters are not as brutal, but January and February can be extremely wet and gloomy. Summers can be very hot with temperatures reaching 40 degrees Celsius. During Spring and Autumn, the weather is very unpredictable. During this time, one can see 4 seasons in one day.
- Road rules: Be aware of the bike lanes! Pedestrians are not allowed to walk in the bike lanes. They are usually marked red or with a bicycle sign. Never cross a red light whether by foot, by bicycle or car. Germans are very strict about that and jay walking is not a good idea.
- Reading: Take some time to read about the history of the city especially during the war. This will make your visit that much more interesting.
To experience this wonderful city, spend at least 4 days exploring. Heidelberg is full of surprises, exciting people and wonderful views.
Once you have strolled next to the majestic river and into the woods and experienced the magic of the castle and the rich history of the Old town, you too will say: “Ich hab’ mein Herz in Heidelberg verloren.”