The enchanting ruins of a castle fit for a fairytale sit in the hills high above Heidelberg, nestled among lush greenery overlooking towering church spires, a sea of orange roofs and the cobblestone streets that wind through the Old Town.
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A baroque sandstone bridge spans the width of the tranquil Neckar river, and plazas bustle with activity in this university town where a quarter of the population is students, bringing an air of youth and fun to the centuries-old city.
Heidelberg’s charm and beauty is undeniable, which has made it one of the top places to visit in Germany and a memorable stop along the 780 kilometre Castle Road route.
Its location near the eastern border of France also makes it easy to combine a trip with visits to France’s romantic Alsace region, especially during the holidays when the streets are transformed into a winter wonderland by the famous Christmas Markets.
From scenic walks to funicular rides, here are the best things to do in Heidelberg, Germany.
Admire the ruins of Heidelberg Castle
The first thing most people do when they visit Heidelberg is hightail it straight for the castle, a Renaissance masterpiece dating back to at least the 1200s.
Considered one of the grandest palaces of that period, Schloss Heidelberg is perched 80 metres up on Königstuhl hill overlooking the river and old town, and once served as the residence of prince electors. However, it was continuously attacked during the 17th century and ultimately destroyed, turning it into the red sandstone ruins seen today.
Aside from wandering around the exterior grounds, there are 11 rooms inside the castle where the Deutsches Apotheken-Museum documents the history of pharmacies and medical science in Germany.
Wine lovers won’t want to miss the cellar, where there’s an absolutely enormous wine barrel. The Heidelberg Tun held an astounding 221-thousand litres of wine when it was built in 1751, and while its capacity has shrunk a bit as the wood has aged it’s still quite impressive.
Book a tour of Heidelberg Castle:
Ride the funicular up to Königstuhl
While it’s possible to walk up to Heidelberg Castle, more than two million passengers each year opt to take the fun funicular ride up Königstuhl hill instead.
There are two routes which make for quite a juxtaposition, since the lower route is one of the most modern funiculars in Germany while the upper section that was extended in 1907 is one of the country’s oldest cable railways.
Departures are every 10 to 20 minutes, and the three options are:
- Castle ticket: Lower funicular from Kornmarkt (town centre) to the castle to the Molkenkur transfer station, and includes entry to the castle grounds, wine cellar and Germany Pharmacy Museum for 9 euro per adult (return).
- Königstuhl ticket: Upper funicular from Molkenkur to the top of Königstuhl for 9 euros per adult (return)
- Panorama ticket: Both funiculars and entry to the castle grounds, wine cellar and Germany Pharmacy Museum for 14 euro per adult (return).
Molkenkur is the original site of the Heidelberg fortress, and a serene walk through the natural area passes by an 800-year-old moat and ruins. There’s also a guesthouse where the terrace has fantastic city views.
The Königstuhl sits at 550 metres high, giving a birds-eye vantage point of Heidelberg, the river and the Neckar Valley spread out below. On a clear day, it’s even possible to see as far as the Alsace region.
While most come for the photo-ops, there’s also an exhibition centre, falconry and woodland paths for an easy escape from the hustle and bustle of city life.
Globe Guide tip: Purchase a HeidelbergCARD which includes admission to the castle, the funicular railway, public transportation and discounts for city tours, museums and restaurants. Click here to book
Shop and sightsee in the Old Town (Altstadt)
Alstadt is the heart of Heidelberg, where historic landmarks, pretty plazas and ornate fountains provide eye candy at every corner. Flowers drip out of window boxes, while tall church spires and the castle loom overhead.
The hub of activity is along Hauptstraße, a shopping street with a claim to fame as one of the longest pedestrian zones in all of Europe. Pastel facades line the strip, which has a mix of clothing stores, boutiques, bistros and restaurants.
Heidelberg attractions in the Old Town include:
- The arched Old Bridge that spans 200 metres across the Neckar, framed by the bridge gate and two white towers from the Middle Ages. Keep an eye out for the bronze Bridge Monkey sculpture, Brückenaffe.
- The centuries-old Church of the Holy Spirit, including a climb up to the tower for great views
- Haus zum Ritter (House of the Knight), Heidelberg’s oldest residential building which was built in 1592, once served as town hall and is now a hotel
- Marketplatz, where City Hall is
- Kornmarkt, a charming square near Marketplatz with a fountain and castle views
Book a guided tour through Heidelberg
Do the scenic Philosopher’s Walk from the Alte Brücke (Old Bridge)
One of the most popular places to visit in Heidelberg is across the river, where the Philosopher’s Walk winds along the other side of the bank.
Philosophenweg was named after the university’s professors and philosopher’s who often wandered these pathways, as the tranquility of the trails affords the perfect opportunity for contemplation.
Paved pathways and stone staircases were built into the hillside, and at the top of the short, somewhat steep walk there are incredible viewpoints looking across at the castle, town centre and river.
A few lookouts allow spots to stop and catch your breath, and there’s also the Philosopher’s Garden which is a beautifully-landscaped respite bursting with flowers.
Romance your sweetie with Heidelberg chocolate
Love and chocolates go hand in hand, and the perfect way to show your affection for your sweetheart in Heidelberg is by buying a Student Kiss.
In 1863, the head chocolatier and master confectioner at Heidelberger Studentenkuß in the old town came up with a rather amorous plan, after observing the lovestruck glances between students who were restricted from speaking to each other by their strict teachers.
He created a red box with a single chocolate, and a blank piece of paper tucked inside for writing love notes. The idea was that the young men could discreetly give a box to the object of their affection, and whether or not she accepted it was an indication of her interest. The fun tradition continues today, and is Heidelberg’s most famous souvenir.
Take a boat ride along the Neckar River
A unique vantage point to see Heidelberg is from the water. Hop on a ferry, the world’s largest solar-powered catamaran, a peddle boat or a riverboat along the Neckar.
Sightsee along the Castle Road in Germany
While Heidelberg Palace is ranked as one of the best castles in Germany, there are more than a dozen more to discover along the Castle Road.
Stretching all the way to Prague, the castle drive can also be biked and hiked which is a unique way to explore landmarks like the nearby Mannheim Baroque Palace, and the summer residence Schwetzingen which is known for its landscaped gardens rivaling Versailles.
Other must-dos on this German castles tour are the beautiful half-timbered homes in Bad Wimpfen and Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Hirschhorn which features a 12th century castle on the banks of the river, and Guttenberg Castle which is still inhabited by a family and has falconry shows.
Heidelberg is also well-connected to cities like Frankfurt and Mannheim by train, and booking a day trip to Heidelberg from Frankfurt is a fantastic way to spend a long layover. Click here to book
Where to stay in Heidelberg
Hotel Europäischer Hof Heidelberg is an absolute dream from the moment you pull up to the entrance and lay eyes on the stately columns, fountains and topiaries in its tucked-away courtyard.
Boasting a fabulous location a short walk from the Altstadt, this five-star hotel was built in 1865 and has been privately owned and run by four generations of the von Kretschmann family since 1906.
Elegant, tasteful decor is found throughout, from the rich wood and leather used in the bar to dazzling chandeliers to grand staircases. Expect elevated dining experiences at the outdoor summer restaurant, as well as the Kurfürstenstube restaurant where towering breakfast platters await every morning.
A real highlight is the luxurious rooms, with 100 single or doubles to choose from along with 14 junior suites, serviced apartments and a penthouse suite.
The opulent Executive Suites overlook the courtyard and have huge windows, a separate seating area with office, two bathrooms including one with a soaker tub, a large closet and king size bed with fine linens.
On-site amenities at Hotel Europäischer Hof Heidelberg include a gym, rooftop terrace and spa with a large pool and sauna, a spot so serene it makes it hard to tear yourself away from the hotel and explore the best things to do in Heidelberg. Click here to book
Globe Guide explored Heidelberg as a guest of the Heidelberg tourism board and Hotel Europäischer Hof. As always, hosts have no editorial influence on articles.
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