Heidelberg is a delightful university town in Germany, set by the banks of the River Neckar, with a picturesque ruined castle on the hill that inspired the romantic poets and painters of the 19th century. Many visitors arrive as part of a tour of Germany or a day visit while on a Rhine river cruise, as we did the first time we visited. Whether you’re visiting just for the day or have time to stay longer (a long weekend is highly recommended), watch my video to discover the best things to do in Heidelberg.
I hope you enjoy my video below about what to see in Heidelberg
1. Walk across the Alte Brücke or Old Bridge
The Alte Brücke is one of the first places to visit in Heidelberg since it stands at the centre of the picturesque Old Town. The bridge was built of stone in 1786 by Prince Elector Carl Theodor to replace the numerous wooden bridges that had crossed the river at this spot but were washed away by floods. Look out for the marks on the pillar of the bridge that show how high the water came in the floods, the last one being in 1784. There’s also a more recent bronze monkey statue beside the gatehouse that reminds us that those living on either side of the bridge are no better than one another, since there was a longstanding rivalry between them when the river formed the border between two regions of Germany.
Our Tip: Walk right across the Old Bridge from the Old Town, since the best photos are taken from the opposite bank looking back towards the castle.
2. Schloss Heidelberg – the romantic castle on the hill
The romantic Schloss Heidelberg on the hill above the old town was built in the 13th century and became the residence of the Prince Electors who ruled the Palatine region of Germany, until the 18th century when war and fire led to the castle’s decline. What you see now is the shell of the old Renaissance palace with finely carved stone facades, courtyards and a terrace with views over the town. The ruined castle was much admired by painters and writers of the 19th century at a time when ruins were considered picturesque and romantic, a symbol of Germany’s historic past.
Our Tip: Look out for the foot sized depression in the stone pavement on the terrace – legend has it that a fire broke out causing a knight in full armour to jump from the window onto the terrace. Not sure whether I believe that story!
3. Take a river cruise along the Neckar
We enjoyed a river cruise from the pier near the Old Bridge with Weisse Flotte who run many different river trips depending on the season. We took the boat down to Neuberg Abbey where there was a Christmas Market, and with beautiful gardens, a farm shop selling regional produce and a restaurant with biergarden, this would be a fine place to visit in summer too. Read more about the 9 German Christmas Traditions we enjoyed in Heidelberg.
Our Tip: If you visit Neuberg Abbey, it can also be reached on the path by the river and by the Philosopher’s Way path along the hill, so you may like to take the boat one way and walk back the other.
4. Walk up the Philosopher’s Way
Crossing the Old Bridge from the old town, ascend the mossy stone pathway on the other side that takes you up to the Philosopher’s Way. There’s a flat path running along the side of the hillside with fine views over the town and if you turn left at the top you’ll reach some terraced gardens where you can sit to admire the view. The path is named after the University professors and philosophers who loved to walk here among the vineyards and orchards that clothed the slopes of the valley.
Our Tip: When you get to the top, follow the signs with a small castle symbol and you will find the Bismarck Tower above the flat path, which is open to climb with great views over the valley.
5. Enjoy coffee and cakes in a cosy café
Around the cobbled streets of the Old Town are many cosy cafés, often favourites with the University students over the years. Sit here with a coffee and a slice of creamy cake or a traditional German pastry. We recommend exploring the small squares or side streets that lead off Hauptstrasse as you’ll get a more authentic experience. In summer the same cosy cafés will often have tables on the street or a biergarten, perfect to sit and watch the world go by. Read more about the food we enjoyed in Heidelberg here.
Our Tip: We enjoyed sitting in the small side room of Café Knösel where there were old photos of University students, many with bandages on their face from duelling, one of the favourite sports of the student fraternities.
6. Climb the church tower of the Holy Ghost
If you find yourself in the heart of the Old Town in Markplatz, you’ll easily find the imposing church of The Holy Ghost. The interior of the church is quite plain but pay a couple of euros in the gift shop and you can climb the steps of the church tower for 360 degree views over the old town.
Our Tip: If you’re outside the church when the small kiosk shops are closed, look out for the bagel symbols that are carved into the stone that are normally hidden by shutters. They were a measure of size to ensure that the bakers in the old days were not cheating the housewives coming to buy their daily bagels.
7. Wander the Heidelberg Altstadt or Old Town
The whole of Heidelberg’s Altstadt or Old Town is a very pleasant place to wander with cobbled streets, with plenty of shops and cafes and glimpses of the river Neckar. While you’ll find many shops and restaurants on the main street of Hauptstrasse, be sure to explore the streets that are just a couple of blocks on either side of this which are much less crowded and where you’ll find plenty of interesting little artizan shops and cafes that have a more local feel.
8. Ride the 100 year old funicular up to the Kings Throne
After you’ve visited Schloss Heidelberg, take the 100 year old funicular up to the very top of the mountain for views from the Königstuhl or King’s Throne. The funicular, which was opened in 1907 still retains the charming old wooden carriages, while the lower portion of the funicular between the castle and the town has been completely modernised. Up at the top there are plenty of walks through the woods as well as a falconry centre and childrens’ park.
Our Tip: When you get to the very top at the King’s Throne be sure to look in the waiting room which is full of interesting memorabilia and some information about the history of the funicular.
9. The Students Prison
In the last century, the University had its own legal juristiction over the students, who when they were found drunk or disorderly would spend a few days in the Studentenkarzer or Student’s Prison. They spent their time playing cards and painting murals and slogans on the walls which now make a colourful mural of 100 year old graffiti.
Our Tip: Your combined ticket for the Student Prison will also take you into the Student Museum and Great Hall in another part of the building. Be sure to ask at the desk of the museum for a visit to the Great Hall with wooden seating and classical murals where University lectures were held in the past.
10. Stay at Qube hotel
For a stylish, boutique hotel try Qube hotel, which is a 20 minute walk or short tram ride from the Old Town. Our room was in Villa Qube, a large townhouse next to the main hotel, on the 4th floor with sloping ceilings facing the gardens. There were interesting lighting effects which bathed the room in a purple glow and the bathroom was huge with both walk in shower and bathtub.
If you prefer a Heidelberg hotel in the Old Town, you could try Hotel Hollaender Hof, a traditional hotel right by the Old Bridge, Hip Hotel where every room is themed to a different country of the world, or Heidelberg Suites, a luxurious Boutique Hotel.
Compare prices and book Hotels in Heidelberg through my Hotel Booking page powered by HotelsCombined.com. You can search for the best price from multiple hotel booking sites and I will receive a small commission which helps support this blog at no extra cost to you.
I hope you enjoyed my roundup of what to do in Heidelberg. If you’ve already been to Heidelberg, what did you enjoy? Do let me know in the comments!
Read more about our visit to Heidelberg:
9 German Christmas Traditions we enjoyed in Heidelberg
A Food Lover’s Guide to Heidelberg
Plan your visit to Heidelberg
For more information about planning your trip to Germany, visit the Germany Tourism Website and read more about German Traditions | Follow them on Social Media | Twitter @GermanyTourism | Facebook | Instagram | YouTube |
You can also find information about Heidelberg on the Heidelberg Marketing website.
Compare prices and book Hotels in Heidelberg through my Hotel Booking page powered by HotelsCombined.com.
If you need a guide in Heidelberg, we highly recommend Susanne Fiek who runs culinary and other tours of Heidelberg.
How to get to Heidelberg
Heather and Guy flew from Bristol to Frankfurt and took the train to Heidelberg. Trains run around every hour from the Frankfurt airport station with a change at Mannheim. On arrival in the airport follow signs for train station and then Fernbahnhof ( long distance train). Tickets can be bought from ticket machines as you reach the Fernbahnhof. The cost is €25 one way or €19 for a saver ticket which must be purchased 1 day in advance. The journey takes around 1 hour.
Thanks to the German National Tourism Board who hosted Heather and Guy’s weekend in Heidelberg
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