Visiting Heidelberg is like stepping into the pages of a picture book. This city has all the ingredients for romance – beautiful Baroque buildings grace the Old Town and red-roofed houses nestle along the River Neckar, which features a charming footbridge. Just when you think the fairytale couldn’t get any more enchanting, cast your gaze up to take in the spectacular Heidelberg Castle. Set high on a hill, this imposing structure watches over the town with a serene and protective gaze.
You can’t complete a successful visit to Heidelberg without visiting Heidelberg Castle. A blend of gothic and renaissance architecture, the iconic ruins of this once-mighty castle draw in more than 1 million visitors every year. Step inside the courtyard, take in the ornate internal facades, and you’ll be transported to another time. A highlight is the castle’s enormous wine cask, which was built into the cellar in 1591 and holds a whopping 220,000 litres of wine.
Across the river from the castle you’ll find the historic Philosophers Walk, which was named for the university professors and philosophers who used this route for thought and contemplation. Explore quaint gardens, wander through lush forest, discover ruins and monuments, and, best of all, be rewarded with unforgettable views of Heidelberg Castle, especially at dusk.
Could Heidelberg be the only city in existence with a dedicated student prison? From 1823 to 1924 Heidelberg devised an unusual punishment for misbehaving students – a student prison named Karzer Student Prison. Deeds that landed naughty students in the lock up included drunk and disorderly conduct, duelling and setting the townspeople’s pigs free. The students, however, found their incarceration amusing and it became a rite of passage of sorts. The astonishingly well-preserved graffiti that still covers the walls is definitely worth a look.
Eat and Drink
The main artery of Heidelberg is Hauptstrasse, a long street lined with restaurants, cafés and bakeries. You’ll find international food to suit all cravings here, but the must-try is brezeln, a local variety of pretzel. The main square, Marktplatz, comes alive in the summertime with outdoor cafés and bars that buzz with a vibrant atmosphere. For a bit of fun after dark, follow the students to Untere Strasse where you’ll find bars and pubs to experience the Heidelberg nightlife.
Where to Stay
The most atmospheric part of town is the Altstadt (Old Town). Staying here offers convenient access to Heidelberg’s many attractions and puts you close to the main strip, Hauptstrasse. Alternatively, residing on the other side of the river grants beautiful views of the castle and township, with several excellent up-market hotels catering for this picturesque experience. Heidelberg is a highly popular tourist destination so accommodation bookings are essential.
As with eating and drinking, Hauptstrasse is the place for a spot of shopping. Many of the shops are independent businesses, so picking up a souvenir here is a lovely way to support the locals. You’ll find everything from fashion and books to tea, wine and souvenirs along this central street.
Sweet treats are popular in Heidelberg, so be sure to pick up a box of Heidelberger Studentenkuss, the local specialty, before you leave. This delicious candy consists of a wafer base smothered in praline nougat and coated in chocolate.
For something different head to the open-air farmers’ market on Marktplatz (market square) every Wednesday and Saturday, where you’ll find locals and tourists browsing the fresh produce.
Heidelberg Like a Local
The Heidelberg locals sure know how to picnic with a view. Head to the northern bank of the Neckar River where, just 200 metres south of Bismarckplatz, you’ll find Neckarwiese (Neckar Meadow). During the summertime this pocket of paradise is a popular place for locals to enjoy barbecues and beers, laze on the grass, and simply chat or play music. The best part? Magnificent views of Heidelberg Castle and the Old Town as you gaze out over the river.