Beloved of painters and poets, beautiful Heidelberg occupies a very special place in German culture. Clinging to the River Neckar amidst a fairy-tale forest and overlooked by a famous ruined castle, this charming university city could have stepped straight out of the 18th century.
Over the centuries, the intellectual and picturesque attractions of Heidelberg have drawn literary giants like Goethe and Mark Twain, as well as romantic artists like Joseph Turner. The setting, the atmosphere and the tranquility of the city have always been inspirational, and their powers haven't faded one bit.
Climb to the castle and declaim romantic verse, take photos of Turner's landscapes, party in the Altstadt with the students in between lectures - whatever you do, Heidelberg will work its way into your affections.
Heidelberg is centered around the Altstadt (Old Town), at the foot of castle hill. Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Old Town escaped destruction in World War II and retains plenty of buildings from the 18th century. Market Square (Marktplatz) is also the place to go for fine dining and upscale shopping.
Heidelberg is a famous retreat for intellectuals (and still educates 30,000 of Germany's brightest students). Follow in the footsteps of writers like Goethe and painters like Turner, and discover why the city exerted such a pull on brilliant minds.
The River Neckar may not be the Rhine, but cruises on this winding, forest-lined river are a wonderful experience nonetheless. Companies like Weisse Flotte offer daily sightseeing cruises that provide superb views of the Old City and the castle.
No visitor to Heidelberg can ignore the Schloss (castle), which towers over the city. Built from gorgeous pink stone, the castle was partially destroyed by a fire in the 18th century, but was restored so as to retain the wild, romantic feel of the ruins. Nowadays, gardens, fountains, and numerous museums dot the site, which affords incredible vistas over the city.
Heidelberg's museums are another major highlight. Up behind the castle, the Carl Bosch Museum celebrates the world-changing discoveries of chemist Carl Bosch. The German Pharmacy Museum looks at the history of medicine.
Bordering the scenic Rhine Rift Valley, the picturesque, compact city of Heidelberg Germany has inspired the world's great poets and philosophers, and will surely evoke similar romantic reactions in you. From Schloss Heidelberg, the imposing Renaissance castle overlooking the Old Town, you can wander through the gardens just as Goethe and the German Romantics did. See the spectacular views -- that Mark Twain once described as "the perfection of the beautiful" -- which extend well beyond the Neckar River, the town's colorful rooftops and the dramatic, baroque architecture of structures like Germany's oldest university. As if to confirm that Old Heidelberg is indeed a college town, a quick trip down to the castle cellar reveals quite another source of inspiration for princes, poets and paupers alike: the world's largest (60,000 gallons) wine vat.
Connecting Old Town to the river's right bank, Heidelberg's 600-foot Old Bridge offers a charming, leisurely stroll over a quaint sandstone overpass that was once part of the city's medieval fortifications. Framed by two towers, one of which contained dungeons, Old Bridge is also known for its sculptures and statues, including a curious bronze monkey holding a mirror. Legend has it that city dwellers and country folk alike would look over their shoulder as they crossed to remind themselves that no one group was superior to the other.
For sheer enchantment on two good legs, nothing much rivals Philosophenweg, the Philosopher's Walk. This winding 1.5-mile footpath starts just above the Old Bridge at the opposite end of Old Town, offering a continuous stream of captivating views as you climb. Named for the deep thinking and wisdom of the professors who pondered there, the path cuts steeply through terraced vineyards, ancient ruins, monuments, exquisite sub-tropical plant life, a beer garden and an enormous, hidden amphitheater built by Hitler's chief architect, Albert Speer.
Begun in 1398, Heiliggeistkirche, the Church of the Holy Spirit, took more than 150 years to complete, and anyone climbing its tower's 200+ steps are richly rewarded with a breathtaking panorama for their effort. A survivor of Europe's many religious wars, this dominant Heidelberg landmark once contained the famous German Renaissance library before Maximilian The Great absconded with it to Rome as a sign of loyalty during the Thirty Years' War. In many ways a peace broker, Heiliggeistkirche was used by Catholics and Protestants alike from 1706 through the 1930s with a partition separating the two faiths. Hippies, drawn to the peace-loving inscriptions on its stained glass, made its back steps a hangout in the late 60s and early 70s.
The last stop on the historic funicular railway puts you at the top of Königstuhl, where you may need a jacket depending on the season. This majestic perch in the Odenwald mountains rises 1,700 over the town, offering splendid views along with hot coffee or a cold beer if needed. A children's theme park and the historic State Observatory, where 400 asteroids were discovered, are all near the summit. Expect views that only a falcon would find commonplace if not otherwise distracted by Königstuhl's Falcon Breeding Station.
Heidelberg attracts over 10 million visitors every year, quite a lot for a city of its size (150,000). This means that high summer can be pretty crowded, making off-season breaks much more appealing. Try a vacation in April or May, when the German spring is in full bloom, or the fall months of September and October.
Flying to Heidelberg is the easiest way to reach the city, as Frankfurt airport is just a short train, bus, or drive away. When you arrive, the best route to the city is via the Inter City Express (ICE) train, which costs EUR24.50. Lufthansa also provide shuttle buses for EUR23, and you can expect a taxi to cost around EUR150 or more.
Heidelberg is on the high-speed ICE train line from Frankfurt to Stuttgart, putting it within reach of Cologne, Basel, Munich, Paris, and Berlin. The Hauptbahnhof (main train station) is in Weststadt, a mile or two from the Altstadt. To get into town quickly, you can catch the S-Bahn or take the light rail from outside the main station.
If you choose to rent a car at Frankfurt Airport, driving to Heidelberg should be fairly painless. As you leave the airport, take the A3 for a couple of miles towards the east, then switch to the A5 southbound and follow it to Heidelberg. If you fly into Stuttgart, take the A8 to Karlsruhe, then the A5 northbound to Heidelberg.
Intercity buses run into Heidelberg from all over Germany, with Eurolines and Deinbus the major operators. Buses stop at the Hauptbahnhof, a short light rail ride from the Altstadt.
If you travel during mid-summer, be sure to book well ahead. While Heidelberg has some superb accommodation options, rooms will disappear quickly in peak season. Some of the best hotels include the opulent Europäischer Hof, which has a classy, timeless feel, and the Marriott Hotel, which has excellent dining options. If you are on a budget, try the DJH Youth Hostel on Tiergartenstrasse, which offers comfortable, cut-price dorm beds.
The Altstadt - Heidelberg's picture-perfect Old Town is a magical place to wander around. Climb to the Schloss for breathtaking views, enjoy a coffee on stately Marktplatz, and visit lovely churches like Peterskirche, before ducking into traditional eating spots like Kulturbrauerei or Schnitzelbank.
Handschuhsheim - located across the River Neckar from the Altstadt, Handschuhsheim is home to the city's university as well as some of Heidelberg's oldest buildings. Highlights include the ancient St. Vituskirche and the Neckarwiese - which becomes a vibrant BBQ picnic spot on warm summer evenings.
Ziegelhausen - tucked away behind the Schloss, you'll find little Ziegelhausen, one of Heidelberg's most attractive satellite villages. Local attractions include an engaging Max Berk Textile Museum and the tiny town center, and it's easy to catch the bus or S-Bahn into the Altstadt from just across the Neckar.
You can get around Heidelberg easily thanks to the city's trams, buses, and S-Bahn network. Most services run into Bismarkplatz in the Altstadt, making the system easy to navigate, and single fares are just EUR2.30 with day passes costing EUR6.
Taxis are convenient, but they aren't the most affordable way to get around Heidelberg. The basic rate includes a meter drop of EUR3, EUR5.40 for the first 1.2 miles, and then EUR1.80 for every 0.62 meters after that.
Heidelberg is the ideal place to rent a car. You will be able to drive to airports easily, see the Neckar and Rhine valleys, visit rural inns and get around the city with ease. You'll find branches of Enterprise and Budget in the city center, and rates can fall to EUR15 or less at times.
Heidelberg's Altstadt is packed with small, artisan boutiques, chocolatiers, perfumers and more. The pedestrian precinct between Bismarckplatz and Marktplatz is the center of the local shopping scene, playing host to fragrance stores like Parfümerie Frosch and an array fashion boutiques. Plöck is another wonderful shopping street, while Marktplatz is surrounded by retailers. The Lindt Boutique, with its huge range of artisan chocolates, is particularly hard to ignore.
If you need to shop for groceries during your stay, great options include Netto, REWE, and Kaufland. Prices should be fairly moderate, with a gallon of milk costing around EUR2.40.
For a small town, Heidelberg's gastronomic scene packs a hefty punch. Gourmet food fans will almost certainly find something to adore in the Alstadt, where highlights include Simplicissimus, Schnitzelbank, and traditional hotel eateries like Hackteufel. Alter Mönchhof offers al fresco dining across the Neckar, while Le Coq offers a French alternative to German cuisine. Expect a good three course meal to come to around EUR30.