Know Before You Go: Heidelberg Castle

Heidelberg Castle in Heidelberg, Germany

Jason Langley/Getty Images

The ruins of the once grand Schloss Heidelberg (Heidelberg Castle) rise up on a rocky hilltop over the university town of Heidelberg. While young students and busloads of visitors trundle about below, Heidelberg Castle presides above, drawing an estimated 1 million visitors a year.

History

Once a Gothic masterpiece, the Castle of Heidelberg has encountered turbulent times. The earliest structure was constructed in the early 1300s and continued to grow and expand until it became two castles by 1294.

Dark times were ahead, however.

It was plundered and burned by the French army in 1689, then struck by lightning 100 years later. Lightning struck twice as another bolt in 1764 destroyed what little had been rebuilt. The ruins were further plundered to use the red brick to build new houses in the town.

Unlike many German castles, the Castle of Heidelberg never regained its original glory and still lies in partial ruins. But the ruins have a ragged charm of their own. Each building highlights a different period of German architecture and the ruins are considered the symbol of German Romanticism and the Castle of Heidelberg is one of the highlights of the German Castle Road.

Attractions

Visitors start their trip by admiring the castle from afar. It dominates the skyline, presiding regally above the turbulence of daily life. Once you have reached the castle grounds, stop and look back at the city and iconic bridge.

It is quite the view as visitors roam the elegant castle gardens for free.

For the full experience, buy an entrance ticket to the castle to explore the spectacular interiors. A guided tour will help you appreciate the many stories this castle holds. For example, the Ottheinrich Building is one of the earliest palace buildings of the German Renaissance.

Adorned with impressive sculptures, Herrensaal (Knights' Hall) and the Imperial Hall house many of the special exhibitions. Or that Fassbau (wine cellar) from 1590 which houses the biggest wine barrel in the world, Heidelberg Tun, which holds 220,000 liters (58,124 gallons) of wine. Or stand in front of the Friedrich Building and gaze up at the emperors and kings from the palace courtyard. Or the story about Mark Twain who visited the castle back in his day, and the subsequent boat trip on the nearby Neckar river that allegedly inspired him to write a chapter of Huckleberry Finn.

Three times every summer, Schlossbeleuchtung (castle lighting) and fireworks take place. This is to commemorate when the castle burned (1689, 1693, and 1764).

After climbing to the top, you might be in need of sustenance. While the ancient kitchens may not be up to feeding the masses, the Heidelberger Schloss Restaurants includes an elegant Weinstube, bakery, and special events space.

How to Get There

Heidelberg Castle is located at Schloss Heidelberg, 69117 Heidelberg, Germany, 57 miles south of Frankfurt. Here's how to get there:

  • By car: Take the Autobahn (motorway) A 5 or A6 into the direction of Heidelberg; exit onto the Autobahn A 656, which will take you into the center of Heidelberg
  • By train: Take the train to Mannheim and then hop on a regional train to Heidelberg, which is only 15 minutes away

Once you reach the foot of the castle hill, visitors can climb it by foot, or take a historic cable car up to the castle. This 1.5 km ride is the longest cable car route in Germany reaching a height of 550 meters up past the castle to Königstuhl.