Guide to Heidelberg

Shot from above of Heidelberg's Old Town

TripSavvy / Christopher Larson

Heidelberg is one of the few German cities that was spared by allied bombers in World War II and retains its magnetic baroque charm. Narrow cobblestone streets are trod by the city's many tourists, university students and locals. It is one of Germany's most popular cities with attractions like a hilltop castle, Philosopher's Walk, and monkey-adorned bridge.

Learn about what makes this city so special and plan a visit to Heidelberg.

Where is Heidelberg?

Heidelberg is located in southwest Germany, about 1 hour away from Frankfurt. Nestled in the idyllic Neckar river valley, close to vineyards and forests, Heidelberg is one of the most picturesque travel destinations in Germany.

Despite its relatively small size (150,000 inhabitants), Heidelberg is a culturally diverse and international city. There are over 30,000 students from around Germany, as well as international students. There is also a sizeable American demographic thanks to the U.S. Army Base in Heidelberg. The base has now been handed over to the German government for civilian use, but the city has left an impression on many Americans who return to live and visit.

History of Heidelberg

Life in Heidelberg began early, perhaps as early as 550,000 BC. A jawbone from homo heidelbergensis was discovered in 1907. It is the earliest evidence of human life ever found in Europe.

The Celts occupied the area during the 5th century, with the Romans setting up camp in 80 AD. The village of Bergheim is the start of the modern city and is noted in documents from 769 AD.

The first record of the castle appears in 1303. By 1386, there was the university founded by Rupert I, Elector Palatine. It is the oldest university in Germany (and the third oldest university after Prague and Vienna in German-speaking Europe). The town's library was founded in 1421 and is the oldest existing public library in Germany.

In the 19th century, American writer Mark Twain visited Heidelberg for several months, while writing his travel book “A Tramp Abroad”. In this book, he praises Heidelberg with poetic words:

"One thinks Heidelberg by day- with its surroundings- is the last possibility of the beautiful; but when he sees Heidelberg by night, a fallen Milky Way, with that glittering railway constellation pinned to the border, he requires time to consider upon the verdict."

The city was spared during WWII, possibly because it lacked industrial and transport importance. After the war, US military picked it for a base. Since that time, the town has continued to grow in popularity with international travelers.

What to Do in Heidelberg

From the Heidelberg Castle, and the Old University, to scenic walks in the surrounding vineyards and parks along the Neckar River, Heidelberg is a .

Steeped in century-old tradition, Heidelberg is home to famous Heidelberg Castle, and Germany’s oldest university, which transformed the city into the center of German intellectualism and romanticism in the 18th and 19th century. 

Consult our full guide to Attractions in Heidelberg for complete visitor info.

How to get to Heidelberg 

By Plane: The closest major airport is Frankfurt International Airport. From Terminal One, you can take the Frankfurt Airport Shuttle. It departs between 5:00 and 10:45 (1 hour travel time, 25 Euros one-way or 46 return).

By Train: You can take direct trains from Frankfurt, Stuttgart, Karlsruhe, and Mannheim to Heidelberg. Heidelberg’s Hauptbahnhof (main train station) is located in the western part of the city, close to the Tourism Office. Walk from there to Heidelberg's Old Town (25 min), or take a bus or tram to Bismarckplatz.

Getting Around Heidelberg

The historic center of Heidelberg is compact and small, The best way to explore it is by wandering its uneven streets.

Besides walking, Heidelberg’s trams and buses (Strassenbahn or Stadtbahn - operated by RNV with a website in English) are also am easy and affordable option. Or you can do as the locals do and hop on a bike. Many companies offer bike rental, particularly in the summer.

If you decide to visit the Heidelberg Castle, which sits majestically over the Old Town, or the surrounding hills and vineyards, you can either hike up there or take the Heidelberg cable car for an easy lift and great views of the town.

Map of Heidelberg

Check out this interactive map of Heidelberg’s Old Town and its most interesting sights and attractions:
Map of Heidelberg