Heidelberg, nestled in the hills along the Neckar River, is one of the one of the most picturesque destinations in Germany. It was spared by allied bombers in the Second World War and retains many of the city's historic treasures that put it at the center of 18th century romanticism.
From the Heidelberg Castle to the university to scenic walks in the vineyards and along the Neckar River, here are the best things to see and do in Heidelberg.
The ruins of Heidelberger Castle sit atop a rocky hilltop over the city's Altstadt (Old Town). Heidelberg's Schloss is one of the most impressive castles in Europe and a highlight along the German Castle Road.
An estimated 1 million visitors make their way up to the castle each year. Walk the grounds and sculpted gardens for free while enjoying views over the city and river, before paying for a guided tour of the remaining rooms.
At the foot of the Schloss, explore Heidelberg’s Altstadt (Old Town) for architectural gems.
Visit the Rathaus (Town Hall), the University, 1592 Renaissance House Knight St. George, and unique market squares. Start on Hauptstraße, Heidelberg’s main pedestrian street loaded with shopping, and find historic Bismarckplatz. At the Marktplatz, look for the Hercules fountain. In medieval times this is where petty criminals were chained to be humiliated.
Get thoughtful on Heidelberg's Philosopher's Walk
Follow the footsteps of Heidelberg’s many philosophers and poets on the 300-year old Philosophenweg (Philosopher's Walk). It is a scenic, but quite steep, walk up to the top of a hill.
Thanks to Heidelberg’s mild climate, exotic plants like Japanese cherries, cypresses, bamboo, gingko and lemon trees blossom along the way. Luminaries such as Hegel, Jaspers and Hannah Arendt came up here to contemplate. Visitors enjoy the breathtaking views from the other side of the river valley from Heidelberg Castle.
Be Blessed by a Monkey on the Old Bridge
Heidelberg's Alte Brücke (Old Bridge) is an impressive stone bridge built in the 18th century, but it actually dates back to the Middle Ages. The original structure was made of wood and destroyed by fire. Stroll the bridge for more fabulous views of Heidelberg as well as its neighboring twin-towered Brückentor.
The bridge, which spans the Neckar River and leads to the Old Town, has several towers (complete with dungeons) and various monuments and sculptures. One of the most recognized is the Heidelberg monkey. He holds up a mirror that is rumored to bring wealth if you touch it. The monkey also brings other gifts like a return to Heidelberg if you touch its fingers and children if you touch the mice.
Party with the Students
Heidelberg is home to Germany's oldest university, which today has more than 30,000 students. If you want to get a taste (and maybe a drink) of Heidelberg’s vibrant university live, head to Untere Strasse.
The narrow cobble stone street, which runs parallel to the river and the main pedestrian street in the Old Town, is filled with great bars, coffee shops, and inexpensive eateries.
Dueling, excessive drinking, playing pranks were all punishable offenses for Heidelberg students until 1914. The guilty were made to spend time in the Karzer (student prison), only allowed out to attend class. To spend the time, they decorated the cells with paintings, graffiti, verses and artwork.
The prison is now open to the public and located on Augustinergasse, right behind the Old University in the Old Town.
Soak up the Scene on Heidelberg's River Banks
Take a break on the Neckarwiese, the banks of the Neckar River close to the Old Town. Besides unobstructed views of the Heidelberg Castle, the grassy stretch along the river offers plenty of space to relax, sunbathe, and take in the tranquility of the river valley and the forests beyond. If you want to be more active, you can also rent a rowboat.
Head 7 km east of Heidelberg to Königstuhl (King's Seat), a high hill rising above the valley for magnificent views. The summit is part of the Odenwald Mountains and is accessible via the Heidelberg Mountain Railway. This is the same funicular visitors can use to get to Heidelberg Castle.