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An illustrated travel guide to one of Germany's best-preserved cities.
H has a long history of welcoming English-speaking travelers--among them, Mark Twain, who spent several months in Heidelberg with his family in 1878 and described the experience in A Tramp Abroad.
Thanks to a long history of Anglo-Saxon infatuation with Heidelberg, the city was off-limits to Allied bombing in World War II--which is why you'll still see heavy, historic buildings of red sandstone in the Altstadt or Old Town. These buildings are genuinely old, not restored or rebuilt from ruins.
Heidelberg's attractions include a romantic castle, Germany's oldest university, a hillside "Philosopher's Walk," boat trips on the Neckar River, and countless taverns, cafés, and restaurants where you can sample local wines and the comfort-food gastronomy of Germany's Palatinate (now incorporated into the state of Baden-Württemburg, which lies in Southwestern Germany near Switzerland and France).
Heidelberg is easily worth a visit of several days--or, better yet, a week--and because English is widely spoken in the town, it's a great place for first-time visitors to Germany who aren't comfortable with the language of Goethe, Heine, and Run Lola Run.
Heidelberg history and background
According to the Heidelberg tourist office's "History and Facts" page, the city's history (or prehistory) goes back approximately 600,000 years to the "Heidelberg Man," the earliest human fossil in Europe. The Celts built a fortress in the area around 500 B.C., and the Romans showed up shortly after the time of Christ.
The name "Heidelberg" was first mentioned in 1196 A.D., and by 1386, the city had become important enough to merit its own university.
Like many European cities, Heidelberg had its share of wars was ruled by a succession of counts, princes, and kings over the centuries.
One of the most notable conflicts was the so-called "War of Succession," when French soldiers tried to blow up the Schloss, or castle, and succeeded in knocking over one of the towers (see inset photo) with a massive explosion.
For more background information, see Wikipedia's article about Heidelberg.
Since World War II, Heidelberg has grown into a modern university, technology, and business city of 140,000 people, many of them living and working in new districts outside the historic Altstadt or Old Town.
As a tourist, you'll be interested mostly in the Altstadt, the castle hill, and the Philosopher's Walk in the suburb of Neuenheim across the river from the Brückentor (see photo at top of page).
Heidelberg is a pedestrian-friendly city--especially in the, or Old Town, where your explorations are likely to begin.
The Altstadt is a long, narrow strip of medieval cityscape on the south bank of the. Most sights are within a block or two of the or Main Street, which runs--with an occasional name change--from the department stores of the Bismarkplatz to the Karlstor at the eastern end of town.
Major sights in the Altstadt are well-documented in a German-language guidebook, Marco Polo: Heidelberg, which also covers such topics as hotels, dining, shopping, and nightspots.
Even better, if you don't read German, is the English-language Castle and City Guide Heidelberg am Neckar (which isn't as comprehensive or up to date as the Marco Polo guide and may be hard to find).
For other guidebook titles, see your bookseller or Amazon.com.
Our advice: Get hold of a map (such as the 1:15000 ADAC CityPlan, shown at left), or use the map in your guidebook to explore the Altstadt as the spirit moves you.
Visit the Student Prison article), where academic miscreants did time for drunkenness, womanizing, pig-stealing, and other sins from the 1500s until 1914.with its historic assembly hall; a combined ticket will also get you into the (see
Wander into the churches, especially the Gothicon the Marktplatz (with its built-in market stalls) the , and the (Heidelberg's second-oldest church, dating back to 1316).
Walk down the Steingasse toward the river, where you'll encounter the(Bridge Gate) and the or old stone pedestrian bridge across the Neckar, which inspired Goethe to gush about its beauty when he first saw it in 1797. Walk out onto the bridge and enjoy the views of Heidelberg's river, old town, and castle.
Heidelberg Castle article) deserves a full morning or afternoon: It's on a hill behind the Altstadt, which you can reach on foot (via winding streets or paths) or with the (see Heidelberg Funicular article), which runs to the castle and on up to the with its long-distance views, falconry center, children's fairy-tale park, and other attractions.(see
The Schloss is a pleasant combination of ruins, restored rooms (complete with guided tour), a massive wine vat, viewing terraces, an excellent see next page), and even a wedding chapel that attracts vast numbers of Japanese couples. You can walk along the outside of the castle free of charge; to go inside, buy a ticket at the office near the funicular station, and book a sightseeing tour once you're inside the grounds.(
Heidelberg's tourist office has inexpensive guided walking tours year-round, with English narration available several days of the week from spring through fall. German-language evening tours and bilingual bus tours are also available.
If you understand German, you might enjoy an historic walking tour with Stadtfuehrungen Heidelberg, which offers such themed tours as "Henker, Hexen, Huebschlerinnen" (led by the "executioner's daughter") and "Werwölfe, Wiedergänger und Vampyre."
On a nice day, you can stroll across the Alte Brücke to the, a series of winding roads and paths that offer views of Heidelberg, its Schloss, and the Königstuhl. (Wear good shoes and be prepared for a moderately steep uphill walk.)
If you've got time (and if you're visiting in season), a Weisse Flotte boat trip on the Neckar offers a relaxing break from city sightseeing.
Other nearby excursions include the suburb of(north and inland from the Alte Brücke), which has an 11th Century church with several double tombs, and the , where you can enjoy the views, peek into the ancient "Pagan's Hole" well, and visit the ruined abbey church of St. Michael.
Finally, no tour of the region would be complete without an excursion to the music-festival town of Schloss Schwetzingen Web site., with its palace and gardens that have been described as "Germany's Versailles." For information on the castle, including driving directions, see the
Museums and Festivals
Heidelberg has a good range of museums for a city of its size--some worth visiting at any time, and others good for a rainy day.
The, or , occupies a former palace on the Hauptstrasse. Its exhibits range from a cast of the 600,000-year-old "Heidelberg Man's" jawbone to Roman artifacts, medieval church art, and and displays that chronicle Heidelberg's role in the German Romantic movement.
A few meters up the street, the Deutsches Verpackungs-Museum is a "must see" for graphic artists and nostalgia buffs. The German Packaging Museum, which is sponsored by a long list of international companies, is filled with exhibits of consumer-product packages from the last 100+ years. The museum is located in a former church, and the staff are quite friendly. (When my wife and I visited, one gentleman took us through the entire museum, explaining each exhibit in German.)
When you visit the Schloss or Castle, allow time for a visit to the Deutsches Apothekenmuseum, or . Your ticket to the castle courtyard and the "Big Vat" (a huge wine barrel) includes admission to this fascinating medical-history museum, which is said to be the largest of its kind in the world.
Heidelberg has a number of major festivals during the year:
In January and June, thehas some 20 events, including some concerts in the university's historic Alte Aula assembly hall.
In March and April, Heidelberger Frühling (a.k.a. ) offers a series of orchestral, string-quartet, and lieder concerts in halls and other venues around town.
June also brings the, followed by the (Heidelberg Castle Festival), which runs from late June through early August and includes a long list of theatrical performances, concerts, Lieder evenings, film showings, and other cultural events.
The Schloss is also the focus ofin June, July, and September, when floodlights and fireworks offer spectacular views from the Altstadt and the promenades along the northern banks of the Neckar River.
Heidelberg isn't likely to spawn a new volume in the Born to Shop series, and there are better places to buy Missoni dresses or Armani suits. Still, if you need the basics, you'll find plenty of stores to choose from, including outposts of such well-known chains as Kaufhof, H&M, and Jack Wolfskin.
Heidelberg's real strength as an Einkaufzentrum is in the niches. Sweets, for example, are a Heidelberg staple: Only the most tradition-averse tourist would leave town without buying at least one Heidelberger Studentenkuss, a confection of praline nougat spread on a wafer base and enrobed in chocolate.
The Heidelberger Studentenkuss was invented in 1863, when--according to legend--male university students would have waiters carry chocolate "kisses" to female students in the gender-segregated taverns of that era.
You can buy the edible smooches at any souvenir store, but the officialshop is on Haspelgasse near the Alte Brücke.
Another popular candy store, the Heidelberger Zuckerladen, is a pilgrimage site for Uni students, children, and older folk who enjoy their Gummi Bears and other sugary sweets with a side dish of nostalgia.
The old-fashioned shop is run by an owner who hands out samples when the spirit moves him, and the dentist's chair in the shop window is a whimsical touch that appeals to visitors of all ages. Look for the Zuckerladen at Plöck 52, an east-west street that starts near the Peterskirche.
L'Epicerie, in the courtyard of Hauptstrasse 35, sells foods and gifts from the Mediterranean; across the hall is an upscale chocolatier, , where the cubes of drinking chocolate on stir-sticks make irresistible gifts or souvenirs.
If you'd rather indulge your literary tastes than your tastebuds, don't miss thearound or near the Universitätsplatz. You needn't read German to enjoy them: Several have English-language sections, and you'll find guidebooks and maps for Heidelberg and other German cities.
Looking for something racier? Last time we checked, there was anear the Jesuitkirche (see photos at right).
We mention the store because of its unique sign: The side facing the church is blank, having been painted over in response to a complaint from the church management (which apparently didn't want parishioners' thoughts turning from holiness to hanky-panky after Sunday services).
Heidelberg's most famous church, the, exhibits a medieval partnership between God and Mammon: The exterior of the church is lined with built-in stalls and shops where you can buy souvenirs, framed prints, and other non-religious merchandise.
are always popular with tourists, and they attract locals, too. From 7 a.m. until 2 p.m. on Wednesdays and Saturdays, you can buy raw mat, baked goods, jams, and other items on the Marktplatz in the Altstadt.
You'll also find weekly or twice-weekly markets across the river in Neuenheim and Handschuhsheim.
Rothenburg ob der Tauber, but her year-round Christmas shop on the Hauptstrasse at the corner of Universitätsplatz is worth a visit if you enjoy the holidays out of season. (Carolin Miltner, the Christkind of Heidelberg's 2006 Christmas Markets, posed for the inset photo at Käthe Wohlfahrt.)got her start in
Hotels and hostels
There's no shortage of hotels in Heidelberg, but you'll need to give some thought to where you want to stay.
Unless you're spending only one night in Heidelberg and have an early train the next day, we'd suggest looking for a room in the Altstadt, or Old Town, which is more atmospheric than newer parts of the city and more convenient to sightseeing.
Book ahead, especially if you're visiting in high season, since most hotels aren't very large and Heidelberg is a popular tourist destination.
In the higher-priced category, the Hotel Zum Ritter St-Georg is hard to beat. The gabled stone hotel was built as a cloth dealer's mansion in 1592, and the location couldn't be better: It's right on the Hauptstrasse in the pedestrian zone, where it faces the Heiliggeistkirche. (If you're arriving by car, you can park in the public garage on the Kornmarkt just up the hill.)
We can personally recommend the Kulturbrauerei, a comfortable and architecturally interesting modern hotel in a renovated historic brewery. The moderate rates include a first-rate buffet breakfast with exceptional croissants in an atmospheric dining room of the Kulturbrauerei's beer hall.
(Tip: If you're arriving by train, take the S-Bahn from Mannheim or the Heidelberg Hauptbahnhof to the Karlstor station, which is only a short walk from the hotel's location near the eastern end of the Altstadt.)
The Kulturbrauerei's owners have another highly-regarded hotel and restaurant, the Weisser Bock, which is in a side street off the Hauptstrasse in the middle of the Altstadt.
A more exotic choice is the centrally located Hip Hotel, where each room's decor is matched to a theme such as the Moorish "Marrakesch" or "Havanna" (which has a larger-than-life image of Che Guevara looming over the bed).
Down by the river, Zur Alten Brücke has views of the Neckar and the Old Bridge. In summer, you can eat breakfast outdoors in the hotel courtyard.
Another hotel near the bridge is the budget-priced Goldener Hecht, which comes highly recommended by the German-language Marco Polo Heidelberg guide.
Schnookeloch, a long-established "Studentenlokal" and tavern, also has hotel rooms above its restaurand and beer garden in the Haspelgasse near the Alten Brücke.
For more hotel and hostel listings, see our reservations partner's site, Booking.com: Heidelberg (which offers guaranteed lowest available rates at hotels throughout Europe).
Short-term holiday rentals can be a great alternative to hotels, especially if you're traveling with children or staying more than a few days.
For detailed listings from our affiliate partner with photos and reviews by paying guests, please see;
Restaurants, Pubs, and Cafés
Heidelberg reportedly has more than 300 restaurants, beer halls, wine bars, and cafés. Whatever the actual count, you certainly won't have any trouble finding a place to eat or drink in Heidelberg--especially if you arrive during the Christmas markets season, when you can nosh on sausages and other treats as you graze your way up the Hauptstrasse.
One of our own favorite restaurants is Kulturbrauerei, a renovated historic brewery where a beer hall, a microbrewery, and a small hotel are built around a cobblestoned courtyard near the eastern end of the Altstadt.
The main dining room stands two stories high, with painted ceilings, long wooden tables, and tall windows. The atmosphere is magical at dusk (when candles illuminate the tables), and the regional specialties go down easily with the homemade beer.
Nearby, the Spengel family has been serving up traditional food and drink at Zum Roten Ochsen for more than 165 years.
The restaurant-pub bills itself as a Studentenlokal, and on a recent visit, the resident pianist indicated (in German) how university students once occupied tables around the room according to their cities of origin. (Today, diners are more likely to be well-heeled tourists than students, but the food is good and the decor hasn't changed much over the centuries.)
Another old-time inn, Schnookeloch, has been around since the 1700s and still caters to budget-minded diners with a Studententeller (student menu) plus full-blown meals. It seats 60 in the cozy dining rooms; a beer garden is open in summer, and the inn has rooms upstairs.
Zur Herrenmühle, a restaurant-guesthouse on the Hauptstrasse, is a relatively new addition to the local dining scene, having been around only since 2002. It has a good reputation with local food critics, and prices are in the reasonable to upper-moderate range.
If you need to expand your collection of souvenir t-shirts, you'll find a Hard Rock Café at Hauptstrasse 142, which presumably appeals to the American military personnel and dependents at nearby U.S. Army facilities.
Heidelberg also has plenty of cafés where you can stoke up on coffee, hot chocolate, baked goods, and other sweets.in the Steingasse is quite nice (with a no-smoking area, no less), and so are the friendly staff at its sister café across the street.
Arriving by train:
Heidelberg is east of Mannheim, a major stop on the north-south rail artery between Frankfurt am Main and Basel, Switzerland. It's also on the main line between Stuttgart and Mannheim. (See TripSavvy's simplified rail map of Germany.)
If you're coming from Mannheim and staying in the Altstadt, you'll probably be traveling on the S-Bahn RheinNeckar for the last leg of your journey--and if you're staying in the eastern half of the Altstadt, you may find it more convenient to continue past Heidelberg Hauptbahnhof to theS-Bahn station, which is just east of the old town.
To research train connections, use the Deutsche Bahn's English-language journey planner.
Arriving by air:
The nearest airports to Heidelberg are Frankfurt International, Frankfurt-Hahn, Stuttgart, and City-Airport Mannheim (which has connections with a handful of German cities).
From Frankfurt International, you can catch a high-speed ICE train to Mannheim and connect to Heidelberg by S-Bahn. Total travel time is about an hour. See the Deutsche Bahn journey planner for details. Other options include the Lufthansa Airport Shuttle bus and the TLS Transfer & Limousine Service.
From Stuttgart Airport, take the S-Bahn to Stuttgart's Hauptbahnhof and connect to Heidelberg by train on the Deutsche Bahn.
From City-Airport Mannheim, OEG tram #5 will get you to Heidelberg Hauptbahnhof in 25 minutes.
Arriving by car:
The Heidelberg tourist office suggests arriving via Autobahn A5/A656 (Darmstadt-Karlsruhe/Basel), exiting at Heidelberg or HD-Schwetzingen.
For detailed directions and parking information, see the tourist office's Web site.
The RNV, a.k.a. Rhein-Neckar-Verkehr GmbH, operates trams and buses in Heidelberg and the surrounding region. Most lines stop at the Hauptbahnhof (main railway station) and/or the Bismarkplatz (a major shopping square and the gateway to the Altstadt or old town).
If you're staying outside the center or plan to explore the city's surroundings, the HeidelbergCARD may be useful.
Bicyclists can rent balloon-tired 8-speeds from Eldorado in the Altstadt. (Child seats and trailers are available.)
On this article's sightseeing and tours page, we mentioned two guidebooks, Castle and City Guide Heidelberg am Neckar and (in German) Marco Polo: Heidelberg.
Another useful little German-language book is Heidelberg: Kleiner Führer der Stadt Heidelberg, which costs only a few euros, fits into a pocket, has an easy-to-read centerfold map of the city center, and covers the major sights.
On the Web, your most complete source of tourist information for Heidelberg is the official English-language Web site of Heidelberg Marketing, a.k.a. the Heidelberg tourist office.
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