After visiting Heidelberg, Germany in the summer of 1878, Mark Twain wrote, “Germany, in the summer, is the perfection of the beautiful, but nobody has understood, and realized, and enjoyed the utmost possibilities of this soft and peaceful beauty unless he has voyaged down the Neckar on a raft.” I definitely agree with Twain's review of Heidelberg and so do the other 12 million people that visit this picturesque and beautiful town every year.
Heidelberg is a town in southwestern Germany located along the Neckar River. It's a charming and quaint town complete with a historic 13th century castle, an 18th century Old Bridge spanning the flowing Neckar River, and a spired Gothic church which towers over the city square. Spending a few days in this beautiful town is ideal, however, you can experience the most of Heidelberg in just one day.
Basics for Visiting Germany
Visiting any city in Germany is like visiting a charming fairytale town. In addition, with Germany's abundant public transportation, it is effortless to travel throughout this picturesque country. I simply love visiting Germany to enjoy its unique culture, savory food and spectacular sights.
Purchasing tickets at a train station is simple since all ticket booths have the option to search for and purchase tickets in English. Also, nearly everyone speaks English, which allows for a stress free vacation while visiting Germany. The currency of Germany, and most of the EU, is the euro, which I obtain at the ATM in the airport or train station after arriving. Cash is the preferred method of payment, with exception to your hotel, therefore, having plenty of euros on hand is beneficial.
How to Get Here
You can travel throughout Germany via train, bus, or auto. Traveling by train is definitely the least expensive, however, I wanted to enjoy the ease of traveling by car, which also saved us some time, since we were only staying one day and one night in Heidelberg. Not to mention, we got to drive fast on the AutoBahn!!!!
We were traveling to Heidelberg from Luxembourg City, but needed to get a rental car in Germany, therefore I found a bus to take us over the border to Saarbrücken, Germany. You may be asking, "why not just rent a car in Luxembourg City and drive to Heidelberg?" The answer is, when you travel from one country to another, many car rental companies will charge an astronomical fee for driving in more than one country or renting in one country and returning it in another country. Therefore, it is best to just rent a car in one country.
I love to use Rome2Rio's website to search how to get from point A to point B anywhere in the world!!! Your search results will also include the price of each option and usually a link to buy the tickets. This is how I found the best way to get from Luxembourg to Germany.
The fastest and least expensive way to get into Germany was via Flixbus. Only a one hour bus ride and just €7 per person. Traveling by Flixbus was easy and inexpensive. I had reserved a rental car with Sixt Car Rental online and picked it up upon our arrival in Saarbrücken. From here, we will drive to Heidelberg for one night, then to Rothenburg ob der Tauber for one night and lastly, navigate to Munich, where we will return the rented car and utilize public transportation for the remaining three nights we will be spending in Munich, Germany.
By driving, instead of using public transportation we will be saving at least a few hours of time each day so we can have more time for sightseeing. I have to say, driving through the scenic German countryside was a joy and so much fun. And, we got to drive 190 kph (118 mph) on the thrilling AutoBahn in a BMW!!!
If you plan on traveling by train, simply arrive at the Heidelberg Hbf and take a taxi, bus or train into the Old Town. From the Old Town, you will be able to walk to all of my points of interest.
Luckily, many of the hotels will suggest a place to park if you have a car and usually offer a discounted rate with your stay. This was the case with our hotel, which was only a five minute walk to our car.
Where to Stay
We stayed at the wonderfully located and family-run Hotel Goldener Hecht located right next to the Old Bridge in Heidelberg. This hotel is within walking distance of the castle, shopping, and many restaurants. I thoroughly enjoyed, Coffee Fellows, an outdoor cafe just outside our hotel entrance. Here we were able to get a delicious bagel sandwich and refreshing cold beverage with commanding views of the Old Bridge and ornate Bridge Gate prior to our day of sightseeing.
Stroll the Old Bridge
The Old Bridge, also called The Karl Theodor Bridge (Alte Brücke in German) and named after the man who constructed it in 1878, is a fantastic place to walk and soak up the picturesque scenery. You can view the famous Heidelberg castle up above and gaze at the ferries and boats gliding up and down the Neckar River.
At the south end of the bridge is the iconic Bridge Gate (Brückentor in German) which once was part of the city's fortifications. These medieval towers used to house the gatekeeper and also served as a jail.
Nearby the Bridge Gate is the Heidelberg Bridge Monkey which dates back to the 15th century. It was a statue made of stone situated in the tower of the Old Bridge. It is said that the tower represented power while the monkey statue was to depict mockery to anyone that would dare to harm the town. Sadly, it was destroyed during the Nine Years' War. Therefore, in 1999 a bronze statue was erected of the monkey and is a great spot for a photo.
Visit Heidelberg Castle
I couldn't wait to visit the historic and picturesque castle that Heidelberg is known for, so we began our 20 minute trek up the Königstuhl hill, which is just past the Kornmarkt Square. If a walk with quite a few stairs, and a fun meet and greet with a resident cat, is not ideal for you, there is a funicular (Bergbahn) available to ride up to the castle.
Heidelberg Castle is open Monday - Sunday, 9:00 am - 6:00 pm and offers tours in both English and German. There is a €9 admission fee that includes the use of the funicular. We decided to tour the castle and grounds on our own with the use of the handy brochure to guide us. There is no need to purchase tickets in advance. The grounds are immense and you will never feel crammed with a bunch of tourists.
The castle embodies German Romanticism and has breathtaking views in each direction. Heidelberg palace was built around 1255 when the counts palatine of the Rhine desired this area for their residence. It became one of the grandest palaces of the Holy Roman Empire and continued to grow in size over the years. In the 17th century the palace was attacked repeatedly and was finally destroyed by the French in the Nine Years' War. After some repairs, sadly the palace was attacked again, only to become ruins once more. Then lightning struck the structure not just once, but twice, on separate occasions, turning much of this once-glorious palace to rubble.
The palace ruins became a National Monument in the 19th century and was considered the "eighth wonder of the world". You can explore the castle at your leisure as we did. There are serene gardens to wander, hidden treasures to find, and the fascinating German Apothecary Museum to tour. One of the grandest treasures we found was the great Heidelberg Tun, or giant wine barrel. This sight to behold was built in 1664, and can hold up to 200,000 liters of wine! There are stairs that let you walk up to the top of the barrel where there is a platform, which was said to be used as a dance floor. To get down, take the spiral staircase on the opposite side.
The first image above is a smaller wine barrel (don't be deceived), behind this room is the area where the massive wine barrel is located.
Take a walk towards the face of the castle along the Neckar River where you will witness amazing views of the Old Town Center below and of the valley.
Inside the fortress, gaze upon beautiful architecture and tour the interesting apothecary museum.
Things to do in Old Town Heidelberg
After spending a couple of hours wandering around the old ruins, we decided to head back down to the Old Town to shop along the pedestrianized zone and popular shopping street, Hauptstrasse (Main Street). Along this well known area were many quaint souvenir shops and eateries to visit.
In the heart of Heidelberg's Old Town is the Market Square or the Marktplatz. Here you will find the Church of the Holy Ghost with its Romanesque and Gothic architecture, built between 1398 and 1515, (pictured below, top left) and the Town Hall. In the warm months many of the cafes and eateries will have tables and chairs surrounding the square for people to relax and eat.
Pictured above is a fountain with a statue of Hercules on a column, which was built in 1706, and is the focal point of the Market Square. Hercules, known for his strength, symbolizes the courageous undertaking that Heidelberg’s residents made to rebuild their destroyed city in the years after 1700. The one you see in the square is a replica, however, the original can be seen in the Kurpfälzisches Museum.
After an afternoon of shopping and browsing the Old Town, we headed back to our hotel to freshen up for dinner.
Dinner in Heidelberg
For dinner, I made reservations at Zum Roten Ochsen. This fantastic restaurant has been in business by the Spengel family for more than 180 years. They serve traditional German style food in a historical and charming building. In addition, on most days they have a pianist playing the piano, which was a perfect backdrop to a delicious meal.
We enjoyed the rumpsteak with onions, home-fried potatoes and sausages (Pfälzer Rumpsteak mit glacierten Zweibeln) and the mouth-watering sauerbraten with red cabbage and dumplings. Last, but not least, the apple struedel was a great way to finish this meal. If you enjoy eating traditional German food, this is where you'll find it. This restaurant is loaded with ambiance and the food was superb!
Our restaurant is just steps away from Kornmarkt. Kornmarkt is literally a block away from Market Square and is a quaint square with commanding views of the castle in the background. You can get a magnificent view of the lit castle from here at night.
The statue at this market was built in 1718 and is an image of Madonna. It was given to the city by the Jesuits in order to influence people to become Catholic.
Also, just past the Kornmarkt is where the walk up to the castle begins.
After a good night's rest at our hotel, we ate a traditional European breakfast of different breads, yogurt, fruit and cheese and got ready to take a leisurely stroll along the Neckar.
It's no wonder that Heidelberg became a hub for Romanticism in the late 1800's. Many artists, poets and writers, such as Mark Twain, were searching for a place from the past to inspire their art, which focused on emotion, a salute to nature, and to the wonders of this world. What better place to find that than Heidelberg?!
Next, we will travel to the quaint and mystical city of Rothenberg ob der Tauber. This will be my second visit to this fairytale town. I loved it so much, I just had to return.