Heidelberg is located in the northwest of Baden-Württemberg in the Rhine-Neckar metropolitan region. The city with its more than 150,000 inhabitants is not only distinguished for its historic old town, it also has the most famous ruins and the oldest university in Germany. Elector Ruprecht I founded it in 1386 -after Prague and Vienna– as the third university in the Holy Roman Empire.
In contrast to other large German cities, Heidelberg was not destroyed in the Second World War and can therefore present most of the important buildings in its 1.6 km long pedestrian zone. This attractiveness is due to the fact that -after the destruction in the War of Succession by the troops of the “Sun King” in 1689 and 1693- the old town was rebuilt on a medieval ground plan. With few exceptions, the course of the streets, alleys and squares was preserved.
The real history of Heidelberg began in the early 13th century, when the Palatinate was ruled by the Wittelsbach dynasty. In 1356, the Palatine counts were granted the electoral dignity in the Golden Bull, and from then on they ruled their dominion, the Electoral Palatinate, as electors.
With its castle, romantic old town and lovely Neckar valley, Heidelberg is considered one of the most beautiful cities in Germany.
Tip 1: Königsstuhl
On Heidelberg’s local mountain, tourists can find not only the famous castle, but also the so-called Königsstuhl. This is the highest point that tourists can reach by mountain railroad. Up here, the view over the city can be enjoyed with a cool drink. In clear weather, even the mountains of the Palatinate can be spotted. Taking the train up to the Königsstuhl is much more relaxing, as the climb is quite steep in places. In addition, the Königsstuhl is well visited, especially in summer, and parking is limited.
If you want to visit the castle anyway, you get a free ride with the train up to there. For a small surcharge, can then still be driven to the station “Molkenkur”. The Königsstuhl can then be reached comfortably on foot. If you want, you can walk down to the castle along beautiful hiking trails. For children, the fairy tale paradise and the falconry on the Königsstuhl are particularly interesting.
Tip 2: Philosophers’ Walk
If you are good on foot, love nature and want to escape the big tourist hustle and bustle, you should climb the so-called Philosophers’ Walk. This is a hiking trail that is located opposite Heidelberg Castle. It offers a very good view of the castle. The Heiligenberg is climbed over a distance of about two kilometers.
For athletic people, this is not particularly strenuous, but it is important to wear comfortable shoes. It is therefore not a hiking trail in the classic sense, but more a route for a casual walk with a little incline. You can stop at various sunny spots and enjoy the view. The Philosophers’ Walk is particularly popular with couples in love, as it is considered very romantic due to the winding path overgrown with flowers.
Tip 3: Heidelberg Castle
Of course, the Heidelberg Castle is not an insider tip. After all, it is the landmark of Heidelberg and with its location on the mountain also not to be overlooked. A visit is nevertheless worthwhile. The Renaissance castle has served for more than 400 years, electors and counts as a residence and survived the two world wars with relatively little damage.
Those who wish to visit it can either drive up in their own car or take the mountain railroad. Those who are not afraid of a sporting activity can even climb the castle on foot. This does not require walking up the driveway, but a stairway leads visitors to the castle. The descent via this path is especially popular, as it offers a beautiful view over Heidelberg. Especially in summer, almost the entire Rhine plain can be seen. However, a large part of the castle can only be visited with an entrance fee. The entrance fee is six euros. Included, however, is also the ride on the mountain railroad. Photos next to the so-called “big barrel”, which can hold 220,000 liters of wine, are especially popular with foreign visitors.
Tip 4: Old Town
At the foot of the local mountain lies the old town of Heidelberg. This is always worth a visit with its many different stores and restaurants. The old town is especially known for its high variety. Everyone will find something here. In addition to extensive shopping tours and sightseeing, visits to bars or cafes are no problem here.
In the old town is also the Heiliggeistkirche (Holy Spirit Church). This has an almost 40 meter high tower, which can be climbed. From here you have a wonderful view over the old town. If you visit Heidelberg in autumn, you will find the Heidelberg Autumn in the old town. This is the traditional city festival, which also has a medieval market. The Heidelberg Autumn is held every year on September 27 and 28.
Tip 5: Old Bridge
The Old Bridge, also known as Karl Theodor Bridge, was built by the elector who named it after him from 1786 to 1788. It connects Heidelberg’s old town with the opposite district of Neuenheim.
The eight previous bridges were made of wood, so it was repeatedly destroyed by floods, river ice and fire. Therefore, the builder had it constructed as an arch bridge on their foundations and built of Neckar Valley sandstone.
The bridge was exposed to several acts of war and was able to survive the Second World War largely undamaged. However, it was blown up in 1945 by the German Wehrmacht during their retreat.
Shortly after the end of the war, the citizens of Heidelberg decided to rebuild the bridge. Thanks to a fundraising campaign, the Old Bridge was inaugurated in July 1947. Today, the Old Bridge is primarily a pedestrian bridge and only conditionally open to vehicular traffic.
The harmonious appearance of the Old Bridge is also a result of its fantastic location. It integrates perfectly with its surroundings and provides an optimal visual connection to both the Old Town and the castle.
The two bridge sculptures, on the second and seventh bridge piers, show the Elector Karl-Theodor in a larger-than-life pose on a pedestal surrounded by four figures of river gods, and Pallas Athena, the goddess of wisdom with helmet, lance, shield and owl, as patroness of Heidelberg University.