The HeidelbergCard is a must have for the Heidelberg visitor. It is offered by the Heidelberg Convention and Visitors Bureau and grants the visitor access to:
- The castle
- Twelve museums
- Public transport
- Walking tour of the old town
- A city guide and magazine
- Additional discounts
Prices start from around € 10 for a two day card for one adult. The HeidelbergCard can be bought from the Tourist Information office at the main train station, at a number of hotels and from the transport ticket machines found at bus/tram stops thoughout the town.
The Heidelberg Tourist Office puts on tours of the old town that take you to all points of interest in about two hours. If this sounds interesting, then between April – October the tours start at 2pm on the Universitätsplatz on Fridays and Saturdays and the rest of the year the tours are only on Saturdays. Just turn up and pay – prices are reasonable, less than € 11 at last check.
If you’re slightly less organised and would prefer to discover things yourself, we think that the best way to enjoy the old town is to simply wander around and see what you find. The old town doesn’t cover a particularly large area, so there’s no chance of you getting lost. The best starting point for your exploration of the old town is probably Bismarckplatz. From Bismarckplatz walk down the pedestrianised Hauptstrasse (high street). This is the main shopping street in Heidelberg and you’ll find plenty of opportunities to pick up some souvenirs or stop for a coffee/bite to eat. As you walk along the narrow Hauptstrasse, imagine that until twenty or thirty years ago, trams used to run along here – unbelievable!
Here’s a list some of the things you should check out:
- Universitätsplatz and the old university, baroque style building.
- Student prison in Augustinergasse
- Jesuitenkiche (Jesuit’s church) on Schulgasse
- Kornmarkt (corn market) – nice view of the Castle
- Markplatz – great for a coffee in the summer
- Heiliggeistkirche (Holy Ghost church) – on Marktplatz, Gothic church, sometimes classical music concerts here.
- Haus zum Ritter (Knight’s house) – just off Marktplatz, the oldest private house (1592) in Heidelberg, now a hotel. Built in the renaissance style.
- Alte Brücke (old bridge) and Brückentor (Bridge gate). Very picture worthy and a must visit. Join the queue to have your picture taken with the Heidelberg monkey (you’ll know what we’re talking about when you see it!).
If you have decided to buy the HeidelbergCard, have a look in the City Guide that comes with the guide. On page 23 there is a description of a walking tour around the old town which pretty much hits everything that will be of interest to the visitor. The tour takes around two hours at a fairly fast pace. You can do this on your own or join one of the guided tours on offer. The guided tours start at University place by the fountain. Between April and October they run in English at 10.00 am. The costs are around € 5 for adults and € 3 for children or free if you have a HeidelbergCard.
- Walk across Kornmarkt, into Burgweg, here the path splits and you can either follow the steps to the right or take the scenic (no step) route to the left. Follow the signs up to the castle. In the summer heat this can be quite a strenuous walk up hill.
- Take the Bergbahn (mountain railway) from the Kornmarkt parking garage, just off Kornmarkt (return ticket – adults € 3, children € 2 – approximate prices only). If you have the HeidelbergCard you can get on the Bergbahn for free. Get off at the first stop for the Castle. Riding the Bergbahn is good fun, it’s not really going up the side of a mountain, but nevertheless, it does go up quite a steep gradient.
Once inside the Castle courtyard, you’ll see quite clearly that parts of the castle were built at different times in different styles. It really is quite impressive. In the left hand corner of the courtyard, as you face the river Neckar, is the entrance to cellar where the Grosses Fass (Big Barrel) is found (no extra payment necessary to enter). The big barrel is infact the biggest wooden barrel ever to have been filled with wine. The barrel was constructed in 1751 and can hold over 221,000 litres of wine! There’s a little walkway which takes you across the top of the barrel (the top area was sometimes used for dancing). There’s a little German wine ship here – you can taste the wine before buying.
Make sure you go out onto the Belvedere terrace – you’ll be rewarded with great views of the old town below – good picture opportunity.
Costs: entry to the Castle courtyard and Grosses Fass – € 2.50 (children € 1, students €1.20), a further € 2 (children € 1) for the guided tour. Open daily from 08.00 until 17.00.
The castle gardens are always open and there is no entry charge. The gardens were originally designed by a French engineer, Salomon de Caus, who created (along with the help of several hundred workers) an apparently quite stunning ornate garden with waterfalls, terraces, statues and beautiful flowers. Unfortunately war and strife pretty much destroyed this original garden, which was later replaced by the current English park style garden that you can visit now. Goethe visited the Gardens during his stay in 1814/15 and you’ll find a statue of Goethe commemorating his visit hidden away in the garden. You’ll get some great views of the old town and castle from the garden.
Special tip: As the garden is open at night, come up and see the old town and castle lit up – very romantic!.
Now that you’ve seen the castle and walked around the gardens, you have two choices. You can either head back down to the old town or get back on the Bergbahn and go to the top of the hill, to Königstuhl. It’s quite a long way up to the top and you’ll have to change trains half way up onto a completely wooden contraption! Up at the top you get some truly wonderful views of Heidelberg and the surrounding area. On a clear day, you can see all the way to Mannheim and Karlsruhe. There are refreshment facilities available at the top. Once you’ve ‘done’ the view, you can jump back on the train or you can walk down through the forest. It is a very pleasant walk back down through the woods – the route is sign posted, so don’t worry about getting lost – but watch out for mountain bikers tearing down behind you! But make sure you’re wearing proper walking shoes or trainers – high heels wouldn’t be appropriate!!
The Philosphenweg offers great views of Heidelberg old town from across the River Neckar….. but there’s no such thing as a free lunch in this world and I’m afraid you have to walk up either a pretty steep hill or climb up a lot of steps to enjoy the view!
There are two ways to get up the Philosophenweg, you can either:
- Walk across the old bridge, away from the old town. Once you’ve crossed the bridge, turn left and cross the road at the traffic lights. There is a little opening to your left with a sign saying ‘Philosophenweg’ – go into this opening and follow the stairs up to the Philosophenweg. There are a couple of strategically placed benches on the way up for those in need of a rest! Once you the reach the top of the steps turn either left or right, explore and enjoy the view. There are lots of paths into the woods and nature, some of which take you up to the Heiligenberg. All the paths are sign posted.
- Walk across the new bridge, away from Bismarckplatz. Turn right at the second crossroads and follow the road upwards. This root is pretty steep at the beginning I’m afraid. You’ll actually walk up through one of the most expensive areas in Heidelberg to live – most of these houses have got great views of the old town and castle. You’ll also pass a number of University buildings. Eventually the road will turn into a pedestrian only zone. You’ll walk past number of viewing galleries and gardens. Enjoy the view!
Tip: buy some snacks and drinks and take them up to the Philosophenweg for a picnic in one of the gardens overlooking the old town.
Heidelberg has a couple of nice little, bustling markets – one in the old town and one across the river in Neuenheim. These markets are a part of ‘real’ German life and as such are interesting to visit. The nicest market is the Neuenheim market. This takes place in the Neuenheimer Marktplatz twice a week on Saturdays and Wednesdays from around 7am until 1pm. The markets sell a range of fresh produce – fruit, vegetables, flowers, cheeses and so on. In the summer you’ll be able to take some great pictures. Take a look at the cars that are parked around the market on Saturdays – Porsche, Audi, Mercedes, BMW – and you’ll quickly realise that perhaps this isn’t the cheapest place in town to do your food shopping.
Given that you’re now in Neuenheim, take the time to have a wander around, grab a coffee in ‘Le Coq’ or ‘Cafe Moro’, buy yourself a croissant in the French bakery. Neuenheim is one of the nicest residential areas in Heidelberg and is a little off the beaten track of the tourist. Take this chance to see how the people of Heidelberg live.
The market in the old town is much smaller than the Neuenheim Market. It also runs on Saturdays and Wednesdays, selling similar produce to the other market. You’ll probably end up walking past during your stay, so have a little look before you continue walking up to the castle.
Handschuhsheim also has a bustling market by the Tiefburg on Saturday mornings. To get to Handschuhsheim, walk to Neuenheim as described in the previous paragraph and keep on walking another 10 minutes or so until the road forks at Kapellanweg. At this point take the right fork, this means you’ll basically continue walking straight ahead and you’ll find yourself at the market. It’s right next to the Tiefburg (see picture), which is the ruin of an old castle and well worth a visit in its own right. This is slightly off the beaten track…. so make the most of it!
You’ll notice that there are a number of passenger ships docked on the River Neckar, next to the old town. These ships take visitors up and down the Neckar Valley on pleasure trips lasting around 2 to 3 hours. The Neckar Valley really is quite beautiful. You’ll cruise past lovely old villages and towns – some dating back a thousand years. You’ll also notice that there are a lot of trees in this part of the world! Some of the boats have open tops, so if it’s a sunny day make sure you take one of these boats and get yourself a suntan while enjoying the scenery.
The boat trip season runs from Easter to September. A round trip from Heidelberg to Neckarsteinach and back costs approximately € 9 for adults and € 5 for children (discounts for HeidelbergCard holders). All trips have running commentary in English, French and German. Check the timetables at the booking office down by the boats.
Fancy something a little different and with high excitement levels? Why not try a helicopter tour? Fly over Heidelberg Castle – get that view that few other visitors are lucky enough to see and also enjoy the beautiful river Neckar and surrounding area from the air.
If you would like more information on the available helicopter tours, please email firstname.lastname@example.org!
It may seem a little odd having this section here, but believe us when we say that it can get very hot in Heidelberg in the summer and the best way to cool down is to go to one of the outside swimming pools. These are large complexes with lots of grassy areas to lie down and get some colour and of course there’s the swimming pool as well! The cost is minimal, depending upon how long you stay, but expect to pay less than € 4. The two most popular outside swimming pools are:
- Thermalschwimmbad (Vangerow 4, tel: 581964). Located about 10 minutes walk from Bismarckplatz.
- Schwimmbad (Tiergarten 13, tel: 412594). Next to the Zoo and Schwimmbad disco – go for a swim, visit the bears and dance the night away. Very popular – good fun for all the family. If you’re a little hungry but don’t want to go all the way back into town, then just walk around the corner from the pool, away from the Zoo and you’ll find a nice little Greek restaurant with seating outside. Serves good Greek and German style food.
If you don’t have the energy to swim but would like to lay down in the sun, then make your way down to the Neckarwiese. This is the grassy area down by the river across from the old town. You’ll find it packed with people like yourself, looking for some quality time in the sun. Just by the new bridge you can hire pedal boats – great fun! But make sure you keep an eye out for the huge barges going up and down the river!
It’s possible to hire out rowing boats and pedal boats down by the Neckarwiese. Expact to pay around € 5 for the rowing boats and € 8 for the pedal boats per half hour. Great fun, but watch out for the larger boats!!
If you’ve made it up to the Philosophenweg, then another 30 to 45 minute walk through the forest will take you to the Heiligenberg. The walk is slightly uphill, but nowhere near as steep as the walk up to Philosophenweg. If you don’t fancy walking, you can drive up to the Heiligenberg. There are a couple of interesting things to see:
- Thingstätte – this is an open air amphitheatre built in 1935 by the Nazis using forced labour. It’s somewhat overgrown with weeds and a little derelict. Walking through the amphitheatre and up the steps is a little spooky. The acoustics are pretty good – get one of your friends to stay on the stage and you climb to the top of the steps – speak to each other without raising your voices. At the top of the steps, you are actually at the highest point of the hill.
- Just behind the Thingstätte you’ll find the ruins of an old monastery that was built in the 9th century. This monastery was abandoned in 1500.
- If you’ve walked up, you’re probably pretty thirsty and hungry. Luckily there is a guest house with a beer garden here! Before you get too carried away, remember that you have to walk back down again!
If you have a mountain bike, this is a nice but not too challenging ride. There are plenty of tracks around this area for you to try out.
The Christmas market is something of a tradition in Germany. Most towns will have one. Heidelberg’s is by no means the biggest or the most famous (that would be the Christmas market in Nürnberg), but is worth visiting none the less.
What is the Heidelberg Christmas Market? The Heidelberg Christmas market runs from around the 24th November until the 22nd December, daily from 11am until 9pm (check the events section). Christmas gifts, unusual herbs, special tees, hot German food specialities, Glühwein (this is a warm wine – perfect for those cold winter afternoons – certainly beats stamping your feet on the ground to keep warm!), amusements rides for little children and so on can all be had at the Christmas market. The Christmas atmosphere is something quite special.
The Christmas market takes place in three of the town squares in the old town:
These squares are all located towards the Castle end of the old town.
If you’ve run out of things to do in Heidelberg then don’t despair as there are a number of interesting things to do in the immediate area. We’ll talk about three day (maybe half day) trips right now and as time goes by we will add extra trips to this page.
- Pay a visit to the town of Schwetzingen. Schwetzingen is a small town 12 KM to the west of Heidelberg. As mentioned in the unusual section, you can get to Schwetzingen with either a very pleasant cycle ride or by car on the motor way. Schwetzingen is famous for its extensive castle gardens. The castle isn’t really much of a castle, but rather a large palace. There is a small entry fee for the castle gardens that is well worth it. You’ll spend at least two hours wandering around the gardens, looking at the different architectural follies, the newly renovated mosque, the peacocks and all the other ‘interesting’ things dotted about the garden. Guided tours of the palace are also available. Once you’ve finished your tour of the gardens, take a coffee or something to eat in the Schwetzinger Marktplatz directly in front of the Castle. There are a number of coffee houses/restaurants in the Marktplatz – our favorite is the “Kaffee Haus” – in the summer they have lots and lots of tables outside where you can watch the world go by.
- Pay a visit to the town of Weinheim. Once again you can get to Weinheim by bike, but this time it is about a 20 KM journey with a couple of hilly sections. The beauty of the bike ride is that you cycle through a number of vineyards (this is a big wine growing area) and little villages where there are either hardly any cars or no cars allowed at all. Alternatively you can drive to Weinheim. There isn’t a huge amount to see Weinheim, but it is nice to visit the old town and simply wander around. There are some very old buildings with interesting architectural styles dotted around. Right in the centre of the old town is a marketplace with lots of cafés/restaurants – this is a great place to have lunch. You’ll probably also want to visit the castle and ajoining gardens. Once you finish with Weinheim, you could stop off in Ladenburg on your way back to Heidelberg. Ladenburg is a town originally from Roman times. It’s pretty small, but again pretty and nice to walk around.
- Half way between Heidelberg and Weinheim you’ll find the town of Schriesheim. This is a nice little town with a Castle overlooking it from above. The Castle actually contains a lovely restaurant with an outside terrace with a terrific view. You can sit out there and have a drink or a meal. Well worth the walk up the hill if you have the energy! Once you get to the castle, climb up the very narrow (and dark!) tower for an unimpeded view of the whole area
- Slightly further afield is the Cathedral town of Speyer. This is really about a half hour drive away from Heidelberg. You can take a look at the somewhat imposing Cathedral, walk through the old town, visit the car museum (with a large selection of Ferraris) or watch a film at the IMAX cinema. It is certainly possible to cycle to Speyer from Heidelberg. It takes around 2 hours (one way) at a comfortable pace without any hills, but make sure you have a comfortable saddle!
If you’re feeling energetic and the weather is good, why don’t you hire a bike and explore? To hire a bike go to (near the old bridge):
- “Fahrradverleihs an der Alten Brücke”, Neckarstaden 52, Tel: 06221 65 444 60 (€15 for the day, free if it’s your birthday! Their English web site – Click here)
There are many, many cycle routes in this area that take you through the surrounding countryside. Drivers in Heidelberg are generally very considerate to cyclists (probably because they also ride bikes – nearly everyone in Heidelberg does), so riding on the roads shouldn’t be a problem. In built up areas there are often marked cycle paths, giving you some extra room on the road – you’ll see these around Bismarckplatz.
The different cycle routes are too many to mention here, but if you really would like some details then send us a a mail and we’ll give you some ideas about where to cycle. One of our ideas for a day trip is Schwetzingen. Most people will jump in a car and drive along the motor way and be there in about 15 minutes having seen none of the countryside. There is a great cycle route starting from just behind the main station in Heidelberg all the way into Schwetzingen, through farmland and little villages. This route will take you about 45 minutes on the bike – it’s the best way to get to Schwetzingen.
One of the big attractions in the summer is the Schlossbeleuchtung (castle lighting) and fireworks. The fireworks are something quite special and bring a real party atmosphere to Heidelberg for three Saturdays over the summer season. The Castle lighting and fireworks always take place on:
- first Saturday in June
- second Saturday in July
- first Saturday in September
The show starts with the Heidelberg castle being lit up as though it is on fire. This is to remember the times in 1689, 1693 and 1764, when the castle went up in flames! After a few minutes of the castle ‘burning’, the fireworks begin. The fireworks are launched from the old bridge (which is obviously closed at this time) and last for about 15 minutes. The fireworks exploding over the old bridge with the castle looming in the background is really something to see.
The best place to view the fireworks is from the ‘other’ side of the river, either on the Philosophenweg or Neuenheimer Landstr. The new bridge (Theodor Heuss) also offers good views. Expect Heidelberg to be pretty crowded when the fireworks come to town. The fireworks start roughly 15 to 20 minutes after darkness falls. A lot of people also sit out on the Neckarwiese (the grassy area down by the river) and enjoy the fireworks after having a barbecue (which you’re not really supposed to do, but everyone does anyway). If you fancy doing that, make sure you get there early to ensure a good position. Please don’t leave your empty bottles and rubbish on the grass – take it with you, there are bottle recycle containers and rubbish bins just underneath the new bridge.
Special tip: get yourself a bottle of German ‘champagne’, called Sekt (costs about € 6), a couple of glasses and go up to the Philosophenweg. Find yourself somewhere to sit down and open that Sekt while enjoying the fireworks. Don’t expect to be on your own, but enjoy the atmosphere.