Heidelberg – a picture perfect, old German town, on the River Neckar, in the valley of Odenwald.
With a majestic Heidelberg castle overlooking the city, the River Neckar flowing through its Old Town, old colorful buildings and beautiful hills all around; Heidelberg has all the elements to make anyone fall in love with it at first sight. I recently spent a couple of days here and loved every minute of my visit. Though there is not much to do here that can be classified as “non-touristy”, I still managed to find some different things and I’m sharing the same with you all below –
1. Hike up the ‘Philosophers Walk’ or the Philosophenweg – This is an ancient rough path through the vineyards that many professors and philosophers liked to visit for its beauty, solitude and stunning views. It can be reached in 2 ways – either by climbing up a set of steep uneven stairs or by driving up a hilly road. I climbed up the stairs that start near the Old Bridge and then came down via the road at the other end (recommend the same too!). While climbing up I came across several viewpoints with some beautiful views of the city below. And once I reached up, I was literally rewarded with even more astounding views of the Old Town, the Heidelberg Castle, the Old Bridge and the Neckar River. There were beautiful gardens with exotic flowers and plants all around with informational plaques and memorials dedicated to famous poets and historical figures. There was adequate seating to just sit and enjoy the nature around, see the views of Heidelberg town below or just watch the world go by.
2. Discover Heidelberg’s secrets and stories with a guided walking tour – Heidelberg’s old town is beautiful and I had an awesome time wandering around and seeing some of its quaint nooks and corners. The next day I ended up joining a guided walking tour in English and discovered some truly hidden secrets and stories of the city that had completely eluded me the day before. Our guide was very good and I learnt a lot about the region, local religion, Heidelberg’s long journey through the centuries, its famous people, etc etc. I would have never discovered these things by myself and totally recommend taking this walking tour.
3. Visit the unique Student Prison or the Studentkazer – This is one of the most unusual things that I have ever seen during my travels. Since the 1780s Heidelberg University had the right to exercise legal jurisdiction over its students and based on student’s misconduct could award them a jail time from 24 hours to 4 weeks. Over time students started decorating the walls of their “prison cells” with messages, fraternity house symbols, cartoonish figures, silhouettes of heads of fellow prisoners etc. This art has been preserved in this prison till today and is a definite must visit. You can read a detailed post on my visit here – A Unique Museum in Heidelberg.
4. Spend an afternoon by the river with some coffee and a slice of Rhubarb cake – A visit to any European town is incomplete without a late afternoon session of coffee and cake. And Heidelberg was no different. However during one such coffee break, I discovered the Rhubarb cake (Rhabarberkuchen). Considered to be a German classic, this cake had a sweet shortcrust pastry filled with rhubarb and a fluffy almond “custard.” The cake was an amazing combination of sweetness of the custard and a slight sourness of the rhubarb and it all went perfectly with a cup of strong coffee. Yum yum yum 🙂
5. Walk along the Neckar River – After the hike up Philosophenweg or the Heidelberg Castle, a good way to rest your weary feet is by the banks of the River Neckar. There is a nice promenade to enjoy the views of the river and the castle or to just take a quick walk around to enjoy the sunshine. I loved walking along the river and saw many people rowing and kayaking. Rowing is an important sport in Heidelberg and a legacy of the short British rule. There is something mesmeric about this river and I spent a long time just walking or sitting along it. There are options to take a cruise on the river too but somehow the timing didn’t work out for me.
6. Shop for some quirky arty stuff at the Hauptstrabe – Hauptstrabe is the main street in old town with several small side streets branching off it. On both sides of the street there are numerous boutique shops, galleries, cafes and restaurants. I found some really good shops on this street selling some quirky stuff that make perfect gifts for friends and family back home and gourmet shops selling interesting local stuff.
7. Pack a picnic basket and spend an afternoon in the beautiful gardens of the Heidelberg Castle – The Heidelberg Castle is a sprawling castle complex that includes the castle ruins, the ramparts, the Heidelberg Castle Tun and the Apothecary Museum. Everyone visiting Heidelberg visits the castle complex, but I felt the best part of this complex are the beautiful lush green gardens. And the best way to enjoy it is to pack and bring a picnic basket and a book, select a nice shady spot and spend hours just enjoying the views, the solitude and your book. You can read a detailed post on my visit here – The Majestic Ruins of the Heidelberg Castle.
Tips for the trip –
1. Heidelberg is a walkable city and everything that you want to see and do are within walking distance. However be sure to bring comfortable footwear.
2. You can consider buying the Heidelberg Card during your visit. It includes free access to all public transportation, cable car ride to the castle and the Castle and discounts on tickets for the Museums, City walks etc. There are multiple options (for the number of days and the number of individuals) and can be bought at main train station, tourism offices or your hotel.
3. To make the most of your visit stay in Old Town and there are very many options to choose from.
4. The guided Walking Tour starts from the Marktplatz (Market Square), main entrance to the Rathaus (Town Hall) at 10.30am. You can buy the ticket from the Tourist Office and there is a discount on the price with the Heidelberg card.
5. There is no ticket to visit the Heidelberg Castle grounds and Philosophenweg.
Disclaimer: My visit to Heidelberg was sponsored by Germany Tourism but the views shared in the post above are my own.