If you want to discover more places worth seeing in Germany, you absolutely have to see Heidelberg. This romantic city is full of history and tons of great things to do for free and for a fee – even when it’s raining!
We say it rained almost the whole time we went to Heidelberg to see it. That said, we still loved the city. With great sights like the famous Heidelberg Castle, exploring the old town and taking the cable car to the royal throne, tourists and locals alike will be delighted.
In this post we explain exactly what to do, where we ate, how we got around and how you can discover Heidelberg as a professional. Let us begin!
Worth Knowing When Living In Heidelberg Germany
Before heading to Heidelberg, there are a few details you should know. Planning ahead always makes traveling easier, doesn’t it? In the following we will deal with a few topics such as how to get to Heidelberg, how to use public transport, where to stay and much more!
General information about Heidelberg
Heidelberg is a romantic and historical city with a long history (like many other cities in Germany). The city was founded at the end of the 12th or beginning of the 13th century and is known for its climate (very warm compared to other parts of Germany), its architecture (it was not bombed during World War II) and its unique location on the Rhine rift valley.
Heidelberg University is the oldest university in Germany (founded in 1386) and has played a key role in shaping the history of the city (and Europe).
More recently, Heidelberg has been referred to as the “City of Literature” by UNESCO because of its contributions to art, especially written work. In view of the fact that the Heidelberg Library was founded in 1421 (and still exists today as the oldest in Germany), this helps with the entire discussion of “literature”!
Spend the night in Heidelberg
If you are staying in Heidelberg, you are looking for a place to stay. In that case, there are plenty of great hotels to choose from across Heidelberg.
We were at NinetyNine Heidelberg City and it was great. We really, really liked it. The bed was comfortable and the staff were great. The special thing (and what Eric especially loved) was the decor. It’s a cool, modern hotel with a jungle theme – and animals everywhere!
Seriously, there are fish in the bathroom, parrots in the hallways on the room numbers, a painting of a cute monkey sleeping over the beds, and a funny monkey that keeps the lights on in the rooms.
Aside from furnishings, the rooms were also functional with shelves, hanging space, and plugs by the bed. We didn’t eat or drink in the bar or restaurant but it looked like people were having a great breakfast.
The only downside was that it’s not right in the old town – but there is a tram stop right outside the hotel and you can be there in 10 minutes so it was very convenient. You can also walk to NinetyNine from the main train station which was nice. Overall, we can only recommend it.
If you are looking for a hotel in Heidelberg’s old town, you have a wide choice.
You might want to take a look at the Hotel Holländer Hof , which is located directly on the river opposite the Old Bridge (see photo above). This is a classic hotel with a great breakfast – and you’re just steps from the best attractions overlooking the river!
If you want to live in the middle of the old town (and we mean Mitte), then you should take a look at the Hotel Zum Ritter St.Georg . The historic hotel / restaurant (built in 1592) is located directly on the market square opposite the Church of the Holy Spirit. It couldn’t be more central.
Best things to do in Heidelberg
Okay, now that we’ve covered some of the details about visiting Heidelberg, let’s get down to the things to do and see. There are a handful more, of course, but that’s what we know about – and we’ve covered most (if not all) of the top Heidelberg attractions!
1. Stroll through the old town
Of course, no visit to a historic German city is complete without a stroll through the old town. Heidelberg is definitely no exception! Heidelberg is one of the most beautiful and romantic old towns that we have ever seen.
To start your hike, walk down the main street. This long street divides the old town lengthways from Bismakplatz (by tram / bus) to the end of the old town by the castle.
If you follow the street you will get to the market square, where you will see the town hall (see above) and the Heiliggeistkirche (see below). The square is beautiful and lined with colorful buildings. This is also where the Christmas market takes place, where you can buy important souvenirs.
Nearby there is a small square called Kornmarkt, from which you have a breathtaking view of the castle (see photo above). If you return to the market square and drive behind the Heiliggeistkirche towards the river, you will come to Steingasse (see below), which will lead you directly to the Old Bridge.
Other than that, we just walked through alleys / streets that we thought were pretty to see what we could find. Get off the main street and you will find beautiful streets, cafes and more to yourself.
2. Discover the Heidelberg Castle
Also known as Heidelberg Castle or Heidelberg Castle, this castle (technically mostly a ruin) made of red sandstone is an absolute must. The castle was built on the hill in the early 1200s and has grown and fortified over the centuries.
Heidelberg Castle is an extremely important example of a number of architectural styles – the Renaissance – and was demolished in wars from the 17th century onwards. Today the castle grounds are divided into many parts, from the garden to the visitor center to the inner sights.
To get to the castle you can walk up the paths OR take the mountain railway. Note: There are TWO trams in Heidelberg – the first takes you to the castle and the Molkenkur station – and the second goes from Molkenkur to the top of the hill.
Important: your entrance ticket to the castle includes ONLY one ride on the first tram, but you can buy a ticket that includes all tram rides. We did this on a machine at Kornmarkt that you can see in the photo above.
The first tram is more modern and runs more frequently than the next cable car (up and down about every 10 minutes because there are two). Case and point: it’s quick to get to the castle and quickly come back down when that’s as far as you want it!
Once inside the castle you can enter the lovely gardens at the back and access the front terrace with free city views. Paid entry is through a middle gate into the interior of the castle – and there is a person checking the ticket.
That said, there are a couple of attractions inside the castle – all of which are included with your entrance ticket to the castle. It can be confusing, but now that we’ve experienced it (and you’re reading this guide) it will make a lot more sense. The following attractions (including paid tours) are located in the castle by the person paying the ticket:
3. German Pharmacy Museum
The German Pharmacy Museum is basically a comprehensive exhibition on the history of pharmacology in Germany / Europe.
The displays are well done – there are even numerous pharmacies of different ages set up in different rooms to illustrate the evolution of the pharmacist’s work areas.
Because it actually got our attention (Eric also studied health at school), we wandered through the whole thing for almost two hours. Almost all information is in German and English, which is very nice.
4. Heidelberg Tun
If you like wine you must visit the Heidelberg Tun! Simply put, there is a huge wine barrel in the basement of the castle. The house was built in 1751 and holds over 220,000 liters of wine. It’s absolutely massive and definitely worth a visit.
If you feel overwhelmed with all there is to see, consider visiting the castle with a private guide to get as much out of the vast complex of ruins and history as you can! We recommend visiting when in Heidelberg as it is fascinating to check out.
5. Take the mountain railway to Königstuhl
After Heidelberg Castle, you can climb another cable car to enjoy a breathtaking view of the landscape!
Simply take the first cable car, PAST the Castle Station, to the Molkenkur station. Suppose you bought a ticket for the entire route at the valley station, then you just walk a few meters, go through the next gates and change to the old red cable car! This car runs about every 20 minutes so it is easy to drive up and down relatively often.
Once on the second car, it begins to crawl up the hill. It’s certainly shakier than the first car, but it adds to the experience. You can see the city fade and shrink and it’s quite awesome to be honest (even on a rainy day we’ve had).
Once at the top, we got out and took a break in the rain to have a wonderful view of the world below. It’s windy up there so bring a sweater just in case. There is a little cafe in front of the train station and a little museum where you can see how the mechanisms work when the cars go up and down the hill (pretty cool).
Up there you can also use numerous hiking trails around the mountain and there is also the fairytale paradise, a fairytale outdoor park for children! Overall, we recommend a trip to the very top – it’s worth it just for the fresh air and the experience!
6. Walk the old bridge
The “Old Bridge”, also called Old Bridge Heidelberg or Karl-Theodor-Bridge, is exactly that: an old arch bridge in the city of Heidelberg! This version of the bridge was originally built in 1788 and is also made from the classic red sandstone that you can see all over the city center!
The bridge itself is functional as it crosses the Neckar in the north to connect the Neuenheim area with the old town. That said, it is also lined with statues of famous figures from German history.
Another special feature at the end of the old town of the bridge is the Heidelberg bridge monkey. This bronze statue was placed there in 1979 and is a popular photo spot for visitors! There are a number of legends about rubbing different parts of the statue (the mirror, the mice, or their fingers) to get good luck or fertility, but we just looked at it!
Another distinctive feature of the bridge that you only notice when you are on the bridge is the bridge gate, an old city gate. The gate is beautiful and originally dates back to the Middle Ages. It really adds to the romantic atmosphere of the city and the bridge!
7. Church of the Holy Spirit + tower climbing
This iconic red church, also called Heiliggeistkirche, is a highlight in the old town. Visiting the Protestant church was probably one of our favorite things to do in Heidelberg – for example, climbing the tower for a breathtaking view!
Let’s start with the church itself. It is located directly on the market square and is freely accessible. Inside you can check out the red and white decor and read various information. Interestingly they tuned an organ when we visited so it was loud (in a good way).
After we went in we knew you could climb the tower but didn’t know how much or where to start. Fortunately, we noticed a sign and spoke to the woman at the desk. It cost 2 euros per person (general admission) and 1 euro for students. We then climbed the spiral staircase near the reception.
After a series of stairs and corridors, follow the arrows and enter the last tower for a spiral staircase. The stairs get pretty narrow so make sure no one comes down as there is no room for passage.
Once at the top, you can walk around the tower and look at the old town in all directions. During the time we were there, only two other people came up – so we enjoyed every moment of our view of the city center. We would definitely recommend the climb if you are able – it’s one of our best memories of Heidelberg.
8. Discover the student prison + university museum
Of course, no list is complete without acknowledging Heidelberg University and its significant history. As already mentioned in the intro, the university was founded in 1386, making it the oldest university in Germany!
As such, it has a rich history – some good and some a little darker. So this could be a good time to mention one of Heidelberg’s top attractions: the student prison, or basically the student prison. Exactly what you think.
From 1778 to 1914, the university had legal authority to imprison misbehaving students! The students stayed for a few days or weeks (they were still attending class) and spent the time writing on the walls – and the graffiti can still be seen today.
To discover the rich history of the university, you can also visit the university museum. This small but interesting museum dates back to the 13th century and delves into the company’s history – through change, war and more.
9. Hike the Neckar + Neckarwiese
Of course, no visit to Heidelberg is complete without knowing the beautiful river that shapes the city – the Neckar. Officially a river that flows into the mighty Rhine, the Neckar meanders through the region before ending in Heidelberg.
One of the best ways to see the countryside and city from the river is by taking a boat ride. During our visit we actually saw a number of boats anchored on the banks of the old town near the Old Bridge.
You can also enjoy the river by exploring the green space of the same name – the Neckarwiese. Literally translated it means “Neckarwiese”, this popular spot of long and narrow green spaces is ideal for walking across the river or just for sunbathing. It gets crowded on nice days!
10. Go on the Philosopher’s Path
There is also a lot to see on the other side of the Neckar! One of the most important activities is the Philosopher’s Walk. It is said that these green trails that hug the lower slope were used by scientists in the past – hence the name.
These days you can walk the paths for great views of the city across the river. The trails also have a number of interesting features – such as plants you normally see in warmer climates (lemon trees and palm trees) and a lovely green space called the Philosopher’s Garden.
There are also some historical and interesting places to explore along the way. If you want to experience the route a little differently, you can take a Phlisophers’ Walk Segway tour!
Unfortunately during this trip we did not have the opportunity to walk the path of the philosophers as the rain was just too bad most of the time. However, we know that one day we’ll be back (Heidelberg is just too beautiful not to return) and then we do it!