Heidelberg’s medieval buildings, ancient university and crumbling romantic castle have drawn in philosophers, poets and intellectuals for centuries. Writers Goethe and Mark Twain, the painter Turner and composers Schumann and Brahms have been among those captivated by Heidelberg; now 3million visitors follow in their footsteps each year. Although in the summer the number of tourists can be off-putting, the fact that Heidelberg is still an active university city means it has avoided solidifying into one big museum. 28,000 students help keep Heidelberg’s culture thriving and its numerous bars buzzing.


The Altstadt (old town) is sandwiched between the Neckar river and the overlooking schloss, which is widely believed to be one of the country’s finest castles. Not for nothing is Heidelberg believed to be the home of Romanticism: this rambling red sandstone complex looks like a living breathing fairytale. You can climb up to it via cobbled lanes, or opt for the funicular railway. Begun in the 13th century and largely rebuilt in the 18th, the castle complex has much to entertain, from the towers and internal rooms to an enormous keg which can hold 220,000 litres of wine. There is also an unusual pharmaceutical museum, and great views over the town and river from the terrace. Look out for the foot imprint on the terrace floor – according to legend it was left by a knight leaping from the princess’ bedroom window as her prince unexpectedly returned home.

Back down in the Altstadt, head for the Marktplatz, historic centre of the city and the place witches and heretics were once ceremonially burned. Here you’ll find the Heiliggeistkirche, Heidelberg’s gothic cathedral with an impressive baroque roof. Once an internal wall divided the catholic and protestant parts of the cathedral, but this was torn down in 1936, allowing visitors to appreciate the building as a whole. For terrific panoramic views, climb the 204 steps to the top of the spire.

A little further west is the Universitatplatz, centre of the ancient university and home to its (now unused) original faculties of law, philosophy, medicine and theology. The university museum provides an illuminating whiz through the institution’s history. A short walk down the Grabengasse takes you to the university library which houses 2 million books. One attraction not to miss in this area is the Studentenkarzer – the student jail – in which rowdy, drunken or womanising students used to be incarcerated for a minimum of three days. During their sentences students were fed bread and water, and only allowed brief trips out to sit exams. You can visit the prison and look at the carvings and graffiti of bored students. Incredibly, the student prison was in operation as recently as 1914.

It’s worth venturing out of the Altstadt and over onto the Neckar’s north bank. Cross the river at the beautiful Alte Brucke (old bridge) and follow the signs to the Philosophenweg, a truly stunning pathway through steep vineyards and shady orchards. Carefully planted and maintained, the walk gets its name from its most famous fan, German philosopher Hegel. It offers breathtaking views across the Neckar to the Altstadt and the imposing schloss behind. People gather here to watch the city’s tri-annual fireworks displays.


You could spend a whole day moseying along Hauptstrasse, Europe’s longest pedestrianised shopping street. Full of the usual tourist fodder (teddy bears in lederhosen etc.) there are also some high-quality boutiques and department stores on the street. Try Michael Kienscherff for handicrafts like music boxes, nativity scenes, nutcrackers and crystal ornaments. Gätschenberger, meanwhile, is known for its array of fine linens and embroideries, and the finest leather shop in town is Leder-Meid.

Markets are also big business in Heidelberg. Marktplatz has one on Wednesday and Saturday mornings, whilst Friedrich-Ebert-Platz is the place to go on Tuesdays and Fridays. For one Saturday each month a giant flea market (flohmarkt) covers the Kirchheimer Weg, on the city's south-western edge, beginning at the Messeplatz. Come here to peruse the mounds of junk and knickknacks on display.

Nightlife and Eating Out

Tourists can eat their fill of German fare in the restaurants lining the Hauptstrasse. Local specialities include fladle suppe (thin strips of pancake in beef broth), spargelsuppe (asparagus soup) and spatzle noodles with melted cheese and onions. There is also an excellent restaurant up at the schloss. No self-respecting student-town would be complete without cheaper and more eclectic eateries too, and away from the major tourist areas you can get anything from Indian or Thai to Italian and Moroccan, and eat your fill for a few euros.

Post-dinner entertainment is plentiful in Heidelberg. You can choose from sophisticated theatre at the Zimmertheater, more alternative plays, films and art shows at the Kulturhaus Karlstorbahnhof, or music from the city’s philharmonic and symphony orchestras. Check the listings magazine ‘’Meier’’ to find out who’s playing and where. Fed up of culture? Embark on an old-fashioned student booze-up in the plethora of bars on the narrow Unterestrasse, which runs parallel to the Hauptstrasse. Many of the city’s clubs and music venues are also in this area, like Cave 54, Germany’s oldest jazz club, and the Schwimmbad Musik Club which has live acts most nights.

Heidelberg is also festival-mad, hosting no less than six each year. Highlights include the Heidelberg Spring music festival in March and April, the Chamber Music Festival in January and June and the Castle Festival from June to August, which involves castle illuminations, fireworks displays and drama performances in the castle grounds.

Tourist Information

Tourist Information Centre (at the main train station)Willy-Brandt-Platz 1, 69115 HeidelbergPhone: +49 (0) 62 21 - 1 94 33 Fax: +49 (0) 62 21 - 1 38 81 11 Email: info@cvb-heidelberg.de Internet: www.cvb-heidelberg.de


The nearest mainstream airport is Frankfurt’s, which you can fly to from most UK airports and with many different airlines. From here Lufthansa runs an Airport Express service to/from Heidelberg several times a day. Alternatively you can drive or take a train, which takes about an hour.

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