The town of Heidelberg is magical with its historic old town. With a hilltop castle and views along the Nekar river, we were completely blown away. There is something special about this place that made us feel like we were in a fairytale. The cobblestone streets and medieval architecture were a pleasant view into old Germany. It is a wonderful place for a romantic holiday and the perfect fairytale town.
Heidelberg Old Town (Altstadt)
Unlike Frankfurt, Heidelberg was spared from being bombed in World War II. It has a treasure trove of history that has been preserved for centuries. Famous poets, painters, and even Mark Twain were inspired by the beautiful riverside and baroque style buildings. We were inspired too as we soaked in the beauty of the old town. We enjoyed the architecture, and the lively atmosphere of the town. We didn’t always enjoy the uneven walkways. However, that is part of the experience of old Europe. There were so many little shops and restaurants to enjoy. The streets may have been packed with people, but that added to its charm!
The Old Bridge (Alte Brücke Heidelberg)
One of our first stops in Heidelberg was the Old Bridge. Walking around it was stunning, especially with the reflections on the calm water. Going across it was even better as we were able to look back at the city, seeing the castle and the old town from a distance. That side of the river also had access to the Philosophers’ Path which had never-ending views.
Heidelberg Castle (Heidelberger Schloss)
Going up to the castle is easy by taking the funicular. It is an unforgettable experience as an activity all on its own. The entry fee to the castle is 8 euro (as of this writing), which includes just the lower funicular round-trip. Sadly, Heidelberg doesn’t have a city card like the Frankfurt Card (but I’m not sure we would have paid for enough attractions to make it worth it even if it had). There are two funiculars: an upper and lower. The lower gets you to the castle which is included in the fee, and the upper gets you way up the hill to Königstuhl Summit with views of the castle below. Instead of doing a round-trip on the lower funicular we were able to ride both funiculars up for a total of 9 euro. While this meant we had to hike back down, it was much easier than hiking up to the top.
When we arrived at the summit, the views were mind-blowing. We didn’t realize how high we actually were up the mountain. As we started our descent and took a break to relax we started feeling some small gravel hitting us. We were startled not knowing where it was coming from and then we heard some kids up at the top viewpoint. This put a slight sting on our enjoyment of the views, but the kids eventually left and we could sit in peace.
After relaxing for a bit, we started hiking our way down the mountain. There are two main trails: one with switchbacks and another with stairs. We also saw a mountain bike trail, so keep an eye out for bikes if you cross it. We took the stairs as it was a nice shortcut but very rough on our knees. We saw some other hikers going up, and were amazed at their stamina. The hike added a few miles to the day, but the views (and the euros saved on the return trip) were worth it.
The Castle Ruins
We enjoy seeking ruins around the world and this was our first castle. While it was pretty crowded during the summer, there was plenty of room to spread out as it is such a large place. The castle walls are beautiful and there are no shortage of views from this place. We enjoyed wandering around and finding all of the unique spots that gives this place character.
The castle has an apothecary museum which was part of our ticket. Seeing the apothecary was very interesting as it preserved how things used to be long before medicine was industrialized. It seemed very real when compared with modern medicine. There were lots of little bottles that were labeled to cure various ailments. There were some questionable ingredients that we wondered how they were used in days past. One was “fish with legs,” whatever that means.
On the castle grounds is a garden where we saw people relaxing and enjoying the warm sunny day. The views of the castle and the city below were terrific. We tried to imagine what the view from this garden was like back when the castle was first built in the 13th century. The garden is massive and contains many sculptures and a fountain. We spent over a half hour walking through it and enjoying the views from the huge wall which faces outward towards the river.
World’s Largest Wine Barrel
The Heidelberg Tun is the world’s largest wine barrel at 7 meters high and over 8 meters wide. It can hold 220,000 liters (58,000 gallons) of wine and has a dance floor above it that you can walk up to on a staircase. It was built in 1751 so it was fascinating to walk on something so large and old. This would be enough wine to last many lifetimes. They do have wine tasting as well, but it certainly doesn’t come out of this barrel. Cheers!
Philosophers’ Path (Philosophenweg)
This walking path has old walls on each side and sections with benches and lovely views of Heidelberg. The walk is longer than you might expect, so plan accordingly if you want to be there for sunset, which is the best time. The castle lights up at night so you can see that shortly after the sun goes down. The path is steep in places, but very easy to follow. As one of the highlights of this city, it was a great place to visit.
A monkey has been near the old bridge for over five centuries, but this latest version was sculpted in 1979 so people could put their head inside of it. The monkey is supposed to bring you good fortune. If you rub the mirror, you may receive money. Rubbing the fingers is said to ensure a return to Heidelberg someday. While rubbing the mice is thought to bring fertility.
Brianna did not want to rub its fingers in fear of us getting stuck and having to return during our trip. Aaron did rub its fingers in hope for visiting the city another time down the road. The mirror was an easy one to rub, but we surely weren’t going to rub the little bronze mice. Our kitties are enough!
Food and Drink
Of course going to Germany usually means trying the local beer. Aaron was on a mission to find the perfect beer and he eventually did. After about 4 to 5 different Hefeweizen beers, he finally found the one that ruled them all and determined it was the best beer he had ever had. While he forgot to take note of the actual beer, he at least knew that he found it at the Bier Bretzel restaurant. Since then he has been on a mission to find one better. Yum!
There are plenty of great food options in Heidelberg, but we had to have our obligatory schnitzel wherever we went. This schnitzel is covered with two different cheeses and sits in a pool of mouthwatering gravy. It was better than the last one, and who could resist.
As we found in much of western Europe, fries with various toppings are fairly popular. It was hard to resist this jalapeño cheesy awesomeness. We ate these with something called currywurst which is apparently a thing in Heidelberg. Currywurst is generally a fried pork sausage covered with curry seasoned ketchup or tomato paste. It is so good!
As we like to do, we were also working hard to find the perfect pretzel. On our first take it ended up being more doughy like a bagel and less like a traditional pretzel. On take two, we finally found what we were looking for. Smile!
How to Get There
The most affordable option which we are used to using in Germany and around Europe is Flixbus. If you time it right, you can get from Frankfurt to Heidelberg for 10 euro a person. Intercity trains also run frequently, but they will be more expensive. Mannheim is the closest airport, and it is easily connected to Heidelberg by local buses and trains. Flixbus also works there too and has frequent connections.
How to use the Local Bus System
We unfortunately learned how to use this the hard way. The bus system in Heidelberg was complicated for us, especially since we were coming from nearby Neckargemund. We weren’t sure what to expect or even how to get tickets. The online resources we had access to weren’t very clear in this regard so we thought we would make it easy for you.
Tickets can be purchased directly from the driver with cash. They can also be purchased from ticket machines when you are near a station, online, and even with an app. We only knew about buying them from the driver, and ticket machines weren’t near the bus stop.
Also, they don’t sell tickets for a set amount of hours. They are either a day, month, or even a few longer periods beyond that. For us with our few days there, buying day passes made the most sense. The drivers were able to understand our English, thankfully.
It is easy to see why this is a fairytale town. The place would be perfect for getting married or having a romantic getaway with your special someone. The castle, palace, landscapes, river banks, medieval streets, terrific food, and drinking options make this place feel like somewhere you might picture in a fairytale.
Looking back at the castle at sunset from the Philosophers’ Walk was moving and will always have a special place in our hearts. It was hard to stop looking at the views as we walked back towards the bridge into town after sunset. It was a calming walk after a long day. It gave us a chance to reflect while seeing such beauty in what our ancestors created. We were glad we rubbed the monkey because we love the possibility of returning to Heidelberg.
What city moved you and felt like a fantasy?
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