Updated: May 15, 2020
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Both of us agree that Heidelberg is a beautiful German city that is worth a visit. The majestic hilltop castle that towers over the city is certainly an impressive eye-catcher and, consequently, the main tourist attraction. The overcrowding of tourists is really the only negative aspect about Heidelberg. Especially on the weekends, the streets are crowded with tourists coming from all over the world. If you’re looking for an authentic German experience, then you might even be disappointed by not hearing some German here and there. In order to talk to some locals, you will have to either take an expensive, and in our opinion unnecessary, tour or you will have to eat in one of the local restaurants. We definitely recommend the second option since it involves food and German beer (Who doesn’t love eating and drinking!?).
I really like this city, as it encompasses almost everything I think of when I think of medieval towns. The hilltop castle dominates over the city, which still has the iconic cobblestone streets and typical German-style architecture that one expects when visiting an historic area such as this one. On top of that, everything worth seeing and doing is within a comfortable walking distance from one another, so it’s perfect if you’re short on time and just want to take a day trip. The only thing I don’t like about Heidelberg is the overwhelming number of tourists. It really doesn’t matter what time of year you visit, you will be surrounded by thousands (no joke) of tourists from all over the world. Since I’m an American, the last language I want to hear when visiting any foreign destination is American English, as it really messes with my immersive experience. All of that being said, go to Heidelberg; you won’t regret it.
In my opinion, Heidelberg is an absolute must-see when in Germany. When we first got there, it reminded me of Edinburgh in Scotland because both cities have an incredibly majestic castle on a hill in the middle of the city center. Due to this famous landmark, Heidelberg is often crowded which is why I highly recommend visiting during a weekday, if possible. Nevertheless, even with plenty of tourists around, being on the castle hill above the city makes you feel like entering a new world. The loud noises from the city are gone and you can (finally) enjoy the breathtaking city, river and castle views while strolling through the castle grounds. Aside from the beautiful majestic castle overlooking the city, Heidelberg is pretty small, making it easy to get around by foot and see everything within one day. This is why we love recommending it for a day trip. Just like many other cities in Germany, Heidelberg is a university city meaning that you’ll find cheap food and drinks, if you know where to look. We’ve recommended some places in this article to give you a better, and budget-friendly, experience while you’re here.
Tips & Tricks for Heidelberg
We’ve been to Heidelberg a couple of times, as we lived quite close for many years. Therefore, we believe we’ve been able to come up with some of the best tips for having a great experience while you’re here.
How to Get There
One of the best ways to get to Heidelberg is to travel by train (we also show you some awesome deals at that link). If you are traveling by train, then there are two stops where you can get off. Where you get off will depend on your plans while you’re there. If you’re staying in a hotel that isn’t in the old town, then you’ll most likely want to get off at the main station (Heidelberg Hbf). If your hotel is in the old town or if you’re just doing a day trip, then we recommend getting off at the “Heidelberg Altstadt” station. This will put you within a comfortable walking distance to the old town and the castle.
The second best way to get to Heidelberg is by taking a bus. The bus will drop you off near the central station (same as the train station), so you will need to plan your route into the city or to your hotel accordingly. The bus is a really convenient option, especially if your flight lands at one of the smaller nearby airports. Furthermore, this is generally the cheapest transportation option.
Getting Around Heidelberg
Heidelberg is definitely a walking city. It’s not very big, so you won’t over exert yourself by any means, and it’s usually full of tourists, meaning there’s no room for vehicles anyway. Aside from that, you’ll want to explore the city on foot because that’s the best way to immerse yourself in the architecture and cobblestone streets. The city is also wheelchair friendly!
The castle is the main attraction and it is located atop a steep hill. If you don’t feel like walking, then you can also take the tram. The castle is actually just the first stop on the tram. If you’d like, you can take it even further and transfer to another tram that will bring you to the top of the Königsstuhl mountain.
Where to Stay
Being the popular tourist destination it is, Heidelberg has no shortage of hotels and accommodation options. However, they can be quite pricey just because of the aforementioned point. With that in mind, we have found that it’s best to stay just outside of the city center, away from the tourist attractions, because you can stay within a comfortable walking distance and save significantly on accommodation prices.
We recommend staying at Hotel Elite. We were very pleased with our stay here. The rooms are nice and clean, the staff is super friendly, the location is great for walking to the old town as well as awesome nearby restaurants; plus the price is unbeatable, especially when you compare other hotel prices in Heidelberg.
Where to Eat
You don’t go to Heidelberg for the food. In fact, the city is so touristy that it can even be difficult to find decent prices on decent food. However, the locals have to eat too. Furthermore, this is a university town, so there has to be cheap places for students as well. So where do the locals and students eat? In general, it’s best to look in the side streets because anything in the main touristy areas is likely overpriced. To make this task easier for you, we’ve listed out a few places that we can highly recommend.
Best Burgers in Heidelberg
If you love burgers as much as we do, then you don’t want to miss out on these. Germany’s been catching up on the burger scene and Heidelberg is fortunate to have these two great burger places:
- Joe Molese: The burgers here are huge and incredibly delicious. On top of that, the prices are super affordable. You can find Joe Molese in the Steingasse, near the Old Bridge.
- Mahlzeit Burger: This burger place offers some unique burger creations and even has amazing options for vegans and vegetarians as well, making it perfect if your family or group has a diverse mixture of preferences. You can find Mahlzeit in the Rohrbacher Street (close to our recommended hotel ;)).
Germany has a rich culture of immigrants from all over the world and food lovers like us are extremely thankful for that. When walking through the streets of Heidelberg, you will no doubt see multiple restaurants and fast food places, specializing in various foreign specialties. In this regard, we have one particular restaurant that we’d like to highlight:
- Mahmoud’s: This is a Lebanese restaurant that serves up some of the most delicious Middle Eastern food that we’ve ever tried, and we’ve tried plenty! The food is so good that we couldn’t actually believe just how cheap it is. You can find Mahmoud’s in the Merianstrasse.
We’re beer lovers, so it’s no secret that we always sample the local beers wherever we go. One of the local beers we tried is called Klosterhof Heidelberg. All of their ingredients are local and organic, plus they’re always brewing up something new and exciting. We loved it! If you’re really interested in breweries, then you can even join them on a tour of their facilities. Otherwise, just lookout for their brand on the drink menu at any local restaurant or bar you visit.
Things to Do
Being the popular tourist destination that it is, one can easily find multiple tours through the city or through the castle. Whether you choose to take a tour or not is your own prerogative, but you can still get an enriching experience without doing so. Here is our list of the top 8 things to do:
- Heidelberg Castle: We’ve mentioned it a couple of times already, but the most obvious attraction is the castle, located in a towering position over the rest of the city. Getting up to the castle can be tasking if you’re out of shape, but you’ll survive. 😉 If walking up a steep hill just isn’t on your agenda, then you can also take the tram we mentioned above. The castle grounds are massive and you can explore the entire area for free with the exception of the inner square (€7 entry fee). We are always on a tight budget, so we didn’t pay to go inside, but the exterior, the gardens and the viewpoints are impressive enough on their own. More information: Heidelberg Castle Visitor Information.
- The Old Bridge: In German “die Alte Brücke”, is exactly what the name suggests. It’s an old bridge that crosses the Neckar River. this is a great place for some photo ops and it’s right next to one of our recommended restaurants.
- The Philosopher’s Trail: Surprisingly, this is not a well-known attraction in Heidelberg. In fact, we didn’t discover it until our second trip to the city. Once you’ve crossed over the old bridge, you will find yourself at the base of another hill. There, you should see a sign for the “Schlangenstrasse” (Snake Street). This is a really cool winding path, enclosed by stone walls and shrubbery that will take you up to the Philosopher’s Trail (Philosophenweg). From here, you have the perfect panorama views of the old town and castle. It’s especially beautiful during the sunset. The entire path we just outlined is only about 1-2 km and shouldn’t take you more than 30-45 minutes to complete.
- The Old Town and Town Squares: The historic Heidelberg old town is full of cute little town squares and marketplaces that make you feel like you’re entering an entirely new city each time. This is special because most German cities only have one central market or town square. The best way to experience these is simply to walk through them, look around or even just relax on a bench and immerse yourself in the city environment.
- Church of the Holy Spirit: Located in the central marketplace, this prominent structure is interesting because it’s a protestant church, whereas most major churches in central and southern Germany are catholic cathedrals. For just €2, you can climb to the top of the tower and take in some views of the city.
- Karlstor: If you got off the train at the Heidelberg Altstadt station, then you will walk right through this old city gate on your way into town. If you didn’t start on this end of town, then you may be interested in taking a quick walk over there while you’re in the area
- Longest shopping street in Europe: It sounds pretty unbelievable, since the city’s so small, but it’s true that this is the longest pedestrian shopping zone on the continent. We’re not big shoppers, but we can admit it’s impressive albeit surprisingly easy to overlook. That’s because it doesn’t necessarily feel like you’re in a shopping area–the old architecture and historic feel of the city somewhat overshadow this. We suppose it’s just a matter of perspective.
- The Mountain Tram: We mentioned this above in our transportation section, but it would also fall under interesting activities, since it will take you to the castle and beyond, where you can take in magnificent views of the city and surrounding area.
As with most of our trips, we leave with a funny story or two to tell. We just couldn’t write up this article without including this one. (facepalm)
“Is this Seat Taken?”
The events of this story took place on the train to Heidelberg; exactly one week after a day trip to Venlo where something similar happened. If you are familiar with that story, then we already know what you are thinking: we should have learned our lesson. Nevertheless, we were on a train again and sitting in a quad (4-person seating area). The entire train was basically empty when a really weird-looking, middle-aged man entered the train. From our seat, we could clearly see that the entire train car was empty with the exception of one small family. As the man entered, he very briefly glanced at the completely empty train to his right, before turning left in our direction. He very clearly looked at each and every one of the empty seats on his way closer to us, as if to examine their suitability.
When he reached our quad, without even a single glance at the seats across from of us, he looked at us and made the international hand motion that inquires “is this seat taken?”, as if there weren’t 300 other empty seats in the train. He sat down across from us, immediately fell asleep and started snoring very loudly. On top of that, this man was the definition of poor hygiene. It was abundantly clear that he hadn’t showered or changed his clothes for quite some time. The smell of his body odor was so strong that you couldn’t simply turn away, as that didn’t help at all. It smelled like we were sitting in a sauna full of wet socks wrapped around 3-day old, cigarette ash encrusted meat. Onions would have been a pleasant relief. We tried to bury our faces in our shirts, but that didn’t help either.
The only solution was to escape. We were feeling a little sorry, but suffocation wasn’t exactly what we had planned for so we just had to get up and find other seats. Out of fear that he would latch onto us with his 5 cm-long yellow fingernails, we walked quickly, yet quietly, all the way from the far end of the train to the very beginning, so that he couldn’t follow us without being offensive (you never know). From there, we were much better able to enjoy the beautiful German countryside without being forced to imagine how nice the fresh air must smell.
What we learned: When traveling by train, never leave empty seats right across from you.
Heidelberg Facts and History
Heidelberg, located on the Neckar River, was founded in the 13th century and is dominated by a majestic castle overlooking the many town squares. Because of the city’s long history, it should also be no surprise that it is home to Germany’s oldest university. It may not be apparent at first glance, but Heidelberg has a population of 150,000. What most do not take into consideration is the fact that the city is actually separated by the river running through it. Because of this, there is an entire half of the city that visitors just don’t see. We believe that this is the reason why most people mistakenly consider Heidelberg as a small city. Heidelberg is architecturally interesting because the city was mostly spared from destruction during World War II, which is why many of the buildings are still in such good condition today.
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