Knowing Heidelberg is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Germany, my original idea was to try and find some off the beaten path things to see and do while I was there.
Things to Do in Heidelberg
But after visiting, it seems the best things to do in Heidelberg are in fact the touristy things. It’s not surprising really as Heidelberg is a small city and most people are visiting for the same reason, to visit Heidelberg Castle and the Altstadt. So while I will share some offbeat things to do, I’ll start with the most popular points of interest and Heidelberg attractions.
One Day Itinerary
Heidelberg is a young, lively city as it’s a university city. The most popular things to do are visit Heidelberg Castle, the historic old town including the famous Old Bridge and the sights along the Neckar River. For a one day itinerary, I suggest hiking and climbing the hills and castle in the morning and exploring the old town sights in the afternoon and evening. Create your own itinerary from the following and read my thoughts on what to do while you’re there.
Heidelberg’s main attraction is the sandstone castle which overlooks the old town (Altstadt). It is featured in just about every photo you see of the city and my favourite view is from the banks of the Neckar River.
Of course it’s worth going up to have a closer look and the easiest way to get there is to take the two-minute funicular ride half way up the hill. There is a second funicular dating from 1907 which will take you further up the hillside but unfortunately that isn’t included in the regular castle/funicular ticket.
Once there you can explore the Gothic-Renaissance courtyard or check out the pharmacy museum. I skipped that and went straight for the terrace to see the views over Heidelberg and the river.
Old Town Squares
Back down in the Altstadt, there are plenty of cute streets and squares to explore. Most are packed with shops, cafes and tourists but there are still plenty of quiet places to relax. The main square Marktplatz is not particularly quiet but it’s a fun place to sit for a drink and to people watch. For a small fee you can climb the church spire in the Gothic church on the square for more views of the city.
If you walk back down to the old town after having visited the castle you’ll walk straight into Kornmarkt. It’s much quieter than Marktplatz and Heidelberg’s other main square Karlsplatz as there aren’t any cafes to sit in but there are plenty of benches where you can sit and enjoy the view.
Taking a stroll along the Neckar River is a great idea if you want to get away from the crowds at Heidelberg Castle. If the weather is good, head to the riverside park on the northern side of the river near the Theodor Heuss Bridge for a picnic. This is where the locals like to hang out when the sun makes an occasional appearance. Just watch out for the hundreds of ducks who also like to hang out there.
Karl Theodor Bridge – Alte Brucke
The Karl Theodor Bridge or Alte Brucke (Old Bridge) is Heidelberg’s and possibly Germany’s most visited bridge. You can get a close-up view from the Neckar riverside from the footpath or the grassed area known as the Neckarwiese.
The stone bridge dates from the 18th century and there’s a pretty medieval bridge gate on the old town side of the bridge.
Other Places to Visit
Other tourist attractions and places to include on a one day itinerary for Heidelberg:
- The Philosophers’ Way – A two-kilometre scenic walk at the top of the hill along the Neckar River.
- Heiligenberg Hill – Part of the Philosophers Way and a scenic hike from the Old Bridge.
- Pharmacy Museum – Located at Heidelberg Castle and featuring exhibits of medical science in Germany.
- Neckarwiese – The green open space along the right bank of the Neckar River.
Offbeat and Unusual Attractions
I did come across one offbeat sight while in Heidelberg, the Bridge Monkey.
He’s holding up a mirror which is supposed to bring you wealth if you touch it. Of course I didn’t discover that until later so it looks like I will remain poor. If you touch the monkey’s fingers you will return to Heidelberg one day and if you touch the mice you’ll have lots of kids. Luckily I didn’t even see the mice!
Unusual points of interest in Heidelberg:
- The Bridge Monkey – Located at the base of the Karl Theodor Bridge on the Altstadt side of the Neckar.
- Heidelberg Thingstatte – At the top of the cliff opposite Heidelberg Castle is the Nazi era amphitheatre built for propaganda plays and events. It’s a bit of a hike but worth it to see something different.
- The Prinzhorn Collection – A museum featuring unusual 19th and 20th-century artwork by inmates at psychiatric institutions.
- Heidelberg Tun – The largest wine barrel in the world.
- Studentenkarzer – Prison cells designed to punish students at Heidelberg University (not now, in the past).
Those are my thoughts on what to do in Heidelberg, Germany. Which sights and attractions do you suggest seeing? Any Heidelberg secrets to share or romantic locations?
Frankfurt to Heidelberg Day Trip
Many tourists arrive in Heidelberg on a day trip from Frankfurt. Frankfurt is the main hub for German airline Lufthansa and as one of Europe’s largest airports, you’ll find almost every major airline flies there. You can also find cheap flights with low-cost airlines like Wizz Air and Easyjet.
Frankfurt to Heidelberg via Intercity train takes around 50 minutes. You can also take the S-Bahn which is cheaper but considerably slower. You can purchase tickets online at Deutsche Bahn or at the station before you go. Trains depart fairly regularly so there isn’t much need to book in advance except to save time on the day.
If you prefer you can take a tour from Frankfurt which takes you through the Rhine Valley as well as places to visit near Heidelberg.
I recommend this day trip tour from Frankfurt:
Otherwise, head there on your own for some Heidelberg sightseeing.
Stuttgart to Heidelberg Day Trip
Stuttgart is the closest big city to Heidelberg and with low-cost airlines Vueling, Easyjet and others flying there, it’s a popular access point for visitors heading to Heidelberg.
Trains from Stuttgart Central Station to Heidelberg take 45 minutes to an hour and depart regularly. It’s also an easy drive if you have your own car.
Arrive Via Frankfurt or Stuttgart
If you have the choice of where to fly for Heidelberg, I’d suggest Stuttgart over Frankfurt. It’s a more beautiful city (Frankfurt is a finance centre) and there are many interesting things to do in the Stuttgart region.
Places to Visit near Heidelberg
If you’re arriving by car, it’s easy to get around to visit places near Heidelberg. It’s not quite so easy to get out into the countryside if you’re on public transport, but you can easily get the train to almost any nearby town.
Places to visit near Heidelberg:
- Stuttgart – The beautiful city south of Heidelberg is worth visiting for a couple of days.
- Frankfurt – Germany’s financial centre has a pretty old town and plenty of shopping.
- Bad Wimpfen – A medieval spa town with half-timbered houses, well preserved and undamaged by both wars.
- Rothenburg ob der Tauber – A gorgeous medieval town in Bavaria, easily reachable by car from Heidelberg.
- Wiesbaden – A popular small town near Frankfurt.
- Tuebingen – Another stunning small town, less than a 2-hour drive away.
- Schwetzingen Castle – 17th-century palace near Heidelberg.
- Mannheim Palace – Sprawling 18th-century baroque palace, 20 km from Heidelberg.
- Castle Route – There are many small castles along the Neckar River including Burgfeste Dilsberg, Burg Hirschhorn and Schloss Zwingenberg.
Where to Stay in Heidelberg, Germany
I stayed at the Hip Hotel in Heidelberg which is a cute little boutique hotel right in the old town. It’s on the main pedestrian shopping street but you can drive down there to drop off your bags (at least I did!). I particularly loved the champagne breakfast they put on. Who doesn’t love champagne for breakfast? Book the Hip Hotel here.
Other hotels and apartments in Heidelberg.
- Luxury Apartment – Boutique suite hotel rooms in a former industrial building near the train station. Beautifully renovated historic building with high-end features like a designer kitchen, underfloor heating, and high-speed internet. Perfect for a luxury weekend away or for longer stays in Heidelberg where you’ll need kitchen and laundry facilities.
- Budget Apartment – There is not a lot in the way of budget hotels in Heidelberg. You’re better off looking at Airbnb where you can find budget apartments from €45. If you haven’t used Airbnb before, sign up with this link to get a discount off your first stay (I get a referral fee only if you book).
- Budget Hotel – B&B Hotels is a basic budget hotel chain in Europe. This hotel is a little out of the centre but a good option if you have a car or if you don’t mind the 1km walk from the train station. I’ve stayed with this chain before and rooms are usually clean and comfortable.
When to Visit Heidelberg
Heidelberg is a popular tourist destination all year round. You might want to avoid visiting in July and August as these are peak tourist times but any other time of the year should be fine. Heidelberg also has a lovely Christmas market if you’re visiting late November or December.
Heidelberg in December
Germany has many amazing Christmas markets including those in Heidelberg. Winter in Heidelberg sees the opening of the main Christmas market in the Old Town square plus the ‘Winter Woods’ market at Kornmarkt. There is also the open-air ice skating rink at Karlsplatz which is open all winter from November to January (excluding Christmas day).
2019 Christmas Market Dates: 25 November – 31 December 2019.
The Heidelberg Card
If you’re staying for a few days and plan on visiting a number of attractions then you might want to pick up the Heidelberg Card online before you go. That gives you free use of public transport, use of the funicular and entrance to Heidelberg Castle as well as discounts at a number of museums. But if you’re only going to be in Heidelberg for a day or you just want to visit the castle and old town then it wouldn’t be worthwhile. You might find taking a short walking tour of Heidelberg to be of better value. This walking tour is the most popular.
Heidelberg is located in one of the most beautiful regions in Germany. While in the area you could also visit Wiesbaden, the very cute Bacharach or Schwäbisch Hall.
Visit Heidelberg in 2019 – Summary
- Heidelberg is a great weekend destination or an easy day trip from Frankfurt or Stuttgart.
- Heidelberg Castle is the highlight of a visit to the city.
- The main sights are all within walking distance in the old town.
- Take advantage of the afternoon coffee and cake culture.
- Visit in December to enjoy the Christmas markets.
- There are a number of popular hiking trails close by.
- Pick a hotel in the old town to have restaurants and the sights at your door.
- Stay in Frankfurt if you’d prefer to visit on a day trip.
- List of the top restaurants in Heidelberg.
- Heidelberg is easily reached by plane (via Frankfurt), train or car.
- Book a tour if you don’t want to organise your own visit.
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