If you are a sucker for fairytale Germany towns then add Heidelberg to your list. With a castle perched on a hill, a historic bridge spanning the river, and cobblestone streets filled with beautiful buildings, Heidelberg is a fun place to enjoy for a couple of days. It is a pretty small town, I spent 2 days in Heidelberg and felt like it was enough without feeling like I was in a rush. So, for anyone looking for tips and ideas, I’m sharing my tips for the best things to do in Heidelberg, Germany in my Heidelberg guide.
How to Get to Heidelberg
Chances are you will be arriving in Heidelberg from another German (or even French) city. While there is a nearby airport (Mannheim) it’s not a major international airport so you probably wouldn’t plan to start or end your trip here. Heidelberg is very easy to get to by train from several surrounding cities including Frankfurt, Stuttgart, and even Strasbourg, France. The main train station is located in the newer part of the city, but it’s easy to grab a bus, tram, or even taxi from the station to get to where you need to go.
Getting Around Heidelberg
Getting around Heidelberg is quite easy. The old part of the city is very walkable and there are bus and tram networks to get you around to the further parts. You can buy your tickets ahead of time at the ticket machine at the station or from the driver. If you plan on using the public transit system a lot during your time in Heidelberg, then it might be worth getting a pass rather than continuously buying individual tickets. The trams and buses are really easy to use. Each station has a big map so you can see where you are going and the stops are announced along the way.
Where to Stay in Heidelberg
There is both an old town (Altstadt) and a newer part of Heidelberg. I always stay in the old town areas of European towns as they tend to be closer to the main attractions and restaurants. Plus, I just love the look and feel of the old towns.
I definitely suggest staying near Old Town in Heidelberg as well. I would further suggest choosing a hotel or accommodation option close to Bismarktplatz. This is the public transport hub closest to Old Town which then means you don’t have to travel too far on foot with your luggage.
Looking for some suggestions? Take a look at:
- Altstadt Hotel (this is where I stayed. Basic but clean, comfortable, and good location)
- Hotel Tannhauser
- Hotel Europaischer Hof Heidelberg
Things to Do in Heidelberg
For me, Heidelberg was more for exploring rather than having off a list of things to do to to tick off. Here’s how I spent my time.
The main attraction in Heidelburg is, of course, the Heidelburg castle. Perched on top of a hill overlooking Old Town and the River, Heidelburg castle is actually a spectacular ruin of what was once two castles. Unfortunately, time, wars, and Mother Nature haven’t been very kind to this palace (it was struck by lightning twice!), however, despite being ruins it’s still considered to be one of the most romantic and impressive castles in Germany. I’m a castle lover, so this was my favourite thing to do in Heidelburg.
To get to the castle, which is 80m above Old Town, you’ll take the funicular from Kornmarkt. The first stop is for the castle and you can get off here and explore parts of the grounds. The ruins are massive and partly taken over by nature which gives just adds to the storybook feel the Heidelberg has.
You can then enter the castle grounds where you will find more buildings that are in better condition. The Ottheinrich building is perhaps the most beautiful part of the ruins and in the best shape. It is heavily decorated and this section dates back to the 1500s. You can actually enter this building and in the basement, you will find the German Apothecary Museum (entry is included in your ticket).
Another place worth visiting within Heidelberg castle is the Barrel Building which holds a massive wooden wine barrel that can hold up to 220,000 litres of wine.
Take your time to walk the ground and take in the views. If you like, you can also take the funicular up to the summit for more views. Just be aware this is will be an additional cost.
The Old Bridge
Aside from the castle, Alte Brüke, which is the old bridge, is probably the best-known site in Heidelberg. There has been a bridge here crossing the Neckar River since the 1200s. The current version that you see today is actually the 9th bridge to be built here and dates back to 1788.
As far as bridges go, it is a nice looking bridge. But what visitors really love is the view and photo opportunity it provides against the backdrop of the castle and Old Town.
Wander the Streets of Old Town
Exploring the old town was one of my favourite things to do in Heidelberg. Some of the architecture here is really beautiful. Haus zum Ritter was probably my favourite building. Now a hotel, it was built in the late 1500s and is the oldest burgher house in the city.
As with every European city, you’ll also find some churches that you can enter should you wish. Personally, I was more inclined to check out the little shops, boutiques, and cafes I found along the way which included everything from book stores to fancy chocolate shops.
Take your time wandering the streets. There are plenty of side streets to explore as well!
Insider tip; if you want photos, go early in the morning before all the crowds come out! I went out around 9am and it was incredibly quiet.
Take the Philosopher’s Walk
I actually didn’t do this when I visited but was told I missed out, so I’m adding to my list do you don’t make the same mistake. The Philosopher’s walk is a 2km path on the opposite side of the river of Old Town and the Castle. The path starts in the Neuenheim district and ends in Philsophengärtchen which offers a great viewpoints.
If visiting in December, shop at the Christmas Markets
I was in Germany for Christmas, specifically on a Christmas market adventure, which is how I ended up in Heidelberg in the first place. There are several small Christmas markets spread across Old Town offering a variety of food, drinks, and of course plenty of items for purchase. I spent my evenings at the markets with a mug of hot gluhwein in hand as I browsed stall after stall of ornaments, jewellery, and more. I’m a European Christmas market enthusiast so, in my opinion, visiting during the holiday season so you can see the Christmas markets is one of the best things to do in Heidelberg.
Where to Eat and Drink in Heidelberg
Heidelberg Old Town is full of restaurants where you can grab a bite to eat and a mug of German beer. Plenty of the restaurants serve typical German fare including everything from sausages to schnitzel to one of my favourites, spatzel which is a kind of pasta (get the cheese one, it’s the best!)
Zum Seppl is a good spot to grab a casual dinner. It’s a popular student spot and I felt very comfortable dining there alone. It’s also family-friendly and is housed in a beautiful old building. Portions are quite large (so come hungry) and they have plenty of German beer options. There are some vegetarian options here, however, if I can make a suggestion, try the Nuremberg sausages. I am not a sausage fan at all but I actually LOVE these.
Strohauer’s Café Alt Heidelberg was another spot I really enjoyed. They have indoor and outdoor seating with bistro-style food. The cheese spatzel here was delicious. It also has an impressive selection of cakes if you have a sweet tooth or just need a sugar boost in the afternoon after exploring.
If you visit in the winter and are a hot chocolate lover, head to Chocolaterie St. Anna No.1 and get a hot chocolate to go. I’m not going to lie, it’s pricey. I paid 6 euro for my takeaway cup of hot chocolate. But it was absolutely delicious. They also sell a variety of handmade chocolates and ice cream if you visit during the warmer months.
For those with a sweet tooth, I also highly recommend trying schneeballen or ‘snow balls’ It’s a cookie-type sweet that comes in a variety of flavours. Some are coated in chocolate and have a variety of filling as well. Schneeballen actually come from Rothenburg Ob Der Tauber but can be found in a few other cities as well, including Heidelberg. Peek through the windows of Old Town cafes and bakeries as you wander and you are bound to see them.
For any beer lovers, head to Vetters Gasthusbrueri which is a well-known brewery located in old town. As a popular beer hall and restaurant it can get pretty busy with locals and tourists alike so, if you can, try to visit during off hours.
If you are looking for a night out in Heidelberg, just follow the students. Heidelberg is a university town and there are plenty of spots in the old town that cater to the students on their nights out. I can’t comment on any specific spots as I spend my evenings exploring the Christmas markets with a mug of gluhwein in hand.
Day Trips from Heidelberg
Heidelberg is located in a beautiful part of Germany so, if you have more time, you can do some great day trips from here. Some places are easily accessible by train but a few spots, even if they seem close, are better off if you have a car since there may not be any direct trains so keep that in mind when you plan. Here are a few suggestions for day trips from Heidelberg
Rothenburg ob der Tauber
One of my favourite cities in Germany, Rothenburg ob der Tauber is another German fairytale village. It’s a walled city with lots of great viewpoints and plenty of photo opportunities. It’s quite small, so good for a day. However, there are no direct trains between Heidelberg and Rothenburg ob der Tauber so it’s really only possible as a day trip if you have a car (about 2 hour drive each way).
Only a 30-minute bus ride from Heidelberg is the impressive Schwetzingen Palace. The palace dates back to the 17thcentury and is best known for its ornate gardens.
Another easy day trip is Neckarsteinach, which is about 20 minutes by bus from Heidelberg. Neckarsteinach has four castles within the town. Though not nearly as elaborate as Heidelberg castle, exploring this town can still be a fun way to spend part of your day.
Bad Wimpfen is a historic spa town in the Neckar valley about an hour from Heidelberg. If you feel like you need a break, head here for a spa day. If spas aren’t really your thing, this charming town is still worth exploring thanks to its beautiful architecture and location.
This well-known French town is only 2 hours by train from Heidelberg. While I personally recommend spending more than a day in Strasbourg, if you are short on time it can be a good day trip. It’s a stunning town, especially during the holiday season. Check out my guide to Christmas markets in Strasbourg.
Final Tips on Things to do in Heidelberg
As I mentioned earlier, I only spend 2 days in this German city but found it was more than enough time to enjoy the best things to do in Heidelberg at a relaxed pace. Of course, you can choose to stay longer and use it as a base to explore the nearby area. Or, you could even just come to visit Heidelberg on a day trip.
Heidelberg is a beautiful town and well worth a visit if you are in the area. However, it can get incredibly busy on weekends as many locals consider it an ideal mini getaway as well. So, to avoid the crowds (especially if visiting during the holiday season like I did) I do recommend trying to time your visit for a mid-week stay and avoiding the weekends as much as possible. Avoiding weekends might help save you some money too!
Hope you find this Heidelberg guide helpful!