The 10 most popular tourist attractions in Heidelberg
Heidelberg is without a doubt one of Germany’s most romantic cities, comparable to places like Durham in England, thanks to its picturesque riverside location, beautiful old bridges and castle ruins. Attracting nearly four million visitors each year, the city is filled with historic sites and attractions, as well as great restaurants and entertainment. The old capital of the Palatinate and an ancient university city marked by song and poetry, Heidelberg lies at the point where the Neckar River emerges from the hills of the Odenwald into the Rhine Plain. It is also one of the warmest places in Germany, as evidenced by observations of rare almond, fig and olive trees, as well as its wild African parrots.
See also: Where to stay in Heidelberg
1 Hauptstrasse and Altstadt (Old Town)
Hauptstrasse and Altstadt (Old Town)
Heidelberg’s Hauptstrasse is the place to start exploring this beautiful city. From this narrow main street you will find countless and narrower alleyways and alleys just begging to be explored, each bursting with things to discover: untouched medieval architecture; magnificent old churches; and numerous boutiques, galleries, cafes and restaurants. Highlights include the early 15th century Heiliggeistkirche, the Church of the Holy Spirit and Haus zum Ritter, a Renaissance building dating from 1592. Other highlights include the Neckarstaden where you’ll find Marstall , an old horse stable and home to the art collection of the University of Heidelberg, as well as the Stadthalle adjacent to the landing stage for many tourist boats from places like Mannheim. If you’re visiting in winter, be sure to sample the delight of Heidelberg’s excellent Christmas Market , so it fills three city squares.
2 Heidelberg Castle
Castle Heidelberg can be reached by the Bergbahn mountain railroad from the Kornmarkt, or a 15-minute walk from the old town. This 16th-century castle, built of red sandstone Neckar, some 195 meters above Heidelberg, is one of the finest examples of German Renaissance architecture. After its destruction by the French, who ravaged the Palatinate in the 17th century, it remained the largest and most picturesque in Germany. The castle is home to many fine festivals, most of which are held in its rousing courtyard, as well as theater performances, concerts and fireworks displays. One of the most popular is the Heidelberg Castle Festival from June through August, which boasts an eclectic mix of theater, choral music, chamber orchestras, jazz, folk and opera.
Address: Schlosshof 1, 69117 Heidelberg
Official website: www.schloss-heidelberg.de/en/home/
3 University of Heidelberg
On the south side of the Hauptstrasse is the Universitätsplatz, with the Old University dating back to 1711. On its eastern side, the Augustinergasse, is the Pedelenhaus with the former student prison Karzer, used from 1778 to 1914. The new university was built in 1928-31, behind which rises the hexenturm, or witches’ tower, once part of the city’s fortifications. Nearby, in Grabengasse, you will find the University’s rich library, whose main treasure is the 14th-century Manessische Handschrift , a lit manuscript of medieval songs. Also of note are the Seminargebäude, the refectory of the Mensa students and the Peterskirche of the 15th century, a tiny chapel that is now used primarily as a university church.
Address: Grabengasse 1, D-69117 Heidelberg
Official website: www.uni-heidelberg.de/university/
4 Karl Theodor Bridge
Also known as the Old Bridge, Heidelberg’s impressive Carl Theodorus Bridge has been immortalized in numerous poems and paintings that testify to the romanticism that surrounds the structure. Surrounding Neckar and joining the two sides of historic Heidelberg, the famous bridge with its beautiful sculptures is named after the man responsible for the design and construction of its nine red sandstone arches in 1788 as a replacement for the numerous wooden bridges that used to be. The bridge is well worth a stroll through its views of Heidelberg and its sister bridge overlooking Brookenthor.
5 Philosophical Walk.
Another great way to explore Heidelberg is the well-known Philosophenweg or Philosopher’s Walk. On the north side of the Neckar, this lovely path runs along the bank of the Heiligenberg or Mount Saints, and the philosophers of the university will walk there. It is not difficult to see the attraction: the views through Neckar into the old town are incredible and serve as an excellent excuse to visit several other notable sights, including the 11th century ruins of St. Michael’s Monastery and the adjacent Thingstätte, the amphitheater of the Nazi era. Also worth doing a horseback hike to the trail is the ruins of an ancient Celtic hill in the 4th century.
6 Königstuhl – The Royal Seat
Königstuhl – The Royal Seat
Just seven kilometers east of Heidelberg, the Königstuhl – or King’s Seat – is a hill rising about 567 meters with spectacular views to the Rhine Valley. Access to the summit, which is part of the Odenwald Mountains, is via the Heidelberg Mountain Railway, the same funicular railroad that leads to Heidelberg Castle. This is a great place to explore the beautiful countryside surrounding Heidelberg, especially since the hard part – getting there and back – is taken care of by rail.
7 Schloss Schwetzingen
About 12 km west of Heidelberg, on the Rhine plain, lies Schwetzingen, famous for its impressive 18th century palace. Schloss Schwetzingen was built as the summer residence of the electors of the Palatinate, and today it is as famous for its magnificent program of summer concerts as it is for its beautiful gardens. Covering more than 180 acres, Schlossgarten was laid out in a combination of French and English styles and contains a number of 18th-century buildings, including a Rococo theater built between 1746-52 and a mosque. A variety of excellent tours are available and worth the small additional cost. If possible, plan your visit to coincide with the Schwetzingen Festival, an annual event held from late April to mid-June that includes opera, symphony, choral and chamber concerts, as well as concerts and dance performances. Events take place both in Schwetzingen Palace – a must, considering the fact that Mozart performed here as a seven-year-old child – as well as outdoors in the palace park.
Address: Schloss Mittelbau, 68723 Schwetzingen
Official website: www.schloss-schwetzingen.de/en/
8 Heidelberg Zoo and the oldest botanical garden in Germany
Heidelberg Zoo and Germany’s oldest botanical garden ptwo / photo modified
Heidelberg Zoo is definitely worth a visit, especially if you’re traveling with young people. On the north bank of the Neckar, this cheerful zoo has more than 1,100 animals, numbering about 250 species. A registered member of the European Endangered Species Program (EEP) as well as the West African Primate Conservation Organization (WAPCA), the zoo focuses on endangered species conservation and breeding programs. Then be sure to visit the botanical garden adjacent to the university. Founded in 1593, it is one of the oldest and largest botanical gardens in Germany. Another great place to stroll in the garden is Skulpturenpark Heidelberg , a sculpture park that is also located near the university.
Address: Tiergartenstraße 3, Heidelberg
9 German Pharmaceutical Museum
German Pharmacy Museum William Franklin / photo modified
On the grounds of Heidelberg Castle, the German Pharmacy Museum covers the history of pharmacies in the 18th and 19th centuries. Displays include fascinating old tools and tools of the trade, as well as examples of the drugs used by these early pharmacists. Furniture from pharmacies from Baroque times, manuscripts, pharmacy emblems and books are also featured, as well as an enjoyable way to spend an hour or two. Tours are also available, both during regular hours and after hours (advance reservation required).
Address: Schloss Heidelberg, D-69117 Heidelberg
Official website: www.deutsches-apotheken-museum.de/englisch/index-en.php
10 Museum of the Palatinate (Museum Kurffalsisches Museum)
Palatinate Museum (Kurffalsisches Museum) Robert Agt / photo modified
Halfway along the Hauptstrasse in Heidelberg, in the baroque Morass Palace, is the beautiful Palatinate Museum. Founded in the late 1870s, the museum is home to a collection that includes 500-year-old Heidelberg lower jaw castings. The museum’s collection of applied art includes many fine examples of porcelain, as well as medallions, coins and tableware. Also of interest are numerous sculptures from the 12th to the 20th century, including old tombstones and early Baroque sculptures.
Address: Hauptstrasse 97, 69117 Heidelberg
Official website: www.museum-heidelberg.de/pb/,Len/896835.html
Where to stay in Heidelberg for sightseeing
Hauptstrasse runs traffic-free through the Altstadt (Old Town), past the Palatinate Museum and 16th-century Renaissance buildings; nearby, along the Neckarstaden River, you’ll find the Heidelberg University’s art collection as well as the Stadthalle and boat launching grounds. Heidelberg Castle can be reached from Altstadt by the Bergbahn mountain railroad from Kornmarkt. Here are some highly rated hotels in the Altstadt area:
Luxury Hotels : Two blocks from the Hauptstrasse, Der Europaische Hof Heidelberg is in traditional classic style with spacious rooms, high ceilings and excellent service, plus a spa and a small indoor pool with an undercurrent for swimmers. Mark Twain stayed at the historic Hotel Die Hirschgasse Heidelberg, just across the bridge from the old town near the Philosopher’s Path; free parking. The Crowne Plaza Heidelberg, on the outskirts of the Altstadt near the main train station, has a pool, sauna and shuttle service to Frankfurt Airport.