Quick Trips: With its Old City and castle, Heidelberg is Germany’s ‘romantischer’ jewel

Photo by Jackie Harding

(Editor’s note: Heidelberg was one of the few major German cities undamaged in World War II. So what you see is original and unreconstructed.)

As tourists we all know Munich and Berlin in Germany. And Dispatches has covered (over-covered?) both. But how many of you know the city of Heidelberg?

Heidelberg is situated in the state of Baden-Württemberg, in the southwest of Germany, around 78 kilometers south of Frankfurt and is an easy location to get to via train, plane or car. This Baroque town is well worth a visit with its huge castle ruin perched on the hill overlooking the city and its reputation for having Germany’s oldest university, founded in 1386.

To Do

High above the city, the castle is the focal point of Heidelberg (All photos by Jackie Harding)

Heidelberg Castle

The castle ruins are the epitome of German “Romanticism” and there has been a castle on the site since the 13th century. Now, the 17th century ruins and gardens attract thousands of tourists each year and the castle hosts many events including the annual Heidelberg Castle Illuminations/fireworks to mark the destruction of the original structure. (The next shows start in June, 2023.)

The interior can only be seen on a guided tour (1 April thru 31 October) but the gardens are open year round.

You can walk up to the castle or take the bergbahn, a funicular railway that runs from downtown.

Philosophers Way

Winding up the hillside adjacent to the Neckar River is a 2-kilometer walk used in the past by scholars and poets. The pathway meanders through the vineyards, with small parks and benches along the way from which to enjoy the view of the city.

Who knows – you might be inspired!

Cross the river, pass through the city gate and you’re in the atmospheric Old Town.

Explore and shop in the Altstadt/Old Town

The old town is quite small and very walkable. For much of the year, it is busy with tourists and students. The main traffic-free street, Hauptstraße, is a busy thoroughfare with many chain and independent stores.

If you are looking for bakeries and gelato stores, this is the spot, alongside the Christmas decoration “must-have” store Käthe Wohlfahrt. You will also find some independent stores on Sofienstraße and in Plock.

Of course, if you are there from 21 November thru 22 December, you can explore the Christmas markets scattered around the town, along with an ice rink.

The Old Bridge

Karl Theodor Bridge or The Old Bridge was built in the late 1700s to replace the original wooden bridges. It provides a pleasant walk and a great view over the Necker River, which also offers boat cruises in the summer.


The Königstuhl or King’s Seat is a 567-meter hill that provides spectacular views of the area and, best of all, you can ride the bergbahn one stop past the castle to get to and from the viewpoint.

Heidelberg Zoo

Finally, if you are travelling with children, Heidelberg Zoo is a child friendly spot to spend an afternoon. It is home to 1,100 animals and is part of the European Endangered Species Program, raising awareness in conservation.

To Eat

Uuuhmami   ~ A pizza restaurant with a funky, industrial feel.

Hotel Wirtshaus zum Nepomuk ~ This a beautiful, atmospheric German restaurant that is also a hotel. The wooden beamed room provides the perfect ambiance for well-cooked and delicious traditional dishes.

Heidelberger Marktplatz ~ a large market square that is the open-air spot in which to sit on a sunny day for beers, coffees or lunches and just watch the world walk by.

Café Gundel ~ is a popular café that has been serving Heidelbergers since 1896. One of its specialities is the kürfurstenkugel, a sponge ball filled with nougat cream and covered by marzipan and chocolate. Be prepared for a line out the door for this popular spot – its gateaux and strudels are extremely well-liked!

To Stay

I visited Heidelberg with friends, and we stayed in the Hotel NH Heidelberg. A large hotel with plenty of good-sized rooms, a fitness centre, a good breakfast buffet, a super Italian restaurant next door and in a great location for catching the tram or walking into the old town.

Rates start at about 90 euros per night.

Heidelberg may be one of Germany’s less-known tourist destinations, but it did not disappoint. I, for one, will definitely go back if only for another kürfurstenkugel.


See more of Jackie’s posts here in Dispatches’ archives.

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Photographer/writer Jackie Harding was born in the United Kingdom. As a long-time expat, she lived in Boston for 12 years and in the Netherlands for the past 10 years.

Trained as a nurse in the U.K., she worked for nine years in the United States as a special education teacher’s assistant. Since moving to the Netherlands, she has discovered writing and photography.

Contributing to Dispatches since 2016, Jackie has written about her travels around Europe as well as about expat life and issues.

She also covered the Women’s March Amsterdam.

She’s married to British businessman Martin Harding and is the mother of two international adult children.

You can read more of Jackie’s work for Dispatches here

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