Dave and I developed a love for Germany after our very first visit to Munich. I have an aunt from Heidelberg who has always talked about how beautiful the town is, so we added it to our travel itinerary and made it our home for a week in October 2021.
We arrived at our rental apartment which was very close to the city center, literally 250 feet from the Heidelberger Markplatz and the imposing Church of the Holy Spirit (Heiliggestkirche). The train station is about 2 miles from the city center, so if you plan to stay in the Altstadt, be aware that it’s not an easy walk.
As soon as we dropped our luggage, we set off to explore. We were instantly smitten with this charming town! We made the short walk to the Marktplatz and took in a spectacular 360-degree view of the castle, the church, the Rathaus, the shops glittering along the Hauptstrasse, and the pretty brightly painted buildings with their flowerboxes hanging from the windowsills.
After a long afternoon on the train from Maastricht, we were ready for a cold drink and a schnitzel, and found both (along with very friendly servers and a cozy dining room) at the Weinstube Schnitzelbank. After dinner, we walked in the lantern light back to our flat, and were reminded that we were in a university town; there were lots of people out and about on a rainy Wednesday night!
During our week in Heidelberg, we saw a few wine tasting events. One was in the Kornmarkt and another was at the castle. The day we visited the castle, we took the funicular to the entrance, but for those who want some exercise, it is possible to walk. The Kornmarkt funicular station to the castle shares a space with a hotel. It is not possible to do a self guided tour of the castle, so if you visit, check the times online first. During our visit, proof of vaccination was required, masks were required indoors and on the funicular, and in Germany, businesses were required to register guests as part of the country’s contact tracing efforts (many used an app). The castle has an interesting history, despite not being particularly old. There are great views to be had from the castle walls, and there’s a pretty garden for walking on a sunny day. There is a café at the castle for those who want a refreshment break.
Heidelberg has a great city bike rental service so it’s easy to pick up a bike and go. The service is called Nextbike and has an app you install on your mobile device. You will need data roaming or wifi to access the app. Before you head out to rent your first bike, install the app and set up your profile (including payment options). We had a great deal of trouble registering for the app because of our US phone number. After emails and calls, I was able to get through to their customer service and get our account squared away.
We rented bikes twice while in Heidelberg: once to the train station for a day trip (and back to the apartment later in the day), and another day we rode to the zoo. We walked the bikes through the Old Bridge Gate across the Neckar river and within minutes we were zipping along the water. The bike paths are great along the river, and there are places to stop for snacks and a drink, or even a swim. The park was busy with runners, kids, people playing sports, or just feeding the swans.
There is also an e-bike rental service if you want to get on to some more challenging trails by the castle, or the path to the Thingstätte, an open-air theatre on the Heiligenberg. It was built during the Third Reich for performances and events and is now a protected cultural monument. Not far from there is the Philosopher’s Trail, although we were warned that riding bikes on the trail would be frowned upon.
Foodies will have lots of options in Heidelberg. In addition to German food (we liked Brauhaus Vetter and Sudpfanne), we ate Peruvian, Italian and Vietnamese. After a big, hearty meal, you can wander the streets and back lanes and visit some of the nine historical churches dotted throughout town.
There are a couple destinations close to Heidelberg for daytrips or connecting destinations. We did a couple nights in Cologne, and although the cathedral is astounding, the city itself is probably best visited in an afternoon vs. an overnight trip. There is a charming area near the Great St. Martin Church and the riverfront. From Cologne we spent a lovely afternoon in Konigswinter to visit Drachenburg Castle.
We took an afternoon trip to Worms, which although considered a good day trip from Heidelberg, we failed to find the charm. We walked around a few hours and never really located an altstadt. The Worms cathedral appears to be the main attraction, but there was an art fair going on during our visit which didn’t permit a good visit to the church.
Our favorite memories of Heidelberg are exploring the pretty backstreets, people watching from a sidewalk café, and sampling the excellent beers and schnitzel. Whether you decide to visit for a day or a week, Heidelberg is worth the trip!