Travel Guide: Heidelberg, Germany

Nestled on the edge of rolling green hills and divided by the glittering Nektar River, Heidelberg, Germany stands as one of the few historic cities to escape the destructive effects of the Second World War.

Located in Germany’s southwest, Heidelberg offers sightseeing treats for both outdoor and historical enthusiasts. Delicious food and friendly locals makes Heidelberg a popular destination for those wishing to experience Germany’s colorful Gothic and Romantic eras.

Getting there:

For travelers wishing to fly, Frankfurt Main is the closest international airport to Heidelberg. Consisting of two terminals connected by a free monorail service and peppered with maps and information kiosks, Frankfurt Main is easy to maneuver for first time travelers.

Americans do not need to complete Visa applications or landing cards for short term visits, and the immigration and customs desks move the new arrivals though quickly.

Getting to Heidelberg:

From Frankfurt Main, travelers have the option of train service direct to the center of Heidelberg, or purchasing a rental car from the kiosks found in both terminal one and terminal two. Renting a car abroad can be expensive, so it is advisable to shop online and reserve a car at a price you are comfortable with before arriving at the airport.

Americans are allowed to drive on their US State issued driver’s license for up to six months in Germany, and be prepared to produce proof of any insurance you wish to use for driving your rental car. Some rental car companies require you to purchase their own private insurance if you are unable to provide this information in written form from your insurance or credit card company.

Getting Around:

Once you have arrived in Heidelberg, the city’s public transportation system of trams and buses runs efficiently and on time, allowing you to travel easily through both the centre of the city and to the surrounding communities. Tickets can be purchased at the station or from the drivers directly. Some hotels even offer discounted transport passes for purchase, so it is worth checking before you ride.

Most Germans speak excellent English in the city, but it is always polite to learn a few phrases before you go. Hello, Goodbye, Please and Thank You will serve you well, and are always appreciated.

What to see:

  1. The Castle

Heidelberg’s castle is situated above the city in the surrounding hills. It can be reached either by walking path from the middle of the Korn Market, or by tram, which will drive you to the top. The castle is a combination of both Gothic and Renaissance architecture, and is considered a ruin.

Taking the guided tour is recommended as you are given the history of the construction, including a romantic story of a Prince’s love for his Princess, and the resulting history which led to the destruction of this vast sprawling castle. Take time to savor the unparalleled views across the Nektar River and down through the surrounding town.

  1. The Old Bridge (Carl Theodore Bridge)

Made up of nine stone arches and situated at the foot of the Heidelberg Castle, the Old Bridge connects the north side of the city to the south side and Heidelberg’s Old Town.

Rendered in paint and word by countless artists and poets, the Old Bridge is perfect a romantic stroll over the Nektar River. Guarded by the Bridge Monkey, a modern sculpture based on an older 15th century sculpture, this whimsical character keeps those crossing the river safe, and offers a silly photo op for those so inclined.

  1. Philosopher’s walk (Philosophenweg)

Rumored as historically a favorite walk of Heidelberg University Professors when, this walk on the north side of the Nektar River begins in town with a moderate incline into a pedestrian only zone. From the Philosopher’s Garden, a terraced oasis of wildflowers, visitors can catch the best views of the Old Bridge and the Castle.

Postcard photographers use this spot for their photos too. Further along, the walk takes you into the wild forests on the outskirts of Heidelberg. The dappled leafy green ceiling and fern covered woodland floor recalls images of fairy tales, and it is no wonder that the Brother’s Grim called Germany home.

  1. Boat ride down Nektar River

For water enthusiasts, several companies along Heidelberg’s Nektar River offer boat cruises along the River and into the surrounding wooded hills to the West of the city.

Varying in length and duration, most boats offer outdoor and indoor seating as well as snack and drink services. Boaters are floated through several river locks and past small German villages and castles. Check to see if your cruise company offers hop on/hop off services so that you can explore some of these towns while still catching a ride back later in the afternoon.

  1. Old Town (Altstadt)

Old Town in located at the foot of Heidelberg Castle and south of the Nektar River. Filled with historic buildings, shopping and restaurants of world cuisines, this is the most popular section of Heidelberg and in the summer months can be filled to capacity with out of town visitors.

Take the time to sit at one of the many outdoor restaurants in the Korn Market square and enjoy a Pils, the most popular local beer from the region. It is the perfect place to soak in the atmosphere and relax on your vacation to picturesque Heidelberg, Germany.