Last weekend I came back to one of the places I can call home – Heidelberg, Germany. If you are looking for a fairytale town in Germany, Heidelberg should definitely be among your choices – the narrow picturesque cobblestone streets in the Old Town, the old bridge overlooking the world-famous castle which you probably have already seen, make it one of the most loved spots in Germany.
Besides having family ties, I came to Heidelberg because I had always dreamt of studying at its university, which is the oldest in Germany and one of the oldest and most renowned in Europe and in the world. In 2015 I concluded my Master degree and those years were definitely one of the very best in my life.
Furthermore, one of the aspects which has always fascinated me in Heidelberg was its central location and multiculturalism: it is located 80 km from Frankfurt am Main, 1 hour from Stuttgart and Strasbourg and very well connected in terms of transports within Germany and the bordering countries (Austria, Switzerland, Czech Republic, Italy, Poland, Denmark). Beyond Heidelberg University, in Heidelberg you will find major international laboratories, such as the European Molecular Biology Laboratory – EMBL, multinationals headquarters in close-by locations (such as SAP, BASF) and Max Planck Institute, therefore it hosts a very large community of students, researchers and many other professionals from all over the planet.
Did you also know Heidelberg had been for nearly 70 years after the second world war, the US army’s headquarters in Europe and a Nato command centre?
To me Heidelberg is much more than its university, Old Town or any touristic sights, it is a feeling, it means cooperation among your fellow colleagues, amazing people and great friends, accomplishment, scenic beauty and above all home. Even though I travel a lot and after Heidelberg I moved somewhere else, a part of me has stayed in this city and I will be honest, it was not easy to leave it. Today I try to visit it once in a while and no matter how much time it passes, it always feels home and this sense of belonging accompanies me throughout the journey. Like the famous German popular song Ich habe mein Herz in Heidelberg verloren – I lost my heart in Heidelberg
In this guide I will take you to iconic and fancy places in Heidelberg, hoping you enjoy it as much as I do:
How do I get to Heidelberg?
The closest airports are either in Frankfurt am Main or in Stuttgart.
I usually fly to Frankfurt am Main (45 min by car). Directly at the airport you have a train station, you will have to switch once in Frankfurt or in Mannheim to reach Heidelberg. You can book directly the tickets at the German railway website.
There are also shuttle services operating between Heidelberg and Frankfurt am Main airport. I recommend TLS
In which season should I visit Heidelberg?
Heidelberg is beautiful no matter which season you pick. However, Christmas with its enchanting Christmas market, Spring when the flowers are blossoming and Autumn with its beautiful strong colours and many festivals have a special charm.
During the Summer from June until September you have to absolutely watch the Castle Illumination Show at night, in which after some seconds of brief illumination, fireworks are thrown all over the place.
What should I not miss in Heidelberg?
It is actually a ruin and the ex-libris of Heidelberg. The castle has only been partially rebuilt since its demolition in the 17th and 18th centuries.
Strolling around the Old Town
Old town Heidelberg
Castle Panorama from Heidelberg Old Bridge
Heidelberg Old Bridge
A classical example of stone bridge building, dividing the Old Town and another city quarter, Neuheim over the Neckar river and overlooking the castle. On the old town side, at its entrance there is the medieval Bridge Gate, which was part of the former city wall.
A 2 km trail with the best Heidelberg panorama. Heidelberg’s university professors and philosophers found this path a beautiful place to relax and have meaningful conversations, while enjoying the charming view of the Neckar, hence the name.
An open-air theatre on the Heiligenberg (large hill overlooking Heidelberg). It was built during the Third Reich for performances and events as part of the Thingspiel movement.
What should I buy in Heidelberg?
The headquarters are located in Rothenburg ob der Tauber, but so far my favourite shop in the whole world, especially if you are a Christmas fan. I guarantee you will visit a truly “Christmas village”, go back to your childhood and enjoy pure Christmas magic. Finesse, creativity, tradition are definitely words which best describe this shop. And if you really found the Christmas tree/decoration of your dreams, but cannot take everything in the suitcase, do not worry because they ship overseas 🙂
Fancy Choices for foodies:
This is the oldest restaurant in Heidelberg, in the heart of the old town. Once you enter it, you travel in time, as the tables are completed scratched from the times when students used to gather here, whose photos you can see on the walls. On Fridays and on the weekends there is live music and popular German songs are sung. The menu is quite diversified, seasonal and loyal to German Southwestern cuisine with a fancy touch: from pork meat with dumplings, suckling pig, Sptätzle to more Mediterranean options. Service is good and very friendly. Reservations are highly recommended.
Market: Friedrich Ebert Platz on Thursday afternoon
I do truly miss weekly street markets, where you can buy everything beyond organic fruit and vegetables. The one in Friedrich Ebert Platz on Thursday afternoon provides you with typical French cheeses, yoghurts, organic meat, fresh fish, dried fruits from the Middle East, oysters from France in the Winter, Argentinian empanadas and so many other delicacies. Make sure to stop buy and appreciate the gastronomical offer!
How do I spend 24 hours in Heidelberg?
You might ask which choices I would pick when in Heidelberg or how I spend my 24 hours, when not visiting family (lately I have only been there for a really short period of time) in Heidelberg, so here it is my top list:
A very charming, cosy café with amazing cakes (including organic, vegan and gluten-free options). It does also also a good choice in terms of hot chocolate and cappuccino. Ideal for wintery days when it is snowing.
2) For coffee passionates – Casa del Café
If you are from South Europe, like myself, coffee is part of our daily lives and life is just too short for bad coffee, right? Coffee experiences can be traumatic in Central Europe (disgusting filter coffee), but the very Italian Casa del Café will provide you a truly memorable coffee experience. Hot chocolate with coffee should not missed and a simple Espresso will take you back home.
Being immersed in such a great cultural diversity, sometimes you find the most authentic places completely unexpectedly. A long-standing family acquaintance, Antonio LaRosa is from Bari, every Thursday morning fresh fruit and vegetables arrive from Sicily, lunch menus are reasonably priced and very tasteful, you can buy traditional Italian products and from time to time wine tastings take place. It is located in the industrial quarter of Wieblingen, but a very rewarding visit for Italian lovers.
4) Stroll the entire shopping avenue Hauptstrasse, go up to the castle, contemplate the breathtaking view, be grateful and smile for all the memories and moments.
Travelling is about collecting moments and memories. No matter if it is a new or old destination, sometimes it is important to go back to all those places which made us happy and keep a part of us. I have lived in Heidelberg for 4 years and visit it quite often due to my family ties, however each time I go there there is always a surprise, there are always new elements to discover. In spite of the constant changes, its beauty, charm and diversity remain untouched and that is precisely what makes it such a unique place.
Christmas markets open on 30th November, so why not discover the Heidelberg one and combine it with the Alsacian one in Strasbourg? Let me know your thoughts!