Nestled in a wooded gorge of the River Neckar, the university town of HEIDELBERG boasts a roster of sights that publicists of larger rivals would pay handsomely for. Goethe waxed lyrical about its ideal beauty, looks which so bewitched Turner that he captured it for posterity, and even Benjamin Disraeli fell for its "exceeding loveliness". "Here," he sighed, "the romantic ruggedness of the German landscape unites in perfect harmony with the delicate beauty of Italy." So effective was this PR, that today three million tourists a year are enticed to it, and for many Heidelberg remains the must-see of the Grand European Tour that it was for the nineteenth-century Romantics.
Ironically, they had stumbled upon a town down on its luck. French troops ravaged Heidelberg during the War of the Palatinate Succession in 1688 and Louis XIV returned five years later to deliver a blow of such force that writer Nicolas Boileau suggested Jean-Baptiste Racine inform the Académie Française "Heidelberger deleta". To cap its tale of woe, Palatinate elector Charles Philip left in favour of Mannheim after the Protestant stronghold refused to embrace Catholicism, in doing so demoting ravaged Heidelberg to just another provincial town.
Thanks to its historical significance, spectacular splendors and growing popularity as a major science and research center, modern Heidelberg welcomes millions of guests on its beatific land every year. Stretched across an area of 109 square kilometers (42 square miles) that are slotted into 14 major districts, this heavenly city is all set to win the hearts of tourists.
Altstadt (Old Town)
With its magnificent backdrop and narrow, picturesque roads, Old town is perhaps the most frequented destination in Heidelberg. This area extends to about two kilometers (one and a quarter miles) on both sides of the lively Hauptstraße from Bismarckplatz in the west along the south bank of the river Neckar and to the foot of the famous Schloss (Castle). The castle lies majestically enthroned on a small plateau above the river and town. Other important locations include the Universitätsplatz (University place), the Marktplatz (Market place) and the Alte Brücke (Old bridge). Most of Heidelberg's museums are to be found in the Old town, along with theaters, cinemas and countless restaurants and pubs. The Ruprecht Karls University of Heidelberg is the oldest in Germany and offers various short-term and long-term courses in different fields.
The whole of Old town can be discovered easily and pleasantly by foot. However, if you are driving down, the city center offers ample parking space in its 15 parking houses and the Park & Ride parking lots in the Neuenheimer Feld and at the Neuer Meßplatz in Kirchheim. This is particular recommended during the months of November and December when the famous Heidelberg Christmas Market takes place or the Heidelberg Castle Festival , a cultural event with theater, fireworks and exhibitions throughout the city.
Schlierbach, Ziegelhausen & Bergheim
The Neckar valley leads upstream in the east direction. Schlierbach lies here on the southern side. It was first documented in 1245 as having hardly more than 3000 inhabitants and even today, it is arguably the smallest district in Heidelberg. Located in northern Heidelberg, Ziegelhausen was founded in 850 CE. It is beautifully situated between the Neckar meadows and the Odenwald Forest and is a fantastic starting point for hiking-tours. The Textile Museum Max Berk and the Benedictine cloister Stift Neuburg are both popular visitors' choices.
West of the Old town and castle, between the Kurfürsten-Anlage and the Neckar, the district Bergheim reaches from the Bismarckplatz in the center to the motorway. In 769, Bergheim had already been mentioned as an independent settlement, but in 1392, the inhabitants were resettled within Heidelberg's town walls. The area was only built up again in the 19th Century, characterized by institutes and the university hospital, small businesses and residential premises.
Weststadt, Rohrbach, Boxberg & Emmertsgrund
South of Bergheim lies the Weststadt, with its beautiful old facades. It is a district much in demand amongst potential house buyers today. To the west of it, you will find the main railway station. It is only recently, since 1935, that the Südstadt has developed and expanded. It now joins the Weststadt along the Mark-Twain-Village and the NATO Headquarters, with the former village Rohrbach to its south. Rohrbach had already been documented as early as 766 CE. and, like Heidelberg itself, suffered damage in the Thirty-Years-War and the French-Palatinate War of Succession. The districts of Boxberg and Emmertsgrund are situated on a rise above Rohrbach, and have only really grown in the last 50 years.
The western Kirchheim is also an old settlement. Tombs of Merowinger from the early Stone Age (3500-1800 BCE) were found here. Kirchheim itself was first mentioned in 767 CE. It, too, suffered from the wars in the 17th Century and afterwards seemed to develop at breakneck speed. From a population of just 350 inhabitants in 1766, it had expanded to 2000 by 1861. In 1920, it was incorporated into Heidelberg and is now home to some 17,000 inhabitants. Like Rohrbach, Kirchheim's new infrastructure presents a wide range of gastronomical and shopping possibilities.
Pfaffengrund & Wieblingen
Pfaffengrund lies in northwestern Heidelberg and was part of the project of "The Garden City Movement" at the beginning of the 20th Century. This group's objective was to bring about low-priced housing options for working-class families and other socially disadvantaged citizens. With this background, the Pfaffengrund developed slowly but steadily in phases: 1920, 1934 and 1948-53. The district now has a population of about 8000.
Wieblingen lies between the highway and a bend of the Neckar River. Not only was a mammoth tooth found here, but also traces of human settlements dating back to the Stone Age are quite evident. Wieblingen itself was first mentioned in a deed of donation in 767 CE. In the following centuries, the Wieblinger inhabitants made their living from agriculture and fishing, but this hamlet was plundered on several occasions and burnt down in the wars of the 17th Century. In the 19th century, crafts workshops and industrial companies flourished in this area. The residential character changed from village-like structures to working-class dwellings, and like Pfaffengrund, a garden city with small houses was set up. Nowadays Wieblingen even has a specialty museum, the Bonsai-Museum , which is certainly worth a visit.
Neuenheim & Handschuhsheim
Neuenheim is situated just north of Heidelberg's city center. Its origins date back to a Roman Castellum. Neuenheim was first mentioned in 765 CE and developed (like the hamlets around) into a settlement for peasants and fishermen. In the Thirty Years War and again in the French-Palatinate War of Succession, this region was completely destroyed. Later, in the 19th Century it became the favorite residential area of university professors and today one can still admire the beautiful art nouveau villas. With the beginning of the 20th Century, the university institutes for natural sciences were relocated from the town center to the close-by Neuenheimer Feld. Apart from two Max-Planck-Institutes, the German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ) is also based here. Furthermore, you will find a cluster of sports grounds, an open-air swimming-pool, the Schwimmbad Music Club, the Youth Hostel and last but not least, the Heidelberg Zoo and the Botanical Garden in this district.
Heidelberg's northernmost district is Handschuhsheim, first documented in 765 CE. Over many centuries, until 1600, it belonged to the aristocratic dynasty of Handschuhsheim, whose last heir lost his life in a tragic duel. The impressive Tiefburg, surrounded by a deep moat, once belonged to this dynasty. In the St. Vitus Church, the oldest church on Heidelberg grounds, several members of the family line are buried in old and fascinating sepulchers. The Handschuhsheimer Schlößchen, and the many restaurants and pubs (far from the tourist bustle) are definitely worth a visit.
With a population of about 150,000, Heidelberg maintains a fair balance between cultural charm and industrial adaptation. No wonder the city cherishes its well-deserved dynamic flair. As the popular local phrase goes, "Ich hab' mein Herz in Heidelberg verloren" (I lost my heart in Heidelberg) - visit this enchanting city of unlimited grace and fall in love with its inevitable charisma.
The dining and drinking opportunities in Heidelberg reflect the unique situation of this beautifully historical city, tucked into the Neckar River valley. As one of Germany's historically important cultural centers, with the oldest and most Nobel-prize studded German university, and with well-preserved traditional German architecture, the city exerts a powerful force on those who want to explore the Germany of old. The millions of visitors who come from around the world to discover this interesting past are greeted with a great variety of traditional German pubs and restaurants, which offer local and regional specialties in authentic settings. The massive influx of international visitors, however, leaves its mark, and so perhaps more than any other city its size in Germany, Heidelberg offers visitors (and locals) lots of international dining opportunities.
Altstadt (Old Town)
The blocks around the Hauptstraße and in the old city have the greatest concentration of cafes, restaurants and pubs. If you are on the hunt for traditional German food, have no fear: some of the old city restaurants seem to be in informal competition to provide the heartiest and meatiest fare. First, there are the three golds: Zum Goldenen Schaf , some 250 years old; Gasthaus Goldener Hecht , where Goethe ate; and Goldener Anker , occupying a house built in the early 1700s. You also won't be able to avoid noticing Zum Ritter St. Georg , whose well-known facade looks out on the Holy Ghost Church. Another popular spot that specializes in serving up traditional food is the Brauhaus Vetter , which brews its own beer on location. Most restaurants offer a selection of German beers, a few brew their own right on the premises (the Kulturbrauerei Brauhaus is an especially good choice for that), and Zum Weißen Schwan , which offers 101 beers, even advertises itself as a beer museum. In addition to these and other larger and older locations, there are numerous smaller establishments characterized by wood and plaster interiors and menus heavy with traditional meat and potato or noodle dishes. Visitors should be aware, however, that German cuisine can also reach the delicately sublime, as those who treat themselves to a meal at Kurfürstenstube and Die Hirschgasse certainly know. These two elegant establishments offer contemporary German cuisine that is neither average nor easily forgotten. Vegetarians and budget travelers in particular should note that international restaurants, particularly Asian and Middle Eastern, are often the best bets.
Most places have at least a couple of tables outside, and expect most public squares (and both the Uniplatz and the Marktplatz in the old city) to have lots of pleasant outdoor seating when the weather is nice. International guests will be pleased with the selection of newspapers at the Cafe Journal , and day and night the streets between the Holy Ghost Church and the Alte Brücke are popular places for coffee and conversation - in several international languages, of course.
Weststadt & Bergheim
Even though most restaurants are concentrated in the Old Town, there are several restaurants in other parts of the city that shouldn't be missed. Traveling west of the city center, you reach Weststadt and Bergheim, where you get a more rural feel of Heidelberg. However the cuisine is still as international as in Old Town. Try Cafe Cactus for a bit of Mexican flair. If you don't want to miss out on German cuisine but find it overall too hearty, Krokodil is definitely an option for you. Regional and international dishes are served in a more contemporary fashion. Thanner offers brilliant breakfast buffets, whereas Billy Blues im Ziegler serves Cajun and Californian cuisine, as well as Tex Mex delicacies.
As refreshing as the beer is, locals know that as great as beer may be, it can't beat the wines that the Heidelberg region is known for. The city is located in the Baden wine-growing region, which produces many dry wines of high quality and is the origin of many of Germany's best Spätburgunders. Just to the north is the tiny Hessiche Bergstraße, which produces mostly Rieslings, and whose vintages are a real treat to find given their rarity. West lies the Pfalz, where world-class dry white wines can be found, especially Rieslings, Scheurebe, Weiss- and Grauburgunders. Look for such estates as Bürklin-Wolf, Bassermann-Jordan, and von Buhl. Lastly, Württemberg lies to the east, where, in recent years, several red wines have earned it distinction. Whatever is in the glass, if it originated in the region surrounding Heidelberg, you can be sure it is a quality wine.
If one measures the area, Heidelberg certainly does not rate as one of the bigger cities in the world. The Old Town, at less than two kilometers (one and a quarter mile) in size, is pretty small and for this reason it is ideal to discover the town on foot. Suitable shoes are, however, a good idea, as cobble-stone pavements don't do much for a flashy pair of heels! The most famous of Heidelberg's attractions will be the starting point of our tour: the ruin of the Heidelberg castle. It is accessible via the Bergbahn (mountain train, a cog-wheel train) that departs at the parking garage Kornmarkt or on two foot paths that lead from the left side of the parking garage to the castle. The old Castle road on the left leads on cobble-stones directly into the castle; the one branching off to the right heads on steep stairs over the Kurze Buckel (the short hump) to the main entrance and into the castle gardens.
The best point from which to start your discovery is the Schlossgarten . The terraces with fountains and waterworks still stem from Baroque times. Between the old trees you will gain a first magnificent impression of the mighty and time-honored walls. From here you will have the best view of the exploded Herb Tower . Through the Gate Tower at the south end of the castle you enter the Courtyard, where you will witness the peculiarity and the magic of the castle in all its wealth. The single buildings are examples of the most differing historical building styles, nothing seems to belong together, and it seems almost as if a child has taken blocks from and oversized building set and aimlessly assembled them at random. The plain Ladies Building stands beside Frederick's Palace with its richly decorated facade. The splendid, but roofless Ottheinrich's Palace , on the other hand, doesn't seem to match the austere Ludwigsbau or the unadorned Ruprechtsbau at all. It is worth pausing to take in the fantastic scenery and to see at least one if not both buildings from the inside. A main attraction is without doubt the Great Barrell , but it is worth visiting the inside as part of a Castle Tour or to see the Apothecaries' Museum . Between Frederick's Palace and the Hall-of-Mirrors Building leads a small passage way to the Belvedere (Great terrace) that offers an unrivaled, beautiful view over Heidelberg and the Neckar Valley far into the Rhine plain and the Palatinate Forest. Underneath the Belvedere the cobble-stone Castle Road leads back into the Old town. Those who are not keen walkers can effortlessly return to the Kornmarkt on the mountain railway.
The most famous sight at the Kornmarkt is that of the Madonna . With the castle in the background it is very popular photo opportunity. From the Kornmarkt you will reach the market place after only a few meters. Some items of great significance stand on this site. The Marktplatz is dominated by the Holy Ghost Church, those who take it upon themselves to climb up are justly rewarded with a magnificent view of the rooftops of the Old town. Opposite the Church is the Town hall and in the row of the houses you will find the remarkably beautiful facade of the hotel Zum Ritter St. Georg and of the former Court Dispensary (No. 190). On the market place there is also a large choice of cafes and snack bars that are perfect for a small meal before you continue to explore the town.
From the market place, the Hauptstraße leads west to the Bismarckplatz. You could also continue the tour via the Untere Straße that branches off northwest of the Holy Ghost Church, by the Cafe Knösel with the well-known Students' kisses. Most roads, apart from the Hauptstraße, are less crowded and offer a profound and enchanting impression of Heidelberg. The Hauptstraße , the main street, extends over a distance of 1.6 km and runs from the Karlstor on the east side along the Marktplatz to the west end at the Bismarckplatz. Many narrowly angled and romantic roads with charming little houses branch off, some have only a width of 3.5 metres. The eastern part underneath the castle has a certain historical and romantic flair; the university is situated in the central part with its different buildings and the west part of the Hauptstraße is dominated by shops.
The philosophers' road stretches along the southern side of the Heiligenberg and between small gardens and the woods you can enjoy a beautiful view of the Old town and the castle that is really quite picturesque. Semi-exotic plants like broom, lemon trees, pomegranates, yucca and pine trees that grow here due to the mild climate. The road was named in the last centuries when presumably scholars of the university used to walk here. The first look-out point shows the Philosophers' Garden, a peaceful place with flower-beds and benches in which to linger and contemplate. On the east side of this garden is the Joseph von Eichendorff memorial stone reminds us of this romantic poet who studied in Heidelberg in circa 1807. Above the garden the philosophers' road branches into the upper and the lower road. However, we will follow the lower one that does not ascend any further. The next memorial stone is the Liselottestein, dedicated to the daughter of Karl Ludwig who was married to the Sun kings brother, a marriage that in 1685 unleashed the disastrous Palatine War of Succession leading to the destruction of the castle.
A few steps further on, you come across the Merianblick (Merian's view): here stands a large-scale illustration of the copperplate engraving that was created in 1620 by Matthäus Merian and that shows the Heidelberg of the day. To compare this picture of Heidelberg with today's view is really fascinating. Some hundred meters further, you will find a small park that is designed in honor of the poet Friedrich Hölderlin.
Before this park the Schlangenweg (serpent's path) branches off down to the valley. Between walls and with numerous bends and curves you follow the cobble-stone path to the Alte Brücke (Old Bridge) . An alternative route is to follow the philosophers' road further up and find your way back to the Neckar via the Hirschgasse. At the Neckar you turn to the right and walk back to the Old Bridge. On the right of the street you can see a row of magnificent villas that were built in the last century.