The historic German city of Heidelberg is where you’ll find the country’s oldest university, established back in 1386.
Things to Do in Heidelberg, Germany
There are plenty of things to do in Heidelberg, Germany. Its Old Town is strung out in a rectangle along the River Neckar, at its heart the pedestrian shopping street Hauptstrasse. It takes a while to walk its length as there are so many souvenir shops, cafes and bakeries to tempt you in, as well as myriad churches including the 12th century Church of St Peter, the oldest of them all. When you do reach the end of it you’ll come across the Stone Bridge. It has a mediaeval gateway, but the bridge itself is not as old as you might think – it dates from the late 18th century. Look out for the Bridge Monkey; the current sculpture dates from 1979, but there was one here as far back as the 15th century alongside a previous incarnation of the bridge. If you touch the mirror, you’ll enjoy great wealth, the legend has it.
The big draw for visitors to Heidelberg is not its seat of learning but its castle. Perched on a hill overlooking the city and the river valley, the Schloss may be in ruins but it’s certainly not lost any of its character. It was built and extended as a Royal residence until disaster struck in 1764. A lightning bolt hit the castle and it was never reconstructed. Today, there’s an apothecary museum, terrace and plenty of good views to keep visitors happy. The castle has its own wine cellar where you’ll find the largest wine barrel, known as the Heidelberg Tun. Dating from 1751, it was used to hold the wine paid by the local growers as a form of tax to Prince Elector Karl Theodor. It stands over seven metres tall and has the capacity to hold an almost incomprehensible 58,000 gallons of wine. Back in the day, the barrel had its own guard, a Tyrolean dwarf called Perkeo, known for his ability to drink copious amounts of alcohol without noticeable ill effects. He lived to a ripe old age and only died, so the story goes, when someone forced him to switch to water.
The easiest way to get to the castle is via the funicular. It operates in two sections, the first up to the Schloss and the second, a vintage wooden funicular up the mountain to Königstuhl. At 568 metres above sea level, the views from the top are phenomenal on a good day. If you’re feeling athletic, hiking in this area is one of the best things to do in Heidelberg Germany. You can walk up the 1200 steps known as the Himmelsleiter or Heaven’s Ladder instead of taking the funicular.
That’s not the only recommended hike in the area. The walk known as Philosophenweg (the Philosophers’ Walk) takes you alongside Heiligenberg, or Saints’ Mountain. It used to be the stomping ground for the university professors and philosophers to go and discuss things while they got some fresh air. The city and river views gave them the inspiration their university rooms could not. Higher still, you can climb to a 11th century ruined monastery, a Nazi-era amphitheatre and the remains of a 4th century BC Celtic fort. How’s that for packing a lot of history into a day’s hike?