Straight out of Hansel & Gretel, Heidelberg is the quintessential German fairytale town. I’ve been three times now and it never gets old. It’s a town for the young or old, the lazy or active, the tourist or local.
The city has a lively student life, and you will not be at a loss if you want a grungy bar with cheap drinks and good laughs. There are a ton of historical sites worth seeing, the most impressive being the Schloss (castle) on the hill. The Heidelberg castle architecture was considered the height of German Romanticism, but as it was repeatedly battered by wars throughout it’s history, it still remains in a partial state of disrepair. However, as Mark Twain put it, “A ruin must be rightly situated to be effective. This one could not have been better placed”. Indeed the castle sits at an idyllic location on a hill above the city, with amazing views across the surroundings. While the climb to the castle looks foreboding (I won’t lie, it’s steep), it’s definitely worthwhile. The views are incredible, the castle itself beautiful, and the fortress and surrounding gardens vast and interesting.
The first constructions took place in 1300, after which the Schloss was subject to many unfortunate incidences – burning, lightning strikes, and fires. The various wings were built at different times, with early portions still being Gothic. At one point a marriage between a German prince and an Italian royal resulted in the procurement of the gorgeous Italian altarpiece in the chapel. The cellar houses the world’s largest wine barrel, holding 220 000 liters. Wowsa.
Tours of the castle are available, with more information on this website. A walk around the grounds and museum will set you back 7 euros, while adding a tour of the interior is another 6 euros.
When in Heidelberg, you’ll of course want a traditional German dining experience. At Kulturbrauerei Heidelberg, you can sample the delicious local beer, along with traditional favorites like grilled sausage with sauerkraut, roast pork with red cabbage and spätzle, or schnitzel with french fries. Not a green vegetable in sight, just as it should be in this kind of place. The Apple Strudel as a finale is a must.
The main shopping street (Haupstrasse) winds through the Altstadt and holds a charming combination of half-timbered houses, regal churches, bridges, and narrow cobblestone streets. The buildings are really so beautiful and so recognizably German, in the best way. Along with spring cherry blossoms, it’s an adorable sight.
For the ultimate in schnitzel glory, check out “Schnitzel Bank”, an extremely obscure and tiny place down a side street and further down a flight of stairs. You’ll be met with a dimly lit ancient cellar, tables grooved with carvings and writing from past patrons and original foggy stained glass windows. The gruff bartender will take your order and slap down a large glass of wine or beer in front of you. Choose between schnitzel “au natural”, or one of the trashed up options – with garlic, mushroom cream sauce, cordon bleu. . . etc.
Luxury for Less Hotels:
- NH Hotel Heidelberg: a modern sleek hotel with a fantastic breakfast buffet.
- Hotel Goldene Rose: a lovely little spot right in the heart of the action, with charmingly dated decor.
Heidelberg is a must-see mashup of fairytale romantic Germany with an injection of lively students. Spring is a great time to go, when trees are positively dripping with pink cherry blossoms and the air smells like heaven 🙂