Ultimate Travel Guide to Heidelberg, Germany

By on Published: December 24, 2020 | Last Updated: October 27, 2021 in Europe, GERMANY, Western Europe with 4 Comments

Ultimate Travel Guide to Heidelberg

Summer 2020 was the summer I fell in love with Germany as a travel destination.

Yes it’s pretty hard to believe now, but I really had overlooked this massive nation in the heart of Europe (aside from a fun-filled frenzy in Berlin), as a place lacking pzazz!

But with Covid keeping us all closer to home this year, and my French trip to the Alsace region becoming increasingly difficult due to travel restrictions, I made the executive choice to abandon my desire to explore more of France and hopped over the border to Germany instead … and boy/girl was I glad!

The prices were better, the people were friendlier (sorry!) and the beer was better.

What more could this girl ask for?!

But seriously, exploring the west of Germany, I was really bowled away by how lovely this country was – how culturally authentic, as well as scenically stunning.

And there’s no question, amongst it all, my time in the city of Heidelberg was a definite highlight.

So if you’re thinking of heading to this wonderfully historic and picturesque place too, here’s my ultimate travel guide if you want to travel Heidelberg.

Germany, Heidelberg, SUP


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Why Visit Heidelberg?

Germany, Heidelberg, Street

Famed for its wonderful university, Heidelberg is a historic town, set along a river with beautifully quaint streets, relaxed country town feels and some epic walks and views around.

Founded in 1386, the university here is Germany’s oldest and is world-renowned thanks to its prestigious research facilities, particularly in the realms of science and literature.

The city is also famous for its castle, which looms above the streets below and can be seen for miles around.

The Baroque Old Town itself is incredibly picturesque and has inspired artists, as well as leading German thinkers, for years.

In essence, Heidelberg is a little like the Oxford of Germany!

 

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Where is Heidelberg?

Germany, Heidelberg, Sign

Located in the southwest of Germany, incredibly close to the French border in the state of Baden-Württemberg, Heidelberg sits along the River Neckar.

It’s a small city, with just over 150,00 people – a lot of whom are students at its famous university.

Despite being small, Heidelberg sits in quite a densely populated part of Germany and is only around 75km south from the large, industrial city of Frankfurt.

Despite this, Heidelberg occupies a fairly rural setting, surrounded by forest and nestled in the Rhine Rift Valley.

 

When to Visit

Germany, Heidelberg, Me

In my mind, there are 2 key times to visit Heidelberg.

One is during the summer months, like I did, and the other is during December for the wonderful Christmas markets… this is Germany after all!

The summer months provide the ideal time for Heidelberg travel, with long days and perfect walking weather – crucial if you’re scrambling up to the Castle for those epic views.

The weather is clear and hot, and the outside eateries around the Cathedral can be enjoyed with a refreshing stein of beer, or you can SUP or kayak along the river.

Just beware of the heat in the summer however – it can get really hot in Heidelberg in July and August, with temperatures readily exceeding 30 degrees.

If you love the sun like me, then these hot, blue sky days are ideal, but I do understand they’re not everyone’s cup of tea, especially if the place you’re staying in doesn’t have aircon!

If this is the case for you, you may prefer to travel Heidelberg during the winter months – with the best option being December when the beautiful Christmas markets of this historic town are in full force.

Awash with fairy lights and that magic wintery feel, this is a superb time to visit the city.

Needless to say, during both the high summer and winter seasons, the tourist crowds are heaviest in Heidelberg, but, in my opinion, they are worth it!

 

How Long to Spend There

Germany, Heidelberg, Man

I’d say 2-3 nights is enough time to enjoy Heidelberg to a pretty decent level.

As it’s a small city, you can easily arrive on Day 1, settle into your accommodation and then quickly orientate yourself in the city. Perhaps enjoying dinner and a drink out in the evening.

The second day you can sightsee your way around all the main attraction including the Philosopher’s Way walk and the Castle up on the hill and perhaps pluck up the courage for a Spooky Tour of the city’s history in the evening.

With a third day in this city, you could venture out on a day trip either to Frankfurt, Stuttgart or the Black Forest spa destination of Baden-Baden.

 

How to Travel to Heidelberg

Germany, Heidelberg, Tram

Flying

The closest international airports to Heidelberg are in Frankfurt and Stuttgart, from where you can catch a train easily and quickly to Heidelberg in around 1 hour.

Learn more in this post I wrote about travelling from Frankfurt to Heidelberg.

As always, I use Skyscanner to find the best deals on flights.

That said, I am not trying to limit my flying due to the climate emergency and really recommend you use the train or bus if you’re travelling to this city from elsewhere in mainland Europe.

 

Train

When it comes to catching the train to Heidelberg, services arrive here from many destinations across Germany and other neighbouring European countries.

The main train station in this city is Heidelberg main station – Heidelberg Hbf.

This station makes use of the high-speed (ICE) inter-city express trains on Germany’s excellent De Bahn train network.

You can get to Berlin in just over 5 hours from Heidelberg, as well as other major European capitals, such as Paris, in 3.5 hours.

Some of these services require you to change trains, likely either in Frankfurt or Mannheim, but it’s not a big hassle.

As always, I recommend booking all your European train journeys in advance through Trainline.

Booking online in advance is going to give you the best-priced tickets and with Trainline’s handy app you can arrange e-tickets, meaning you don’t have to mess around with collecting any passes at the station.

Trainline also makes navigating trains in Europe easy, with everything converted into English in one easy-to-read format. You can also pay in multiple currencies and booking online with them is totally secure – winning!

 

Bus

If budget is a big issue for you, and you’re perhaps booking late in the day (meaning the cheapest train tickets aren’t available), then you may want to consider catching the bus to Heidelberg instead.

Again, you’re most likely to be doing this from either Frankfurt or Stuttgart, from where Flixbus runs direct services to Heidelberg.

Flixbus also runs services to other parts of Germany including Nuremberg, Munich and Cologne, as well as to other European cities such as Zurich, Reims and Prague.

Flixbus has free wifi, free power sockets, as well as free luggage allowances, onboard toilets and their app is great for storing eTickets and checking the location of your bus live.

I’ve used Flixbus as a budget traveller across Europe and can I highly recommend their efficient and safe services.

Book your journey to or from Heidelberg with FlixBus at the best rates here.

 

Cycle or Drive

And finally, you can also cycle or drive to Heidelberg.

There’s too many routes to go into here, but suffice to say there are both good cycle trails and vehicle highways connecting Heidelberg to other parts of Germany.

 

How to Get Around Heidelberg

Germany, Heidelberg, Shutters

Heidelberg really is a small city, especially its centre, which is easy to navigate on foot.

If you’re staying in or near the centre, then you shouldn’t struggle to get to most places by walking.

If you’re staying further out, then there is an excellent tram system you can use to get into the centre from different suburbs.

And last but not least, because this is Germany, you can also hire bicycles to get around the city easily too if you want.

Segway tours of Heidelberg can also be arranged if you can’t be bothered to walk! They actually get some pretty good reviews!

 

Things to Do in Heidelberg

The main things to do in Heidelberg are wander around and enjoy the pretty Baroque streets of the city, as well as pick up on the student atmosphere whilst enjoying a beer and some sauerkraut in the centre around the Cathedral.

For the more adventurous, there are a few stand-out things to do in Heidelberg to talk about!

Here they are…

 

#1 Snap the Bridge & Monkey Statue

Germany, Heidelberg, Cat Statue

The famous Old Bridge in Heidelberg and, at its entrance, the massive metal statue of a Monkey, called Bruckenaffe in German, are 2 Heidelberg icons you can’t miss – snapping both of them is definitely one of the top things to do in this city.

Personally, I think the statue looks more like a cat, but that’s beside the point!

Strolling along the bridge to admire its ancient architecture and the views of the river that run under it, makes for a beautiful amble that captures both Heidelberg’s beautiful scenery and history at its best.

 

#2 SUP on the River
Germany, Heidelberg, River

And while we’re by the river, I can’t help mentioning that enjoying this beautiful forest waterway is absolutely one of the top things to do in Heidelberg too.

Kayaking and SUP-ing along it are some of the best ways to take in the heart of Heidelberg, otherwise, cycling or walking alongside this waterway is delightful too.

 

#3 Have a Drink at Max Bar

Germany, Heidelberg, Beer & Sauerkraut

Located right next to the Church of the Holy Spirit in one of Heidelberg’s central squares, Max Bar is a popular student hangout that seemed rammed every time I visited.

So, of course, I couldn’t help joining the crowds too and settled myself at a table most nights I was in this city to enjoy a delicious stein on a warm summer evening with the amazing views of the city around me.

For something a bit more upmarket, you may want to head to the excellent Kulturbrauerei Heidelberg at Leyergasse, 6.

 

#4 Admire the Ancient Churches

Germany, Heidelberg, Church

And while you’re sat at Max Bar, you’ll have already checked out Heidelberg’s main church, but in a city seemingly full of them – you can blame those Baroque kids – there’s a couple of others to tick off your list too.

Top of the pile is the Jesuitenkirche, which is one of the most iconic historic buildings in this city and certainly needs to be on your list of things to do in Heidelberg.

The streets around here are gorgeous too and there is delicious Middle Eastern food to be found nearby at Mahmoud’s as well… just saying!

 

#5 Hike the Philosopher’s Way

Germany, Heidelberg, Forest

But now we get onto the big numbers on this Heidelberg to do list, with something you absolutely can’t miss and that is the Philosopher’s Way.

Essentially a lovely walk that takes you up the hill on the opposite side of the river to the city centre, this trail takes you through some lovely gardens where famous students (in years gone by) came to ponder their existential questions.

Take time to enjoy the views from here, but I then suggesting continuing up to the top of the hill if you can, which will lead you through some beautiful forest views to several abandoned towers and ruins, some wonderful observation points and even an amphitheatre constructed and used by the Third Reich.

It’s a fascinating, if not chilling, walk through history punctuated by marvellous views and woodland solitude.

 

#6 Visit Heidelberg Castle

Germany, Heidelberg, Castle

And last, but not least on this list of the top things to do in Heidelberg, it’s the most famous entry of them all – yes, the thing this city really is renowned for – and this is, of course, the amazing Heidelberg Castle.

A huge Renaissance structure, and something of an icon in Germany, over 11 million people a year usually visit this great fortification, which sits on a hill overlooking the city.

You can reach the castle, to take in its amazing grounds, views and history, either via your 2 feet and a steep climb, or via the oldest funicular in the country!

Yes, more history!

This is absolutely one you can’t miss when you travel Heidelberg and don’t forget to take your camera for the amazing snaps over the city, the river and the forest too.

If you want to take a guided tour of the castle, then check out this top option.

 

Where to Stay

Germany, Heidelberg, Bridge

Personally, I’d always opt to stay in a rental apartment in any German city.

Generally speaking, it’s a great way to be close to the centre without having to spend a fortune.

Most rental properties also include excellent wifi (essential for bloggers like me!), as well as some sort of kitchen facilities that can save you a lot of money. They also just make your travel adventures a bit cosier and easier – especially if you drink as much tea as me!

Check out this list of the best Heidelberg Airbnb’s I compiled, or have a peek at my top picks from the great accommodation website VRBO and find one that suits your price range and travel needs.

Sadly, the place where I stayed in Heidleberg seems to have come offline, but there’s still some great ones to be found, especially if you’re travelling in a group, a couple, or as a family.

Alternatively, there’s also a great selection of hostels in Heidelberg, which are ideal for solo budget travellers.

The following options all get rave reviews:

Otherwise, if you would rather stay in a hotel, the Rafaela Hotel in central Heidelberg gets rave reviews thanks to its great location and service.

 

What to Pack for Your Heidelberg Travels

Europe, Germany, Heidelberg Castle

 

And finally, here’s my list of the top 5 packing essentials you shouldn’t travel Heidelberg without.

#1 A Good Camera

No doubt you’re going to be snapping like crazy with these amazing Cathedral views and need to ensure you have a good camera to do this city justice. I love my Sony A6000, which is light, compact and great for travel.

#2 Decent Walking Shoes

No point coming to Heidelberg and not being able to enjoy this beautiful historic city on 2 feet. Get prepared therefore and ensure you have a decent pair of walking shoes – these cross trainers from New Balance are ideal (and totally stylish) for the job.

#3 Light Waterproof Jacket

Whatever the time of year, you have to remember this is Germany after all, a country in which the heavens can open at any point! Don’t get caught out therefore and ensure you have a good lightweight and waterproof jacket with you. This North Face one is perfect.

#4 Compact Hiking Day Pack

I never go on any day trip without a sturdy backpack to ensure I’ve got room to carry everything I need and that the weight is equally distributed across my back and shoulders, This super featherweight backpack from Marmot is my go-to, because it folds down to nothing and is water-resistant.

#5 Travel Water Bottle

With all that sightseeing and walking in Heidelberg, there’s no doubt you’ll work up a thirst. So stay hydrated and healthy (and avoid having to buy more plastic bottles the earth don’t need) by travelling with a reusable guy in your day bag. This flat one, the same size as an A5 pad of paper, always turns heads!

 

Travelling on from Heidelberg

Germany, Freiburg, Castle Views

If you’re continuing your travels on after Heidelberg, and lucky you, then you’ve got a few good choices.

Either you can stick in Germany, where my advice would be to head south to the beautiful Black Forest area and the wonderfully historic city of Freiburg for hiking, views, cathedrals and more beer!

Or you could push north instead to the wonderful German city of Cologne, or east to the castle-surrounded area around Nuremberg.

Alternatively, you can hop over the border, where the best choice (in my opinion) would be the wonderful Alsace region of France with its Medieval fairytale villages, UNESCO-listed Strasbourg Cathedral, wonderful wine route and perfect cycling opportunities.

 

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So there is it, my ultimate guide for those who want to travel Heidelberg in Germany.

There’s no question this cute-as-a-button town is an amazing place to get into German culture as well as to soak up some nature, history and beautiful views.

And enjoy a beer of course!

All the best parts of visiting Germany in a nutshell in my opinion!

What do you reckon?!

 

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About the Author

About the Author: Creator of Big World Small Pockets, Stephanie Parker is a budget travel addict! Originally from Jersey in the Channel Islands, Stephanie backpacks the world collecting tips, advice and stories, to share with a smile .

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There Are 4 Brilliant Comments

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  1. Gordon Reed says:

    The “OEG” street cars can connect you to the “tri cities” Mannheim, filled with history and museums, and Weinheim which has two castles, one a ruin and the other built by college fraternities

  2. Yvonne says:

    Great article! Planning a trip to Heidelberg this summer and this article made me really excited. Just a quick note… I believe the statue is a monkey (not a cat)… since ‘Brueckenaffe’ means bridge monkey 😉

    • Steph says:

      Ha Ha Yvonne, well-spotted and thanks for the heads up… you are right about the monkey and I’ve corrected it in the article! Enjoy Heidelberg, it’s such a wonderful city. Best, Steph 🙂

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