Beste Grüße aus Heidelberg!
As one of the oldest cities in Germany (its founding dates back to the 12th century), Heidelberg has seen a lot; it shows in the cityscape, an eclectic mix of styles, stones, and histories. The Altstadt – the oldest part of the city – has been shaped by wars, fire, and the evolution of religion in Germany. This past week, a haphazardly-planned day trip landed me in this beautiful city along the River Neckar for the afternoon. It is easy to see why Heidelberg became the birthplace of German Romanticism and home to leading German intellectuals. The city is as beautiful as every German claims – a monument to not only its medieval roots, but the later Renaissance styles as well. One could easily spend the day among the cobble-stoned streets of the Altstadt, drinking coffees and eating Spätzle, and never get bored.
There is one downside to Heidelberg: tourists. There are so many in Heidelberg! As a tourist myself, I shouldn’t be too annoyed, right? Wrong. There is a way to be a good tourist. They’re the people that come with a genuine interest in the place they are visiting and take fewer, more thoughtful pictures. Good tourists don’t stand out as tourists. This type does exist in Heidelberg, but they are hidden and overshadowed by the others(especially at the castle). Heidelberg is still insanely beautiful and an all-in-all excellent trip to make. Just like every other popular destination city, be prepared to wait in long lines to catch just glimpses of exhibits or views, dodge photographers everywhere (especially at the castle), and to crop heads out of your photos.
Following the beautiful, mile-long pedestrian Hauptstraße you find yourself simultaneously surrounded by old and new; a Starbucks sits on the corner of one of the many old market places, a store selling kitschy knick-knacks and postcards stands across from the remnants of an old chapel, and a bazaar – catering to tourists – encircles the Church of the Holy Spirit. It takes a lot of time to wander through the main street and its many side streets, but it is worth it. The side streets tend to have fewer people, fewer souvenir shops, and more locals. And they’re still stunning!
The earliest part of the castle in Heidelberg dates back to the 14th century, further additions were added periodically up until the mid-20th century. We chose to climb the 315 stairs from the market square to the top for the experience, though a steep incline and Bergbahn – the funicular railway that runs from the market to the top of the Königstuhl – are also offered. The steep, winding staircase offers you a peak at some of Heidelberg University’s fraternity houses – they’re so impressively beautiful I have no idea why “frat boys” get to live in them. The outer courtyard of the castle is free and offers you some very scenic views of the whole city, but to go any further you’ll need to buy a ticket; we paid 6€ for a ticket to the inner courtyard, the Deutsches Apotheke Museum, and the Großes Fass. (As a quick side note, we didn’t purchase castle tickets at the bottom, but if you can, I believe they should also include a free ride with the Bergbahn which may or may not be worth it to you.)
As someone who loves saying the word apotheke but who is not all that terribly interested in the history of it, I cannot say too much about the Pharmacy Museum other than it looked cool. There were lots of rooms, glass containers, and signs to read. So if the history of the apothecary in Germany is your cup of tea, the museum is free with the purchase of a castle ticket.
The biggest attraction in Heidelberg castle is the Großes Fass, or giant barrel. I’m not sure why this barrel exists or how they got in into this tiny room, but I can tell you this picture doesn’t do justice to the largest wine barrel in the world and it is much bigger in person – more than 8 meters high with the capacity of 221,726 liters. I recently learned it took 130 oak trees and was guarded by an Italian dwarf named Perkeo.
As a foreigner in Germany living off her savings, I try to travel as cheaply as I can. Because Heidelberg is such a beautiful, can’t-miss city for tourist prices are set high, but I was able to have a full and fun day for just 50€.
- If at all possible, take a bus. This is something to keep in mind all the time in Germany. As a foreign, non-student, I find trains ridiculously expensive. From Frankfurt, a round-trip train ticket to Heidelberg will cost you at least 40€. A round-trip MeinFernbus ticket was 12€ and it drops you off at the main station.
- Don’t eat in the Altstadt. We went to the university cafeteria in the Marstall, which is is a 16th century building and a sightseeing destination itself; it has the feel of a Biergarten with outside seating and string lights. It happened to be Turkish Day when we went and I got to eat all of the foods I’ve missed from my time in Turkey. A complete win-win!
- Walk everywhere. The biggest draw to Heidelberg is the view. Views are free. Explore them all. With one afternoon, I didn’t have time to walk them all, including the Philosophenweg. So please check out the Philosopher’s Way – supposedly one of the most beautiful pathways in Europe with a spectacular view of the castle – and tell me what it was like!
All-in-all I loved my quick day trip to Heidelberg. It was a beautiful day in a beautiful city. And there is so much that I didn’t get to do! I’d love to go back and explore the area surrounding the city – all the tiny, tourist-free towns. In general, I am finding that the tiny, undisturbed German towns end up being the best experiences.