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Heidelberg, the old university town on the Neckar River, is among Germany's most popular destinations for foreign travellers. Tourists just can't get enough of the castle ruins, the narrow alleys and historical flair.
Image: picture-alliance/dpa

City Portrait Heidelberg

July 31, 2012

Heidelberg, the old university town on the Neckar River, is among Germany's most popular destinations for foreign travellers. Tourists just can't get enough of the castle ruins, the narrow alleys and historical flair.


Throngs of tourists stream through the slender streets of the Old Town and make their way up the steep incline to the Heidelberg castle high above. One hears a motley mix of languages: strains of English, Japanese, and French commingle while video cameras hum, trying to capture all of the scenic beauty.

Cameras click, lenses aimed at the red sandstone castle, one of Germany's most photographed ruins. Year after year, the tourists come by the millions to old, romantic Heidelberg.

Asparagus and philosophers

Heidelberg: the name itself conjures vivid images of the quintessential romantic German city. The castle ruins tower above the Old Town, itself surrounded by lush green forests. The river Neckar flows by serenely by, its breadth spanned by a stately arched bridge from the middle ages.

Heidelberg Altstadt
Wander the streets of Heidelberg and take in the colorsImage: dpa

The Old Town, untouched by bombs in World War II, lies picturesquely embedded in the gentle foothills of the Odenwald forest. The salubrious, nearly Mediterranean climate allows the cultivation of asparagus and wine. In Heidelberg, nature and history, but also spirit and a lust for life come together in uncommon harmony.

Many a famous person has sojourned in this pretty city and more than a few renowned poets have been inspired by its wild-romantic scenery. Thinkers like Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Clemens von Brentano and Josef von Eichendorff ambled along the Philosopher's Path in their day, one of Europe's loveliest hiking trails.

After a steep climb, the walker is presented with a dramatic view over the valley, with the Old Town far below and the castle resting on the opposing hillside. In clear weather you can even see the foothills of the Black Forest far off on the horizon.

Country clubs through the centuries

The surroundings of the former capital of the Electoral Palatinate are certainly worth an excursion. Only a few miles to the southwest lies the castle Schwetzingen, which was the summer residence of the Palatinate Electors in the eighteenth century. Forty rooms of the sumptuous palace are open for public viewing, but it is the masterful Baroque palace garden that is the biggest draw of all.

Heidelberg Alte Universität
Heidelberg's university is over 600 years oldImage: Universität Heidelberg

Elector Carl Theodore had his 73-hectare (180-acre) park embellished with temples, leafy arcades, and even a mosque. At the time, Oriental design was en mode. Nowadays the fashion is golf. The country club St. Leon-Rot enjoys a worldwide reputation as a top golfer's destination, and not just since Tiger Woods won the Deutsche Bank/SAP Open three times here.

Five Heidelberger Musts

The Castle: Over five centuries the Wittelsbacher family of Palatinate Electors ruled from the safety of the Heidelberg Castle. Among them was Ruprecht I., who in 1386 founded the eponymous University, Germany's first. Any visit to Heidelberg today is incomplete without a visit to this impressive, medieval fortress.

The University: Heidelberg University is over six centuries old, although its main building today dates from 1712. For the 500th anniversary of its founding in 1885, the interior of the Old Aula received a glorious renovation. Heidelberg student life was famously recorded by Mark Twain during his 1878 trip here in "A Tramp Abroad."

The Philosopher's Path: From the Philosopher's Path visitors can enjoy an expansive view over all of Heidelberg from the same spots where Hölderlin, Goethe, or Heidegger would take pause. From here you can best view the "Heidelberg Trinity" of castle, river, and bridge.

Main Street (die Hauptstraße): The pedestrian zone, which has been car-free for 29 years. is an ideal place to stroll and window shop, or stop in to any of the international boutiques.

The Old Bridge (Karl Theodor Brücke): The old stone Bridge spanning the Neckar has become a symbol of Heidelberg, even though it is relatively young in relation to the castle. Elector Carl Theodore had it built in 1786 to 1788, a wise move given that the previous four bridges at this spot, all made of wood, had been destroyed by fires or floods. Today the old bridge offers a fine view of the Old Town and the Neckar landscape.

Discover Germany # Recommended – Three Tips for a Trip to Heidelberg # 25.10.2009

From Visit Germany
Editor: Helen Whittle

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