I’d visited Heidelberg once before, almost exactly 50 years ago. I remember being very impressed by the panoramic view over the Old Town and the River Neckar from the Castle’s grey, granite parapets.
Of course one’s memory can play tricks. But even so I was surprised when I arrived in Heidelberg, to see the distinctly pink, sandstone Castle, towering over the town.
However, the impressive view from the Castle was very much as I remembered. And the Old Town with its rows of Baroque buildings did not disappoint.
My previous visit was just before I started at University in England at an institution just slightly older than Heidelberg University, which dates back to 1386. And in many ways Heidelberg has a feel of Oxbridge, with the vitality that thousands of students bring as they dart around on their bicycles and enjoy the numerous hostelries.
The city’s economy is based on the university and tourism. The main streets and the Castle can become very congested with hordes of tourists during the summer, but when I visited in late April all was quiet.
In fact in the early evening there was no one else around in the Castle grounds, which became quite eerie as mist drifted down from the hills above.
My Highlights of Heidelberg
• Heidelberg Castle has to be first in the list, in part because views from the parapets allow you to get your bearings for when visiting the rest of the city. It’s 300 steps from the Old Town up to the Castle. Fortunately for less nimble Senior Travellers, there is the option of the funicular.
A combined ticket for the funicular, the Great Tun (a massive wine vat) and the German Apothecary Museum costs just a few Euros, with a 30% discount for Seniors. A guided tour of the Castle interior costs a little more.
• Old Town (Altstadt). The fine Baroque buildings were not damaged during WWII as the Americans had earmarked this city as a base after the war. Of particular note are the Cathedral (Heiliggeistkirche), with shops nestling in its sides, and the University Square.
• Perkeo Restaurant. Situated in an historic building on the High Street (Hauptstrasse), this restaurant might not have a high TripAdviser rating, but we found the food to be tasty, the dark wheat beer excellent and the waitress friendly and helpful.
Our choice was the local Maultaschen mit Zwiebelschmelze (Stuffed Dumplings with Butter-onion Sauce) and Medaillons vom Schwein auf Pfefferahmsauce mit Spätzle (Pork Medallions with Pepper Cream Sauce and Noodles), both served with well-dressed salads.
• Old Bridge (Karl Theodor Brücke), built by Prince Karl Theodor 1786-8. This is one of the icons of Heidelberg, and picturesque enough with its medieval gate with Baroque style twin towers.
• Riverside Walk. Crossing the Old Bridge takes you to a quiet walk along the north banks of the River Neckar, with great views back over the Old Town and the Castle.
• Philosophers’ Way. Heading up from the riverside walk along the fairly steep Philosophenweg brings you to an extensive park with attractive gardens looking out over the city. This used to be a vineyard area and was Goethe’s favourite place for contemplation. I made the mistake of trying to drive up this narrow road – not a good idea.
• University Botanic Garden. It was originally established in 1593 as a medical garden for the University, but has only been on the present site since 1915. The small open air gardens are pleasant enough with an attractive fern ravine.
However the greenhouses were what made my visit worthwhile, particularly the succulent and bromeliad collections and an unusual red passion flower.
I drove to the Botanic Garden, which is situated in the University campus on the north bank of the Neckar, and found it almost impossible to park; so better to walk there. Entry is free.
There are a vast range of hotels in Heidelberg as one would expect for such a tourist mecca; check for the best prices at trivago. Heidelberg centre is not a place to drive around with very limited parking; hence a city centre hotel can make sense.
I stayed at The Holiday Inn Express Heidelberg City Centre. Although the rooms are small, the staff were very helpful and it is well placed for exploring the Old Town. As usual, I obtained a Senior Discount rate and my IHG Reward points!
How to Get To Heidelberg
The nearest major airport is at Stuttgart, with flights from the UK costing just over £100 return with Flybe from Birmingham or germanwings from London Heathrow. Onward travel to Heidelberg takes about an hour by train or hire car.
I drove to Heidelberg from Rotterdam in about 5 hours, having taken the overnight PO Ferries from Hull.
I was not disappointed on this return visit to Heidelberg. The fact that my visit was outside the busy tourist season meant that I could wander freely around the Old Town and Castle in relative peace and quiet.
The downside to visiting in April was the misty weather, which obscured the longer views, but, at the same time, it gave an atmospheric feel to the Castle and the Old Town.
This is a city for walking around (spazieren gehen). Less nimble Seniors should have no problem with the Old Town and riverside walk and can use the funicular to get to the Castle.