Heidelberg, in the centre of south-west Germany, is renowned for being one of the most beautiful cities in the country. It has breathtaking scenery, an imposing ancient castle and a lively student atmosphere: all great reasons to travel by train to Heidelberg. The main train station is Heidelberg station (Hbf). It serves the high-speed ICE inter-city express connections with all major German cities. Those wanting to visit this picturesque city can travel by train to Heidelberg from Stuttgart or Frankfurt in approximately 1h00, and the journey from Berlin takes 5h15. These connections form part of Germany’s D Bahn national train system, regarded as one of the best in the world.
From this modern railway station, a 5-minute walk takes visitors to the start of Heidelberg’s pedestrianised shopping street, Hauptstraße. It runs parallel to the embankment of the River Neckar, and so visitors looking for scenery rather than shopping could take a stroll by the river. Heading east along either route, a 15-minute walk leads to the Market Square at the heart of the Old Town. This is the site of the city’s largest and most important church, the Church of the Holy Spirit. The tall steeple of this Gothic edifice dominates the skyline and, behind it, the famous ruins of Heidelberg Castle loom. Visitor attractions here include the world’s largest wine cask and fabulous views from the ramparts. Even without going into the castle, the view is magical, dominating the town especially when lit up at night. Before adjourning for a well-earned meal in the Old Town, a stroll along Philosophenweg is not to be missed. This is the 2.5 km “Philosophers’ Walk”, winding past beer gardens, monuments and a large amphitheatre, all with the best views in town of the castle and its gardens. This is sure to work up visitors’ appetites for a hearty meal in one of the many restaurants nestled in these small streets. A top tip is to try the regional specialty, called pfälzer saumagen (a type of local sausage), or spätzle for vegetarians. Fruh Kolsch, Ayinger Urweisse, or one of the many local beers make a great accompaniment. For those with a sweet tooth, a delicious array of apple strudels, zimtschnecken (cinnamon rolls), or Black Forest Gateau is always on offer here!
Heidelberg is where you'll find Germany's oldest university, established back in 1386. You don't have to be a student, though, to enjoy a visit to this riverside city steeped in history.
Your first stop should be the Old Town, strung out along the River Neckar, from where you'll see the boats moored up waiting to take their passengers for a scenic river cruise. Take a walk along Hauptstrasse which runs parallel to the river, a pedestrian street lined with shops selling souvenirs and cafes ready to tempt you with delicious pastries. A side street takes you down to the medieval gate through which you'll find the old stone bridge, dating from the late eighteenth century. The old town is also crowded with historic churches, including the Church of the Holy Spirit in the Marktplatz, the Catholic Church of the Jesuits and the oldest of all, the twelfth century Church of St Peter.
The big draw for visitors to Heidelberg is of course its ruined castle. Prince Elector Ruprecht III built the first part of the castle as a Royal residence, but it has been extended several times since. Suffering damage in the Thirty Years' War and also the Palatinate War of Succession, Prince Elector Karl Theodor tried to rebuild the castle, but disaster struck in the form of a lightning strike in 1764. The castle has left partially in ruins to this day. The terraces afford stunning vistas over the city and River Neckar and the castle's cellar offers wine tastings if you can bear to drag yourself away.
From the funicular station at the castle, it's possible to continue further up the mountain to Königstuhl. At 568 metres high, the view from the summit is well worth the trip up from the city, with the panorama on a fine day extending right across the river valley and of course the city itself. Take the vintage wooden funicular or walk the 1200 steps up Heaven's Ladder (Himmelsleiter) instead.
On a fine day, the walk known as Philosophenweg (the Philosophers' Walk) takes you alongside Heiligenberg, or Saints' Mountain. Once where the city's thinkers and university professors would go to walk and talk, now it's popular with hikers keen to take in the view of Heidelberg's Old Town and the Neckar. Higher up, there's an eleventh century ruined monastery, a Nazi-era amphitheatre and the remains of a Celtic fort dating from the fourth century BC.
The city of Heidelberg is linked by train to larger cities such as Frankfurt and Stuttgart, both of which offer frequent connections throughout the day. From the city's Hauptbahnhof, take the 32, 33 or 34 bus to Bismarckplatz from where it's an easy stroll to the heart of the Old Town.