The iconic Heidelberg castle overlooks the Neckar valley as the river Necker glistens through it. A stroll through the long, narrow lanes of the old city, laced with Baroque architecture, unveils the romantic landscape of Heidelberg: the famous old bridge (Alte Brücke), an arch bridge surrounded by the forest-clad hills. At sunset, drenched in the warm glow, the town puts up a show that inspired many a poet and artist alike.
Steeped in history and heritage, Heidelberg is one of the Picturesque towns in Germany.
Steeped in history and heritage, Heidelberg is one of the picturesque towns in Germany. Since antiquity, the river town has attracted eminent visitors. Wolfgang von Goethe of German literary fame, and William Turner, a renowned British painter are some noted visitors. And no travel guide escapes the mention of Mark Twain and his book “A Tramp Abroad” in which he narrates his adventures in the late 18th century-Heidelberg.
Owing to the renowned Heidelberg university, the oldest university of Germany, students make up quarter of Heidelberg’s population. Thus earning it its sobriquet, university town. In 2014, not surprisingly, it had been identified as the UNESCO City of Literature. Despite its extensive use during World War II, the town escaped unscathed. However, the town still carries, although beautifully, the scars of the 17th Century war against the French, in the form of ruins of the Heidelberg castle.
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The old town (Altstadt)
Like most cities in Europe, the concentration of attractions is around the old town. If you are in Heidelberg only for a weekend, the old town is a good place to start. The market square (Marktplatz) hosts the most famous church of Heidelberg, the Church of Holy Spirit (Heiliggeistkriche). The romantic old bridge adorned with a beautiful medieval gate connects the old town with the Neuenheim part of Heidelberg. And a 15-minute walk will lead you to the landmark of the town, the Heidelberg castle. The old town, lined with red-roofed architecture, cafés, restaurants, boutiques and galleries covers nearly a whole gamut of travel experience.
The old bridge (Alte Brücke)
There is barely a postcard of Heidelberg that doesn’t feature the old bridge. Its history dates back thousands of years. Romans built the first bridge in the 1st century, since then it had been rebuilt nine times. The present bridge is also called Karl Theodor Bridge, named after the prince-elector, Charles Theodor, who ordered the construction of the stone bridge after its predecessor, a wooden-bridge, collapsed. Made of nine red sandstone arches towering over the Neckar river, the bridge is a prominent characteristic of Heidelberg and a popular attraction.
The Church of Holy Spirit (Heiliggeistkriche)
The Church of Holy Spirit dwarfs everything that comes in its vicinity, creating a Juxtaposition, and a strong impression on the passersby. Strolling in the old town square, you can’t escape the charm of the gothic church, and it remains in your memory for a long time after you leave the town.
Heidelberg Castle (Heidelberg Schloss)
On the woody-slopes of Königstuhl hill, 80 mt (262 ft) above the Neckar river, stand the majestic ruins of the Heidelberg Castle. This 12th-century castle, like many castles in Europe, has been subject to lightning bolts, subsequent fires and wars, and has been only partially rebuilt in the 17th and 18th century.
The Heidelberg castle is one of the most noted Renaissance architectures and attracts millions of visitors every year. The castle is the most visited attraction of Heidelberg, for it provides the best vantage points to some of the breathtaking views of the river town. It also hosts several festivals, theatres and fireworks every year. And one can reach the peak of the Königstuhl hill on foot or by “bergbahn funicular”, which transports the visitors from the Kornmarkt (corn market) to the peak.
Philosophers’ way (Philosopherweg)
No “things to do in Heidelberg” is complete without a mention of “Philosophers’ Way”. As the name suggests, it has been the favourite path of many a learned and Heidelberg, abounds with them.
This is also one of my favourite thing to do in Heidelberg. I spent a day hiking along the Saints’ Mountain (Heiligenberg). You get some breathtaking views of the old town across the river Neckar from here. The flora of the place, with its lemons, Japanese cherries, almonds and figs, also reminiscent of the tropical climate. And it is not hard to see why the philosophers preferred this way for their meditation sessions.
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University of Heidelberg
Not far from the old town, the 14th-century university stands tall, inviting you to take a peek. It is one of the sought-after universities of Germany. I suggest you take a trip to the university jail, Karzer, as a visitor though. For, here is where all the naughty students spent 24 hours imprisoned, for instance, for duelling and singing in the nights and disturbing the neighbours. Mark Twain recounts student duelling blow by blow in his book “A Tramp Abroad”. The jail looks like a graffiti art gallery.