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Things to Do in Heidelberg

With its grand medieval bridges and atmospheric Old Town (Altstadt) spanning both banks of the Neckar River, Heidelberg paints a pretty picture, overlooked by one of Germany’s most photogenic castles. Famous for its legendary Christmas Market, prestigious university (the oldest in Germany), and historic architecture, the city is an enchanting weekend destination, as well as an easy detour from tourist routes such as Bavaria’s Romantic Road or the Rhine Valley.

The Basics
Many visitors opt to take in the highlights on a half- or full-day trip from Frankfurt or during a multi-day tour of the Romantic Road. Sightseeing tours are often combined with visits to nearby attractions such as Nuremberg, Schwetzingen Castle, or Baden-Baden in the Black Forest; boat trips along the Rhine River; or wine tasting along the German Wine Road. 

Things to Know Before You Go
  • Parking is limited in Heidelberg—the best way to get around is by bus or tram, and there’s a funicular railway that runs up to the castle.
  • Free Wi-Fi hotspots can be found at various locations around the city.
  • The cobblestone lanes and steep hills of Heidelberg can be uneven, so wear comfortable shoes if you plan to take a walking tour.
  • Most of Heidelberg’s attractions are wheelchair accessible, but it’s best to check in advance to avoid disappointment.

How to Get There
Heidelberg is located in Baden-Wurttemberg, roughly 50 miles (80 kilometers) south of Frankfurt. The closest international airports are in Frankfurt and Stuttgart, while trains also connect the city with Frankfurt, Stuttgart, and Mannheim.

When to Get There
The most popular time to visit Heidelberg is during the summer, but it can get crowded in July and August, so aim to arrive early before the tour groups arrive and book accommodation and tours in advance. Out of season, prices on tours and accommodation can be more favorable. Many travelers also opt to visit Heidelberg during its annual Christmas celebrations, when the city dazzles with festive illuminations and hosts one of the region’s largest Christmas markets.

A Walking Tour of Heidelberg
Heidelberg’s Old Town is easy to explore on a walking tour, strolling around its historic squares, crossing the iconic Old Bridge (Alte Brucke), and admiring the remarkably preserved medieval, Baroque, and Renaissance buildings. Stop by the 18th-century Karlstor gate and the Church of the Holy Spirit; visit the fascinating Deutsches Apotheken Museum; then ride the funicular railway to the hilltop castle, where you can enjoy spectacular views over the city. 
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Karl-Theodor-Bridge (Alte Brucke)
13 Tours and Activities

The Old Bridge in Heidelberg is a sandstone pedestrian bridge that goes across the Neckar River linking the old town on one side with the Neuenheim district on the other. It was built in 1786, and even though there were several other bridges before it in this location, it was the first one made of stone. On the city side of the bridge, there are two towers that once formed part of the city walls. They contain old dungeons which were used to hold criminals. Between the towers, you can see a plaque honoring the Austrian troops who helped defend the bridge against an attack from the French in 1799.

Another feature visitors will notice is a statue of a monkey holding a mirror. The monkey represents the idea that neither those who lived within the city walls nor those who lived outside the city were any better than the other, and that they should look over their shoulder as the cross the bridge to remember this.

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Old Heidelberg University (Alte Universitat)
7 Tours and Activities

The Old Heidelberg University, Germany's oldest university, was build in the early 1700s. It now holds the Rector's Office, the Old Assembly Hall, and the University Museum. The museum shows the history of the university beginning with its foundation in 1386 through today. Exhibits, portraits, and documents explain this history in three different sections. There's one about the Palatinate electors, one about the Baden era, and one about the twentieth century. In addition to the permanent exhibits, every few months there is a new special exhibit opens.

In the square in front of the building is a fountain of a lion, called Löwenbrunnen. The lion was the symbol of the Palatinate. At the back of the Old University, visitors can see the student prison, which was in use until 1914 and is now one of the most popular attractions in the city. Students could be put in the prison from two days to four weeks depending on the offense, although life there was quite comfortable.

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