this is a (late) article for the September Linkup over at Kiki’s Blog (this month together with Dave and Beka from SunshinetotheSquareInch.com). The prompt was to blog about our hometowns and I decided to take a little bit of a different spin on it and make it into a travel post. Also, Heidelberg is not exactly my hometown, but at this point I am not really comfortable with talking about the little village I was raised in (you would basically know my address then). However, I spend most of my life in the area around Heidelberg, studied there, and I tend to refer to it as my hometown. So here are ten things you shouldn’t miss when you’re visiting this beautiful city. Enjoy!
1. The Old Bridge and the Bridge Monkey
This is just a must. I still like to go here although I’ve been living in the area for almost twenty years. The bridge that you can see today is not very old compared to Heidelberg itself. However, a bridge existed in this very spot ever since the Medieval Ages. Interesting are all the many legends and stories that exist around all the statues on the bridge. Although this is not the place for long stories, I want to mention my two favorites: There is a badge on the bridge, reminding the tourist of the „Studentenkuss“ (student’s kiss) that happened here between the Austrian Queen Sissi (Elizabeth) with a student from Heidelberg. The baker witnessing this kiss later created sweets named after this event (see more under „Taste the local bits“). Kiss flash mobs have also been organized to remember this event.
The statue of a monkey holding a mirror right next to the gate of the bridge is another cause to many legends. Tourists like to believe that touching the mirror would lead to wealth, happiness or them returning to Heidelberg eventually. However, the tradition of having a monkey statue on this bridge is also very old and is actually meant to greet visitors who enter the city via the river in a very particular way. Visitors or intruders are supposed to remember to be respectful towards the reign of the city. The monkey is also made as a mask, so tourist can become the monkey – an illustration of the German idiom for making a fool out of yourself („sich zum Affen machen“, „to make a monkey out of yourself“).
2. The Castle
Okay, I am trying to keep it shorter now. The castle is another must see. It is super old and actually more ruins than a proper building. However, it is still home to countless events including light shows, firework, and open air theater nights. Guided tours are not super necessary in my opinion, but you will definitely have to purchase a ticket to enter. While you’re up there, enjoy the view over Heidelberg, visit one of the biggest wine barrels you will ever see and stop by the pharmacy museum.
3. Hike around Königsstuhl (including the Fairytale Park)
I hope you’re into outside things, because Heidelberg has a lot to offer in this area. If you have more time than the stereotypical tourist (3 hours before they have to be on their way to Neuschwanstein), then you should consider hiking around the area of the castle. The mountain is called „Königsstuhl“ (King’s chair) and can be hiked very easily. This can be even combined with the castle. There is a pretty exciting funicular that stops at the Castle, a stop halfway, and at the Fairytale Park, which is pretty much on top of the Königstuhl. You can start hiking at any of these points. All the hiking routes are marked with signs and the hikes are easy. The Fairytale Park might not be everyone’s cup of tea but it’s definitely a fun thing to do with your little ones.
4. Shop on the Main street and pay attention to „Roter Faden“
In Heidelberg, even shopping on the main street is totally acceptable since there are so many cute and quite individual shops (plus the tourist traps of course). Pay special attention to the shops with a red line all across the bottom of their shopping window. This is something quite special and I am sure not even all the locals now about it. It is called „Roter Faden“ (not easy translatable idiom, something like the golden thread or think about the thread that saved someone from Minotaur). It was an initiative of the city to bring focus to the smaller, older, and specialized shops. If you look out for these shops or even look them up on the internet you will find many amazing and not-at-all-touristy things. A couple of them are also mentioned in the next point 😉
5. Taste the local bits
To take a break from all the hiking and sightseeing, you can sneak off into the little streets of Heidelberg and enjoy some local treats. My favorite place for a traditional German lunch or dinner is “Vetters Brauhaus”, one of Heidelberg private beer breweries with ab amazing restaurant (vegetarian choices are quite rare though). After your meal, you can enjoy literally all the ice cream parlors on the main street or some more special bits. Stop by the “Destille”, a local liquor distillery that offers (amongst a variety of awesome things) the iconic melon schnapps. You can even try it for free. If you’re craving some chocolate, go for the delicious “Studentenkuss” (I talked about it in the first paragraph). Still not enough? Pay a visit to Heidelberg’s famous candy shop called “Zuckerladen”. It is stuffed with all kinds of candy one can imagine (including special candy for adults ;)). It’s usually super crowded but also a lot of fun. While you’re paying, play a quick game of dice with the old guy behind the counter and get even more candy if you win!
6. Discover the University
Heidelberg is home to Germany’s oldest university (founded in 1386) and the oldest parts are spread all over the old town. I don’t think there is a guided tour, but you can just walk in a lot of buildings and have a look around. The highlights are probably the library, the „Studentenkarzer“ (old prison for students), and the university museum.
7. Hang out at Neckarwiese on a sunny day
The meadows along the river are just the perfect location to hang out on a sunny day. Join the students playing drinking games or have a family friendly BBQ right next to one of the coolest playgrounds ever. And yes, you can dip your feet in the river, just don’t try to swim there.
8. Get lost in Heidelberg’s history and the small alleys
I don’t think I would ever take a guided tour around Heidelberg, but get a map at the tourist office and just stroll through the old town and seek out the old buildings and learn about the history as you go. For example, check out one of the oldest buildings, the Hotel Ritter.
9. Party like the students
We had a pretty solid routine for partying in Heidelberg. We would start off with some cocktails in, what we call, the Villa (cafe villa.de on the main street, happy hour everyday after 6pm). Here you will always find some students who know where to go that night, feel free to just ask them. There are a lot of unwritten rules which spot is the right one on which day of the week. But again, ask the students, they know. Another spot you can (carefully) use for another round of pre-drinks, is Shooter Stars. This bar only offers shots and about 250 different ones for 2 Euros each. However, the catch is, the menu only lists the names and nobody will tell you what is actually in them. And be warned, the combinations of different kinds of liquor and juice are endless and reach from sweet to evil. The next part is easy, there is one street dedicated to bars parallel to the main street. All the bars are amazing, all the students are there and during the warmer months it’s totally acceptable to take your drink outside and party in the street.
10. Enjoy the best view on the city from Philosophenweg
If you still haven’t had enough of the city, there is another hike or stroll waiting for you: On the other side of the river there is a walk, about half way up the mountain called „Philosophenweg“ (Philosopher’s Walk), which offers a beautiful view over the valley and the city. Apparently it was the place where philosophers and professors went to think and contemplate about life. It is also said to have a significantly milder climate than any other place in the valley and even harbors different, more Mediterranean plants and flowers.
Have you been to Heidelberg? Would you go there?