The only thing I knew about Heidelberg was that it’s got a castle, a river runs through it, and my good mate Cillian just moved there from Ireland. Other than that, Heidelberg was just another city on the map as far as I was concerned. And while I did enjoy cruising on the autobahn at 150km/h, I wasn’t impressed when we pulled into town. A semi-modern central train station, lots of trams, road works, and 80s style apartment blocks. But my mate Philipp who gave me a lift assured me that this was the least appealing part of the city.
And so we walked on. Once we got to the Bismarckplatz, things started to perk up a bit. The plaza itself is a main hub for trams and buses. But just past the tram lines and exhaust fumes lies the beautifully preserved old part of Heidelberg. The city was spared during WWII and looks exactly like what you would expect a centuries old German town to look like. It’s like walking around a living museum.
One thing which I wasn’t expecting were the gigantic tour groups roaming through town. Huge tours from China, South Korea, Japan, and USA complete with headsets stalked each of the main attractions, from the brass monkey statue along the River Neckar to the castle. Signs in many of the shops on the Hauptstrasse, the high street, were in multiple languages. I haven’t run into any shepherd tours (huge groups of tourists led by a tour guide and riding a coach bus from location to location) in quite a long time. In any case, I unintentionally found myself firmly back on the tourist trail.
It’s easy to see why Heidelberg is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Germany now. Seeing the castle and the old city from the banks of the Neckar filled me with a sense of tranquility that is hard to come by. It’s definitely a city I could live in for a while. And judging from the fact that housing prices here are among the highest in Germany, many other people feel that way too. The castle, the river, the cobblestone streets, the stiefels, the atmosphere…what more do you need?
In addition to the obvious like sightseeing, there are plenty of other activities to do in town like mountain and road biking, kayaking, taking a river cruise, and laying out along the banks of the Neckar. Heidelberg is about an hour’s train ride from Frankfurt or 90km south if you’re driving or cycling.