Heidelberg Germany is a gorgeous little town about half way between the city of Frankfurt and the French border. It is a college town, home to the oldest university in contemporary Germany.
The town is renowned for the spectacular Heidelberg Castle, which sits upon a hill overlooking the city. This medieval castle dates to the 11th century. Much of the original structure was destroyed and rebuilt over time. It lost most of its original glory to a fire in the 1700s. It was never completely rebuilt, but in the early 1900s it was reconstructed and preserved due to its historical significance.
You can walk up the sloping hillside to the castle gardens for free, but to get inside the courtyard you need a ticket. A ticket to enter the courtyard is 2 euro. The only way to get inside the castle is via guided tour, which is 4 euro per person. The tour guide explains the history of the castle, who built it and why, and discusses all of the improvements that were made on it throughout history. It was well the price.
Heidelberg castle is home to the largest wine barrel in the world. The guided tour explains that part of the tax that the people in the area had to pay was to be paid with wine, and all of the wine collected was poured into the barrel. This in turn was given to the Soldiers and workers of the castle as part of their allowance.
The castle cellar has been converted into a comfortable café, with a small coffee and wine shop where you can sample wines from local vineyards. Winetasting in a real castle brings a feeling of being at one with history in a way that is difficult to match. It makes you feel like more than a spectator, it gives the castle a real quality unlike the museum-like quality that you get from the tours.
If you do not wish to walk up the hillside to the castle, you can take the funicular (train). It costs 8 euros to go up to the castle, and 12 to go all the way to the top of the hill. A train ticket includes the entrance fee to the castle courtyard, but not the guided tour. There is a gorgeous viewing area all the way at the top, worth the extra euros on a clear day to see the city below.
Heidelberg is also famous to German citizens for its “Philosophers’ way”. It is a stunning pathway on the hillside opposite the river from the castle. From this location, you can look out on the castle positioned over the city below. The effort put into the strenuous climb is well worth the reward of the view at the top. The name Philosopher’s way originated because professors from the University on the other side of the river found it to be a relaxing retreat. They would make the difficult climb and use the stunning view at the top to ponder life’s mysteries.
Heidelberg has plenty of restaurants and coffee shops, which is typical for a college town. Being from California, we really enjoyed the California Bake Shop coffee house, which had delicious coffee and a supremely cozy little reading room in the back. It was a perfect place for a short respite. However, being a small locally owned business, they did not cater to vegans and had no options for soy or almond milk in their coffee drinks. The other coffee shop across the way, Malta, did have vegan options and my vegan friend greatly enjoyed their brews as well.
All in all, I really enjoyed my stay in Heidelberg, and I would recommend a short side trip to see the castle to anyone traveling through Germany.