CONTRIBUTED BY JESSICA
Downtown Heidelberg is an amazing place to spend a weekend, or even just a short day trip. When I have visitors I usually bring them to Heidelberg first to help stave off jetlag, but this is still an amazing city for longer trips as well. The Haupstrasse (main street) is the longest pedestrian street in Europe, and has some really great stores, restaurants and cafes, and almost all of the downtown hotels offer great views of the castle or river.
Here are some highlights for any visitor:
To see a map of all these locations, see our custom map of Heidelberg here.
Hotel Ritter, on Marktplatz, is one of the oldest buildings in Heidelberg- being that it’s one of the few that survived the attacks on the city. It was built for a French merchant family that traded wool, which is why there are small sheep made of stone on the façade. Built in the renaissance style in the 16th century, it was made into a hotel soon after the family passed away. Today you can stay in Hotel Ritter, although its one of the more expensive places in the city.
Alte Bruke (Old Bridge)
The Old Bridge, which is actually called the Karl Theodor Bridge, is probably the second biggest tourist attractions in Heidelberg (after the Heidelberg Castle). The bridge and the stained glass windows in the church were the only parts of the city to be destroyed during World War II. This was an attempt by the Germans to keep the Americans from advancing, and the blast shattered all the glass in the church’s windows.
Today, a big attraction is the Bridge Monkey, which sits on the Altstadt side of the bridge. According to one legend surrounding this curious statue, the Bridge Monkey is intended as a symbolic reminder to Heidelberg’s citizens that neither the locals nor the outsiders were better than the other, and that they should look over their shoulder as they cross the bridge to remember this.
The current Bridge Monkey is a modern recreation of an old statue that used to perch in the middle of the bridge. The statue head can be worn as a mask, so follow the line of tourists to get your picture as well. Below the monkey is a poem by Martin Zeiller from 1632, which mentions the bridge monkey. It translates to:
“Why are you staring at me? Don’t you see the old monkey of Heidelberg? Look around, there may be more of the same nearby.”
Heiliggeistkirche (Holy Ghost Church)
The church of the Holy Ghost was built on in 1398 on the foundation of an older church that had been destroyed years prior. Construction of the church lasted 150 years. The Palatine Library was first kept in the gallery of the church, but during the Thirty Years War most of the books were presented to the Pope, and many remain in the Vatican Library today. The church still hosts services, but in between you can take a quick walk through and see the amazing architecture and tombs.
Heidelberg used to be home to a large “finishing school” (basically a manners school for high society girls). Because the girls always had chaperones with them, there was no way for local boys to show any interest. The owners of Café Knösel decided to make a “student kiss” chocolate, which young men could send over to the girls as a symbolic “kiss”, and sign of interest. Café Knösel still stands on the corner of Marktplatz and Unterestrasse, and you can buy student kisses all over town.
Additional things to do:
Just a short walk from Altstadt, across the bridge, is a small boat rental store. Here you can rent boats by the hour and boat around on the river. They rent out pedal boats or motor boats, the pedal boats are great if you missed leg day- just don’t plan on any big walking trips afterwards.
The Neckarwiese is a great place to relax after a day of sight seeing. If you plan ahead, there are designated grill zones along the grass, but most people just pack picnics. The wiese also has a large playground and a couple volleyball courts.
Heidelberg also offers a lot of greats shopping. Many larger stores chain stores sit all along Hauptstrasse, but be sure to check the alleys for local boutiques and some amazing antique stores.
What else is there to do in Heidelberg? Check out all our Heidelberg articles on Germany Ja!