Heidelberg is one of Germany’s favourite tourist attractions, but few people realise its charm is best seen from above. Expatica takes you on a tour of Heidelberg’s twin hills, Heiligenberg and Koenigstuhl.
But don’t skip Heidelberg on Rick’s advice. The Heidelberg Castle is one of Germany’s best sights, and take just a step off the Hauptstrasse and you’ll find the elegant but laid-back ambience Heidelberg is rightly famous for.Touristy Heidelberg has never made travel guru Rick Steves’ Best of Germany guidebook; too commercialized, and overrun by Americans, he says. Fight the crowds on Heidelberg’s shopping gauntlet, Hauptstrasse, and you might agree.
Heidelberg’s charm is best seen from above, though. So when you visit, follow Mark Twain, Goethe and the German Romantics on a hike up Heidelberg’s twin hills, Heiligenberg and Koenigstuhl.
Heidelberg’s ‘holy mountain’ has been a choice spot for Heidelbergers since before there was a Heidelberg. The Celts built there, then the Romans and some monks, and, most recently, Hitler.
You can drive to the top of the Heiligenberg, but, if the weather’s nice, hiking up is a treat. Head north over the Neckar River to Neuenheim, Heidelberg’s most livable neighborhood (off the tourist path, lots of shops and the best market square in the city), and follow the signs for…
Philosophenweg, or ‘philosophers way’, winds upward between all those charming houses you saw from the other side of the river to the best view of the Heidelberg Castle around. Named for all the dead Germans smarter than you, who hiked it for its panoramic Heidelberg vistas, Philosophenweg takes you half way up the Heiligenberg and drops you off at the foot of the trail to the…
Thingstaette, Hitler’s ‘worship me!’ open-air ampitheater, still gives you chills. Seduced by the magical properties the Celts believed the Heiligenberg harbored, Hitler commissioned his local rally point there in 1935, and ‘encouraged’ Heidelbergers to build it.
Overrun by weeds and littered with broken glass, today’s Thingstaette doesn’t look so magical. But it’s still striking, and if you’re lucky you’ll catch guys with long hair practicing their sword fighting on Thingstaette’s stone stage. If not, move on up the hill to find the ruins of…
The Abbey of St. Michael was built on the site of a Roman temple, on the same ground where a Celtic fortress once stood. The monks who lived there also built another little abbey, St. Stephen, the remains of which a local conservation society used to make the observation tower just down the hill.
On your way there, stop off for schnitzel and a horn full of honey wine at Waldschenke (ask waiter Uwe Phillip about all the people who come to the Heiligenberg to imbibe its, um, magic).
The Berghotel Restaurant’s terrace at the top of the funicular has great views of the Neckar and Rhine valleys. If you’re up for more hiking, though, save room for lunch at…Back on the other side of the Neckar, hike up to the Heidelberg Castle for a quick visit and then from there take the funicular up to Mark Twain’s favorite writing spot, the peak of the Koenigstuhl. Twain beat a bad case of writer’s block in Heidelberg, where he sojourned during a trip through Europe, by taking frequent walks on the Koenigstuhl.
The Bierhelderhof is Heidelberg’s best restaurant on a working farm (the cows you’ll see out munching in the pasture will soon be on someone else’s plate). Nestled in a dimple in the hilltop, the Bierhelderhof is right on the way between the Koenigstuhl and your last stop…
The Ehrenfriedhof, or ‘cemetery of honor’, discreetly honors Germans killed in the two World Wars. Try the echo in the round World War II memorial, then head for another great view at the edge of the one for World War I.
Get as high up as you can and then look down and left. See the parade grounds and the rows of gated apartment buildings? That’s the headquarters of the U.S. Army in Europe. Now you can tell Rick Steves why there are so many Americans in Heidelberg: We live here.