With a charming old town and historical treasures, it’s no wonder that Heidelberg is a popular destination to visit in Germany.
In this article, I’ll share the best things to see and do in Heidelberg. These quintessential landmarks will help you catch a glimpse of the city’s beating heart.
Wander around Heidelberg old town
Start your trip by exploring the oldest part of the city, the Altstadt. Heidelberg’s old town is very picturesque, with several restaurants, pubs, museums, and art galleries.
A walk through the streets of the Altstadt offers a view of historic sites like the stunning Church of the Holy Spirit and Heidelberg University.
You can also find several shops along the main shopping street. It’s the longest pedestrian street in Europe, and there are no cars allowed.
One of the most famous highlights in Altstadt is the Heidelberger Marktplatz, a beautiful market square.
Marktplatz has been an important landmark since the Middle Ages. Public courts of justice were held here in earlier centuries, and those accused of witchcraft and heresy were burned at stake.
In the middle of Marktplatz, you can find the Herkulesbrunnen (Hercules Fountain), an excellent work by the 18th-century artist Heinrich Charrasky.
Today the Marktplatz hosts outdoor markets every Wednesday and Saturday.
Visit the Church of the Holy Spirit
Around the corner of Marktplatz is Heiliggeistkirche (Church of the Holy Spirit), the most famous church in Heidelberg.
During the Thirty Years’ War in the 17th century, the church was plundered when the church’s greatest treasure, the Bibliotheca Palatina, was sent to the Vatican.
Again, at the end of the 17th century, it was ransacked by the French troops, destroying most of the tombs except for the 15th-century tomb of Elector Ruprecht III and his wife.
While you’re free to wander on the ground floor of the church, you’ll need to pay 2 euros if you fancy climbing to the top of the building.
Here, you can see a stunning panoramic view of Heidelberg, with the Heidelberg castle within a short distance.
Note: The staircase is quite narrow, so be careful when climbing.
See the Knight St. George House
Opposite the tower of the Holy Church is the House of Knight St. George.
It was built in 1592 by Huguenot Charles Belier and is one of the few buildings in Heidelberg surviving the Thirty Years’ War.
The place offers a great insight into late German Renaissance architecture, filled with astonishing ornament and decoration.
Visit Heidelberg University
Do you know that Heidelberg is home to Germany’s oldest university, founded in 1386?
You can visit one of the university’s most beautiful buildings, the Alte Universität (Old University) in Heidelberg’s old town.
The Alte Universität now hosts the Universitätsmuseum, where you can learn more about the university’s history.
On your visit to Old University, don’t forget to stop by the magnificent Great Hall and marvel at its impressive decoration.
Take a look at Heidelberg student prison
After visiting the Alte Universität, head to Heidelberg Studentenkarzer, which is just around the corner.
Heidelberg Studentenkarzer is the oldest student prison in Germany. It was once used for “Kavaliersdelikte” (misdemeanors), such as public drunkenness.
Soon, the place became a rite-of-passage for students to spend some time here.
Students were sentenced from 2 days to 4 weeks in prison. After 1879, the sentences ranged from 3 to a maximum of 14 days.
Here, each student left their marks with remarkable graffiti and humourous comments. It was interesting to see how creative they were with plenty of time on their hands.
The student jail is pretty small, so you can expect to spend about 30 minutes here.
Heidelberg student prison admission fee and opening hours
The ticket price is €3, and you can go upstairs to the living quarters.
Opening hours: 10 am to 4 pm (Tuesday to Saturday). It’s closed on Sundays and public holidays.
See the Jesuitenkirche church
Built in the 18th century, Jesuitenkirche church offers elegant and refreshing architecture. This church is different from its protestant neighbor with an overall white theme.
I love its calm and serene atmosphere. It was lovely to listen to an organist practicing while we were there. Also, it’s free to visit this place.
Visit Kurpfälzisches Museum
Kurpfälzisches Museum (Palatinate Museum) was a residence for university professors in 1712 and now is an art and archeology museum.
Here, you can find an extensive collection of delicate drawings, paintings, sculptures, and various artworks associated with the history of the Palatinate and the castle of Heidelberg.
The most popular artwork in Palatinate Museum is Windsheimer Zwölfbotenaltar (Twelve Apostles Altarpiece). It’s one of the largest and finest works of early Renaissance sculptor Tilman Riemenschneider.
Explore Heidelberg Castle
Heidelberg Castle, or Schloss Heidelberg in German, is one of the most famous ruins in Germany.
This majestic castle complex was built and extended from the 13th century to the 17th century.
It was initially a well-fortified Gothic castle and the seat of the House of Wittelsbach palatines. After reconstructing in the 16th century, it became one of Germany’s most beautiful Renaissance residences.
However, the castle splendid was shattered and devastated by the Thirty Years War and the 1689 war with France. While the town was subsequently rebuilt in the early 18th century in Baroque style, Schloss Heidelberg was never rebuilt.
Things to see at Heidelberg Castle
What I love about Heidelberg Castle is its architectural variety. While the oldest parts still standing are from the 15th century, most of the castle has the Renaissance baroque styles of the 16th and 17th centuries.
When visiting the castle, be sure to see the Heidelberg Tun, the world’s largest wine barrel with a capacity of 219,000 liters.
How to get to Heidelberg castle
From the marketplace, you can get to Kornmart and take the Heidelberg funicular up to the ruined Heidelberg Schloss and Molkenkur. It takes about 2 minutes.
View the city from Königstuhl
You can also take the Königstuhl Bergbahn funicular to the summit of the Königstuhl in 17 minutes.
Königstuhl is the second-highest hill in the Odenwald range, about 1,800 feet above Heidelberg. You can view the Black Forest in the South or even France’s Vosges Mountains in the West on clear days.
Visit the German Pharmacy Museum
The Pharmacy Museum is an unusual but exciting spot to visit in Heidelberg. It’s located in Heidelberg castle and included with your castle ticket, so stop by while you’re there.
The museum features several 18th and 19th-century pharmacy shops with extensive collections of decorative drawers, bottles, and beautiful jars.
There’s a quick overview of the history of using herbs for medicine. You’ll also learn why pharmacy became a separate practice from physicians.
It was fascinating to take a look into the history of apothecary and imagine what pharmacists did in the past.
Tips: I suggest spending about 30 minutes here. The information boards are in both German and English.
Climb the Philosopher’s path
You can experience the Heidelberg academic history along the Philosophenweg (Philosopher’s Path), a scenic path that many earlier professors and philosophers walked.
You can reach this trail from Neuenheim or by taking the Schlangenweg (Snake Path). Although both trails are steep, you can enjoy magnificent views of the Old Town and castle when reaching the path.
See Thingstätte Heidelberg
From Philosopher’s Path, continue your hike to Thingstätte, a remarkable open-air amphitheater in the forested hillside.
It was built by the Nazis as part of the Thingspiel movement, with a capacity of about 8,000 seats and up to 20,000 standees.
I found it interesting to imagine the place filled with people at a Hitler rally and even had the ribbon cutting by Goebbels himself.
Setting aside its Nazi context, Thingstätte is still a lovely hike and has beautiful surroundings.
Continue your hike further up the hill to the ruined monastery.
The Monastery of St. Michael (Michaelskloster) was built in 1023, and it remains still visible today. In 1503, part of the steeple collapsed and killed the last three monks living in the monastery. Since then, the monastery became abandoned and forgotten.
It was fascinating to see what was left of the monastery complex, and also, I love the view of Heidelberg from there.
Opening hours: 8 am – 7 pm (April to September), or 8 am – 4 pm (October – March)
Walk across Heidelberg bridge
The iconic Alte Brücke, the old bridge of Heidelberg, is a beautiful stop. It was built in 1788 during the reign of prince Karl Theodor. The bridge was part of Heidelberg’s medieval fortifications.
From the bridge, you can view Heidelberg castle from afar. Also, the bridge offers a fantastic view over the Neckar River.
See the Heidelberg bridge monkey
When entering the bridge from Old Town, you may notice Brückenaffe, the Heidelberg bridge monkey. Legend says people used this statue to take a look over their shoulders as they cross the bridge.
Fun theory: If you touch the monkey finger, you’ll come back to this town again.
Visit Body Worlds Museum
Koerperwelten museum (the Body Worlds Museum) is one of the most fascinating places to visit in Heidelberg.
It goes beyond anatomical facts and figures to the human condition, in particular ones associated with happiness.
I was impressed with the displays of body parts and whole bodies preserved in acetone. There are detailed explanations in German and English, so it was easy to understand.
The museum shows a journey into the human body, its organ function, health, and even the Anatomy of Happiness.
Heidelberg Botanical Garden
Heidelberg Botanischer Garten (Botanical Garden) is a nice little getaway from the city.
Established in 1593, Botanischer Garten der Universität Heidelberg is the third oldest botanical garden in Germany. The site was severely damaged in World War II but has been rebuilt.
The garden houses extensive plant collections such as succulents, orchids, and bromeliads.
You can visit the daily except Saturday without charge.
Visit Heidelberg Zoo
If you’re looking for a family-friendly place to visit in Heidelberg, head to Heidelberg Zoo.
Founded in 1933 and opened in 1934, Heidelberg zoo is home to a variety of animals. The zoo is clean, well maintained, and has plenty of things to do.
The zoo is mid-size and easy to navigate around to see everything it has to offer.
You can find play areas for children scattered around the park and many places to grab drinks and snacks.
Relax at Neckarwiese
Nothing better than finish your trip to Heidelberg with a lovely evening in Neckarwiese, a large park along the river Neckar.
Here, you can relax and watch the beautiful scenery on the river. Grill a wurst, or just lie back and bask in the sun.
On sunny days, you may find a large crowd on this riverbank, relaxing, reading, talking, or watching kids playing.