Hauptstraße is the touristic centre of the town - a very long pedestrian street, lined by historic houses and many, many shops. There are restaurants, souvenirshops, shops for clothing, books etc., and some of the touristic highlights such as Heiliggeistkirche, the townhall and Haus zum Ritter. It is of course very busy street (at least in summer, when I was there), full of visitors, but I thought that it still had a very nice and original atmosphere.
If you walk down form the castle along Kornmarkt, you get to Hauptstraße automatically, and the street ends at Bismarckplatz from where you can take trams to the train station and other destinations.
Haus zum Ritter is a renaissance building from 1592, it is located opposite of Heiliggeistkirche. Nowadays it is a hotel. The building was named after the knight St. George (Ritter means Knight). There is a statue of a knight on the gable.
The house was constructed by cloth merchants and was the only town house that survived the big fire of 1693 because it was the only one built of stone. Fittingly, there is a Latin scripture under the gable which says: "Persta invicta, Venus" (Stay undefeated, Beauty). From 1693 until 1703 it was used as townhall, precisely because it was not destructed, but since then has always been a guesthouse.
Victor Hugo stayed here during his travels to Germany and was very impressed by the house because it had survived so many wars and fires.
The Medersches Haus (house of the Meder family) is located in the Hauptstraße, you will probably walk past it while you are in Heidelberg, but it seems as if many people miss it because they are only focussing on the many shops and not on the façades of the houses. It is of baroque style and one of the most beautiful town houses of Heidelberg. A merchant was responsible for its construction in 1721 and the tradesman Ludwig Meder bought it in 1827, hence the name. It is corner house (located at the corner of Hauptstraße and Kettengasse) and at the corner of the very building there is a niche which entails a statue of the Virgin Mary with the child Jesus as well as the Holy Trinity.
In the basement of the house there is a healthstore called "Lebe gesund" (Live healthy) which sells organic groceries and other things.
Heidelburg's altstadt -- or old town -- has many buildings from the Middle ages and the Renaissance including the Church of the Holy Ghost (1400 AD), Zum Ritter Hotel (1592), and the Hotel Hirschgasse (1472). The town also boasts a large, quiet Marktplatz with a view of the Castle, and a great walkplatz stretching a few kilometers along the Hauptstrasse.
Heidelberg suffered relatively little damage in the Second World War, in fact the last time there was widespread destruction here was in the Palatinian War of Succession in 1693, which is why many of the major buildings date from the beginning of the 18th century. The city hall (Rathaus), for example, was built from 1701 to 1703.
In front of the city hall is the Marktplatz or market square, where markets are still held twice a week. On other days, at least in the summer, the whole square is filled with outdoor restaurants. They do leave enough room for you to walk through, however.
Part of the castle is visible on the hill off to the right.
This ancient-looking building on the banks of the Neckar River is actually just over one hundred years old. It was built from 1901 to 1903.
Concerts, celebrations and conventions are often held here, for instance the "11th International Symposium on Hepatitis C & Related Viruses" in October 2004 and a "Supercomputer Congress" in June 2005.
Update: In 2010 there were plans to build a huge addition to the Stadthalle Convention Center, so as to triple the capacity for conventions and other large events.
Opponents collected signatures to force a referendum against this project, saying the planned addition would be a monstrosity that would deface the historic Old Town and bring huge amounts of additional motor traffic to the roads by the riverside. They suggested building a new convention center up near the main railroad station in an area where lots of new construction is going on anyway.
In June 2010 the city was full of placards urging voters to vote YES or NO on this issue. All the major political parties supported the project and urged a YES vote.
When the referendum was held on July 25 voter turnout was low and it seemed doubtful at first that there would even be enough votes for a quorum (25 %), but in the end over 26,000 people voted NO, which was enough to validate the referendum. The end result was 67.1 % NO and only 32.9 % YES.
So now . . . we shall see if the voters in Stuttgart can also force a referendum to stop the notorious Stuttgart 21 project.
This isn't merely a "restaurant tip"; a visit to this cafe is a must-do for any visitor!
In the heart of the old town you'll find Heidelberg's Cafe Knoesel! It was opened in 1863 and has always been a very popular meeting point for prominent citizens, university lecturers & of course students. All of the regular patrons loved and appreciated the humorous owner Mr Fridolin Knoesel, master confectioner and pastry chef.
The coffehouse also became a popular venue for daughters of wealthy socialites, who were naturally only allowed to be here with their governess. These women kept an eye on the pretty girls and were quick to protest if one of the many male students were ever to glance in the girls' direction: flirting was taboo! The strict governesses kept even these innocent flirtations of their charges under control.
This repressed flirting didn't go unnoticed by Fridolin Knoesel, so he cunningly created a chocolate praline especially for these young & romance-deprived girls. He called is the "Student's Kiss", so they may enjoy what they so craved until one day, when the governess might not be looking... their craving for things other than chocolate may be satisfied! Overnight, Knoesel's creation became an acceptable way for 19th-century students to "exchange kisses" in public:
The "Studentenkuss" is a nougat & chocolate centre with a waffle base and covered in dark chocolate.
Over 100 years have passed, but the Student's Kiss is still available in this quaint & beautiful little cafe; an everlasting reminder of the bygone romantic days in Heidelberg's little cobbled alleys & streets.
They're not cheap (approx. 7 Euros for 3 pralines) but it's a worthy price for something so special. They are made in Heidelberg's oldest chocolaterie after all!
--> Hence, a box of these chocolates is a great way to take some memories of Heidelberg with you, be it for yourself or for your loved ones at home! The cafe is regularly filled with residents & tourists alike.
This is what you've come to see. This is the most beautiful part of town; with cobbles, church bells ringing, street musicians & gorgeous architecture: the Old Town ("Altstadt")
These are the must-sees of the old town:
> The main street ("Hauptstrasse")
> The Neckar River
> The Castle
> The "Great Vat"
> The Heilig Geist Church
> The Hotel Ritter
> The old bridge, its towers & the "bridge monkey"
> the University
> the Madonna at the Grain Market ("Kornmarkt").
> (December: Christmas Market)
Hardly any other city has been honoured by so many poems & songs as Heidelberg. Even J.W. Goethe wrote "Heidelberg - in its location - has something so ideal." Poems, quotes & songs describe Heidelberg as the German city of Romance, where the emotional connection between the 2 lovers, the rollings hills and the steady Neckar river, is still alive today.
One of the most well-known "odes" is this song: "I've lost my heart in Heidelberg":
(German) "Ich hab' mein Herz in Heidelberg verloren, In einer lauen Sommernacht.
Ich war verliebt bis ueber beide Ohren & wie ein Roeslein hat ihr Mund gelacht.
Und als wir Abschied nahmen vor den Toren, beim letzten Kuss da hab ich's klar erkannt:
Dass ich mein Herz in Heidelberg verloren. Mein Herz, es schlaegt am Neckarstrand.
Was ist aus dir geworden seitdem ich dich verliess?
Alt-Heidelberg Du Feine, Du deutsches Paradies?
Ich bin von Dir gezogen, liess Leichtsinn, Wein & Glueck.
Und sehne mich und sehne mich, mein Leben lang zurueck."
(English) "I lost my heart in Heidelberg on a balmy summer night.
In love head over heels, oh were she all mine
And like a rose, her laughing mouth my light as by the gates she said: good-bye.
That last sweet kiss, it did confirm once more,
I'd lost my heart in Heidelberg forever, my heart still beats on Neckar's shore.
Whatever happended to you, since you and I did part.
Oh Heidelberg of legend, you German paradise?
I went away and left you, Left wine & happy days.
I long to be, I long to be, back in your arms always"
The Oldtown of Heidelberg can be roughly defined as the area along the "Hauptstrasse", and around the Heiliggeistkirche/Town Hall/central square and Kornmarkt square. Its geographical extension would be marked further on one side by the University Library, the Jesuitenkirche and the "Karolinum" and on the other side by the river Neckar and the Karl-Theodor bridge ("Alte Brücke"). A climb up the towers of the Heiliggeistkirche gives a good overview of the Oldtown.
One of the oldest buildings in Heidelberg (located Hauptstrasse, opposite the Heiliggeistkirche) was built 1592 by a patrician merchant couple. Because it was built with stone, it is the only renaissance buildings that survived the devastating city fire that destroyed vast parts of the Oldtown.
Lovely town to stroll through once, but do not come when the buses of tourists are there. It can get crowded, and there is not that much to do in the old town proper, even shopping is not overworked here. They do have eating spots, but minimal. The castle at the top is ruins, but tours are held. It sits on top at 262 feet. Church of the holy Spirit-it was- is now still a church, was started in 1239 and the last parts finished 1441. It was an icon to the town, and changed between Protestants and Catholics, and at times was split between them.
The charm of the old town stays with you for a long time. Heidelberg has seen very little modern development. Strolling these ancient, narrow streets, one feels transported back centuries. Don't be in a hurry. Stop and look around. Browse in the shops, have a meal in one of the restaurants, and enjoy the atmosphere. Here are a few highlights.
The Kornmarkt is the city's primary market square. Lined with shops and cafes, it's the meeting place for everyone, the place to see and be seen.
The Haupstrasse is the city's main street, running roughly parallel to the Neckar River.
The University dates back to the late 14th century, making it the oldest in Germany and one of the oldest in northern Europe.
Follow the Steingasse down to the Neckar River, and walk across the Old Bridge, for some great views of the river and the city.
Strolling along the Neckar, enjoy the lush green gardens of the Neckarweisse, with their fountains and open spaces.
Beginning at Bismarkplatz, the Hauptstrasse, or Main Street, continues all the way to the castle area and a bit beyond. There are many shops, cafes, churches, and other sites to see. I would recommend walking up the Haupstrasse, but come back to Bismarkplatz using the Neckarstaden, or the stree that runs along the river Neckar. The views of the river and the area on the opposite side is very nice and the homes are elegant.
(Theodor Heuss was the 1st elected president of the Federal Republic of Germany and the 5th president of Germany.)
This bridge might not be as well-known as the old bridge (with the 2 watch towers), but some of the best views & photo opportunities can be seen from this bridge crossing the Neckar river and connecting the Bismarkplatz in the Old Town ("Altstadt") with Neuenheim. Neuenheim is a residential district of Heidelberg covering approx. 5.6 square km. This is the bridge with a road & also tram tracks crossing it (the old town bridge with the 2 guard towers is only open for pedestrians & cyclists nowadays).
Especially in the summer months, you'll see Heidelberg locals walking their dogs down on the "Neckar Wiese" (Neckar grass / meadows) along the shore, with friends, or displaying one of the Germans' most well-known talents: taking our clothes off to sunbathe :-)
Stop and take-in a lovely view of the old town on your right, and the Heiligenberg ("holy hill") on your left with gorgeous green forests. Then, take a deep breath and feel that burning envy towards those lucky people who own those houses over there...
Most well-known on this side of the river is the Philosophenweg ("Philosopher's Path"), Heidelberg's most famous & stunning hiking trail. --> see my seperate tip!
Karl Theodor, the Prince Elector that has given his name to so much in Heidelberg, had this triumphal arch built and you can see him and his wife portraid in it. It was never completed but is still a nice, typically Roman style, arch despite being in the middle of a busy traffic junction today.