Living in Frankfurt, Germany has its perks including being in one of the most central airports in the world to explore Europe and the world. Even better is the Hessian city is located in the middle of Germany and is a prime spot to explore beautiful gems in Germany. One of the places at the top of my list is the beautiful town of Heidelberg. Located along the Necker river, this enchanting, romantic, and picturesque town is home to the famous Heidelberg University with roots going back to the 14th century.
Heidelberg is a city very popular with tourists as it is a quick trip from Frankfurt and Stuttgart. Tourists flying into Frankfurt expecting old school German charm may be slightly disappointed but fear not because Heidelberg is exactly what you thought Germany would be like and it is only an hour away. I spent a solid 12 hours here on a day trip from Frankfurt because I live here but I would definitely recommend staying a night or two if you have the time. This itinerary will be perfect for those looking to visit for the day or for those that have a night or two!
Where to eat in Heidelberg?
There are a plethora of fantastic restaurants in Heidelberg, especially in the locals area of Neuenheim. If you’re only here for a day, you’ll only really have time for 2-3 meals. For that purpose, I’ve listed out some places I recommend for three meals and then some.
For starters, we went to Nomad cafe for a late breakfast around 10am. This ever so cute cafe is in the quaint neighborhood of Neuenheim which you can tell is largely locals and devoid of tourists. The cafe is famous among locals and serves fantastic eclectic brunch style food like egg dishes, fruit bowls, pancakes, and other stuff. Make sure to grab a seat outside and enjoy people watching the local Heidelberg crowd.
Heidelberg is home to many Middle Eastern immigrants and loads of restaurants. None are better than the Syrian restaurant Mahmouds. They serve delicious vegan fare as well as chicken schawarma that was cooked to perfection. The restaurant is cheap (€5 for a schawarma) and best of all, the restaurant is located right next to the Jesuitenkirche Catholic church.
Looking for a local brewery to taste a refreshing Bavarian pint? Vetters Gasthausbrauerei in Old Town Heidelberg is the most popular and renowned original brewery in town. According to the German purity laws, their beer only contains hops, malt, water, and yeast. When we arrived at Vetter Brewery, it was packed. We weren’t sure that we could get a seat as both the patio and indoor restaurant looked completely full. However, here’s an important tip: take a peek inside and around the corner when you visit, even if it looks busy. We were thankful that there were additional long rows of seating at the back and we snagged a spot without any issues.
Vetters is the kind of place where you can easily socialize with those sitting around you. We met a table of Americans who were visiting Heidelberg on a business trip. It was their last night in town, just as it was ours. It was great to chat with a friendly group over delicious pints. Justin and I both tried the classic Brauhaus Lager and we weren’t disappointed.
After trying to go to the famous 300 year old instituion called Zum Seppl, it was not open at 5:30pm. We had an early bus back to Frankfurt (7:45pm) so we wanted to make sure we had dinner before our bus ride.
After some research, we found this restaurant Schnitzelbank that looked quite tasty. It is at the edge of the old town and is a surprisingly local catering restaurant in an otherwise very touristy restaurant. As you can tell by the name, this place specializes in schnitzels. Naturally, I ordered the house schnitzel specialty which had a mushroom sauce and the Shwabian pasta. I’m a big fan of Schnitzel. Sure it can’t compare to strong tasting food like the hawker stalls in Singapore, but damn when you’re hungry a schnitzel always hits the spot!
We met two German students having dinner here and they had been coming for ages. They asked us how we were able to find this place as it is off the main tourist strip. This reaffirms that this place is a great choice for those looking for an authentic German meal.
The Philosopher’s walk is a must do in Heidelberg. Like the name suggests, it was an area Philosophers of olden times would gather to think and reflect on important issues. Whatever came out of those discussions probably shaped modern day Germany (or not, I’m just speculating). But philosophy aside, I can see the appeal.
From the end of the Alt Brucke (Old Bridge), you will see signs clearly marked for the Philosopher’s walk. This is a short 500m hike up the hill where you’ll be afforded some of the best views of the city. There are little bench areas along the route where you can relax and enjoy the views. I think overall, this takes about 1 to 1.5 hours at most.
The incredible Heidelberg Castle is definitely Heidelberg’s most famous attraction. You can’t miss it from any viewing angle in Heidelberg as it is majestically perched up on the hill. It’s an absolute miss when visiting this town. The construction of the castle started in the early 1200s and has expanded on the centuries to include several structures, towers, moats, gardens and more surrounding the complex.
The castle has seen its fair share of activity over the centuries as it’s been ravaged by far, lightning strikes, and more. In fact, walking around this castle reminded me of being in some Roman ruins at times because so much of the castle is separated from each other. Like many of the castles I’ve seen in Germany like the fairy tale-esque Burg Eltz castle, the Heidelberg castle is absolutely beautiful.
Getting to the Heidelberg Castle
You can get to the castle from the funicular at the Kornmarkt and taking it to the first station. We got to the funicular but the line was too long so we decided to walk up the hill instead which was quite an easy walk taking no more than 15 minutes. The cost of entrance to the castle is €8 and the funicular is included in the price of admission (whether you use it or not).
From the entrance, wander around the castle grounds and admire the architecture. Walk inside the Fassbau (Barrel Building) to witness the famous gigantic wine barrel. It’s probably one of the largest wine barrels in the world holding 221,000 liters of wine. It was constructed back in the 1700s and took 130 oak trees to build. It is so huge that there is a balcony and dance floor constructed on top of it. Sadly, it is no longer used to make wine but rather as a tourist attraction. There is also a bar inside where you can sample the local wines and more.
The castle is also a great place to take some nice pictures of the city with the bridge and river in the background.
Exploring the Altstadt
Start off your visit to Heidelberg in the Hauptstrasse, or main street, in the Altstadt (Old Town). The main street is the world’s longest continuous shopping street and you’ll find tons of chain stores, boutiques, restaurants, galleries and cafes along this stretch. Parallel to the large shopping street is the river! If you’re visiting during November and December, you have to check out Heidelberg’s Christmas markets!
Visit the old Bridge
You can’t see pictures of Heidelberg without its iconic bridge. It links the old town to the banks of the Neckar at the eastern end of the Neuenheim district. The precursors of today’s Old Bridge were all made of wood. As they were continually being destroyed by wars and floods, Prince Karl Theodor ordered the construction of a stone bridge across the river (1786-1788). On the city side is the medieval Bridge Gate, part of the former city wall.
The best views of Heidelberg in my opinion are at the end of the bridge facing the Altstadt and the Heidelberg Castle. There is a little platform where I think you can take the best pictures.
Visit the local neighborhood of Neuenheim
Heidelberg’s Altstadt is pretty make no mistake but if you want to escape the hordes of tourists, consider crossing the bridge (any bridge) into the local neighborhood of Neuenheim. The pace of life is much more relaxed here and they have some of the most beautiful Altbau’s (Old style German houses) that I’ve seen.
Make sure to also visit the numerous shops, cafes, and outdoor markets on Saturdays for insight into local life!
Getting to Heidelberg
Heidelberg is easily accessible by the cities in Germany’s western half. It is a 1 hour train ride from Frankfurt airport or Frankfurt Hauptbahnhof. It is also roughly the same distance from Stuttgart. If you have the option of flying into Stuttgart or Frankfurt, I would choose Stuttgart as it is a bit prettier but I think Frankfurt has its own charms as well. From Cologne, or Dusseldorf, plan for roughly 2 to 2.5 hours by train. From Munich, this will be about 3.5 hours.
By train from Frankfurt
Heidelberg is roughly about 100km away from Frankfurt. Trains run multiple times every day via the ICE (Intercity) and the RE (regional train). The ICE should be €10-20 one way and is under 1 hour from Frankfurt Hauptbahnhof to Heidelberg Hauptbahnhof. People actually live in Heidelberg and commute to Frankfurt on a daily basis so you can always expect to find a train. Normally, I always recommend booking tickets on the Deutsche Bahn well in advance, but tickets to Heidelberg seem to stay the same.
Heidelberg’s Hauptbahnhof is a bit far from the old town and is not particularly the most attractive area like most main train stations in Europe. It is about a 20 minute walk from the Hauptbahnhof to the Heidelberg Altstadt.
By Flixbus from Frankfurt
Most of the time, I always advocate for the trains because it is more comfortable, reliable, and faster. However, as Heidelberg is so close there is not that much of a time difference between taking the bus and train. The Flixbus station behind Frankfurt Hauptbahnhof is massive and has many buses leaving daily for Heidelberg. I actually rode the bus here because is was only €15 roundtrip.
The buses range from 70 minutes to 90 minutes so it really isn’t that much of a time difference. My bus on the way home was delayed 40 minutes though so make sure to account for this!
Renting a car is an option if you’re planning on doing a roadtrip around Germany but otherwise, I don’t think it is necessary to rent a car just for Heidelberg. Once you get to Heidelberg, there is never a need for a car again as the city is small and perfectly walkable. However, my favorite means of transportation in Europe has to be with blablacar. Carpooling with random people is something I totally do not mind.
There are multiple daily departures from Frankfurt to Heidelberg and these are quite cheap (€5-€10 one way). This will probably be the fastest method of transportation as your driver will likely offer to drop you off closer to the city center.