Having spent two nights in Frankfurt, I continued my post-semester travels to my next destination in Germany. This time, I would be heading south to Heidelberg, a charming city situated along the Neckar river and in the wine-growing valley of the country. It’s also a university town, as it’s home to a large and thriving student population– although I didn’t know so much about the city before going, I’d been meaning to go for its beauty!
I took a Flixbus from Frankfurt and arrived in Heidelberg about 90 minutes later. Like in Frankfurt, I would also be staying with a Couchsurfer– however, he was out of town that day, but was kind enough to give me instructions on how to get into his flat (with spare keys hidden in the flower pot outside the building–interesting!). His place was a 20-minute walk from the station, so I headed over and got into the flat without a problem.
After dropping off my belongings inside, I almost immediately went out again to see a bit of Heidelberg– I especially wanted to do the Philospher’s Walk, since I’d checked the weather and that day I arrived would be the only “good weather” kind of day to do it; otherwise, it would be raining and snowing in the days to come. I also only had two nights in Heidelberg, so I wanted to make sure that I could get to everything I wanted to see!
My Couchsurfer’s flat wasn’t too far from the Philosopher’s Walk and, after a bit of climbing through the late-autumn path (i.e. tons of golden leaves scattered on the ground), I reached the vantage point where I got the iconic view of Heidelberg as seen in many postcards (the Stone Bridge, Heidelberg Castle, the Neckar river). It was still bright out, so I snapped a few photos and waited for the sun to set within the next 30-45 minutes (as the advantage of winter is that the sun sets by 16:30). Soon enough, the sky got dark and the city lights came on, offering the magical views that I’d been waiting for. Despite the biting cold, I found the wait worth it.
It was a matter of descending from the Philosopher’s Walk down to ground level. I took a sloping path all the way down, which was a bit nerve-wracking as it was slippery from the previous day’s rain and it was pitch-black. Thankfully, I made it down safely and arrived in front of the Stone Bridge. I crossed it over to the city center, where the Christmas markets were in full effect. While they were just a few scattered throughout the different squares (Marktplatz, Karlsplatz, Bismarckplatz), they still were quite charming to revel in the holidays atmosphere.
Absolutely starving, I bought myself some piping-hot fries with Hollandaise sauce at the Christmas markets and currywurst with Glühwein. I wandered along the Hauptstraße, which is the longest main street in Heidelberg, passing through the different squares with different Christmas markets. I ended up at Bismarckplatz and from there decided to return to my Couchsurfer’s flat, despite it only being barely 19:00– I was tired from the day’s worth of travel and I wanted to get out of the evening cold; I would wait until the next morning to explore the rest of Heidelberg, although I’d already seen a good portion of it that first day!
I returned to my Couchsurfer’s flat, where I freshened up, relaxed, and turned in for bed around 22:00. Around 1:00, I heard my Couchsurfer return, after being out of town for a couple of days. He just went into his room to sleep, and that was it. We saw each other the following morning, and he was kind enough to prepare me a light brunch as we got to know each other and discuss topics like languages and world health. He was a man in his late 60’s who is Austrian, but has lived in Germany since he was eighteen. Really nice man, although he was quite busy during my stay and we didn’t hang out too much except during meals.
Any case, I headed out around 11:00 to explore Heidelberg. It was even chillier that day than the previous, and I even experienced some light hail while at the Heidelberg Castle! All the same, it was still a lovely city, and I began with a stroll into the center and enigmatic views of the Neckar across the bridge. My first visit was at the Old University, where I purchased a ticket to a cluster of exhibitions within the square– it was only 2,50 euros for three sites, so I’m not complaining!
I went to the Studentenkarzer first. Used as a prison for misbehaving students until the early 20th century, you can still see how it must’ve been back then. I saw one of the cells, which was a small room with the bare essentials: bed, desk, toilet (meals were rationed by the guards). There were lots of graffiti all over the walls of the prison, mostly political art work drawn by the student prisoners themselves. Crazy to believe that this happened in history, and it’s good that it’s been eradicated today!
Next, I checked out a small exhibition of the Old University’s history on the ground floor of the building before going upstairs to see the Great Hall in its splendor. While a few lectures are held in this specific room, most of the time it’s used for special events (ceremonies, guest speakers, etc.). Utterly gorgeous, and perfect for that Instagrammable photo!
From the city center, I made the trek uphill to the Heidelberg Castle, where I got foggy, but still gorgeous views of the town below, along with the Neckar and the valleys surrounding it. I decided to visit the castle itself, paying 4 euros to get in. Besides seeing the castle grounds, I visited the Großes Fass, which is the largest wine barrel in the world (you can climb on top of it!) and the Pharmacy museum, which had exhibitions on the history of medicine. They were pretty interesting, although I wouldn’t say that there was much else interesting about the castle.
I was really hungry when I finished my castle tour, so I headed all the way down to the city center and, on my way back to my Couchsurfer’s flat, I popped into an Italian joint (run by an actual Italian family) where I got hearty minestrone and panini as a late lunch. Before I returned to the flat, I also stopped by a cute pastry shop and on whim bought some small cakes as a gift for my host; we would have afternoon tea and cake later, as it was pleasant to continue talking with each other.
For the rest of the day, I stayed in, as I was done seeing what I wanted to see in Heidelberg– it was great to relax and be comfy, especially when it was freezing outside. I left the next day around noon, as I needed to catch my Flixbus to my next destination in Germany: I said goodbye to my host, thanking him for the short, but pleasant stay, and went off, leaving Heidelberg behind.
Heidelberg was lovely, and I think two nights and one full day is enough to see the highlights of this small city. Very picturesque, and definitely worth a stop by while in Germany. More to come soon on my travels, so stay tuned!
— The Finicky Cynic
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