Sun-drenched Heidelberg (pop. 141,000) and its crumbling castle once lured writers and artists, including TVain, Goethe, and Hugo. Today, legions of camera-toting fannypackers fill the length of Hauptstr. where postcards and T-shirts sell like hotcakes and every sign is posted in four languages. But even mass tourism can’t mar the experience of Heidelberg’s beautiful hillside setting, Germany’s oldest university, and its enviable nightlife.
Trains run to: Frankfurt (50min. 2 per hr. ‚13) and Stuttgart (40min. 1 per hr. ‚16); other trains run regularly to towns in the Neckar Valley. On Heidelberg’s public transportation system, single-ride tickets cost ‚2; day passes (‚5) are available from the tourist office. The Rhein-Neckar-Fahrgastschifffahrt (201 81), in front of the Kongresshaus, runs ferries all over Germany and provides round-trip Neckar cruises to Neckarsteinach (3hr. Easter-Oct. 9:30am-3:30pm, ‚9.50).
ORIENTATION AND PRACTICAL INFORMATION
Most of Heidelberg’s attractions are in the eastern part of the city, along the south bank of the Neckar. From the train station, take any bus or streetcar to Bismarckpl. then walk east down Hauptstrafte, the city’s spine, to the Altstadt. The tourist office, in front of the station, books rooms for a ‚2.50 fee and a small deposit. ( 13 88 121. Open Apr.-Oct. M-Sa 9am-7pm, Su 10am-6pm; Nov.-Mar. M-Sa 9am-6pm.) They also sell the 2-day Heidelberg Card, which includes unlimited public transit and admission to most sights (‚12). Check your email at Mode Bredl, Hauptstr. 90, near Bismarckpl. (‚3 per 30min. Open M-F 10am-7pm, Sa 10am-6pm.) The post office is at Sofienstr. 8-10. (Open M-F 9am-6:30pm, Sa 9:30am-lpm.) Postal Code: 69155.
ACCOMMODATIONS AND FOOD
In summer, reserve rooms ahead or arrive early in the day to spare yourself a headache. To reach the iugendherberge (HI) 0, Tiergartenstr. 5, take bus #33 (dir.: Zoo-Sportzentrum). Next to the Heidelberg Zoo, one of the biggest in Europe, this hostel also teems with wildlife schoolchildren. The rooms are large and the basement is a pub. (65 11 90. Breakfast and sheets included. Reception daily until 11:30pm. Lockout 9am-lpm. Curfew 11:30pm; stragglers admitted every Mihr. until 2am. Reserve at least a week ahead. Dorms ‚18, under-27 ‚15. HI members only.) For rooms with more personality and privacy, head to Pension Jeske , Mittelbadgasse 2, in the Altstadt. Take bus #33 (dir: Ziegel-hausen) to RathausKommarkt. (s’237 33. Doubles ‚50, with bath ‚60; triples ‚6090; quints ‚100. Cash only). At Hotel-Pension Elite O, Bunsenstr. 15, all rooms have high ceilings, bath, and TV. From the train station, take streetcar #1 to Poststr. (257 34. Breakfast included. Let’s Go discounted rates: singles ‚51; doubles ‚61; triples ‚72; quads ‚83.)
Most of the restaurants on and around Hauptstr. are expensive but the ImbiJSe (fast food stands) are reasonably priced. Just outside this central area, historic student pubs offer good values as well. To reach the student Mensa O, in the stone fortress on Marstallstr. take bus #35 to Marstallstr. You’ll find cheap cafeteria fare. (‚4, with student ID ‚2; ‚ 1.50 plate deposit; CampusCard required for lunch. Open M-F ll:30am-10pm.) The mood at Hemingway’s Bar-Cafe-Meeting Point 0, Fahrtg. 1, is embodied in the Ernie (‚5) a dessert consisting of a shot of brandy and a cigar. (Lunch menu ‚4.10. Open Su-Th 9am-lam, F-Sa 9am-3am.)
HEIDELBERGER SCHL015. The jewel in the crown of an already striking city, the castle stands careful watch over the armies (of tourists) that dare approach Heidelberg. Since 1329 it has housed the Prince Electors, whose statues decorate the facade in front of the entrance. Over a period of almost 400 years, the castle’s residents commissioned their own distinctive additions, resulting in the conglomeration of styles you see today. The castle wine cellar houses the Grofier Fafi, the largest wine barrel ever made, which holds 221,726L. (Grounds open daily 9am-6pm. ‚2.50, students ‚1.50. English tours every 15min. ‚3.50, students ‚2.50.) The SchlojS is accessible by the Bergbahn, one of Germany’s oldest cable cars. (Take bus #11 (dir.: Karlstor) to BergbahnRathaus. Trams leave the parking lot next to the bus stop every lOmin. Open 9am-8pm. Round-trip ‚3.50.)
UNIVERSITAT. Heidelberg is home to Germany’s oldest and most prestigious university, established in 1386. More than 20 Nobel laureates have called the university home, and it was here that sociology became a legitimate academic subject. The Museum der Universitat Heidelberg traces the university’s long history in a building containing Alte Aula, Heidelberg’s oldest auditorium. Before 1914, students were exempt from prosecution by civil authorities thanks to the principle of academic freedom; instead, the crimes of naughty youths were tried and punished by the faculty in the Studentenkarzer jail. (Grabeng. 1. Open Apr.-Oct. M-Sa 10am-4pm; Nov.-Mar. Tu-F 10am-2pm. Museum and Studentenkarzer ‚2.50, students ‚2.)
MARKTPLATZ. The center of the Altstadt is the cobblestoned Marktplatz, where accused witches and heretics were burned at the stake in the 15th century. Some of Heidelberg’s oldest structures border the square: the 14th-century Heiliggeist-kirehe (Church of the Holy Spirit) and the 16th-century Haus Zum Ritter, opposite the church. (Church open M-Sa llam-5pm, Su l-5pm. Free. Church tower ‚0.50.)
PHILOSOPHENWEG. A high path opposite the Neckar from the Altstadt, the Phi-losophenweg (Philosopher’s Way) offers the best views of the city. On the top of Heiligenberg (Holy Mountain) lie the ruins of the 9th-century St. Michael Basilika, the 13th-century Stefanskloster, and an amphitheater built under Hitler in 1934 on the site of an ancient Celtic gathering place. (To get to the path, take streetcar #1 or 3 to Tiefburg, or use the steep spur trail 10m west of the Karl-Theodor-Brucke.)
Most popular nightspots fan out from the Marktplatz. On the Neckar side of the Heiliggeistkirche, Unter Strafie boasts the most concentrated and congested collection of bars in the city. HauptstralSe also harbors a fair number of venues.
Nachtschicht, in Landfried-Komplex (43 85 50; www.nachtschicht.com). University students jam to a variety of music in a basement resembling an old factory. Cover ‚3.50; M and F students ‚1.50. Open M and Th-Sa 10pm-4am; W 10pm-3am.
Zum Sepp’l, Hauptstr. 213. This age-old student lair, accented by stained glass windows, hosts a loud crowd and piano player M-Tu and F-Sa. Open M-F 5:30pm-midnight, Sa-Su llam-2:30pm and 5:30pm-lam.
Schwimmbad Musikclub, Tiergartenstr. 13. Convenient for hostelers, but a trek for others. Four levels of live music, dancing, and movies. Open W-Sa 8pm-3am.
DAYTRIP FROM HEIDELBERG: NECKARSTEINACH. Fourteen kilometers, upstream from Heidelberg, Neckarsteinach is a fishing village made famous by its four picture perfect, nearly untouristed castles. The two westernmost castles stand in romantic ruin, while the two to the east are privately occupied and not open to visitors. All lie within 3km of one another along the north bank of the Neckar river and can be reached by foot via the Burgenweg (castle path). From the train station, turn right on Bahnhofstr. turn left on Hauptstr. and follow the bend in the road; a red stone cross marks the beginning of the Schlojisteige (Castle Stairs), a brick path leading upward to the Burgenweg. Fireworks light the sky above the town on the second Saturday after Pentecost in June and on the last Saturday in July for the Vierburgenbeleuchtung (four-castle lighting).
Trains connecting Heidelberg to Heilbronn run through the Neckar valley, a thickly-forested stretch running north through Bad Wimpfen, Burg Guttenberg, Hirschhom am Neckar, and Neckarsteinach. Castles dot the hilltops of the valley and form part of the Burgenstrafie (Castle Road), which stretches from Mannheim to Prague. Local buses also traverse the Neckar Valley; often these are faster than the infrequent trains. Schedules are posted at bus stops. The tourist office, Hauptstr. 15, has a list of private rooms. ( 06229 920 00. Open M-Tu and Th-F 8:30am-12:30pm and 2:30-6pm, W 8:30am-12:30pm, Sa 8:30am-lpm.) Postal Code: 69239.