Heidelberg: A Dazzling Gem in Southern Germany

Heidelberg: A Dazzling Gem in Southern Germany

Last updated on May 31st, 2019 at 10:11 am.

As some of you already know, I recently took a trip to Europe. This was a big deal for me because I had never been. Not only that, but it was the first time I had ever left North America.

I had been wanting to go for what felt like forever, but jobs tend to get in the way. But because I recently left my day job, there was little that stood between me and the rich history and stunning architecture of this wonderful continent.

And because I was able to fly almost for free, I jumped at the opportunity. In fact, I left for Europe just under a month after leaving my full-time job.

My first stop was Heidelberg, Germany. Founded in 1196, this university town is home to one of the oldest universities in the world that is still in operation. Heidelberg University opened all the way back in 1386.

Bikes! Bikes Everywhere!

When I first arrived in Heidelberg, one of the very first things I noticed is the absolute plethora of bikes there.

Bikes Heidelberg Central Station
Bikes parked at Heidelberg Hauptbahnhof (Central Station). Soooo many.

Then, walking to the hostel, I saw a bunch more parked along the street:

Bikes Heidelberg Street
Bikes parked along the street in Heidelberg.

Then, walking a bit further, I come across a ton of bikes parked at a bike rack:

Bikes parked at a bike rack.

Okay, I’m sure you get it by now – Heidelberg has a crap-load of bikes.

But that’s actually a pretty big deal for an American like myself. Our cities are usually not very bike-friendly. And in general, our culture just doesn’t love them.

You could say that’s changing somewhat as several cities have bikes you can rent on the fly, but that is different, too. Even then, that basically means we’re saying that bikes aren’t a legitimate form of transportation to be used every day.

And I think, because of the way our society is, that’s just a fact.

As I would find out later (and I will write about), cities like Munich have bike lanes on basically every single road in the city. Heidelberg doesn’t quite have that, but it’s still pretty bike-friendly, and people ride bikes everywhere.

It’s too bad we don’t do that in the States. Not only are bikes much better from a sustainability perspective, but they’re also great exercise!

I’m not sure if we’ll ever be like Germany in this regard, but it was very cool to see.

Schloss Heidelberg (Heidelberg Castle)

The main attraction that every tourist in Heidelberg has to see is the castle. Originally constructed in the 13th century, Schloss Heidelberg is really something to see.

The castle has been heavily damaged at different times by lightening strikes. Some repairs were done, but there are still some ruins as well. I have a photo of that later.

Even just making your way up to the castle is a challenge in itself. The castle is atop a huge hill, so you can either walk up a ton of stairs or a series of ramps. I chose the former and I was very worn out. But it was very much worth it.

To give you an idea of how high up the castle is, here are a few photos I snapped of the castle later in the day from the bridge in the garden:

The houses down below are where I stayed, and where the main part of the Old Town is. Okay, it’s a little hard to tell in these images, but trust me – it’s pretty far up.

I ended up very winded by the end, but again – it was worth it!

After making it up the stairs, I explored the outer part of the castle grounds a bit.

One of the buildings within the castle grounds.
More buildings within the castle grounds.
Here, you can see a bit of the damage that the castle sustained.
Panoramic shot of the Schloss Heidelberg overlook. Click the image for a link to the 3D, interactive panorama!

After exploring the outside of the castle, I checked out the inside.

Heidelberg Tun

There are a few indoor attractions within the castle grounds, and the Heidelberg Tun is probably the one with the biggest draw.

What is the Heidelberg Tun?

The Heidelberg Tun is the largest wine barrel in the world. In reality, it has only been used to make wine a few times, perhaps because the large size is more of a challenge than a luxury. Nevertheless, it maintains its title as the world’s largest wine barrel!

Before seeing the real thing, I stopped for a photo next to a smaller version of it:

After making sure to get that IG-worthy photo, I continued on to see the real Heidelberg Tun:

The *real* Heidelberg Tun. I’m intentionally showing you a photo with people standing on the platform on top for added perspective. Yep, this thing is ridiculous.

While the Tun is cool, there isn’t a whole lot to do other than look at it. So, after snapping a few photos, I continued on to the next attraction.

Deutsches Apothekenmuseum (Pharmacy Museum)

The next thing I saw was the Pharmacy Museum.

Now, I’m not a pharmacist or anything related to pharmaceuticals, nor have I ever studied it. So I wasn’t sure how interesting it would be, but it turned out to be one of the coolest parts of the castle (IMO).

The main reason I found this museum so interesting is because of how much the field has changed in Germany. I believe the info cards started in the 16th century – obviously, here in the US, we don’t have history going back that far (other than natives).

Because pharmacy was being studied so long ago in Germany, things were extremely different in the early days. Priests were also healers; in those days, people believed diseases were punishment from the gods.

Of course, things eventually evolved and this way of thinking is (mostly) a thing of the past. But I found it fascinating how the field has changed in Germany.

Here are some photos I took inside the museum, first of some of the tools that were used:

And here are a few photos of exhibits throughout the museum:

In this photo is a desk with a ton of vials on shelves behind it. It’s difficult to make out here, but the desk drawers are labeled according to what should go in each of the drawers.
More pieces similar to the one above, with drawers used to store different “ingredients.”

Here are a couple of workspaces used by pharmacists:

Last but not least, here are a few photos of items that would have been used to make medicines:

Indeed, this turned out to be one of my favorite parts of the castle. I just found it extremely interesting.

Wining and Dining in Heidelberg

I didn’t get too many photos of the dining experience (at least in Heidelberg), but I did grab a few.

After the castle, I decided to get some food. I went to a place near the hostel and did my best to get traditional German food.

Meatloaf and fried potatoes. The meatloaf is different from what I’m used to, and I wasn’t a huge fan. The potatoes, however, were amazing. And oops, I forgot to take this photo before I took a bite!

Oh, and I had to snap a picture of the copper at this restaurant – they brew their own beer:

At a different place in Heidelberg, I got a “kellerbier,” which translates to “cellar beer”:

Kellerbier, or “cellar beer”

Kellerbier is not very common in the US; I don’t think I had ever tried it before. Among other differences, kellierbier is unpasteurized, making it highly perishable compared to other types of beer.

The “cellar” part of the name comes from the fact that it was historically brewed in caves. Yes, seriously. The reason it was brewed in caves is because, as a said, it’s unpasteurized. Since caves are naturally cool, this made them a suitable environemnt.

Aside from its unique history and rarity in the US, I thought it tasted pretty dang good.

Lodging in Heidelberg

In rather lackadaisical fashion, I didn’t take any photos of the places where I stayed on this trip. I don’t have a great reason for that, so next time, I will try to do so.

As I hinted at earlier, I stayed in a hostel. The one I chose was Lotte – the Backpackers Heidelberg – a hostel in Altstadt (Old Town). Bear in mind that part of my planning of this trip, in addition to flying extremely cheaply, was to find cheap lodging.

My stay in Munich was completely free (which I will write about later); aside from that, I stayed exclusively in hostels.

My total charge for two nights at Lotte was 48 Euro. Not only is this hostel cheap, but it’s pretty awesome.

Lotte was named after a German author and is in a unit that used to be a house. So it makes sense that it has a family feel; it’s small with around 20 beds. They provide milk/cereal and coffee daily for free.

Not only is it very affordable, but Lotte is in a GREAT location. I mentioned it’s in Alstadt, but it’s also literally right next to the castle. I couldn’t have picked a better location if I tried.

I also loved the small hostel dynamic in general. I went out with people from the hostel a few times in a matter of two days, which was great. We also sat around the hostel and chatted.

In the future, I will definitely be aiming for the ~20-bed hostel size. This is perfect (again IMO).

Final Thoughts (And More Photos!)

Heidelberg is pretty amazing. It’s a fairly small city, so even though I was only there for two nights, I managed to see most of what there is to see.

That said, I loved Heidelberg. Situated in the mountains with a river running directly through it, this is a seriously beautiful city.

Would I go back? Heck yes, I would! When I was in Prague, it seemed like anyone who had also been in Germany said they were in Berlin – and that’s about it.

But there is more to Germany than Berlin! In fact, the smaller cities and towns are what make Germany so charming. I highly recommend the southern part, and, yes, Heidelberg is part of that.

And, as promised, I will leave you with a few more photos of this gorgeous little city.

Church I came across while wondering through Heidelberg.
I love streets like this. The cobblestone and colorful buildings are beautiful.
Rear view of a church in Alstadt.
Funky trees in Alstadt. You can also see the castle in the background.
Night view of Alte Brücke (Old Bridge)
On my last day, I walked all around Heidelberg. This shot was taken while I was walking through Neckerwiese – the park on the other side of the river. What a gorgeous view!

Have you been to Heidelberg? If so, I would love to hear about your experience!

Bob Haegele

Hey there. My name is Bob and I blog about personal finance here at The Frugal Fellow. In particular, I focus on topics related to student loans, investing, credit cards, and sometimes sustainability. Interested in starting a blog? Find out how to become a blogger!

This Post Has 6 Comments

  1. Looks like a great place to visit. I agree with you about small towns and Germany has a lot of quaint ones. We went to Berlin/Prague/Vienna in 2012 but I had the opportunity to go on a class trip in high school and got to see Munich, Garmisch-Partenkirchen, and several other small towns in the area. As typical of a high school kid I didn’t appreciate it enough but it’s still so memorable now. Glad you had a great trip!

    1. Yep, it was great for sure. I just want to give myself more extra time when I go on another trip. I really wanted to see Rothenberg, but I didn’t make it because it was difficult to get to and I didn’t have time. Yet another lesson learned.

  2. A wealth of information and interesting photographs. I love history and this city appeals to me,not far from England. I didn’t realise it had the world’s oldest university

    1. It’s the oldest in Germany – not quite the world. Still, that’s saying something. Thanks for stopping by!

  3. I’m thrilled for you that you are able to enjoy some travel after leaving you job. It’s music to my ears when people seize the free time to explore the world. Great opportunity to also get some perspective and headspace, isn’t it? 🙂

    1. Yeah, it’s awesome. I had been wanting to travel for a long time, but not working just makes it so much easier. Already thinking about my next trip!

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