Germany – Heidelberg: A Local’s Guide to a Picturesque University Town


In southwestern Germany, along the banks of the Neckar River, lies the scenic city of Heidelberg. The area where modern Heidelberg now sits has been settled or occupied in some fashion since before recorded human history. Today, it is home to Heidelberg University, Germany’s oldest university. It also happens to be Dennis’s hometown – he has plenty of local advice to impart onto us lucky readers! Find out below all of his recommended spots, restaurants, and activities in beautiful Heidelberg.

Author photo - Dennis


Years Lived in Heidelberg: 20
Hobbies/Interests: Hiking, being outside, going out for coffee and/or food, meeting up for drinks
Restaurant Pick: Café Nomad Heidelberg

Table of Contents

    About Heidelberg

    Heidelberg is a typical German college town with a preserved old town – meaning it wasn’t destroyed during World War II – and castle ruins. The university is one of the oldest in Europe and the oldest in Germany (founded in 1386). The city has many bars, cafes, restaurants and is usually very touristy. Many famous German poets and writers lived in Heidelberg and it’s a cliché now to call it one of the most romantic cities in Germany. Many Americans have also lived in Heidelberg for a time, since there was a large Army and NATO base which closed a few years ago. If possible, visit during summertime – most of the things I love in city are nicer during the summer.

    Heidelberg Altstadt (Old Town)
    View of Heidelberg’s Baroque-style Altstadt (Old Town).1

    Philosophers’ Walk and Neuenheim

    Philosophenweg path
    The path along Philosophenweg (Philosophers’ Walk).
    Philosophenweg view
    A view of the city from Philosophenweg.

    Neuenheim is a city district located across the river on the opposite of Heidelberg Castle. There are some very nice options in this area for dining, dessert (ice cream), and more. Also found here is the Neckarwiese, a one kilometer greenbelt along the north bank of the river. During the summer and winter months, many locals visit the Neckarwiese to have a BBQ, exercise, and picnic. You can even rent a small boat (electric and non-electric options are available) and go for a little tour on the river. It’s a very nice place to hang out after a busy day or to meet up with some friends.

    Also in Neuenheim is the start of a footpath known as Philosophers’ Walk (German: “Philosophenweg”). It’s definitely not a secret, being one of the well-known attractions of the city, but it is a very nice walk, highly frequented by both locals and tourists alike. It’s quite steep at the beginning, but once you reach the top you have a very nice view on the old town and Heidelberg Castle. Along the way there are some nice parks and lawns where you can have a little picnic or drink something.

    From the top of Philosophers’ Walk, a small path winds down to the old town of Heidelberg. It’s called Snake Way or Snake Path (German: “Schlangenweg”) and again it’s very steep, but it’s also the most direct way to the old town. A nice walking tour to occupy a morning would be to get some breakfast in Neuenheim (I highly recommend Café Nomad, a pleasant spot with delicious breakfast and coffee options), then head up Philosophers’ Walk while enjoying the views. After a short rest at one of the nearby parks, then walk down to the old town to explore more of Heidelberg. If you feel like a longer walk, there are many other paths up the mountain and along the river.

    Old Town

    University Square in Old Town
    University Square in Heidelberg’s Old Town.

    Heidelberg’s Old Town (German: “Altstadt”) is usually very busy and full of tourists. It’s also where a large section of the university is located, so you’ll see many students there too. In the old town you can find many shops, cafes, and restaurants. Most of them are spread out along the main road (German: “Hauptstrasse”). You can easily spend a few hours there and explore all of the little side roads (this the beautiful part!) – be sure to do it like the locals and make time to sit down at a café or restaurant to enjoy a drink. Some of the most famous sites are listed in the Recommended Places section below.

    Old Bridge Heidelberg
    The bridge at the bottom of Snake Way to Old Town.
    Heidelberg Marketplace
    Heidelberg Marketplace next to Church of the Holy Spirit.
    Old Town side street
    A side street in Old Town.

    If you feel so inclined, you can also walk or take the funicular to the castle. The castle itself is in ruins and in my opinion it’s not worth the admission fee to go inside. But, be sure to visit the park and the terrace, which are free and you again have some beautiful views from up there. To avoid the crowds and for a more romantic atmosphere (it really feels very special!) it’s also very nice to go up at night.

    During the evenings, the old town is also a hotspot for partying and going out. Since it’s a student town, there are tons of bars and places to go. Most of them are all along one street called “Untere Strasse.” Admission to all of them is free (no cover charge), but make sure to bring your ID because they usually check (all bars are 18+ to enter).

    Typically, we start our nights with some nice wine or beer outside (during the winter season, go to the Christmas markets for this) and then head to the bars later. We also don’t normally stay at just one bar, but instead have a drink and then bar hop to the next one until we find the perfect place.

    Untere Strasse
    Untere Strasse (bar street) during the daytime.

    Vetter Brewery

    During the summer, it’s also nice to grab a take-away beer at Vetter’s, the local brewery. Currently it’s only 6€ (including 3€ bottle deposit) for a liter. You can then head to the river (just walk across the old bridge and then turn left) and enjoy the view of the castle while enjoying your beer.

    For more information, including a menu, see the brewery’s website.

    A view of Heidelberg's Old Town
    Another view of Heidelberg’s Old Town,2

    One last thing: to me, the old town of Heidelberg is less about the sights than the overall experience. The beauty of the city is the whole setting of old houses, picturesque restaurants, and the mood of the city. So, my advice would be to not only visit all the sights, but also to walk around and explore on your own. Whenever you see a nice, inviting place, just sit down and enjoy the city!

    Recommended Places to Visit

    • University Library (no bags are allowed inside, but admission is free and it’s a very nice building!)

    Where to Eat

    Special Events

    There are several special events throughout the year in Heidelberg that are worth checking out if you happen to be in the city when they occur:

    Heidelberg Castle Illumination

    Every year in June, July, and September, there are illumination events at Heidelberg Castle. After sunset, there’s an illumination of the castle followed by a huge fireworks display. The city is always packed with people (mostly locals) and it’s hard to find a good spot along the river bank.

    My recommendation:  Get there early (18:00-19:00), bring food and drinks, and just hang out and wait until the event starts. Dates vary, so see the official Heidleberg city website for this year’s schedule.

    Fireworks over the Heidelberg Old Bridge
    Fireworks display over the Old Bridge.3

    Heidelberger Herbst

    Every fall (the exact date varies) there’s a public event called “Heidelberger Herbst,” a celebration in the old town of Heidelberg (along the main street). The city is filled with street food, art markets, and stages for live music. It’s not as much of a tourist event and most locals like to attend. Grab some food here and enjoy the music before you go to the bars later that night. I usually come home for this event, since it’s a great opportunity to hang out with old friends from high school.

    Christmas Market

    Starting in December every year, a traditional Christmas market is held in the city. The market is spread throughout the old town and usually filled with people. You can find all of the “essentials,” like mulled wine, sausages, and candles. But there’s also an ice rink, where you can ice skate with a view of the castle. It’s definitely not the most famous Christmas market in Germany, but in my opinion it’s worth a visit, because of the atmosphere in the old town at this time of the year.

    Dennis’s Restaurant Pick: Café Nomad Heidelberg

    Café Nomad Heidelberg

    Street Address:
    Two locations –
    1. Lutherstraße 28, 69120 Heidelberg (near Philosophers’ Walk)
    2. Rohrbacher Straße 49, 69115 Heidelberg

    What makes this place great or special?
    Great breakfast/lunch and coffee. The atmosphere is very nice too!

    What should I order there?
    The bowls are great!

    Visit the restaurant’s website for more details.

    Café Nomad Heidelberg

    1 Photo by Roman Kraft on Unsplash
    2 Photo by Kanan Khasmammadov on Unsplash
    3 Photo on
    Featured image photo credit: vd1966 on Visual Hunt / CC BY-NC-SA

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