A Day in the Quaint Town of Heidelberg, Germany

colourful streets in heidelberg

I’ve learned from my previous trip to Frankfurt that it’s not the most exciting of cities. Predominantly a financial hub, it comes to life when the Christmas market rocks into town, which wasn’t massively ideal for me considering I arrived a healthy three days before 2018 festivities kicked off. The point of my visit was to spend time with a friend who’s recently moved there and I, like every other visitor she’s had (and probably will have), requested that we ditch Frankfurt for a day and make it out to the idyllic university town of Heidelberg instead.

view over alte brücke from schloss heidelberg

Watch my Instagram Story from my afternoon in Heidelberg

Just a 40-minute drive from Frankfurt, Heidelberg sees scores of visitors descend upon it for it picturesque scenery, quaint streets and ancient buildings. It’s what the British would call a ‘chocolate-box’ town; a living representation of what the whole country used to be like. The sort of place that radiates tradition just through its aesthetic, because in real life, nowhere looks like that on the regular. Of course, Heidelberg has stepped into the 21st century, with its busy high street showcasing familiar brand names – it does, after all, have a population of almost 170k people and a whole heap of those are students.

But of course, we skipped the shops and made the most of our afternoon by using our Heidelberg Cards* to get the bus from where parked the car and started exploring. I could have easily spent an extra day taking in one of the local hiking routes or spending a bit more time in one of the many appealing looking wine bars, but we only had a few hours. If you’re just making Heidelberg a quick day trip, here’s where you should start:

Coffee and cake at Coffee Nerd

woman drinking in coffee at coffee nerd, heidelberg

You know a place has a student population when the hipster coffee bars start opening up! Stumbling past Coffee Nerd was a total fluke, but after a 40-minute drive and only one coffee in my system, I bounded in almost feverish with delight at spotting a long menu of caffeine options through the window. We plonked ourselves next to a sink sprouting some dashing cacti and supped excellent chai lattes; I had a piece of cheesecake and my friend went for a chocolate orange slice.

Find it at: Coffee Nerd, Rohrbacher Str. 9, 69115 Heidelberg

Duck down the side streets

streets in heidelberg

The easiest, most obvious thing to do in Heidelberg, but every single street seemed to radiate to Disneyesque magic to it. You’ll inevitably end up on the Hauptstrasse, the main street, at some point, and like any tourist destination and student city, there are the expected chain stores to ignore. But quietly waiting for you on every street away from the crowds is terraces of gorgeous houses, painted in subtle colours, taking it in turns to showcase shutters, doors, and plants that I wanted to lift straight off the street and add right to Pinterest.

Get the funicular up to Schloss Heidelberg

woman at schloss heidelberg
heidelberg tun giant wine barrel

Lord knows I LOVE a funicular railway. From Lake Como to Budapest, if there’s one way to get me up a big ol‘ hill without exerting any effort at all, it is this. The line goes all the way up to Königstuhl, the highest point in the city, but we got off at the midway point to explore Schloss Heidelberg, the vast castle ruins that dominates the skyline, and the ticket for the funicular doubles up as an entry ticket for the castle too. The surrounding grounds are beautiful and offer gorgeous views down across the Rhine, but inside is the thing that draws in the tourists: the Heidelberg Tun. Yep, in the cellar of the castle sits an ENORMOUS wine barrel, capable of holding 219,000 litres and open for people to climb on top of because, well, why wouldn’t you?! Beautiful Renaissance architecture is great and everything, but I count one of my favourite travel experiences as the time I found a giant pineapple by the side of the road in South Africa so this was clearly going to be high on my list of things to see in Heidelberg.

Relax with a beer tasting flight at Vetters

vetters beer tasting flight

It’s no secret that I love beer, and during my trip to Germany I visited bars, beer halls and breweries to taste some of the country’s best. Vetters is just by the Alte Brücke (or, Old Bridge) and tempted me in for a beer tasting flight meaning I ended up only seeing the famous bridge in the dark. Oops.Of course, the tasting included a Pilsner, but the German types were just too watery for me, not just here but in every place I tried on my trip. Normally, I can’t stand wheat beer but the one in Vetters was actually my favourite of the flight, followed the pale ale. Finally, there was a 33% gravity beer, which refers to the relative density of the wort compare to water. It wasn’t thick in consistency like a stout, despite its colour, but it had a similar flavour. I wasn’t a fan, but loved trying something completely new.

Find it at: Vetters Alt Heidelberger Brauhaus, Steingasse 9, 69117 Heidelberg

Try the local sweet treat at Cafe Gundel

Heidelberger Kurfürstenkugel

On the way back to the car, we made the excellent decision to pick up a sweet treat for the road. Although the sit-down portion of Cafe Gundel was full-to-bursting, it was easy to pop into the bakery section and grab a Heidelberger Kurfürstenkugel. Easier to eat than pronounce, it is essentially a sponge dough ball with a nougat cream core, then covered in marzipan and chocolate. I normally hate marzipan, but it was evened out by the other layers, and to be honest, I regret not buying two.

Find it at: Cafe Gundel, Hauptstraße 212, 69117 Heidelberg

Find inspiration for your next trip with #DistractedinGermany on Instagram

Heidelberg is full of rich history and beautiful architecture as well as having the luxury of still staying relevant with cafes, shops and restaurants catering for its modern student population and increasing tourist appeal. An afternoon was wonderful, but absolutely not enough, and I’ll absolutely be returning in the future for a longer stint.

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what to do in heidelberg

More posts on European day trips:
A Day to Vianden Castle from Luxembourg City
A Distressing Visit to Rila Monastery from Sofia, Bulgaria
Two Colourful Day Trips from Cork: Kinsale and Cobh

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* Entry to tourist attractions and public transport around the city was kindly provided by Visit Heidelberg