Heidelberg and Karlsruhe: Two Gems Not to be Missed in the South West of Germany
Once upon a time…? Long ago and far away…? As opening sentences go, there really is no better way to introduce Heidelberg. On first impressions, the Baden-Württemberg town is like a real-life Disneyland, a pop-up book of a place, complete with a castle, cobbled streets and even an ancient forest that looks like it was dreamt up by the Brothers Grimm.
We fell for its biscuit tin good looks straight away – it’s not hard to see how this spectacular scenery cast a spell on artists, philosophers and poets throughout history.
Easily walkable, the bustling college town (one in five residents is a student), packs in plenty of sights, especially in the old town.
Camera in hand, we visited the castle, a rambling, romantic ruin that offers spectacular views over the old town and Neckar valley. From here it was just a short stroll to the the University of Heidelberg – we spent the best part of an hour checking out the museum and library. Our favourite bit was hearing all about the university’s most infamous building, the student prison. Back in the day, students could be locked up for on campus offences such as disturbing the peace – you can still see graffiti and paintings left behind by young anarchists dating from over a hundred years ago.
Where to sleep
Hotel am Rathaus: Take our advice and stay slap bang in the centre – Hotel am Rathaus in the heart of the Old Town was the perfect choice for us. Our room had a beautiful view onto the main square and was equipped with TV and Wifi. It was airy and peaceful and proved the ideal base for exploring the town. Breakfast was delicious too.
Where to eat
For a light, tasty lunch, don’t miss the Altes Zeughaus, a favourite with university students, but a place anyone can try. Do as they do – pick up your tray, choose your dishes and then pay according to the weight. This was our favourite place to eat during our trip.
For dinner, right in the centre and just a few steps from the hotel where we stayed, we recommend Vetters Alt Restaurant. Traditional dishes, along with artisan beers, are served in a cosy and informal setting. Our pick– try the sausages with sauerkraut, and leave room for a good portion of apple strudel at the end of the meal. You won’t regret it. Later, if you love music and want to get to know Heidelberg’s nightlife, round off the evening at Cave 54, Germany’s oldest jazz hall.
Where to shop
There are tons of small boutiques and local artisan shops, but if you’ve got a sweet tooth don’t miss Heidelberger BonBon Manufaktur. It’s a wonderland of chocolate and gummy sweets, lollipops of all shapes and sugar-coated pralines. By booking in advance, you can also arrange to attend one of the classes where you can learn how to make your own sweet treats.
Just a 40-minute drive from Heidelberg, Karlsruhe is well worth a day-trip. It’s one of the hottest cities in Germany – literally, (on average, it’s 11 degrees centigrade all year round) making it the perfect place to embrace the great outdoors.
In fact, some of our stand out memories of the city were strolling around the grounds of zoo and taking in the beautiful surroundings of the Botanical Garden that borders Karlsruhe Palace.
The cherry on top is the Black Forest – it’s right on Karlsruhe’s doorstep. A playground for biking and hiking, we were blown away by the natural beauty. During our short road trip we barely scratched the surface, but hey, there’s always next time!