Who doesn’t love fairy tales? I sure do. Books, movies and stories make our imaginations run wild. But, what joy would it be to experience it in person and up close. Imagine the thrill of standing on a cobbled path near a decorated bridge surrounded by baroque buildings and staring at a majestic castle in a picturesque river valley. Sounds fantastic right?
This is the city of Heidelberg in the Baden-Wurttemberg state of Germany and one that was completely untouched during the bombings and chaos of the second World War.
This is the city that feels like it came straight out of a fairy tale. Located in the Neckar river valley, this is where the legends of Odenwald begin.
Like most of the German cities, Heidelberg too is split into the Altstadt or Old Town and the New Town. As a traveler, you definitely want to explore the Old Town as this is the fairy tale kingdom that comprises of the beautiful Karl Theodore Bridge, the Marketplatz, the gorgeous churches, the amazing baroque styled architecture, the picturesque Philosopher’s way and the imposing Heidelberg castle. And for all party lovers, the new town is home to some of the best pubs and clubs in this region.
From the moment I arrived here by train from the culturally rich Black Forest region, I went into some kind of a state of daze as never before had I laid my eyes on a place that felt like a figment of my imagination. As I walked along the banks of the Neckar river with my backpack hanging on my shoulders, there was a spring in my step and I felt like a young boy at heart.
It might have been partly due to the gorgeous surroundings and partly due to the younger denizens of this city most of whom were students of the famous Heidelberg university, one of the more reputed universities of Germany.
Either way, I happily marched into the cobbled paths of the old town and to my place of stay right at the bottom of the Heidelberg castle and just a stone’s throw from the action-packed Marketplatz area.
Even though Heidelberg is blessed with all forms of modern public transportation, I feel the charm of Heidelberg is best experienced either on foot or on a bicycle. As I had lots of time at hand, I opted to explore the town on foot with nothing more than a map and my camera.
As I was staying right at the bottom of the Heidelberg castle, my first stop was to take the steep hiking trail to the 14th century Heidelberg castle that commands a surreal view of the entire old town, the Neckar river and the green hills beyond. This castle that reflects both Gothic and Baroque architecture has seen many fights, destruction and resurrection. Today, its lawns and surroundings are a fantastic place for a relaxed picnic especially on a bright summer day.
My next walk was through the cobbled paths of Hauptstrasse or main street that runs the entire length of old town. More or less everything in Heidelberg Old town is accessible through this main street. Be it the shops, the churches, the restaurants, the libraries, the tourist visitor center or the bridges, everything can be easily accessed from this main street.
My favorite building on the main street was the Church of the Holy Spirit, a Gothic church that offers a lovely 360 degree view of the Heidelberg city including the Heidelberg Castle. I totally loved climbing its narrow, steep and spiraling stairs to the roof of this church. And when I was inside the church, all I could do was admire at the colorful glass work and soak in the peace and tranquility.
The next stop on my walking trail was the fairy tale like old bridge with baroque style tower helmets. I absolutely love standing on bridges for long duration of time and watch the passing action. This action included pedestrians walking on the bridge, cyclists passing by, ferries going under the bridge and the shifting of clouds over the Heidelberg castle and the old town.
Once you cross the old bridge, you can easily find a narrow steep trail that leads to the philosopher’s way. It is said that Heidelberg philosophers and university professors would walk along this path and discuss subjects and other topics. Hence, the name. This philosophenweg offers scenic views of the old town and castle. And as you keep climbing the trail, you will come across ruins of the 11th century St. Michael Monastery, a Nazi era amphitheater, a prehistoric fort and more stunning views as you climb up to Heiligenberg.
And in a similar manner, I walked to different parts of the old town, explored its different churches, its different view points, its iconic attractions and sometimes simply ambled by. When I felt like I needed a break, I took a book, ordered a nice cup of coffee and parked myself at an open-air restaurant in the Marketplatz.
And when I felt like some different kind of action, I took a ride on the ferry soaking in the charms of the Neckar river or visited the medieval Dilsberg castle. Sometimes, I even went for a run by the riverside.
Post sunset, I opted to watch plays at one of the many theaters in the city and explored some of the 300 plus bars, pubs, clubs and discotheques of this university town. Keep an ear open for the location of the famous student parties or even better try and get invited to one.
Whether it is day or night, the fairy tale charm of Heidelberg never diminishes. As a traveler, all you want is for time to stop in this fairy tale land, but unfortunately, reality kicks in and you have to return one. Thankfully, the rich experience stays!