In October 2019 we went on a road trip to Heidelberg, a city which is located in the North-west part of Baden-Württemberg. Heidelberg is close to the Southwest of Germany and is near the borders of France and Switzerland. It took us nearly five hours of car travel to reach part of this region from the Netherlands. Although it was a long drive, the scenic view from the roads were beautiful especially when entering the local roads. Traveling to Heidelberg was a refreshing and unique experience for us since our recent trips in Germany were to modern German cities like Cologne, Dusseldorf or Frankfurt. For further information about these German cities, see my blog: German cities to visit close to the border of the Netherlands.
The Heidelberg area shows the preserved culture of Germany from the past with beautiful old villages situated in rich nature areas. If you have a car and you plan to go on a road trip to Germany, I suggest to visit this area instead of the modern German cities if you want a more relaxed authentic German experience. There are plenty of reasons why Heidelberg is worth a visit. This blog is only about Heidelberg and a few towns close to it, all of which are only 5% of the Baden-Württemberg region. If you will have more time to visit this place, I suggest to explore other areas of this region such as Stuttgart, Freiburg im Bresgau, Konstanz, and Ulm.
Why is Heidelberg Germany worth a visit?
1. Castles are everywhere.
Europe is famous among tourist for its castles. Believe it or not, you can find most of these castles in Germany, around 25000! Castles (or schloss in German) are very popular during the middle ages when local landlords build them as strongholds to live in and to oversee and defend their territories. Germany has so many castles because before the country was united, there were many local tribes and lords in this country and they wanted to be protected against invaders from both inside and outside of the country, such as the Romans and Vikings. In the northern part of Baden-Württemberg – the region where Heidelberg is situated, it was surprising to see castles are quite closed to each other, around 5-10 kilometers of distance. These castles are strategically located on top of the mountains facing the river making them hard to take over while allowing perfect control over goods and people traveling the river.
Below I will discuss some of the castles surrounding Heidelberg:
1.1 Heidelberg castle (Heidelberger schloss)
The Heidelberg castle is considered as one of the most beautiful castles in Germany. As the name implies, the Heidelberg castle is located in the city of Heidelberg. This castle was initially built in 1214 and continuously got extended and renovated until the 18th century. This castle has been home for some famous people in history, such as the “The Winter King” Frederick V and the Princess Palatine Elizabeth Charlotte.
Reaching the castle of Heidelberg is quite easy by train since there is a station that stops directly in front of this castle. It is also possible to come here by car, but beware that the castle is located in mountainous area so the road is quite steep and sometimes narrow. At the same time, parking space for car could be challenging due to many visitors. We arrived here at 10:00 in the morning and we had to park outside the parking area. But coming in this castle is all worth it. From the castle, you can view the downtown, the Heidelberg bridge and church, and the river that runs in front of the castle. At the back of the castle ruin is the spacious garden where visitors can stroll and relax for hours. It is also possible to enter inside the ruin of the castle for a fee.
1.2. Hirschhorn Castle (Hirschhorn schloss)
Hirschhorn castle is located in once a medieval, attractive German town of Hirschorn. Unfortunately, this castle does not receive much attention as compared to the Heidelberg castle. I would say that it is also worth visiting this castle because it is comparably beautiful as the Heidelberg, though not as big as the latter. The Hirschhorn Castle is also located in a mountain just above the town. This castle has fortified walls and towers, with cobblestone streets and an age-old church. You’ll find the view of the River Neckar along with the houses in this town. The entrance to the castle is free and during our visit there were nearly no visitors, which is completely opposite of the Heidelberg where tourists are everywhere.
1.3 Zwingenberg castle (Schloss Zwingenberg)
Zwingenberg castle is a 13th century structure located in the municipality of Zwingenberg. This municipality stands along the River Neckar, which cuts through the Odenwald hill in central Germany. Interestingly, the Zwingenberg castle is only 20-30 minutes away from Hirschhorn castle by car travel. At the back of the castle is a waterfall which you can reach after climbing some steep slippery mountain paths. The view in front of the castle is the river, the mountain, and some houses. This view even gets more beautiful as the German train passed by in front of the castle, making it similar to Swiss train passing by the Alpine mountain. Unfortunately the castle is privately owned and does not allow visitors inside.
2. The region combines the medieval structures in the nature setting.
When you enter the town of Eberbach, Hirschhorn or any towns in the north of Baden-Württemberg, you’ll be travelling passing by mountains, rivers, and old houses and castles built in 13th century. The ambience is quite different as compared to other modern German cities. Being in this region will make you want to contemplate more about life, be one with the nature and perhaps distance yourself a bit from modern technology for a while. If this is the kind of adventure you are looking for, going on this trip is highly recommended. There are also lots of hotels to stay in the neighborhood of this region. In our case, we stayed in Hotel Zur Krone in Gammelsbach. The hotel staffs are very hospital and kind. The hotel is also a nice place to relax especially since it is strategically located between the three castles that I mentioned earlier plus it has a frontal view of the mountain. In normal days when you don’t want to go around, you can still enjoy inside the hotel because they have sauna and bath area and they have restaurants that offer good tasting German cuisines.
3. The region of Heidelberg is cheap.
Germany is cheaper than the Netherlands. On top of that, the South of Germany is even cheaper than German cities close to the Netherlands. Interestingly, if you go to towns close to Heidelberg, the experience you get is somehow comparable to the experience you get when you go to Switzerland. As everybody knows, Switzerland is one of the most expensive countries in Europe. You’ll see the trains that passes by in the mountain and the castle, the lakes or rivers with some houses on them, and bridges overarching the town. Some of these views are typical for Switzerland although there are hills instead of mountains in Germany.
4. Heidelberg was once a home for Philippine national hero Dr. Jose Rizal.
Jose Protacio Rizal Mercado y Alonso Realonda, or simply known as Jose Rizal, is a Filipino that went to Europe in 1882 in order to study among others medical science during the time of Spanish colonization in the Philippines. His literary works sparked the minds of Filipinos to revolt against the Spanish and to fight for Philippines independence. This led to his execution in the Philippines on 30th December 1896. He was regarded as the Philippines’ national hero.
If you are a fanatic of Jose Rizal and are tracing his footsteps around the world, Heidelberg is one of the historic places in his life. At the age of 25, he finished his eye specialization under the supervision of Otto Becker, a renowned professor in Heidelberg University. Being in Heidelberg also provided inspiration to Jose Rizal to finished his world class novel Noli me Tangere (Touch me not). Before leaving Heidelberg, he also wrote a poem A Las Flores de Heidelberg (To the flowers of Heidelberg). This is a nostalgic poem with the flower being a symbol of his love for his motherland the Philippines. In recognition of Rizal by his German friends and the German people, they established a monument for Jose Rizal in Wilhelmsfeld, a village in Heidelberg area which is situated closed to mountains. The European order of Jose Rizal is still there. These are the knights who carry on the legacy and vision of Jose Rizal.
5. Heidelberg is a strategic location for trips to France or Switzerland.
Heidelberg is quite close to France on its West and to Switzerland on its South. If you like to continue exploring the French region, you can reach the cities of Strasbourg in less than 2 hours, Nancy in three hours, and Colmar in 2.5 hours by car. If you like to continue your trip to Switzerland, you can reach Basel in only 2.5 hours drive or Zurich after a bit more than 3 hours drive.