Heidelberg is located in South-west Germany on the banks of the Neckar River, which is a tributary of the Rhine River. Many Rhine cruises include a stop at the port of Speyer and it is from here that you can join an excursion to the nearby city of Heidelberg. The city’s origins as a settlement lie way back in the fifth century BC, when a Celtic fortress and place of worship were built. The Romans further developed in the area from 40AD onwards and remained there until 260AD, when Germanic tribes conquered the camp. The first reference to Heidelberg as a city was 1196 and it was in this year that the city was officially founded. Later in its history, Heidelberg was the headquarters of a revolutionary army during the 1848 revolutions and emerged relatively unscathed following allied bombings during the Second World War.
The Altstadt is Heidelberg’s Old Town and as you would imagine from the name, is home to many of its most historical buildings. Most excursion in Heidelberg will take place here, as there’s so much to see within a relatively short distance.
The Old Town and indeed, Heidelberg’s most famous attraction is the university, which dates all the way back to 1386 and is the oldest university in Germany. It still functions as a university today and you can explore the picturesque grounds during your time there, with particular highlights inside including the ornate wood-carved Lecture Hall, the Library and the Student Prison. There’s an informative museum too and a guided tour is the best way to get the most out of your visit. Elsewhere in the Old Town, you’ll find the Old Bridge, officially known as the Karl-Theodor Bridge, which crosses the Neckar River and dates back to the 18th century. It’s a popular landmark and a photo of the river from the midpoint is always a popular choice. Conveniently if you’re in need of a little retail therapy, Hauptstrasse, the city’s main shopping street can also be found here.
You’ll also pass through the Old Town on your way to one of the city’s other most popular landmarks and attractions, Heidelberg Castle, which dates back to the early 1300s. The structure has certainly had some very mixed fortunes, having been expanded over the years, then gradually demolished in the 17th and 18th centuries, then partially rebuilt again. Today, though it essentially remains a ruin, there are plenty of rooms to explore and the view from the top is well worth the climb. For a thoughtful river stroll away from the tourist crowds, be sure to head to Philosopher’s Way, a famous picturesque path along the Neckar River which has been a source of inspiration for a number of history’s most famous philosophers throughout history. The Thingstatte is another key tourist attraction, an amphitheatre-like structure which was the brainchild of Joseph Goebbels during the time of Nazi rule and a place he envisioned where thousands of people would meet.
If you're in search of that traditional German Pretzel experience, Heidelberg is a great place to have it, with a wealth of traditional bakeries to be found on Hauptstrasse.