Heidelberg Castle stands watch above Old Heidelberg, as it has since the 13th century. Today it is a ruin distinctive in its red sandstone set against the green forest that covers the hills. Views of the Neckar River and valley will include this ancient castle sitting serenely above the town. And you can tour it, wandering through the roofless walls and the gardens and enjoying the few areas that are restored to earlier splendor.Join the one million visitors who come to the Heidelberg Castle every year. Here are the highlights of what you’ll experience as you step back in time.
Fun on the Funicular
The Heidelberg funicular railway whisks you from the Kornmarkt of the old town up the hill to the castle. You can walk, but riding the funicular is fun. We rode up and walked down, and that worked well.What you want to pay attention to is whether you have time to go to the top of the forested hills on the day you are seeing the castle. We arrived right as the funicular opened, and we purchased our ticket for the castle entrance and a ride to the top. It was remarkably uncrowded and turned out to be unforgettable.
As you leave the station, the Neckar valley appears below. You can see the market square and the iconic bridge with its medieval ramparts.
You arrive at castle level, then change to a different rail car and ascend the hill on one of the oldest electric funicular railways. At the top, about 2,000 feet above the town, a small viewing area allows you see across the Rhine lowlands as far as the Palatinate wine route. A tiny museum and a café are up here, though they were closed in the early morning. You can hike from here, too, on trails in the hills. Take the rail car back down to the castle level when you are ready.
Enter Through the Historic Arch
You can enter the grounds of the Heidelberg Castle through the historic arch, built in 1615. Prince Fredrich V commissioned the arch as a birthday present for his wife, Elisabeth Stuart.
Yes, Heidelberg Castle Is a Ruin
Most of Heidelberg Castle is in a state of ruin.
Problems date back to Fredrick V, who in 1619 took the crown of the kings of Bohemia. The French did not accept Fredrick or his successor. Novelist Victor Hugo wrote of the castle’s “battles and never-ending tribulations” and its suffering under siege by Austrians and others. Finally, in 1689, the towers and walls that had survived waves of destruction were blown up with mines by the French.
Part of Heidelberg Castle Is Lovely
On your tour of the castle, you will enter one building that is restored to its former glory. The Fredrich Building shows what the castle enjoyed when life here was elegant.
Germans disputed whether to restore this building or any other areas of the castle. The result of much debate was that the castle would be preserved as a ruin rather than be restored.
Notice the Details
So many architectural details make the castle a fascinating place to explore. The sun dial decorating the side of a building is unlike anything I’ve seen. And sculptures and surviving Middle Ages touches are everywhere.
Visit the German Apothecary Museum
This area of the castle shows fully preserved interiors of historic apothecaries from the 17th through 19th centuries. Medicines from different times make a fascinating exhibit. The healing powers of nature were used in the Middle Ages and Early Modern Age. And you learn that In the 16th century, pulverized mummy was used as a remedy for coughs, sore throats, broken hearts, shivers, and headaches.
Imagine the Castle Centuries Ago
A model shows the castle as it was at its heyday.
I agree with the Germans of days past who agreed to leave the castle in its ruined state. American author Mark Twain visited Heidelberg Castle and put it this way: “A ruin must be rightly situated, to be effective. This one could not have been better placed. It stands upon a commanding elevation, it is buried in green woods, there is no level ground about it, but, on the contrary, there are wooded terraces upon terraces, and one looks down through shining leaves into profound chasms and abysses where twilight reigns and the sun cannot intrude. Nature knows how to garnish a ruin to get the best effect.”
Enjoy Lunch in the Courtyard
A small café with an old brick oven sits in the courtyard. We enjoyed a tasty lunch at the end of our tour. And of course, there’s German beer!
If you’re anywhere near Heidelberg, take time to visit. And spend part of your day at Heidelberg Castle, imagining all the drama surrounding this imposing place.
Practical Information for Visiting Heidelberg Castle
For more information about hours and tickets, visit the Heidelberg Castle website. You can also learn more about displays and the history of the castle.
A small café is just outside the entrance. You can pick up a coffee or a quick lunch here.
For information about the Mountain Railway and options to ride, visit the website. You can ride up to the top of the hill either before or after your castle tour.
The walk back down the hill to the Kornmarkt took about 20 minutes. It’s not long, just steep. That’s why I recommend riding the funicular up and walking down.
How about you? Have you visited a castle you found fascinating? Is there a castle you’re hoping to explore?
Want to read more about Germany? Start with this post about the old town of Heidelberg:
Reasons to Visit Heidelberg, Germany
And read more here:
Castles on the Rhine
Walking the Wall in Rothenburg
Exploring Berlin: 5 Favorites
Nuremberg, Germany: 5 Reasons to Visit
Planning a trip to Germany? Get expert help with these guides and maps.
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That is absolutely amazing! Thanks for sharing.
Another adventure with you and I love the history and beauty of the old castle. What a setting. It must have been truly magnificent back in the day.
Heidelberg is one of these places on our bucket list, and never got to go. The rail car is a great way to get there. I love German landscape because of its thick foreststs! The same used to be true for Holland, but sadly slowly replace by houses for people to live in. Am grateful to see all these spectacular details through your eyes, Sharon! They knew how to build! Love the covered walkway outside and the apothecary, but I am happy for the medicine of this time, lol! Beautiful and practical post for All Seasons – many thanks, and have a lovely week!
Thank you for the detailed tour. Riding up the funicular must be fun and the views are spectacular. – Margy
I had no idea that Heidelberg castle was a ruin! This was so interesting – it is such a gorgeous place in a really underrated part of Germany. I’d love to visit sometime.
Great images of the castle. We lived in Heidelburg for a summer and had a lovely time. Thanks for sharing!
I would so love to visit the Heidelberg Castle. It really is lovely and interesting. The picture through the window is probably my favorite. I have to say though, If I thought someone was going to give me pulverized mummy, I would never let anyone know I was sick or sad. Yikes!
What a grand castle and the forest setting is just stunning. I actually love it when nature starts to creep into ruined parts of buildings, it’s always quite magical. I think I’d walk up and back to earn my refreshing German beer at the end 🙂
Heidelberg is such a lovely town and the castle sounds beautiful. I think one of my favourite things to do when I visit European castles are to ride the funicular and the one that you got to take looks very cool. Thank you for all the great tips.
I love your pictures. Bright and sunny. It looks like a perfect day for this castle tour. I would club this visit with a Rhine tour.
What a lovely gift, giving an arch to your wife for their birthday, least it’s something different and from a tourist perspective certainly interesting to learn about. Shame the castle has been left in a state of ruin though. That Funicular train, sounded like a lovely ride, great tip about getting there early.
Heidelberg Castle looks absolutely gorgeous! I didn’t make it to Heidelberg on my last trip to Germany but I hoop to get there in the future, and Heidelberg Castle will be on my list for sure. I actually didn’t know most of the castle was in ruins..although it is still beautiful. I think I need to add an “arch” to my next birthday list. Haha!
What a beautiful castle full of intricate artistry! The view from the castle looking below must be great. I personally would love to partake in the eating and drinking festivities after of course.
The castle is amazing and I am happy that they restored part of it to show its original grandeur. I remember seeing the castle from a distance as I hiked to it. The day was rainy so I opted not to tour the grounds. Perhaps I’ll be back that way someday.
Your post revived my trip to Heidelberg and I too loved this castle. The view from top is really stunning. I too loved Heidelberg and always advice my friends to visit this place and castle when they plan for Germany.
Wow! The Heidelberg Castle is so extensive. That Apothecary museum seems mind-boggling. I am big lover of ruins and Heidelberg is pretty high on my list. Could not plan here on my last trip to Germany. But I am going to include it on my next German itinerary.
The Heidelburg Castle is my favorite in all of Germany in part because it was the first that I toured with my Mother and Brother. But wait, there is more to see and only a street car ride away. When the Electors abandoned the Heidelburg castle they built a grand castle in Mannheim easily accessible by street car along with some wonderful museums. Also. By street car you can go to Weinheim where there are two castles, one is a beautiful ruine while the other is much newer and was built by German student fraternities. The walk thru the woods from one castle to the other is worth the trip on it’s own. Down in the town is a delightful park which had ostriches roaming the grounds.
Check it out you will be pleasantly surprised and entertained.
Gordon, Thanks so much for your comment and for this info on other German castles. We came through Mannheim on the train but I have never visited there. I hope to get back to this area of Germany and I will remember your recommendations for more castles — and a walk through the woods. Sounds delightful!