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.
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
Yes, It’s a 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 the Castle Is Lovely
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.
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
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
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.
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.
Want to read more about Germany? Start with this post about the old town of Heidelberg:
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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