Famed for its idyllic riverside setting, rich literary legacy and fairy tale castle, Heidelberg ranks among Germany’s best-preserved (and prettiest) historic towns.

Built on the fringes of the gently meandering river Neckar, and sitting at the base of the hulking Rhine Rift Valley, Heidelberg is a historic German town that promises to usher you back in time – to the days of warring Kings, preaching monks and literary giants. 

A mere one-hour drive south of Frankfurt, you’re all-but-guaranteed to be as charmed by the university town’s friendly locals as you are its rich baroque architecture, and will find no shortage of sights and activities to keep you exploring its ancient cobbled streets. 

If you’ve only got 48 hours to play with, don’t panic. Here’s a rundown of our must-see attractions for visitors short on time. 

View on Heidelberg at autumn Germany

Altstadt (Old Town)

Since the bombings of World War II, Heidelberg has remained one of the last standing – and best-preserved – historic towns in Germany. With buildings dating back to the early 12th century, a great starting point is Altstadt. 

Spend the day wandering the winding laneways of the Old Town and you’ll stumble upon everything from Gothic churches and monuments to Baroque statues, university buildings and expansive market squares.

To rest your legs, we recommend grabbing a maß at one of the bar terraces on Kornmarkt or Marktplatz – perfect for watching the world go by. 

The Kornmarkt Square in Heidelberg Germany daytime panorama

Schloss Heidelberg (Heidelberg Castle)

Perhaps the crown jewel of Heidelberg’s ancient offering, Heidelberg Castle is a Renaissance ruin of significance. 

Located 80 metres above the Altstadt, overlooking its striking copper-coloured rooftops, the castle can be reached in 10 minutes by the Bergbahn train from Kornmarkt. 

Once atop the hill, take some time to explore the castle’s Schlosshof central courtyard. As one of the only fully reconstructed façades within the grounds, the Friedrichsbau is perhaps the most striking, adorned with intricate sculptures of kings and emperors. 

It’s also worth venturing to the cellar to see the Heidelberg Tun; an oak barrel crafted in the 18th century to hold an immense 220,000 litres of wine. Apparently, the Medieval middle class knew how to party.

Heidelberg town in Germany and ruins of Heidelberg Castle Heidelberger Schloss in Spring panoramic image

Alte Brücke (Old Bridge)

Any image search for Heidelberg’ will first spit out the Karl Theodor Bridge. Better known as Alte Brücke (Old Bridge), it connects the Altstadt with the Neuenheim district across the Neckar. 

At 200 years old, the arching bridge is – somewhat ironically – a comparatively young landmark and marks the ninth iteration of a bridge on this exact spot, dating back to the Romans.

Old Bridge Gate on Karl Theodor Bridge in Heidelberg Baden Wurttemberg Germany

Must-visit museums

As with its many historic landmarks, there’s no shortage of museums in Heidelberg. But, if you’re short on time, there are a couple that stand out from the crowd. 

Sitting within the confines of the castle, the Deutsches Apotheken-Museum is set across 11 rooms and displays pharmaceutical wares dating back to the 1600s. Prepare to be amazed, shocked and, at times, confused. 

Showcasing sculptures, paintings and all things arty, the Kurpfälzisches Museum is another must-visit. It boasts collections ranging from the archaeological to the municipal.

Beautiful view of Alte Brucke bridge castle and Neckar river in Heidelberg during summer sunny day Germany

Off the beaten track

If you’re looking for unrivalled views, try the two-kilometre

Philosophenweg (Philosophers’ Walk). Located on the northern banks of the Neckar, it’s a beautiful trail made famous by poets and philosophers like Goethe and William Turner. 

Afterwards, visit the studentenkarzer – a temporary jail for students from 1770 until the early 20th century. Scrutinise its graffiti-strewn walls and unravel tales of petty rebellion, comical japes and practical jokes gone awry.

Road in autumn forest Philosophenweg Heidelberg Germany

Heading south from Heidelberg? Don’t miss the Swabian metropolis of Stuttgart. Find out everything you need to know about Stuttgart in our travel guides to the city.

Choice Hotels in Heidelberg