Europe’s heatwave this summer was no joke. On paper the countries we had chosen to spend our summer in should have been relatively mild in temperature. In reality they were blazing hot, and because these countries weren’t used to such high temperatures for weeks or months at a time, none of the AirBnbs we booked in these countries had air conditioning. Some of them didn’t even have a fan to at least keep the air moving! And normally, I would not have minded the 95+ degree days we experienced for about 2 months straight. But throw in no air conditioning or fans—we started altering how we travelled.
Our first day in Heidelberg was simply figuring out how to get around and exploring our new home for the next week. We used bikes from Heidelberg’s city bike share to get around. We biked along the Neckar River and across the bridge into Old Town. From there we walked around the cobblestone streets and wandered in and out of shops. We then did some errands—one of which was finding a fan. We went to a couple of stores, including a few large department stores, but we they were all sold out. Finally, we settled on some handheld fans from a tourist shop. To take breaks from the heat, we would sometimes wander around a grocery store for 10 or so minutes—they seemed to be one of the few stores that had air conditioning. The rest of the day we simply planned out our time in Heidelberg.
Himmelsleiter and Königstuhl
The next day, we got an early start and did our first hike of the trip. Well, it was more of a stair workout than a hike, but we were thankful to be surrounding by some forest for the first time in 6 weeks! Himmelsleiter (“Heaven’s Ladder”) was built in 1844 and connects Heidelberg Castle to the summit, Königstuhl (“King’s Stool”). After about 1200 steps we reached the top and basked in the incredible view of the city below. I also had to recreate the picture I took in 2012 when I first travelled to Heidelberg with some friends. We then made our way to the funicular railway and had a German beer and pretzel to offset any calories we burned. Feeling refreshed, we rode the funicular back down to the castle.
We walked around the gardens of the Heidelberg castle, which is free to the public. I would totally recommend this as it was my favorite view of Heidelberg’s Old Town. Afterwards, we bought tickets to tour inside the ruins of the Heidelberg castle. The castle itself was built most likely in the early 1200’s. Each king that came into power over the next eight centuries expanded the castle, adding their own style. After the French took the castle and destroyed it in 1689 during the War of the Grand Alliance. It was left in ruins for many years, with local using the rubble as building materials. In 1810, Frenchman Charles de Graimburg settled in Heidelberg and devoted his life to the preservation of Heidelberg. It’s easy to see why—even the ruins hint how glorious and beautiful the castle was in its peak during the Renaissance. We loved wandering around the palace, and the tour added some contextual history to why there are some nay different architectural styles. Be prepared for MANY tourists though. I took a few “Where’s Bryan?” photos to show how crowded it became in the afternoon.
Nueunheim’s Farmers Market
One of my favorite moments in Heidelberg was exploring the Neuenheim Farmer’s Market. On the northside of the Neckar River, this market is hidden from the hordes of tourists that flood the Heidelberg Farmer’s Market. I rode a bike there early in the morning to gather some local fruits, vegetables, and pastries. I was seemingly the only American in sight. The vendors and customers greeted each other as if they’d been seeing each other every Saturday for years. I fumbled through the little German I knew and along with some pointing I successfully filled my backpack and bike basket with WAY too much produce and pastries. Why does this always happen to me at the Farmer’s Market??
Tiergartenbad Swimming Pool
Okay, so if you read out Stuttgart post, you know that I really enjoyed going to the pool. Something about super hot weather makes you daydream about diving headfirst into cool water. One day we biked to Tiergartenbad Swimming Pool and bought day passes. This pool had a fun wide waterslide that we went down a few times together. It also had four different diving boards, each at a different height. Two of them were platforms, and the highest one was one of those where you look over the edge at the diving well, which suddenly looks like a target you could easily miss. You either jump and hope you don’t kill yourself by accidentally performing the world’s loudest belly flop or climb down to the next lowest platform and face the disappointed crowd that has gathered around the pool’s edge to watch those brave enough to jump from the highest platform. I practiced the dives I could remember doing from those summers I was on dive team as a kid on the lower diving boards. It took some real courage to force myself to do a flip, and of course Bryan just went for it. It was so much fun, even if we were the oldest ones who kept going back in line to dive over and over again. Plus, that water felt amazing! Did we go off the highest platform? Yes—twice. The first time was fun—the second time is when I made a few mistakes. I entered the water tilting ever so slightly forward. Consequently, as soon as I hit the water the wind was knocked out of me and I found myself FIGHTING to swim up to the surface and struggled to swim to the side as I couldn’t breathe. My other mistake was holding my mouth ever so slightly open, so when my forward-tilting body hit the water, my chin was sticking out and the force of it hitting the water slammed my jaw shut…I chipped one of my upper teeth and four of my bottom teeth. Needless to say, my platform jumping was done for the summer haha. There was also a giant lawn you could sunbathe on, and they had the best food I’ve seen at a public swimming pool. We each had a crepe freshly made and oozing with Nutella.
Philosophenweg and Exploring Mountainside Ruins
The next day we decided to do our second hike of the trip. We started out in Neuenheim and went along the Philosophenweg (”Philosopher’s Way”), which is a 2 km steep walk up the mountainside along the Neckar River. The path’s name originates from the early 19th century, when Heidelberg’s philosophers would walk along the mountainside to free their thoughts and gain new insight into whatever problem they were working through. It’s easy to see where they drew their inspiration from as you are surrounded by gorgeous gardens and a spectacular view of the Neckar River, Old Bridge, and Old Town. Continuing past Philosophenweg, we hiked further up the mountain and ran upon the Bismarck Tower, an observation tower built in 1903 which you can still climb to the top of today. At this point, Bryan and I were just excited to be back on trails through forests again, so we simply chose some random paths and let them lead us to wherever. We eventually made our way near the peak of the mountain where there just happened to be a beer garden! Oh, how I love Germany. At the top of all the hikes so far we had found a half liter of weissebeir waiting for us. We had lunch at the beer garden and continued up the path.
What we stumbled upon next was a bit surprising. A giant open air stadium called a Thingstätte. It was built between 1934-1935 and designed by architect Hermann Alker. The stadium’s inauguration saw 20,000 people and was built to spread National Socialism propaganda. During WWII however interest in the stadium was lost and it was largely forgotten about afterwards.
Close by the Thingstätte is the ruins of Michaelskloster (“Michael monastery”), which is at the very peak of the mountain. What I really enjoyed about these ruins was how they were laid out like a walkable floor plan with a plaque in each room describing what had been there. There were also two towers you could climb to get a bird’s eye view of the monastery. The monastery was built in 870 and not finished until 1023! The last 3 monks of this monastery were killed when the 4th tower collapsed in 1503. After that the monastery was left for ruins. You can see the meadow trying to take over the ruins, and you may see giant jackrabbits hopping around inside the ruins. One jumped out right in front of me and I screamed out in surprise.
As we finally made our way back down the mountain, we came across one last ruin, Stephanskloster (“Stephan monastery”). Yet another tower you could climb up, we certainly got our stair workout in that day. This monastery was built in 1090 by Benedictine Arnold.
Hiking in the Quiet Mountainside Along the Neckar
The next day we decided to hike yet again on the next mountain over, starting from our AirBnb which was 2 miles east of Old Town and north of the Neckar River. We hiked around 8 miles along streams, through forests, and down open meadow fields. We saw one or two ATVs, joggers, mountain bikers, and other hikers, but for the most part we were alone. It was nice to get away from our usual crowd (i.e. TOURISTS). One eerie thing we noticed about the forests in Heidelberg was how there is no wildlife. No squirrels, foxes, deer, or birds (other than pigeons) making them eerily quiet. We found it strange, but we enjoyed our time in nature anyways!
After our hike, we stopped by Kulturbrauerei Heidelberg for some beers. Bryan over the course of the week had grown to love the German wheat beers, even more than the Belgian beers that had always been his favorite.
All in all, we would highly recommend visiting Heidelberg. I was so glad Bryan enjoyed it, and I found I grew to love it even more. While there are some major crowded tourist destinations, there are also charming features to Old Town. Should you become overwhelmed by the crowds you can always free your mind like the philosophers before us on the north side of the Neckar River!