For a charming and romantic destination in Germany, Heidelberg is a perfect fit. Sam and I visited Heidelberg for our Valentine’s Day weekend this spring and had a lovely experience taking in the old town vibes of this historic city over the course of two days. Built on the steep embankments on either side of the Neckar river, Heidelberg is surrounded by dense forests and beautiful hills, which might make it one of the most beautiful cities in this region of Germany.
Easily accessed via Deutschebahn train from nearby cities such as Frankfurt, Stuttgart or even Cologne (it was a two hour ride for us), Heidelberg is a great place to add on to any itinerary in western Germany. I think two days is the perfect amount of time for exploring Heidelberg! While you could reasonably do it in 24 hours, Heidelberg feels like a city where you can just slow down a little bit.
There are so many cute streets and hidden spots to take in that you might miss if you were rushing through in 24 hours. However, I understand that not everyone can dedicate two days to Heidelberg, so I have structured my itinerary with the most important things on the first day, with the extra activities on the second day.
These are my recommendations for spending a perfect 48 hours in the charming Heidelberg, Germany.
Morning: Heidelberg Castle
With beautiful views overlooking Heidelberg’s Altstadt, Heidelberg Castle is a great place to start your two days in Heidelberg. You can access the castle via walking path for free, or if you want to take the funicular up to the top, it only costs 8 euros and includes a ticket to the castle as well. In my opinion, a combination of both is ideal, choosing to take the funicular up and then the walking path down.
Heidelberg Castle was built over a series of centuries under different rulers, so you will notice different styles from the gothic through the renaissance periods. The pink sandstone façade in the main courtyard is decked out in renaissance details like busts and statues, while the terrace overlooking the river is much older. You can only access the interior of the castle on a guided walking tour, which is an extra fee, but you are welcome to explore the terraces and squares without a guide. You cannot take pictures inside the castle and you will be asked to put your camera/phone away during the walking tour.
After your tour, pop into the Schloss Café to see the world’s largest wine cask inside the castle – it’s a lot bigger than you might guess! Don’t miss the view from the garden. We almost didn’t go to this viewpoint because it was raining and cloudy, but I’m so glad we did because it is the only viewpoint on the castle grounds where you can get a view of the castle and the city simultaneously. Plus, the gardens have an extensive sculpture collection and, in the springtime, I’m sure the flowers and blooming trees would be lovely!
Early Afternoon: Altstadt + Churches
Like many of the old cities in Germany, the Altstadt of Heidelberg is a charming walk into the past with its cobblestone streets and colorful stucco and half-timbered facades. The densest stretch of the Altstadt sits on the south side of the river along Hauptstrasse, extending from Bismarckplatz (a great spot to pick up public transformation) to Karlstor. The main attractions in the Altstadt are more spread out than in other older cities in Germany, but you can reasonably explore them all by foot in a few hours.
Assuming you came down from the castle, starting near the funicular or city hall square is a logical place to begin you DIY walking tour of the Heidelberg Altstadt. Meander through the charming alleys until you reach the Church of the Holy Spirit, a large protestant church in the middle of the city. From there, wander a few blocks towards the picturesque Old Heidelberg bridge. Thisis a quintessential picture spot in the city, thanks to the lovely views of the Altstadt, castle and river. Make sure to snap a picture with the famous bridge monkey statue before crossing over!
If you’re looking for a good spot to eat in the Altstadt, check out the tasty burgers and sandwiches at Joe Molese Restaurant. Just one block from the bridge, these classic yet gourmet burgers are the real deal. From there, either walk along the waterfront path or head back into the city as you make your way towards the Jesuit Church. The bright white interior and beautiful natural light gives this church a very unique feeling.
Late Afternoon: Brauhaus Culture
In old cities like Heidelberg, you simply have to experience the brauhaus culture which has been a mainstay of life in Germany for centuries. These types of places are some of Sam and I’s favorite because they feel authentic and local, a place where Germans and foreigners alike can come together to enjoy some beers and snack. I would recommend Vetter’s Alt Heidelbergernear the bridge for a traditional brauhaus experience. They typically have several styles of beer on tap and you can get a tasting flight (a rarity in Germany). For a livelier experience, try Kulturbraueri whose stunning multi-level dining room and friendly staff will charm you into having a few more rounds than you planned.
Evening: Eat the Best Schnitzel in Germany
Since moving to Germany, Sam and I have been sampling various schnitzels across the country in search of our favorite. After our visit to Heidelberg, we found it at Schnitzel Bank. The restaurant is a tiny hole in the wall place with communal seating for approximately 30 people (a reservation is recommended). The menu has about 8 different kinds of schnitzel, in addition to other German classics, and you can order the schnitzel either breaded, deep fried or grilled.
Sam got a roasted garlic schnitzel and I got a Dijon mustard schnitzel, both of which were absolutely delightful. The sauces and seasoning were spot on, the schnitzel was perfectly crispy, and the meat was the exact right texture. We absolutely loved our experience at this restaurant not only because the food was incredibly delicious, but also because the staff was super friendly. The chatty and jovial servers at Schnitzel Bank gave us the nicest service we’ve had during our 6 months in Germany!
Morning: Coffee Shops
For your second day in Heidelberg, start with a slow tour of some of the city’s best coffee shops. Heidelberg is a university town after all, so it is brimming with great options for espresso. The quirky stylings of Mildner’s coffee shop have all the signs of a local favorite; plus their baguette sandwiches are yummy! For something in the Altstadt, check out the ethically produced Rada Coffee & Roastery. If you want to pair some sweet French patisseries with your coffee, don’t miss Macaronneriewhose coffee is meh but their macarons and chocolate cakes are amazing. My favorite of all the coffee shops we visited in Heidelberg was hands-down Kaffeezimmer, a stylish modern roaster with excellent espresso and even better croissants.
Afternoon: Philosopher’s Walk
For an alternative view of Heidelberg, hike up the Philosopher’s Walk on the north side of the Neckar River. The path meanders through some little gardens with public art and flowers to enjoy/distract you from the steepness of the slope. There are many picturesque stops with views along the way, but if you make it up to the top, you’ll have the best view of all. You find yourself almost at eye level with the castle!
Evening: Eat + Drink Like the Locals
Surprising for a city of this size, Heidelberg has a surprising assortment of diverse cuisines, likely thanks to its young student population. For your second dinner in Heidelberg, consider trying some global food, such as Eritrean cuisine at Restaurant Kilimanjaro or Lebanese cuisine at Sahara. The smells coming out of RajaRani Indian restaurant might be too enticing to pass up or maybe some fancy Spanish tapas at Goldener Anker are more your vibe.
After dinner, head to one of the many watering holes around town to get a sense of the student nightlife around Heidelberg. The stylish Cocktailcafe Regie is a more romantic spot with high end mixed drinks or Bent Bar for a cozy candlelit vibe. Drugstore is a more mixed drink sort of place with a rowdier crowd or maybe the rum-forward menu at Hemingway’s Heidelberg along the river is the best fit for you. Regardless of where you wind up, you’re sure to have a fun last night in Heidelberg!