The small and engaging university town of Heidelberg is one of the most charming sites in all of Germany. It’s particularly popular with tourists the world over thanks to its preserved medieval atmosphere, famous fairytale castle and beautiful setting in the Neckar river valley. One trip to Heidelberg and you’ll understand what all the fuss is about.

As one of the few German cities that wasn’t bombed into dust during WWII, Heidelberg is a treasure trove of original medieval buildings and streets dating from the Middle Ages and Renaissance periods. The town’s intact nature is one of its strongest features, punctuated by the surreal castle set on a hill. More than anything, Heidelberg is a university town. The old student quarter, which dates to the late 1300s, is a wonderfully colorful district of lively taverns and narrow lanes.

The Bismarckplatz is the hub of modern Heidelberg, where the city’s finest restaurants and hotels butt right up against the historic old town (Altstadt). This intriguing contrast of eras doesn’t seem to clash, however, and just across the Neckar river is the zoo, botanical gardens and sports facilities.

Highlights

Altstadt (old town): all of the city’s prominent sights are on the south bank of the river, including the still-active Marketplatz, the Rathaus, and the Heiliggeistkirche, the largest gothic church in the region.

Heidelberg Castle: this landmark castle on the top of a hill looks like it stepped out of a fairytale, and despite being a partial ruin is still arguably the most charismatic gothic-Renaissance castle in Germany.

Museum of the Palatinate: more than 600 years of art and sculpture is housed in this Baroque palace, which in itself is worth a visit.

Neckar river: this placid river flows through some of Germany’s most picturesque countryside, and a boat tour from April to October is the ideal way to experience the undeniably romantic scenery.

Palace of Friedrich IV: one of the best-preserved parts of Heidelberg Castle has wonderfully restored rooms, wine cellars and a bell tower, where the views over the Neckar valley are simply sublime.

Red Ox Inn: Heidelberg’s oldest and most revered drinking establishment has been serving students and dignitaries since 1703, by the same family no less.

Studentenkarzer (Student Jail): check out this interesting jail where unruly and drunk students were locked up in past centuries, and scribbled graffiti and pictures on the walls.