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Thinking about visiting Heidelberg? With its beautiful castle, old town, bridge, and hiking trails, it’s a Germany must-see.
This guide will help you help you plan you visit to this historic university town and its famous Heidelberg Castle. If you want to discover enchanting Heidelberg beyond the castle, be sure to check out our Heidelberg guide here.
Heidelberg Castle (Heidelberger Schloss in German) is a popular castle and castle ruin in Germany and a major landmark of Heidelberg.
The city of Heidelberg is located in the state of Baden-Wurttemberg in southwest Germany, along the Neckar River. Situated atop a hill overlooking the Neckar Valley, the castle attracts people from all over and is definitely worth visiting.
Aaron and I have been to Heidelberg many times over the years and always enjoy wandering the cobblestoned streets, exploring the castle, and taking walks on the Philosophenweg trails.
Here’s everything you need to know about visiting Schloss Heidelberg!
Why Visit Heidelberg & Heidelberg Castle
So many reasons! First, Heidelberg is a famous university town and home to Heidelberg University, which is the oldest and one of the most prestigious universities in Germany. A friend of mine studied there and her student housing was in the historic city center just steps from the Heiliggeistkirche!
Second, the Heidelberg Altstadt is known for its romantic architecture, historic sites, and unparalleled riverside views. And while there are tourists in Heidelberg, it’s not just a tourist destination.
Third, the city is quite easy to navigate and easy to get around on foot, so you can definitely see Heidelberg Schloss and other important landmarks in a day.
Your first stop should be Altstadt (Old Town) where you’ll find picturesque streets lined with cafés, medieval buildings, and churches. Highlights include the Marktplatz (main square), the Church of the Holy Spirit, and the Rathaus (town hall).
Another must see is the Alte Brücke (old bridge), a stone bridge spanning the river Neckar and connecting two sides of historic Heidelberg. Take a stroll or book a river cruise to get great views and a unique perspective of the castle and the city.
What You Need to Know About Visiting Heidelberg Castle
Getting to Heidelberg
You can travel to Heidelberg by train or car. The main train station in Heidelberg is centrally located and has service to both regional towns and major cities, the nearest ones being Frankfurt and Stuttgart. To find the best train or route to take, check out the Deutsche Bahn website (German Rail).
On the Deutsche Bahn website you can check train schedules and book point-to-point tickets or regional tickets. This is where I book all of our Germany train tickets.
If you’re driving a rental car, take the Autobahn (motorway) A5 or A 656 (via Darmstadt, direction: Karlsruhe/Basel) and exit at Heidelberg motorway interchange or at “Heidelberg/Schwetzingen” which will take you to the city center.
If you don’t want to worry about transportation, consider booking a day tour! This guided tour from Frankfurt provides private bus transportation and brings you to the main tourist attractions of Heidelberg.
Directions to Heidelberg Castle
To get to Castle Heidelberg from the central train station using public transportation, take bus line 33 or bus line 20 to the stop “Bergbahn.” Once there, you have to take a short ride via the funicular railway all the way up to the “Schloss” station. For more info on the Bergbahn, scroll to the end of this guide.
Alternatively, you can also walk from the train station to Old Town and then to the castle. You can find the uphill path that leads up to the castle (called Burgweg) next to the Rathaus and Kornmarkt. You can choose between the short route (with steps) or the scenic route (no steps). For both paths, follow the signs that lead to the castle. It’ll take 45-60 minutes to walk up to the castle from the main train station.
If you’re driving, keep in mind that there aren’t many parking spaces close to the castle. There are a few parking spots with fees about 500m from the main entrance of the castle grounds, further uphill of the garden area. Take note that the one way street uphill to the castle is closed to the public on weekends. It’s easier to park in a larger public lot and then walk to the castle enjoying the town along the way.
Visitor Information: Opening Hours & Tickets
Heidelberg Castle is open Mondays to Sundays from 9:00 am to 6:00 pm. Viewing the interior is only possible through a guided tour. The guided tours in English are done at the following times: 11:15 am, 12:15 am, 2:15 pm, and 3:15 pm (at the time this guide was written).
The areas that are open without a tour are the castle gardens, inner courtyard and terrace, wine barrel cellar, and the German Apothecary Museum.
You can access all of these places with the standard entrance ticket which costs 9,00€. It also includes round trip use of the funicular.
The guided tours have an additional fee of 6,00 € for adults. You can buy tickets at the castle ticket counter (visitor center or Burgweg).
How to Reserve A Guided Tour
If you’d like a guided tour of the castle or the castle and town with an English speaking guide who can give you insider information and tips, here are 3 great options that are all very highly rated.
This 1.5 hour castle tour is perfect if you’re short on time or want to easily combine a tour with exploring on your own.
If you’d like to combine a Heidelberg city tour with a castle tour, this 2-hour tour is perfect for you.
And if you’d prefer a private tour – especially if you’re traveling together with friends or family – book a private tour.
Brief History of Heidelberg Castle
The Heidelberg Castle has a fascinating history that dates back to the early 13th century. The earliest structure was constructed in 1214 and continued expanding until it became two castles. It was first used as a royal residence by Prince Elector Ruprecht III, the King of Germany during a short period in the early 15th century.
Originally a fortified castle with outer defensive walls, Heidelberg Castle continued to expand into a combination of several buildings. Succeeding Prince Electors of the Palatinate built several residential halls, which resulted in the property looking like a mix of a castle and palace.
Unfortunately, the castle also suffered a lot of damage. In the 17th century, it was destroyed by the French army during the Nine Years War. Parts of it were rebuilt but it was damaged again by lightning strike twice in the 18th century, leaving the castle uninhabitable and in ruins.
It was never completely restored but the ruined castle now stands as a symbol of German Romanticism. The vestiges of the past with the restored structure all highlight a different period of German architecture which attracts over millions of tourists annually.
What To See In Heidelberg Castle
German Apothecary Museum
The German Apothecary Museum is an interesting glimpse into the history of pharmaceutics. The exhibition showcases everything from natural remedies from medieval times to antique lab equipment. The museum is located on the lower floor of the Ottheinrich Building.
The Heidelberg Tun is the world’s largest wine barrel. It was built by Prince Elector Karl Theodor to hold over 220,000 liters (58,124 gallons) of wine. The giant barrel stands at 7 meters (23 feet) high, and is 8.5 meters (28 feet) wide. It even has a dance floor built on top of it!
The Friedrich Building is the royal family’s ancestral hall. It’s filled with statues of emperors and kings displaying the idealized royal lines as built by Friedrich IV. You can admire some of the statues and sculptures that are on the facade of the building but the original ones are displayed inside.
Ottheinrich Building and the Imperial Hall
The Ottheinrich Building houses the grand Imperial Hall, one of the most ornate and beautiful rooms in the castle. The ceremonial hall also managed to keep many of its original parts like the door frames, sandstone ornaments, and some sculptures. The second floor has now been repurposed into a special venue for exhibitions and receptions for weddings.
Castle Gardens and Courtyard
The castle gardens, constructed by garden architect Salomon de Caus, are a beautiful sight in itself. As you stroll through the romantic palace garden, you’ll stumble upon vibrant flower beds, intimate garden alcoves, mazes and man-made grottoes, a heated greenhouse with orange trees, and fish ponds.
There are also several patios around the castle with amazing views of the city below so don’t miss those!
Heidelberg Castle Lighting and Illumination
The castle lighting and illumination is a special event that takes place three times a year, usually the first Saturdays in June and September, and the second Saturday in July. It’s done in memory of the three times when the castle was on fire. The event begins with a light show of the castle being illuminated to simulate the fire. It’s then followed by a spectacular firework show launched from the Old Bridge over the Neckar river.
Even if you aren’t able to see the special castle lighting, you can admire the beautifully lit castle every evening after dusk. The best places to see the illuminated castle are the Alte Brücke, the Philosophenweg, and the market squares in the Alt Stadt.
Bergbahn: Yes or No?
If you have the time, we recommend getting the Panorama Ticket at the Bergbahn station in the Alstadt that gives you entrance into the castle, as well as a ticket to ride the Bergbahn all the way up to Königstuhl, then back down the castle, and finally, back into the Altstadt.
Here’s what we did when we visited the castle. First, we bought our Panorama tickets at the station in the Alstadt. Then, we rode the first Bergbahn to the second stop. You can either get on the second Bergbahn or take a few minutes to get a coffee at the terrace cafe. We immediately got on the second Bergbahn. Got the very front or the very back of this Bergbahn for great views!
Rode the Bergbahn to the top of Königstuhl. We spent 30-40 minutes enjoying the amazing view, sitting the Königstuhl (King’s Chair), and just wandering around the area (there’s a falconry, hotel, artwork, trails, and a fun spot for kids). Before going back down the hill, be sure to take the stairs down to the Bergbahn machine room viewing area. There you can see the inner workings of the Bergbahn.
Then we rode the Bergbahn back down to the castle. If we’d had more time and the weather been nicer, we would have loved to have hiked down. Next time! We spent an hour or so touring the castle (there was a thunderstorm towards the end of our visit so we cut it a bit short).
We could have taken the Bergbahn back into the Altstadt but we instead opted to the take the stairs. It was a short walk through the pretty neighborhood below the castle.
Other Famous Castles in Germany
Germany is full of castles just as beautiful and fascinating as Heidelberg Castle. In fact, there’s said to be over 25,000 castles all over the country waiting to be added to your itinerary!
We have several guides that can help you choose which to visit. Start by reading our ultimate guide of the best castles to visit in Germany.
Lastly, because we can’t talk about castles without mentioning Neuschwanstein Castle, here are our tips on how to plan your Neuschwanstein day trip from Munich.