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Heidelberg is a medium-sized German city in the northwest of the state of Baden-Württemberg and is known for its castle and beautiful old town, which is largely designed as a pedestrian zone. Heidelberg is also home to the Ruprecht Karl University, the oldest university in Germany and one of the oldest in all of Europe. The city has about 150,000 inhabitants, a quarter of whom are students. The city extends over an area of 110 square kilometers.
Heidelberg is located about 130 km north-west of Stuttgart and is also very close to Mannheim, which lies to the west, and to Frankfurt more to the north. The city is situated on the bank of the river Neckar exactly where the legend-rich Odenwald opens up towards the plain of the Rhine Valley.
Heidelberg has a temperate maritime climate influenced by the North Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. Due to this influence, the weather is very even in Heidelberg. The precipitation is distributed fairly evenly throughout the year, but on average there is the greatest chance of precipitation in the summer. Summers are pleasant but rarely really warm with an average daytime temperature just above twenty degrees Celsius. Even in the winter months, the weather in Heidelberg is rarely extreme, with only light frosts in December, January and February, followed by noticeably warmer weather from March. By April the days start to get longer again and temperatures regularly rise to 16 °C.
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Heidelberg's history dates back to the 5th century BC, when a group of Celts settled in the area. They built a fortress and church on the Heiligenberg. In 80 AD, the Romans arrived in the area and set up a permanent settlement on the bank of the Neckar River. The city grew around the military camp and in the 8th century AD historical records mentioned the village of Bergheim for the first time. Bergheim is now a district of modern Heidelberg. The history of medieval Heidelberg dates back to the 12th century. The origin of Heidelberg Castle was a former fortress on this spot. In 1225 the castle came under the control of Louis I, the Duke of Bavaria. Another castle was built in 1303 to defend the area and the castle ruins can still be visited today.
In 1386, Elector Ruprecht I founded the University of Heidelberg. It was the third university in the Holy Roman Empire after Prague and Vienna and it is the oldest university in Germany. In 1400, the Heiliggeistkirche, or the Church of the Holy Spirit, was built on the old market. Germany's oldest public library was built here in 1421. In the middle of the 16th century, Elector Otto Heinrich transformed the castle into a beautiful building designed in Renaissance architecture. In 1563, the university's theological faculty contributed to the writing of the Heidelberg Catechism, essentially the handbook for the Reformed Faith in Germany.
In the 18th century, Elector Karl Theodor tried to renovate the castle in the Baroque style. In 1764, lightning struck the building, it burned to the ground, making it uninhabitable. After several fateful attempts at reconstruction, he gave up. In 1803 the city came under the control of the Grand Duchy of Baden and the university became a state institution. Heidelberg attracted many famous visitors. In 1880 the American writer Mark Twain was in Heidelberg and wrote 'A Tramp Abroad', a non-fiction travel book about the city.
During World War II, Heidelberg managed to survive with relatively little damage. This is largely because the United States Armed Forces took control of the city under General Patton and used the city as their headquarters. Huge barracks were built in the southern part of the city.
In the 1970s, work began on the modernization of the city, including the pedestrian areas around the main street area. Heidelberg remains an important university city today and about a quarter of the population is made up of students.
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Heidelberg has many great tourist attractions, visitors fall in love with the charming medieval architecture and the river. The atmospheric old town offers endless narrow streets, historic sights and a handful of beautiful churches, all overshadowed by the imposing Heidelberg Castle. For the best views of Heidelbergs, you can walk along the high Philosophenweg or, as a comfortable alternative, enjoy the landscape via the Bergbahn (cable car).
The castle of Heidelberg is the most famous monument. Situated high on a plateau, it dominates the old town. Visitors can get to Heidelberg Castle by taking a steep climb on foot, or they can use the cable car (Bergbahn) from Kornmarkt. You can take a tour of the buildings or visit them individually. From the castle courtyard you can see different architectural styles, the different parts of the castle were built in different periods. The cellar contains the largest wooden wine barrel in the world. You can see the best view of the city from the Belvedere terrace.
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The picturesque Old Bridge is an essential stop on a stroll through the Old Town. Built in the late 18th century over the River Neckar, the old bridge was the first stone bridge on this site after a series of wooden bridges. The medieval gate leading to the old bridge is also very worth seeing.
The University of Heidelberg is of great historical significance and an important sight. Heidelberg University was originally divided into four major faculties - law, medicine, philosophy and also theology, and was centered around the Universitätplatz. Today, the university has nearly 20 different faculties and is home to more than 30,000 students and the main campus is located on the north side of the Neckar River.
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Passenger boats depart from the old town for cruises along the Neckar River. Typically the trip takes about two or three hours, you can relax and enjoy the beautiful view of the valley as you gently cruise past ancient villages, towns and their many attractions. Depending on the weather, you can choose from open-top or covered boats.
If you want a taste of 'real' German life, the Neuenheim Market offers a quintessentially Heidelberg experience. The bi-weekly market mainly sells fresh produce such as locally made cheeses, colorful flowers and delicious fresh fruit. The many Mercedes, Porsches and BMWs you see here reveal that the market may not be the cheapest in the region, but at least you know that what you're getting is good quality.
Click the menu button at the top left of the screen for more informationLast updated February 2021
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