The city of Heidelberg, Germany is a standard stop on Rhine River cruises, but it’s not just because it has a nice old town. Most people visit Heidelberg to see one specific thing: the sprawling red complex of sandstone ruins that towers over its old town.
Built over a span of 400 years, Heidelberg Castle (Schloss Heidelberg in German) became a mélange of all the architectural styles that were popular along the way. It’s got bits of everything, from Gothic to Renaissance.
Actually, visiting Heidelberg Castle is widely considered to be one of the best things to do in Germany!
Tip: For more about what to see in town, read this post about one tour to Heidelberg from Frankfurt.
What happened to Schloss Heidelberg?
We arrived in town expecting to see a big, majestic castle that had a bunch of rooms to explore … but Heidelberg Castle is a shadow of what it once was. It was destroyed several times during wars with the French.
They began to rebuild it, but finally gave up when a freak lightning bolt struck the arsenal. The lightning ignited an explosion and a fire burned it to the ground in a matter of hours.
All that remained was the stone, which the locals began to quarry to build new houses.
Present-day Heidelberg Castle
In 1800, a local count decided that Heidelberg Castle should be preserved, so he put a stop to all that stone looting. Since then, it’s been slowly renovated and it now has a hall that is used for performances, balls and banquets.
Each summer, the city hosts the Heidelberg Castle Festival there, and the courtyard is filled with open air performances, everything from classical philharmonic concerts to musicals to dramatic theater performances.
I don’t think they’ll ever rebuild it, though. It would be way too expensive. And why should they? It’s already one of the most popular tourist sites in Germany, and many already think it is one of the most beautiful castles in Germany.
Our Heidelberg Castle tour
Our castle tour focused on the castle’s exterior. The castle’s red sandstone is dramatic, but don’t miss the gardens. They are also beautiful and worth spending time in.
Viewing the interiors is only possible in a guided tour, which the castle offers daily. That said, we didn’t go inside. Perhaps that was due to the ship’s time constraints. They have lock schedules to keep, after all.
I’ll share the details about how to visit Heidelberg Castle below.
One of our favorite highlights from our castle visit was the incredible panoramic view we got from the Great Terrace. Looking over the castle walls offered so much to see: Heidelberg’s famous bridge, the Neckar River itself, and the city’s rooftops below.
The Heidelberg Castle tun
Back in the day, the local wine growers paid their taxes by delivering wine to the castle. As the years went on and taxes went up, the castle couldn’t keep up with drinking all that income. By 1591, they needed a huge barrel to store all their “excess revenue.”
The story goes that the court dwarf, who was in charge of guarding the cask, had an uncanny ability to drink large quantities of wine. He died after mistakenly drinking a glass of water.
Anyway, in the mid-1700s, the castle owners built an even bigger barrel, big enough to hold 55,345 gallons of wine. Rather than waste all that space, they installed a dance floor on the top.
If you take a tour of Heidelberg Castle, you will find the barrel still on display, I doubt any of the wine remains inside, though.
And yes, you can climb the stairs to the dance floor. (We did!)
Did you ever wonder how people cured themselves before modern medicine? You’ll find the answer at the German Apothecary Museum, or the Deutsches Apotheken-Museum, as it’s called in German,
Though we wanted to visit, we didn’t have time to go in. You can easily spend hours here because it contains over 20,000 exhibits! They cover two millennia of just about every aspect of medicine and pharmacy.
We were told that it’s hard to know what all the exhibits are about if you don’t read German. Spending €3.50 for an English-language audio guide will be super helpful.
- Hours: Heidelberg Castle is open daily from 8:00 am to 6:00 pm. Last admission is at 5:30.
- Admission: Tickets for the castle, the vat, and the on-site apothecary museum are just €6
- Website: www.schloss-heidelberg.de/en/
Walking through Heidelberg
Don’t just tour the castle though. Heidelberg has a lot going for it, so be sure to spend time at the bottom of the hill, too.
Our river cruise itinerary also included a walk through town, as well as some free time. Some passengers went shopping, some just wandered around, and others, like us, popped in for a beer before returning to the ship.
We all left Heidelberg with the feeling that we would have liked to have spent more time there.
ⓘ TIP: If you want to maximize your time, consider one of these Heidelberg guided tours.
Do you like castles?
If you like German castles, next read our article about visiting Marksburg Castle. It’s the best preserved castle in the Rhine valley.