The Heidelberg Castle without a doubt is the most popular tourist attraction in town. However, to catch the best view of city and castle, it is recommended to take the Philosophenweg (“Philosopher’s Way”) on the other side of the Neckar. This street leads up for about two kilometers, partly via very steep sections, and affords a great view and photo spot to take in the castle, the river bridges and the old town. To cross over the river, taking the Karl-Theodor-Bridge is recommended, commonly known als Alte Brücke (“Old Bridge”; photo). The pebblestoned, mostly pedestrian bridge was constructed in 1788, but several older structures had been in existence here before, going back to wooden bridges built by the Romans. The Alte Brücke became crucial in several wars: The French conquered Heidelberg in 1799 by crossing over it and in 1945, the German army blew it up in a desperate attempt to keep the American forces from advancing. There are several sculptures on and around the bridge, most notably a bronze monkey, which serves as an icon of self-reflection and has become a favorite photo opportunity. Additionally, at the end of the bridge, which is 200 meters in length, two gate towers form the entrance. They served as pay station for bridge duties in long-ago times.
Passing through this gate, one reaches the Old Town of Heidelberg, one of the few central areas of major cities that has not been destroyed in World War II. The Old Town is still based on its original, medieval blueprint. Here a large pedestrian zone with many shops and restaurants forms the main artery called Hauptstrasse (“main street”). Also, a number of public squares can be found in this area, most notably the central Universitätsplatz, seamed by buildings that belong to the reputable Heidelberg University, the Kornmarkt square near the town hall and the Marktplatz (“Market Square”; photo). Formerly the location of show trials, the Market Square today indeed hosts a weekly farmer’s market as well as the annual christmas market. The fountain in the center of the square is called Herkulesbrunnen and has been built in 1709. On one side of the square, the Heiliggeistkirche (“Holy Spirit Church”) leaves the biggest impression, as it is the dominating structure of the entire old town area, with the tower standing 60 meters tall. The building is made of a unique, red sandstone native to the area and used to split into two halves - a catholic one and a protestant. The church as an institution was first mentioned in a document dating back to the year 1239, while construction of today’s church building began in 1398 with the tower being finished only in 1515. There are a few small shops integrated in the building’s structure on the outside, those were included in the architecture from early on. Inside, visitors will find comparatively little decor apart from the painted glass windows which were inserted after World War II.
Across Hauptstrasse from Heiliggeistkirche, one will immediately notice a historic building. This is the Haus zum Ritter, today a hotel and restaurant, but originally constructed for textile merchants. The house, built in 1592, is the oldest still standing house in the city. It survived several large fires over time and inspired Victor Hugo to a lengthy description in his Heidelberg book. Visitors interested in learning more about Heidelberg’s history may want to look for the Kurpfälzisches Museum (Hauptstrasse 97) right in the city-center. The museum and its collection of artworks was founded in 1878 and today presents countless exhibits on art, culture, city history and other subjects, all related to Heidelberg and the region.