For any river cruise on the Rhine, there are plenty castles to see that inspire. All of them come with tales of romance and political intrigue throughout their histories, but none of them offer the opportunity to wander inside them the way that Schloss Heidelberg does. Its presence is the best reason to choose Heidelberg as a shore excursion on your Rhine river cruise, but once there you’ll find more than enough to affirm your choice.
Your river cruise is likely to dock in nearby Speyer and offer bus transportation to the town of Heidelberg, just 30 minutes away. Be sure to make note of bus pick-up times and locations before the romance of Heidelberg sweeps you away.
Looming roughly 250 feet above the town, Heidelberg Castle can be accessed by excursion provided transportation through winding narrow streets. Another option is to take the Bergbahnen, a funicular that has four stations above the Neckar River, the first of which stops at the castle. With either mode, the view of the river and town below is truly breath taking. It is easy to feel transported back in time.
The castle is vast with many areas to photograph and explore inside. For the best experience, a guided tour is not only informative, but the only way to see the inside areas of the castle. The story of the castles origins and survival over history, including two lighting strikes is highly engaging. It offers great insight into the real struggles of an ever-changing political geography throughout history.
Walking through the gate and into the courtyard, you will appreciate the intricate economic system that a 16th century castle represented. While inside, your admission will include entrance to the unique Deutsches Apotheken-Museum, or the German Pharmacy Museum. For a small fee you can a rent an audio guide to help understand over 20,000 items on exhibit, which are labeled in German, and provide insight into medieval medical practices.
Great Heidelberg Tun
Another must-see stop inside the castle is the Great Heidelberg Tun, a massive wine barrel that was reputedly constructed from 130 oak trees and held over 58,000 gallons when it was first constructed in 1751. It is the fourth such wine vat to exist at the castle and rarely holds wine these days, but you can use the staircase to climb up and see the dance floor built on top. There are also opportunities for wine tasting in the cellar of Schloss Heidelberg and in the summer it’s a very pleasant way to avoid the heat.
What to Eat in Heidelberg
There are a few opportunities for eating in the beautiful surroundings of Schloss Heidelberg. For a casual, bakery café vibe, visit Historiches Backhause (Historical Bakehouse) for lighter fare like the Stupid Goat, a goat cheese tarte flambé served with chutney and arugula, or a more traditional Schnitzel and Baden potato salad. For finer dining, and if time allows, consider a prix fixe meal at Scharff’s Schlossweinstube. For about 95 Euros (with an optional 40 Euros extra for wine pairings) your adventurous spirit can delve into truffled ox cheeks or caramelized curd cheese mousse.
Heidelberg became known to many in the late 19th century following Mark Twain’s description of the city as “the last possibility of the beautiful” in his book, “A Tramp Abroad”. Back in the streets of old town Heidelberg, you may forget what century it is. Prolong your time-traveling fantasy by visiting the Marketplatz. Bustling with cafés, this is a very European stop in the summer for some local German wine and pastry while you people watch in the shadow of the castle. During the holiday season, you’ll find a Christmas market in the plaza with hot Gluhwein and shopping for souvenirs destined to become family heirlooms. The Heiliggeistkirche (Church of the Holy Spirit) is just off the plaza but check with your tour company on availability. The church has been closed to tours due to extensive renovations that were originally scheduled for completion in mid-2020.
Museum House Cajeth
For a truly unique stop that brings you closer to the current century, head north on Haspelgasse. (From Marketplatz at the back of the church, go to the right and follow the side of the church. When you get to the front of the church, turn right and walk a half block down Haspelgasse.) There you will find the diamond-in-the-rough gallery that is Museum House Cajeth. Here in an elegant setting, you will find a collection of Primitive Art from the 20th Century featuring undiscovered artists. The talent curated at this small venue has given art lovers a fantastic view into what’s next in primitive arts ever since its founding in 1982. The exhibits are vibrant, dynamic and feature a variety of styles, perspectives and media. Admission is only four Euros and tours can be arranged.
After leaving the museum, you should have just enough time to continue north on Haspelgasse and walk through the old city gate for a stroll on the pedestrian bridge known understandably as the Old Heidelberg Bridge (or Alte Brucken Heidelberg) built in the late 18th century. Before strolling across, stop near the entrance to the bridge for a photo at Bruckenaffe, the famous bronze bridge monkey statue. The current statue features a hollow head, allowing visitors to place their own head inside the monkey’s face — like a mask — which has made it a popular place for selfies. While this current and modern version has only been around since the late 1970s, there has been a bridge monkey in this area since the 18th century. The statue playfully mocks those who fail to remember that they are no better than their fellow man. Legend has it that those who pass the monkey to cross the river on the bridge are reminded to look back over their shoulder to remember where they came from, and those who rub the monkey’s fingers are destined to return to Heidelberg.
As you cruise away after a long day in Heidelberg, don’t forget to wave Auf Wiedersehen!