Straying from the cities in Germany pays off and as far as picturesque towns go, the country is up there with the best. My train journey from Luxembourg took me along the Rhine valley to the little town of Heidelberg.
There are two immediately obvious reasons for Heidelberg being an attractive place to visit. The old town is fantastic, typical of a European market town with cobbled streets and a busy main square. And overlooking the town is Heidelberg Castle, now largely a ruin but still an imposing structure.
Heidelberg reminded me of Tallinn with the old town being wall-to-wall tourists, keeping itself quite distinct from the modern (real?) centre. This isn’t a bad thing and like Tallinn it doesn’t necessarily feel touristy. This is despite the incredible fact that a city of just 150,000 people attracts over 3.5 million tourists each year.
A couple of must-do trips involve a walk up the hills on either side of the river. The walk up to the castle (also accessible by rail and road) provides a great view over the town and a chance to explore the castle gardens.
On the north side of the river you can spend a good chunk of the day on the Philosophers’ Walk, an occasionally steep and winding trail. Naturally this provides a spectacular view of the river, the town and the castle. Continuing to the top, there’s the ruined Monastery of St Michel and am impressive open-air amphitheatre. The Thingsstätte was built by the Third Reich (an amphitheatre on top of a steep hill I don’t know why) and is now over grown and falling apart, but it’s still popular with visitors and locals for certain gatherings.
Twice a year Heidelberg holds a festival to recreate the burning of the castle, where the bridge and castle light up red against the dark sky, followed by a fireworks display. The echoes around the valley made for the loudest fireworks I’ve ever heard.
The popularity of Heidelberg means it isn’t any kind of hidden gem of a town or a secluded place for a break from people. But it is a stand out in a stunning part of Germany.