|As Heidelberg is not very large, the sights in
the Old town can be discovered easily on foot. With 15 parking houses, the
city centre offers enough space to park a car, yet Heidelberg also boasts
an expansive public transportation system with Park & Ride parking
lots in the Neuenheimer Feld and at the Neuer Meßplatz in Kirchheim. If
you are only spending a few days in Heidelberg, you should invest in the
Heidelberg-Card, valid for either 1-2 or 3-4 days. This allows you to
travel free on buses and trams and reduced (and often free) admission into
many museums and the castle.
Perhaps the most important visitor's attraction in Heidelberg (a town which entertains about 3.5 million annually) is the Old town with its sights and narrow, picturesque roads. This area extends to an area of 2 km on both sides of the lively Hauptstraße from the Bismarckplatz in the west along the south bank of the river Neckar and east to the foot of the famous Schloss. The castle lies majestically enthroned on a small plateau above the river and town. Other areas that certainly belong amongst Heidelberg's most important locations are the Universitätsplatz (University place), the Marktplatz (Market place) and the Alte Brücke (Old bridge). Most of Heidelberg's museums are to be found in the Old town, along with theatres, cinemas and countless restaurants and pubs.
The Neckar valley leads upstream in an easterly direction. Schlierbach lies here on the southern side. It was first documented in 1245 as having hardly more than 3,000 inhabitants and it is arguably the smallest district in Heidelberg. To the north, Ziegelhausen is located which was founded about 850 A.D. It is beautifully situated between the Neckar meadows and the Odenwald forest and is a fantastic starting point for hiking-tours. The Textile Museum Max Berk and the Benedictine cloister Stift Neuburg are both popular visitor's choices.
West of the Old town and castle, between the Kurfürsten-Anlage and the Neckar, the district Bergheim reaches from the Bismarckplatz in the centre to the motorway. In 769, Bergheim had already been mentioned as an independent settlement, but in 1392, the inhabitants were resettled within Heidelberg's town walls. The area was only built up again in the 19th century, characterised by institutes and the university hospital, small businesses and residential premises.
South of Bergheim lies the Weststadt, with its beautiful old facades. It is a district much in demand amongst housebuyers today. To the west of it, you will find the Main railway station. It is only recently, since 1935, that the Südstadt has developed and expanded and it now joins the Weststadt along the Mark-Twain-Village and the NATO Headquarters, with the former village Rohrbach to its south. Rohrbach had already been documented as early as 766 and, like Heidelberg itself, suffered damage in the Thirty-Years-War and the French-Palatinate War of Succession. The districts of Boxberg and Emmertsgrund are situated on a rise above Rohrbach, and have only really grown in the last 50 years.
The westerly Kirchheim is also an old settlement. Tombs of Merowinger from the early stone age (3500-1800 B.C.) were found here. Kirchheim itself was first mentioned 767. It, too, suffered from the wars in the 17th century and afterwards seemed to develop at breakneck speed. From a population of just 350 inhabitants in 1766, it had expanded to 2,000 by 1861. In 1920, it was incorporated into Heidelberg and is now home to some 17,000 inhabitants. Like Rohrbach its new infrastructure presents a wide range of gastronomical and shopping possibilities.
Pfaffengrund lies North-west, close to the highway and was largely the project of 'The Garden City Movement' at the beginning of the 20th century. This group's objective was to bring about low-priced housing with gardens for working-class families and other socially disadvantaged citizens. With this background, the Pfaffengrund developed in several phases of building: 1920, 1934 and 1948-53. This focal point has remained, yet Pfaffengrund has since grown considerably and now has a population of about 8,000.
Wieblingen lies Between the highway and a bend of the river Neckar. Not only was a mammoth tooth found here, but also traces of human settlements dating from the stone age. Wieblingen itself was first mentioned in a deed of donation in 767. In the following centuries, the Wieblinger inhabitants made their living from agriculture and fishing, but this hamlet was plundered on several occasions and burnt down in the wars of the 17th century. In the 19th century the first crafts workshops and industrial companies flourished. The residential character changed from village-like structures to working-class dwellings, and, like Pfaffengrund, a garden city with small houses and gardens was set up. Nowadays Wieblingen even has a speciality museum, the Bonsai-Museum which is certainly worth a visit.
The former village Neuenheim is situated just north of Heidelberg's centre. Its origins date back to a Roman Castellum. In 765, Neuenheim was first mentioned and developed (like the hamlets around) into a settlement for peasants and fishermen. In the 'Thirty Years War' and again in the French-Palatinate War of Succession it was completely destroyed. Later, in the 19th century it became the favourite residential area of university professors and today one still can admire the beautiful art nouveau villas. With the beginning of the 20th century, the university institutes for natural sciences were relocated from the town centre to the close-by Neuenheimer Feld. Besides two Max-Planck-Institutes, the German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ) is also based here. Furthermore, you will find a cluster of sports grounds, an open-air swimming-pool, the Schwimmbad Music Club, the Youth Hostel and last but not least the visitors' attractions Heidelberg Zoo and the Botanical Garden.
Heidelberg's most northern district is Handschuhsheim, first mentioned in 765. Over many centuries, until 1600, it belonged to the aristocratic dynasty of Handschuhsheim, whose last male heir lost his life in a tragical duel. The impressive Tiefburg, surrounded by a deep moat, once belonged to this dynasty. In the St. Vitus Church, the oldest church on Heidelberg grounds, several members of the family line are buried in old and fascinating sepulchres. The Handschuhsheimer Schlößchen, and the many restaurants and pubs (far from the tourist bustle) make a visit to Handschuhsheim (or Hendesem as the local say) more than worthwhile.
As a whole, Heidelberg consists of 14 districts in which about 140,000 people live today. Most of the university's 25,000 students live in and around Heidelberg and contribute greatly to Heidelberg's young and dynamic flair. Heidelberg's mild winters (at sunny and protected spots even fig trees, palms and other exotic plants survive this season outside) and many sunny summer's days offer ample opportunity to visit tourist attractions in Heidelberg's Old town, or go on day trips to enjoy a glass of wine, a tasty meal and to take in the country and its culture.