Living in Heidelberg, the castle is a constant presence. Every morning on the way to school, my son and I see it up on the hillside as we cross over the River Neckar. My son goes with his school to see plays there in the summer, and we even had his birthday party up at the Heidelberg castle – which was possibly the coolest thing I’ve ever pulled off as a parent!
This post contains affiliate links. Should you click on one, I will get a small commission at no extra cost to you. Thank you for supporting my work!
So let me share with you the best ways to experience this amazing spot, from someone who has been there many, many times.
Planning your trip to the Heidelberg Castle
There are many bus tours that offer a trip to the castle as part of a day trip. If at all possible, spend a night in Heidelberg and experience a bit more. Reading posts about the castle, everyone wishes they had more time to explore the city as well. I’ve collected our favourite things to do in Heidelberg with kids, so start there! Unlike many other German castles, Heidelberg Castle is right in the town, so it’s easy to visit without a car. There is the famous stairway, but it is quite an uphill trek, and you will be doing lots of walking when you’re up there. I’d recommend getting the funicular railway from the old town – you can get a ticket which includes your entrance to the castle, and find out when the next guided tour leaves.
Heidelberg Castle history
Like many castles, this one has been built, destroyed, and rebuilt many times. There aren’t many records pertaining to the first castle structure higher up on the Königstuhl, but the current castle complex’s history seems to start around 1200. Ruprecht made the first enlargement that you can still see evidence of today, and in fact he and his wife Elizabeth of Hohenzollern (her family has some amazing castles too) are buried in the Church of the Holy Ghost in the market square. Frederick V, who took the position of Elector Palatine in 1610, has a special place in the hearts of Heidelbergers. He married Elizabeth Stuart, daughter of James I of England and Scotland, and by all accounts he was quite besotted with her. Look for the Elizabeth Tor (gate) in the gardens, which was carved and created in pieces and then assembled in the garden overnight to surprise Elizabeth on her birthday. The extensive formal gardens that were started, but never finished, were also the work of Frederick, ostensibly to entertain Elizabeth. Unfortunately, he accepted the crown of Bohemia right at the beginning of the Thirty Years War, and could not hold it for more than a season. Frederick and Elizabeth lived the rest of their lives in exile, earning them the titles the Winter King and Winter Queen.
The Elizabeth Gate at Heidelberg Castle is just the thing to post on Valentine’s Day. The Prince Elector Palatine Frederick V had stonemasons build this garden arch in pieces, and then assemble it overnight as a birthday surprise for his wife, Elizabeth Stuart (yes, daughter of James I of England and Scotland) around 1613. I thought that was possibly the most romantic thing ever, don’t you think? // Das Elisabethtor am Heidelberger Schloß ist die perfekte Post am Valentingstag. Die Kürfurst Freidrich V. ließ diesen Gartenbogen in Stücken bauen und über Nacht als Geburtstagsüberraschung für seine Frau Elizabeth Stuart (ja, Tochter von James I. von England und Schottland) um 1613 zusammenbauen. Ich dachte, das wäre die das romantischste überhaupt, denkst du nicht? . . . . #gofurther #dreamoflivingabroad #showthemtheworld #familytravels #familytravelblogger #letsgosomewhere #letsgoeverywhere #wanderwithme #familytravelblog #tinytravels #exploringfamilies #takeyourkidseverywhere #almostfearless #fearlessfamtrav #familyadventures #familytraveltribe #havekidswilltravel #familygo #familytraveler #familyjaunts #castleheideblerg #mytinyatlas #living_destinations #myeverydaymagic #pathport #abmtravelbug #visitbawu #visitbawü #historynerd #valentines
Perkeo is another personality associated with the castle. Clemens Pankert was a buttonmaker in South Tyrol, where he met Prince Charles III Philip. When Prince Charles became Elector Palatine in the first half of the 18th century, he brought Pankert up to Heidelberg with him, where he was nicknamed Perkeo, because his response to being asked if he’d like another glass of wine was always ‘perché no?’ (why not)? Perkeo was affected by dwarfism, and was essentially an entertainer at court in Heidelberg, though apparently he knew a lot about wine besides how to drink vast quantities of it. The legend goes that he drank nothing but wine through his entire life, but when he was sick and he drank water, at the behest of a doctor, he died the next day. To be fair, most people didn’t drink water at that point, it was quite sensible! You will notice pubs and restaurants named after Perkeo around town.
There’s a wonderful animation of how the castle has looked at various points in its history made recently, it’s worth a watch.
I was surprised to learn that none of the damage was the result of the Second World War. All those tumbling down walls and half-collapsed towers are the work of the invading French army in the 17th century, lightning strikes, and the local populace making off with stones to build their houses with.
Heidelberg Castle tour
There are audio guides available, and they will share with you much of the history I’ve detailed above, and more, including the story about the world’s largest wine barrel in the basement of the castle. However, it really is worth doing the guided tour. Like most German castles, you can’t see the inside of the structure without a guided tour. It takes about an hour, and you tromp all over the place, so bringing kids along isn’t as much of a chore as you’d think. The guides are lovely, quite keen local historians, and they have lots of stories to tell that you won’t find in the guidebooks or on Wikipedia. If you think you only have time for either the audio tour or the guided tour, I would do the guided tour. Ask at the ticket desk when the next English language tour leaves. Do remember to wear warm clothes (if it’s autumn or winter) and sturdy shoes, as you will be climbing many imperfect steps, and the castle buildings are unheated.
German pharmacy museum
Tucked into the basements of one of the Schloss buildings is the German Pharmacy Museum. If you’re with older children, and you don’t read German, you will get more out of this corner of the castle with the audio guide. However, it’s also quite a fascinating place to wander through even without a guide, so if your travel companions are running out of steam, it’s still worth a visit. Inside, you’ll find many apothecary shops set up nearly in their entirety, as the museum has been bequeathed a number of shop interiors. It’s fascinating, seeing all the many drawers and jars and bottles, that would have been the stock and trade of a pharmacist not all that long ago. There’s a Kinder Apotheke (children’s pharmacy) where younger kids can pretend to examine someone and give a prescription. It’s worth noting that it’s very cool down here on hot summer days, and heated in winter. Entrance to the museum is included in your castle entry ticket.
Eating at Heidelberg Castle and nearby
While there is a fancy Weinstube (wine tavern), little cafe in the basement, and Backstube (bakery restaurant) in the castle courtyard, and a cafe with Bratwurst in the garden, I would suggest eating your main meal down in the town first. The cafe is adequate for a coffee and cake, or an ice cream, but the staff is disorganized and harried. I highly recommend Mahmoud’s for a great falafel or döner, tucked down a side street with a view of the beautiful red sandstone catholic church. If you’d rather do easy Italian, Vapiano (opening summer 2018) across from the big church in the main square has a solid and affordable kids menu. Hans im Glück, also in the main square, is a local burger chain that has a really neat interior full of birch trees. They don’t have a specific kids menu, but it’s easy to find something most children will eat. If you’re looking for dinner, Hans im Glück fills up fast, but you can make a same-day reservation online here. Most of the other restaurants in the square are tourist traps, best avoided. If the weather is good, your best bet will be to pick up sandwiches at a bakery, or a few big soft brezeln, and picnic in the gardens. We had a picnic after my son’s birthday party, and the staff told me it’s perfectly fine – so don’t panic if you don’t see anyone else doing it! The closest bakery to the foot of the funicular is the Mantei Bakerei, but there are many further along the Hauptstraße (the main pedestrianized street with all the shops).
Getting to Heidelberg Castle
The great thing about the Heidelberg Castle is it’s right above the old town, so there’s no need for a tour bus out to a remote site. Heidelberg is very easy to get to from Frankfurt, it’s about an hour by train. From Munich, it’s about three hours, so you would want to stay overnight here. That’s not a bad idea, as the comment I see most is ‘I wish I had longer to explore the city!’ when I’m reading through TripAdvisor about Heidelberg.
From the Heidelberg train station, you hop on one of the many trams just outside the station. There is a tourist information booth right outside the station as well, and the people there can help you get your bearings. Once you get into the old town, you will want to take the funicular up to the castle itself, the station is just around the corner from the Kornmarkt square.
Book a train right here, in English: