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Heidelberg Christmas Market: A Local’s Guide

Heidelberg Christmas Market: A Local’s Guide

Our Christmas market in Heidelberg may not be the largest or the showiest in Germany, but it’s full of locals enjoying the season every year beneath our glorious castle. We go to the market five or six times each year, as well as visiting other nearby markets too, at all times of day, and all days of the week. It’s one of my favourite places to buy gifts to send home to my family. If you’re the kind of person who collects special ornaments from your holidays, you will have so many to choose from it will make your head spin. 

Is the Christmas Market enjoyable if you’re not really a Christmas person? Definitely! This is much more of a wintery, festive thing than an overtly consumerist, flashy religion thing. The religious content is very minimal, and you’ll find everyone celebrating the cold weather and… well… Glühwein!

So pull on your warm socks and walking shoes, here’s your local’s guide to enjoying our lovely Christmas market here in Heidelberg.

Gift stalls in the Heidelberg Christmas Market in the Universitätplatz

Gift stalls in the Heidelberg Christmas Market in the Universitätplatz

When is the Heidelberg Christmas Market open?

This year, 2018, the market opens on 26 November, and runs until 22 December. Each day, the stalls and ice rink opens at 11am, and close up around 9pm, except on Saturdays when they stay open a bit later until 10pm. 

Where is the market?

There are little markets spread all along our pedestrianized main street, the Hauptstrasse. Starting at the Bismarckplatz, the main bus exchange, you can visit six along your walk. Some are just a small collection of stands serving food and drink, with a smattering of mugs and decorations, like the one at Bismarckplatz. But the last three, at the Universitätplatz, Marktplatz, and Kornmarkt are quite large. I’ve made a special map just for you, scroll down to see it.

Is there a Christmas market up at the Heidelberg Castle?

You will probably read about a market at the Castle, but this is no longer happening as of 2016. Endangered bats nest and hibernate in the tunnels below where the Christmas market used to be held. It was decided that the market was too disruptive for the bats, so the stalls that used to be there were moved down to another square in the city that year. It was off the usual route, however, and I don’t think they did that well, because the next year those stalls were included in the main market locations. However, you can enjoy ice skating in the Karlsplatz directly below the castle.

Carousel in the Heidelberg Christmas Market in the Universitätplatz

Carousel in the Heidelberg Christmas Market in the Universitätplatz

What is there to do at the Heidelberg Christmas Market and when to go

Just soaking up the festive atmosphere is one of the best activities, to be honest, but a gentle stroll through the markets is what we locals do. The most magical time is around dusk, when all the lights come on and it feels like you’re walking through a Christmas card. If you’ve got kids with you, head straight for the Universitätplatz market to save little feet. At the centre is a big old carousel, and even though my son knows it well, he always wants at least three rides! The Kornmarkt is set up as a little forest, with loads of pine trees on stands, all entwined with lights. Between the trees is a mini-train the kids can ride, and again, a good two or three times around seems to be required! The giant windmill-style Glühwein stand that is an iconic Christmas market staple is set up in the main Marktplatz, as well as a smaller carousel. The ice skating rink is one market square beyond the little wood, in the Karlsplatz. You can rent skates there, and take a few turns around the rink to music, with the castle lit up right above you. 

Each day, the stands and the ice rink opens at 11am, so if you’re looking to buy gifts, early afternoon is a great time to do so with minimal crowds. Because the market is so spread out, it doesn’t often get too crushed. The stalls close up around 9pm, 10pm on Saturday nights. Weekends are definitely busier than weekdays, as daytrippers come in from across Europe. 

Glühwein mug, and Flammkuchen

Glühwein mug, and Flammkuchen

What to eat at the Heidelberg Christmas Market

What not to eat?! Come hungry, because there’s lots to choose from. The ubiquitous Bratwurst is everywhere of course, served in a small bun (think of it as an edible handle). If you like it spicy, go for the Feuerwurst. There are steaks and venison sausages cooked on the big round grills. There are usually several vegan food stalls as well, if you’d rather skip the meat. Local to our region is the Flammkuchen, a very thin crust pizza topped with onions, bacon pieces, and a mild soft cheese more like cream cheese than mozzarella. There are infinite variations you can get though, including ones with mozzarella on them, veggies, pesto, and more. These are cooked to order, and are a good crowd-pleaser, as everyone just tears a piece off. Just keep ordering until everyone is full. 

One of my favourite treats is the Kartoffelpuffer, which is a bit like a hashbrown patty, but it’s deep-fried fresh to order, and you can have either Apfelmuss with it (apple sauce) or avail yourself of the ketchup and mayo there. Sweet and savoury crêpes are available all over, as well as sides of salmon grilled over an open fire. Hot waffles drizzled in Nutella, or sprinkled in sugar and cinnamon is another favourite. My son’s tip for the best sweet crêpe: order the Kinder Riegel one, where they put a thin chocolate bar (or two if you’re lucky!) made of milk and white chocolate in the middle, and it melts and gets all gooey inside the crêpe. There always seems to be a few stands that will dip a skewer of fruit in molten chocolate for you as well. 

If you’re looking for a more portable treat, cotton candy, or Zuckerwatte, is popular, as well as bags of candied nuts. There are always colourful stalls full to the brim with candy that seems to attract children like a magnet. The decorated heart-shaped cookies hanging outside are pretty, but pretty hard to eat. 

What to drink

Glühwein of course! Because Heidelberg is in the middle of several wine regions, if you do a little searching you can find the more delicately spiced Weißglühwein, which is my particular favourite. If you order it ‘mit Schuß’ you will get the choice of a shot of rum or Jägermeister in your hot sweet wine for an additional Euro. For some theatre, seek out a Feuerzangenbowle stall to watch them set a rum-soaked sugar cone on fire, above a cauldron of Glühwein. And then have a mugful, obviously. For kids and nondrinkers, you can find Kinderpunsch at every stand that serves Glühwein, which is a hot spiced fruit juice. The mug you’re served your Glühwein in is reusable, and when you buy your first mugful, you have paid a deposit, or Pfand. You can walk up to any other Glühwein stand in the market and pay for a refill. If you’d like your deposit back, when you’re finished the night you can return your mug to any stand selling drinks, and they will refund you – don’t forget, it’s 3€ a mug! I think everyone in Heidelberg has a few of these at the back of the cupboard!

Wooden toys at the Heidelberg Christmas Market.

Wooden toys at the Heidelberg Christmas Market

What to buy

On average, I find the prices at the gift stalls very reasonable for the quality of the work. A lot of these people spend all year making things to bring to the Christmas markets. Some of my favourite things to buy as gifts at the market include:

Sheepskin slippers

We are a farming region down here, and there are a few stalls that only sell sheepskin products, and the slippers are so incredibly warm. They have gorgeous proper sheepskin throws as well, but these are pricey. They are also the best quality ones I have ever seen.

Felted pouches

Who doesn’t need another pouch to keep train tickets, small change, or glasses in? These stands also feature some incredibly detailed children’s slippers with curled toes. If you have an elf-obsessed small person, this may be your perfect choice. There’s also a good selection of felted flowers to pin to a coat or hat.

Wooden puzzles

The wooden puzzle booth is always a favourite stop. From classic ball mazes to more complicated Escher-like twisting baubles, everything is made in good-quality wood, oiled and stained. Not just for kids, most of these games would look perfect on a bookshelf or desk.

Christmas decorations and lanterns

It’s a tradition in southern Germany to put a lit-up star lantern in your window. Accordingly, some of the most beautiful stalls are the ones hung with many lanterns, all glowing in the evening. There are metal punched-hole ones from Morocco, and paper ones of all shapes and sizes. The paper kind will flatten down, if you’re concerned about suitcase space. There are many options for more traditional wooden decorations as well. If you really want to invest, visit the Käthe Wohlfahrt store at the corner of the Unveristätplatz market –– they have full Christmas scenes that move with the heat from a candle, miniature (and not so miniature) Christmas pyramids, and pretty much everything Christmas you can think of. The prices are much higher in here, but if you’re looking for an heirloojm piece, this is the place. 

Chocolate tools

This sounds so strange, but there is a stand behind the carousel in the Universitätplatz market that sells chocolates in intricate shapes of tools, cameras, cars, keys, and kitchen implements. It’s worth a look even if you don’t buy anything, because they are incredible. 

The Christmas pyramid in the Heidelberg Christmas Market in the Marktplatz

The Christmas pyramid in the Heidelberg Christmas Market in the Marktplatz

Insider tips

We visit many times over the season, as well as many other Christmas markets in nearby towns. Here is what we’ve learned:

  • Wear comfortable shoes and warm socks because you will be walking and standing the whole time
  • Bring a reusable bag for any purchases
  • Wear a hat and a scarf, and bring gloves, it gets quite cold when you’re out for several hours
  • Don’t bother with an umbrella if it’s raining, there are too many people, just wear a hat
  • If you’re not into walking a long way, take the bus to the centre of the market and start there (see below)

How to get to the Heidelberg Christmas Market

The Christmas Markets are easy to reach in Heidelberg, as is Heidelberg itself. Regional trains reach the city with a change in Mannheim – for more details on how to get from Frankfurt to Heidelberg, I’ve written a whole post for you. From the Hauptbanhof (main train station), you can take any tram or bus marked for Bismarckplatz to walk the whole length of the markets. If you’re looking to save your energy, take the 32 Bus to Universitätplatz and that will bring to the heart of the bigger markets. If you’re driving, you will want to park around the edge of the Altstadt and walk in. I’ve marked two good parking garages on the map below, as well as where the markets are, the train station, and where the bus drops you. 

BONUS market to visit: Kloster Neuberg

NOTE: The Kloster Neuberg market is closed in 2018!

Not part of the city markets, but well worth a visit is the little market at the Stift Neuberg. This is a still functioning monastery down the river a bit from the city. The market is on the grounds of the historic farm that is run separately from the monastery these days, and it features cows, goats, and an excellent brewery. If you’ve been craving beer but could find nothing but Glühwein, this is your stop. It is much smaller than the other markets, but it’s much more rustic. The craft stalls are inside the barns, and there is sometimes a small carousel. Fresh Flammkuchen is always available, along with hot waffles, Kartoffelpuffer, and Bratwurst. If you’re lucky, they will be roasting a pig on a spit above a woodfire. This market is much quieter, so if you want a little magical local experience, this is worth it. 

To get there, you can take the bus 34 to the bottom of the hill where the monastery is (marked on the map above), or you can take the Weisse Flotte boat along the Neckar (departure pier also marked on the map). The boat is more like a little ferry, you don’t need to book ahead. I wouldn’t recommend driving, as parking is a right pain. It is a big walk up a hill, but there are more sitting options than in the bigger markets, so you can take a rest once you get up there! Also, wrap up warm, it is at a higher elevation. If you’re really lucky, it will snow!

Enjoy your trip to the markets in Heidelberg, we really love this time of year in our adopted home.

 

PS – Here is my overall guide on how to do German Christmas Markets, and if you’re looking for other things to do in Heidelberg with kids, I’ve got you covered there too.

 

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Schloss Mespelbrunn

Schloss Mespelbrunn

The small but perfectly formed Schloss Mespelbrunn in western Bavaria has survived for hundreds of years unscathed, mainly due to its location, nestled in the Spessart forest. This is a famous German forest, with its fairy stories and myths immortalized by the Brothers Grimm. The Castle Mespelbrunn is one of those that takes your breath away as you come around the neatly clipped box hedges. I don’t think I will ever tire of that moment when a castle reveals itself. Sometimes referred to as a ‘wasserschloss’ (water castle), Mespelbrunn sits serenely in its own little lake, complete with resident swans. 

This post contains affiliate links. Should you click on one, I will get a small commission at no extra cost to you. 

History

In 1412, the Archbishop of Mainz gifted some land next to a pond in the Spessart to a knight named Echter, for his part in defeating the Czechs. At this point, the Spessart was literally thick with thieves and bandits, which inspired the second generation of Echters to build fortifications around the stately home. From this period, only the round tower remains, with the rest of the castle being rebuilt in the Renaissance style from 1551-1569. The most famous resident of the castle was Julius Echter, Prince-Bishop of Würzburg (1545-1617), who founded a hospital and re-founded the University of Würzburg in 1583. 

Schloss Mespelbrunn was never in a high traffic location, and this saved it during the Thirty Years War when armies of all sides were rampaging through the area. 

The lake runs on all sides of the Castle Mespelbrunn, like a very large moat.

The lake runs on all sides of the Castle Mespelbrunn, like a very large moat.

The doors to the Castle Mespelbrunn. You can see the little crate that holds the fish food on the lefthand side there.

The doors to the Castle Mespelbrunn. You can see the little crate that holds the fish food on the lefthand side there.

By 1665, the last male Echter died without leaving a male heir. However, Maria Ottilia, Echterin of Mespelbrunn, married into the Ingelheim family which were later elevated to Counts. The current Count Ingelheim lives in the castle with his family today. 

Still from the title sequence of Das Wirtshaus im Spessart, shot at the castle in 1958.

Still from the title sequence of Das Wirtshaus im Spessart, shot at the castle in 1958.

Completely unrelated to the actual history of the castle, a famous German musical called Das Wirsthaus im Spessart was filmed in the castle and a nearby town in 1958, which seems to inspire many coach tours.  

Inner courtyard at Castle Mespelbrunn

Inner courtyard at Castle Mespelbrunn

Door to upper levels of the castle, dated 1569.

Door to upper levels of the castle, dated 1569.

Schloss Mespelbrunn entrance fees and opening hours

To do anything other than lean over the gate and take photos, you need to pay an entrance fee. 

Adults 5€

Children/students 2.50€

The castle is open from March to November 9am-5pm daily, but check their site for exact opening and closing dates as they change each year. 

It’s worth noting that it’s difficult to get to this castle other than driving. The parking lot is a short (level!) walk from the castle on a smooth gravel and then paved path. Unusually for a castle, this one is quite easy to access with a buggy or if you’re travelling with folks using mobility aids. However, there are stairs on the tour and you won’t be able to bring your buggy with you.

Your first view of Schloss Mespelbrunn from the gates.

Your first view of Schloss Mespelbrunn from the gates.

Is it worth doing the tour at Schloss Mespelbrunn?

Yes definitely. Like most German castles, you cannot see the inside except on a guided tour. All tours are in German, so you will need to ask the ticket seller at the gate to give you an English pamphlet, which provides the text of the tour in English. Often the guides can answer any questions you have in English, or someone on the tour can translate. On the tour, you will see the Knight’s Hall on the ground floor, with suits of armour and heraldic symbols in stained glass. Moving upstairs, you get to see the dining hall, which I found the most impressive. It’s a bit of a hunting lodge theme, with wild boars’ heads and antlers mounted all over the place, as well as an impressive table setting. The current Count of Ingelheim and his family have special dinners here, even now. There’s also a small but interesting display of weapons, including some wicked-looking early crossbows. 

View from the castle entrance across the small topiary garden.

View from the castle entrance across the small topiary garden.

Shady benches outside the Knight's Hall at Schloss Mespelbrunn

Shady benches outside the Knight’s Hall at Schloss Mespelbrunn

There’s a tower room dedicated to honouring Julius Echter, Prince-Bishop of Würzburg and all his works. The main interest here was the shrunken head he was gifted by someone who had visited Africa. Moving through to a bedroom, it’s hard not to imagine sleeping here with the window open to the breeze, listening to bandits call to each other in the woods. No doubt no one would have kept their windows open for fear of dying of unseen miasma, but that’s just my romantic fantasy. 

The tour lasts about 40 minutes, and moves along fairly quickly. 

Regal swan glides across the lake at Schloss Mespelbrunn

Regal swan glides across the lake at Schloss Mespelbrunn

What else is there to do at the castle?

The small lake is also home to schools of fat and happy looking fish, which you can feed with little packets of proper fish food for 0.50€, that are sitting on a stand just outside the main castle doors. The fish get gratifyingly excited to be fed, and the water is quite clear, so this can take up a good half hour if you’re travelling with kids. There are a few resident swans floating around looking regal as well. There’s a small cafe in the old stable building, across from the castle. We stopped and had an excellent Apfelstrudel, and Eiskaffee, in their little garden. An Eiskaffee, if you’re not familiar, is a gloriously cold concoction of vanilla ice cream scoops in a large glass, with coffee poured over it, with unseemly amounts of whipped cream and maybe even chocolate sauce dribbled over that. Like an obscene version of an affogato. But delicious. 

Getting to Schloss Mespelbrunn

Despite being only an hour from Frankfurt, this castle is still quite hard to get to without a car. There is a parking lot very close, and it costs 2€ per vehicle. 

If you’d like to get there by public transport, your best bet would be to take a train to the Aschaffenburg station and then a taxi to the castle, which would be a half hour journey. Do check the sections above for opening hours, as many reviews I’ve read online seem to involve people trying to visit in winter and disappointed the castle is closed. 

You should leave two hours for your visit, but know this small castle won’t take an entire day to explore. It’s a beautiful spot that isn’t overrun with visitors, so enjoy yourself and take your time. 

Quick bonus! If you’re looking to stay in the area, the beautiful Schlosshotel Mespelbrunn is short walk from the castle and is all kinds of beautiful.

Beautiful Schlosshotel Mespelbrunn

Beautiful Schlosshotel Mespelbrunn

PS – Looking for some day trips from Frankfurt? Or maybe another incredible castle to visit?

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Schloss Schwetzingen

Schloss Schwetzingen

The summer palace of the Prince Elector Palatinate in Schwetzingen is beautiful, standing at the end of a tree-lined avenue in the small town of the same name. The buildings are only a gateway, though, to the truly magical gardens that lie beyond the gates. Impressively, the palace has retained its extensive gardens, lawns, and various outbuildings including a mosque. 

Water features at Schlossgarten Schwetzingen

History

The Prince Electors in Germany were powerful men who, as a group, chose the Holy Roman Emperor, and ruled over parts of the Empire themselves. When the Prince Elector Charles III Philip moved the court from Heidelberg to Mannheim around 1700, he started building work on a summer residence in Schwetzingen, as well as the main palace in Mannheim. He was particularly fond of music, and assembled an unusually large and skilled court orchestra. Mozart visited several times to perform at the summer palace, and definitely walked in the gardens.

The gardens are particularly interesting as they span two distinct styles prevalent in the 18th century. The highly structured and manicured French style dominates the initial views from the palace, but as you move further away from the central allé, you are presented with winding paths, woods, and streams. The gentler, more natural English style was taking over around the middle of the century, but instead of making over the entire garden, the court architect Nicolas de Pigage just combined the two. 

Beautiful tree tunnel in Schlossgarten Schwetzingen

Beautiful tree tunnel in Schlossgarten Schwetzingen

When to visit Schloss Schwetzingen

The summer is obviously a beautiful time to stroll in the gardens – everything is in bloom, and on a Saturday you will see many brides and wedding parties of all types having their photos taken. On hot days, escape the central area into the trees and many curling paths. There are endless pieces of statuary among the hedges and fountains. However, there are a few other times of year that are worth a visit as well. 

In the autumn, the changing leaves are spectacular all over the garden, but particularly beyond the Turkish garden, where the paths and a little river curls around a large garden folly that resembles a very small castle ruin. 

In the winter, after a snow fall, the gardens turn into Narnia. Many of the larger plants are tied up artfully with burlap and after a dusting of snow everything is transformed into some kind of sculptural snow topiary. 

Pink cherry blossoms at Schlossgarten Schwetzingen

Pink cherry blossoms at Schlossgarten Schwetzingen

Finally, possibly my favourite time to visit is in spring when the cherry blossoms come out. Just before you reach the Turkish garden is a large walled garden filled with cherry trees, and planted with bulbs. In spring the watery sunlight is trapped in this space, and it’s almost like a taste of summer. The cherry blossoms are a joy to witness, and we try to bring a picnic to enjoy on the grass. You can check their website for details on the progress of the cherry blossoms, they usually have a Blossom Barometer! The last half of March or early April is a good bet, however. 

Can you imagine trimming these hedges?

What to do at Schloss Schwetzingen

It is possible to see a few of the rooms inside the palace building, however like most German castles, you can only visit with a guided tour. English tours happen at the weekends at 2:15pm, though you can join the German tours that happen most days and read from a translated sheet. The tour lasts about an hour, and it’s interesting, but I would say you could skip it without missing too much. The real draw of this site is the gardens. I have yet to do a garden tour, but they do offer them once a week, in German. 

Tour options at a glance:

English tour of the palace rooms (1 hour): Saturday and Sundays at 2:15pm

German tour of the palace rooms (1 hour): Spring (March 25th – May 2nd) Monday – Friday, hourly from 11am – 4pm, Saturday & Sunday & holidays, hourly from 10:30am – 5pm

Summer (May 3rd – September 27th) Monday – Friday, hourly from 11am – 4pm, except Thursdays when tours run hourly until 7pm, Saturday & Sunday & holidays, hourly from 10:30am – 5pm

Autumn (September 28th – October 27th) Monday – Friday, hourly from 11am – 4pm, Saturday & Sunday & holidays, hourly from 10:30am – 5pm

Winter (October 28th – March 23rd) Fridays at 2pm, Saturday & Sunday & holidays 11am, 1:30pm & 3pm

German tour of the palace and garden: Spring, Summer & Autumn, Monday – Friday, 2pm, Saturday & Sunday & holidays, 12 noon, 2pm & 4pm

German tour of the garden: Spring, Summer & Autumn, Saturday, 3pm

The entrance price varies accordingly to which tour you’d like to take. I know, it gets a bit confusing. Just entrance to the garden, with no tour, is 6€ for adults and 3€ for children, with a family price of 15€ (applies to two related adults and children). The standard English tour included with your entry price will make it 10€ for adults and 5€ for children, with a family price of 25€. If you are planning to visit Heidelberg as well, do think about getting the Baden-Württemberg Schlosscard, as you will save if you visit more than one site. 

It’s worth noting that if you have a particularly wiggly child, the tour might be a challenge. I saw plenty of children on the tours however, so they are not discouraged by any means. As usual, you know your child best. However, there really isn’t much in the way of interesting things – no armour or weapons, no clothing displays or toys. 

Of course, if you are a larger group, you can arrange a tour yourself, in whichever language you prefer. I have arranged one before, and the staff are very helpful and quick to respond. 

The best approach is to wander where your heart takes you really. The gardens are designed to give you the sense they go on forever, and I love just wandering and taking in all the little scenes as they appear. It is endlessly beautiful to photograph in any season, so make sure all your batteries are charged. Wear comfortable shoes, because you will be walking and walking. My favourite places are the main allé and the Turkish garden, but ask me after my next visit and I will have changed my mind!

Garden restaurant at Schloss Schwetzingen

Where to eat near Schloss Schwetzingen

The gardens have a small restaurant at the end of the wind to your right as you enter the gardens, but I have never visited. The tables outside look lovely, but I always seem to come upon it as I am leaving. There is also a very small cafe directly across from the ticket office before you enter the gardens properly. However, for a better deal, you will want to eat before you enter. All along the avenue approaching the palace are restaurants that put out their tables, there is always room and it’s a beautiful spot to sit. On a warm summer’s day, visitors often remark that it feels more like Italy than Germany. If you’re looking for a sweet treat and a coffee, try Bäckerei Utz just past the bank on Carl-Theodor-Straße (that main road running up to the palace). If you’re lucky, you can buy some chocolate shaped like asparagus. 

Schwetzingen is the centre of Spargel (white asparagus) growing in this region, and you’ll see many references to it around the town. If you happen to visit in late spring or early summer, you will see Spargel on every menu, or even catch the Spargelfest. We witnessed the historic annual foot race involving wheelbarrows, aprons, gloves, hay bales, and shots of Schnapps. 

Endless beautiful views, really.

How to get to Schloss Schwetzingen

It’s very easy to reach Schwetzingen from Frankfurt, it’s one train to Mannheim and then a half hour bus to Schwetzingen that drops you straight in front of the palace. You can book your ticket right here, in English. 




If you’re travelling within Baden-Württemberg, like from Heidelberg, or going on to Stuttgart, you can buy a Baden-Württemberg ticket at the train station that will also get you a 10% discount on your entrance ticket to the Schloss Schwetzingen. If you’re travelling in a group, these tickets are often much cheaper. You can buy one right here: 




 

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Summer Packing List for Germany

Summer Packing List for Germany

This post contains affiliate links. Should you click on one, I will get a small commission at no extra cost to you. 

Summer in Germany is beautiful – it’s all about relaxing in biergartens, visiting castles, wandering in leafy green forests, and exploring half-timbered towns. Of course, the weather varies from one end of this large country to the other. If you’re up north in Hamburg, you can expect temperatures around 17ºC-22ºC (63ºF-68ºF), but down south in Heidelberg, it gets up to 30ºC-32ºC (86ºF-90ºF). If you’re planning on visiting a few places in Germany, you will definitely need layers. That’s why my Germany packing list works pretty well as a Europe packing list too. 

Heidelberg Castle

When we travel in Germany or head into France, Italy or Switzerland in the summer, I pack a capsule wardrobe of dresses, cardigans, leggings, sandals, and scarves, with a packable rain jacket for surprise showers. I am definitely a dress person, and I will let you into my secret for wearing dresses with no tights as a woman whose thighs touch (no matter what size I’ve been, they’ve always done that, just the way I’m built!). I admit I’m pretty minimal when it comes to my colour palette, so most of my clothes are black. This makes it easy to build a small capsule wardrobe though. 

Our European travel tends towards historic sites, city visits, museums, markets, and easy forest walks. If you’re doing some hiking, your list will be a bit different!

Castles on the Rhine

One week Summer Germany (or Europe) packing list

If you’re planning to swim, bring a quick-dry suit, flip flops, and a large quick-dry towel.

For accessories:

Can you believe these are Birkenstocks?

Shoes

I bring two pairs of sandals if I’m traveling in the summer: one pair with a small wedge, and a very flat pair. Both of my sandals are very practical Birkenstocks, but they aren’t their standard styles. If you’re keen on having a closed toe trainer, I would suggest a stream-lined white or grey shoe that won’t look out of place with summer dresses. Personally I love Italian Supergras, I have a silver hightop pair I love.

My excellent camera bag that doesn’t look like a camera bag

Bags

I am very aware of my belongings, many years of living in a big city like London will do that to you, so I don’t carry money belts or special bags or anything like that. I used to bring too many bags, but I now realize that I will always have my camera bag with me so there’s no point bringing another purse because I won’t use it. This is why I invested in a camera bag that looks like a regular bag, not one of those hyper-technical things. I wrote a whole post when I was researching a stylish-looking camera bag! I do bring my small laptop backpack if I am bringing my computer, as it allows me to keep all the cables and bits with me. If I’m on train, I will stow my suitcase and then I have my laptop there ready to go. If you’re not bringing a camera bag, I suggest a medium-sized cross body bag so you’ve got your hands free. Though do wear it fashionably pulled forward in front to discourage pickpockets.

Cosmetics and toiletries

I keep my cosmetics pretty streamlined in general, so when I travel there’s nothing really different than my usual routine. I do often opt for make-up remover wipes, and throw a bunch of cotton pads in a zip-top bag with my favourite exfoliator squirted all over them. But that’s it!

  • Make up (foundation, concealer, mascara, eyeliner, brow pencil)
  • Make-up remover wipes like these
  • Ziptop bag with cotton pads soaked in Pixi Glow Tonic
  • Medicines

Charging infrastructure

This is our family name for all the cables, chargers, and whatnot required to keep everything plugged in and charged while we’re away. Mine is a bit different as I have to bring my CPAP machine with me (a device with a mask I need to wear when I sleep, it’s to deal with sleep apnea), so I bring a surge-protected power bar with built-in USB ports for plugging in my devices. But my husband brings just a plug-in USB charging block, that has the brightest light on it ever, so it functions as a nightlight as well. We’re also adding a couple of universal plug adapters to our infrastructure as well.

 

Did I miss any of your must-pack items?

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Getting from Frankfurt to Heidelberg

Getting from Frankfurt to Heidelberg

Heidelberg is a lovely day trip from Frankfurt. In one day you can easily visit the castle, have a leisurely lunch on the pedestrianized main street, visit the excellent museum, and maybe even have a quick trip on the river Neckar before heading back to Frankfurt. I’m biased because I live here, but I would definitely suggest staying over for the night and exploring our little city a bit more – but it’s definitely possible to do Heidelberg in a day trip from Frankfurt. 

You have three options:

Tours from Frankfurt to Heidelberg

If you’d rather not plan all the nitty gritty yourself, there are several options for coach tours leaving from Frankfurt (check availbility here). The benefits of taking one of these:

  • Air-conditioned coach (this is important in the summer when the temperatures here hit a humid 30º+ (86ºF)
  • Tours will take you straight up to the castle
  • Guided walk through the Heidelberg Old Town
  • You don’t have to research or plan
  • It’s an easy way to slot in a trip to Heidelberg on your holiday

The downsides are they can be more expensive than doing a trip yourself, and if you want to see something else, you’re stuck with your group. However, I completely understand getting a bit overwhelmed with vacation planning details! These tours are generally adult-orientated, but older kids should be fine. If you’re travelling with younger school-age kids or toddlers, it’s best to stick to train or car travel.

Candy stalls are a regular feature at German Christmas Markets

Visiting the Heidelberg Christmas Market

Train from Frankfurt to Heidelberg

This trip is very easy, as there’s a direct train that runs from the main train station in Frankfurt to the main station in Heidelberg. It takes just under an hour, and the trains are pleasant and clean. It’s about 80€ return for two adults and two children for this trip. You can book it right here in English:




A cheaper way to book this trip is to buy a Quer-durchs-Land-Ticket, this is a special saver price for regional trains only (IC and ICE trains are not included) – for two adults it is 52€, with all children travelling for free. However, this route will take an extra half an hour, and you will have to change trains midway. I suggest buying this ticket online, and then confirming your route with the information desk at the Frankfurt main station. 

Upon arriving in Heidelberg, don’t panic! The main Heidelberg train station is a bit grim, as are the surrounding streets. Head out of the station with the herd of people from your train to the tram and bus stops. There you will need to buy another ticket for local Heidelberg travel from a machine at the stop, or you can buy a ticket from the bus driver. You are going to take a number 32 bus to Universitätplatz. On this journey, the bus pulls into a big plaza called Bismarckplatz in front of the Galeria Kaufhof department store, where lots of people get off and on, but you will be staying on. The bus then drives along the river Neckar for awhile, and then turns into some very narrow streets. The buildings start getting older and then you get off at the last stop, Universitätplatz. You are now in Heidelberg’s Old Town! When facing the river, you want to walk left to reach the main Marktplatz and the castle. Tip: my GPS-enabled audio tour begins at the Marktplatz. 

Take a side trip to see the Schwetzingen Palace gardens

Renting a car and driving from Frankfurt to Heidelberg

This is an easy, if not terribly scenic, drive. I’d suggest going with Hertz to rent your car, if for no other reason than there are several places in both Frankfurt proper and the airport to return your car. 

I suggest you set your GPS for Sofienstraße 7, 69115 Heidelberg. This will bring you into the city, and you will see an entrance to the Darmstädter Hof Parkhaus on your left (an underground parking garage). The rates are fairly reasonable, and while there are parking options closer into the Old Town, the driving gets more intense as you navigate very narrow, aggressively cobbled streets. If you’re comfortable with this, feel free to follow the posted signs for the parking in the Altstadt. When you come out of the Darmstädter Hof parking, you will be at the beginning of the Hauptstraße, or main street, which is pedestrianized all the way up to the square below the castle. It’s a nice walk, with cafes and restaurants all the way along. The plus side of having a car, as it will allow you to take a detour to nearby towns like Schwetzingen to see the summer palace and gardens, or Speyer to see the cathedral that is the burial place of so many Holy Roman Emperors. 

Enjoy your trip to Heidelberg!

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