If you are as obsessed with castles as I am, chances are you’ve seen photos of Schloss (Castle) Lichtenstein perched on a clifftop in Baden-Württemberg (NOT in the small principality of Liechstenstein). This little jewel of a castle is definitely worth visiting on your trip to southern Germany.
Please note: Schloss Lichtenstein is currently closed due to COVID-19 restrictions. Please do save this post for your future planning!
This is an old castle, right?
Actually, no. This is a new build from 1840, but the old castle ruins are about 500m away. The old castle was built around 1100, the property of the local count, who had a long-running unfriendliness with the nearby free city of Reutlingen. Skirmishes and all-out battles destroyed the old castle twice, despite its impressive location on the cliffs. Changes in the political landscape meant it was abandoned in the 16th century. The old castle saw a little action in the Thirty Years War that ravaged most of Baden-Württemberg in the first half of the 1600s, but by that time the last member of the Lichtenstein family had already died. In typical unsentimental fashion, King Frederick of Württemberg took apart the ruins and built a hunting lodge on top of it in 1802.
Who built the Lichtenstein Castle?
Romanticism was in full swing in the 1800s, and a full-scale nostalgia for a largely imaginary medieval past full of knights and ladies had gripped the upper classes of Europe. German poet Wilhelm Hauff wrote a historical novel set in medieval Swabia (this region of Germany), and called it Lichtenstein. King Frederick’s cousin Count Wilhelm von Urach was so taken with the novel, he purchased the land in 1837 and built a castle on it, as he imagined it would have been in the 1500s. The castle is still owned by the descendants of Wilhelm von Urach.
While this castle is very picturesque, you may be a bit surprised when visiting as it really is not very big. The interiors, however, make up for its small size by being covered, on every surface, with a riot of colour, pattern, and ornament. I don’t have photographs of the interiors, as with most privately owned castles (!) you can’t take photos on the tour. Take a quick look at the gallery part of their website, however, to get a sense of the maximalism.
One of the most fascinating elements of the castle, for me, was the dining hall. It is connected to a room above and to the side by a large vent, covered with a decorative screen. For parties, the Count (later he became a Duke, as one does) would have his house musicians play in this adjoining room, and the music would float in to the dining hall.
Do I need to take a tour of Schloss (Castle) Lichtenstein?
Like most castles in Germany, a guided tour is required to see the inside of the building, and it is well worth your time. The tour is only half an hour, you can buy a ticket for a tour when you buy your castle courtyard entry ticket, though you don’t need to book a specific time but do ask when the next English-language tour starts when you buy your tickets. The groups for the castle tour meet on the bridge to the castle, so if you’d like a good photo from this vantage point, it’s best to catch the lull between tours. It’s worth noting here that there are stairs involved in the tour, so wear comfortable, sturdy shoes.
There aren’t many formal gardens around the castle, but the fortification wall offers some spectacular views down into the valley. There are some lovely meadows and hiking paths too. If you’re interested in the local hiking, there are maps to several local routes on the castle’s site here. The ruins of the old castle are very underwhelming, you might come upon them when wandering in the grounds. The stones have been thoroughly plundered for building the new castle!
Adventure park and cafe
Outside of the castle courtyard there is the adventure park, with a rope climbing course up in the trees. This is a popular type of activity in Germany, called a ‘Kletterwald’ or climbing forest. You get kitted out in a helmet and harness, and climb along ropes or narrow boards high in the trees. Children from eight years old can climb with an adult, and you can have up to two children climbing with you. This is adventure park is completely separate from the castle, but it’s literally next door, so they share a parking lot. To climb for three hours, it costs €23 per adult, and €17 per child, though there are family rates as well. You need to have a scarf to wrap your hair with under the helmet, and if you don’t have one they will sell you one for €3 each. Do check the rates and restrictions beforehand. There’s also a little fast food café there too with tables outside, if you’re looking for something less formal than a sit down meal.
When is the best time to go?
The Schloss Lichtenstein is open from March to December, 9am-5:30pm (April-October) and 10am-4pm (March, November, and December), though they close for Christmas each year from 24-26 December. It’s best to arrive as close as you can manage to the opening time for a less busy visit. The summer is of course a nice time to visit, but the autumn foliage in October is absolutely gorgeous.
How to get to Schloss Lichtenstein
There is no question that getting to Schloss Lichtenstein is easiest by car. However, it’s not impossible by public transport. The town of Lichtenstein is not, confusingly, the closest town to the castle. Buses leave hourly from Reutlingen, the nearest city, to Honau, the village in the valley below the castle. The hike up to the castle itself is fairly uphill and can take about half an hour. I have not done this walk myself so I can’t speak to the difficulty, but I have driven up the windy road and I would expect this hike would be too much if you’re travelling with kids and expecting to then explore the castle and grounds. There are organized tours to the castle, but as the grounds are currently closed, I can’t point you to any. Once this changes I will update this post!
The day we visited the Pfahlbau Museum Bodensee, or Pile Dwelling Museum on Lake Constance, it was absolutely pouring. It was in the shoulder season, so there was only one tour that day, and we all crowded under the eaves of the information centre waiting for our guide, while getting pounded by the rain. It seemed a fitting kind of day to explore these examples of prehistoric pile dwellings found around the Alps.
I love a good open-air museum
If you’ve ever watched those shows where people attempt to recreate life from another time period, you’ll remember how devastating heavy rain can be. If you’re wearing wool, it could be days before you’d dry out. Looking out at the houses on stilts over the lake, connected by slippery wood walkways, I could only imagine how long you’d have to stay inside, huddled together, waiting for storms to pass before you could do anything. Well, for us, even if not all of the tour group was appropriately dressed, we stamped out in the rain to investigate the villages regardless.
What is there to see at the Pile Dwelling Museum?
There are 20 buildings in all, arranged in small clusters. These buildings are, of course, recreations of structures from the Neolithic and Bronze Age (4000 – 850 BCE), based on extensive archeological evidence. But you might be surprised to learn that two of them are 100 years old themselves. In 1922, an open-air museum society built two pole dwellings, and they have been refurbished and repaired over the years, probably much like the originals were. Evidence of prehistoric pile dwellings like these have been found in lakes across this region, in Switzerland, Germany, Italy, and France, and this museum, is a UNESCO World Heritage site. It seems counter-intuitive, but these pile dwellings by their location have left much for archeologists to find. Bogs and marshy lakebeds are terrific preservers of wood – whole sections of floor, piles, roof pieces, and walls have all been found, even pieces of furniture.
But why did they build their houses on poles?
The lakes near mountains, while incredibly rich in flora and fauna (ie food), and water to drink, are also prone to major flooding when the spring comes. Lake Constance, for instance, can rise up to three meters in the spring, and very quickly. Presumably from experience, our ancestors figured out that having their houses up on stilts meant they wouldn’t be washed away each year.
Visiting the Pile Dwelling village
In the off and shoulder seasons, there is one tour a day, and the guide takes you around the little village clusters, and brings you inside several of the buildings to look at the dioramas set up with realistic looking mannequins using period tools. The tour is in German, but you are provided with some documentation in English. In the spring and summer months, guides are waiting in the buildings to explain things, but you are free to wander about. Even at the end of our tour, we were left to explore the houses on land near the information centre on our own for awhile. The tour is quite leisurely, and we didn’t feel rushed at all.
My favourite part of a good open-air museum visit are the moments you can feel what it might be like to live there. To listen to the wooden joists groan and creak in the wind, the water slap at the poles underneath you, and wonder whether the house can stand up to the storm raging outside! But stepping out on a walkway afterwards, watching the clouds race away across the lake, that also must have been satisfying. Unlike most of the other open-air museums I’ve visited that focus on the middle ages and a bit later, this life is so far removed from our own, it’s quite fascinating to experience. There’s so much we don’t know about these people, and even what some of the artefacts the archeologists have found might have meant to them. I think the museum has made a good attempt to fitting it together, but as the guides will tell you, sometimes they’re just not sure.
Visiting the Pile Dwelling Village with kids
While we went in shoulder season, it would be easier for non-German speakers to visit in the summer so you can take your time exploring with the English brochures the museum has available at the ticket counter. Kids are encouraged to explore, and like other open-air museums, it’s quite easy for them to grasp some of the history just by standing in the houses or walking along the walkways. If you have an under-6 who likes to run, this may be a bit of a challenge as the walkways do go over the lake quite a long way. If you’re doing the self-guided visit, you’ll be fine, but the tour takes an hour and that might be too long to stay focussed for the littlest among us. Definitely check their website for the details of their tours and opening times.
To get to the museum, you can walk from the Uhldingen-Mühlhofen station (Oberuhldingen), it takes about 25 minutes, or take a taxi from the station. There is a wharf right next to the museum, so your best bet is to take a ferry from Konstanz or another stop along the lake – you can see the ferry routes and timetables here. The stop for the Pile Dwelling Museum is Unteruhldingen, and it’s a pleasant walk through the park to the museum itself. You could always combine your trip to a visit to Mainau, the garden island, as well. Do check for combination tickets, someone at the ferry ticket desk can help with this. For shoulder and off-season visits, do check the schedule well ahead of time as the ferries don’t run as often or stop everywhere.
Our Christmas market in Heidelberg fills every one of the squares in our Old Town, stretching along the decorated pedestrian main street culminating in an ice rink right below our glorious castle. It’s full of locals enjoying the season every year. 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.
When is the Heidelberg Christmas Market open?
For 2021, the dates for the Heidelberg Christmas Market are 22 November – 23 December, 2021. Obviously it’s impossible to know what the travel situation will be like then, but I will keep you updated when I hear more!
Generally, the schedule runs like this: 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.
NEW in the HEIDELBERG CHRISTMAS MARKET as of 2019!
This year the market vendors have gone all out to make it feel even more special and Heidelberg-y. One stallholder spent nearly half a million Euros building a half-size replica of the giant (and I mean seriously ginormous) wine barrel at the Heidelberg Castle for the Christmas Market. Not only can you buy Glühwein, but you can reserve a table INSIDE the wine barrel (which has several tables and a chandelier, because obviously), and even stand on top on the special patio. This incredible structure is in the main Marktplatz next to the large church. The beautiful pyramid Glühwein stand with the traditional revolving structure has now shifted to the big market at the Universitätplatz. This year they’ve also put special emphasis on stallholders using as much local produce and wine as possible.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
Christmas Market 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 open again as of 2019!
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.
My obsession with castles is well documented, but until recently, I hadn’t stayed overnight in a castle in Germany. This spring, I found my happy place, my readers, and it’s called Schlosshotel Hugenpoet outside Düsseldorf and Essen. From gorgeous grounds to friendly staff, this is such a glorious place to stay.
Is it really a castle?
Oh yes, in fact, the first recorded mention of the place is in 778, as Charlemagne’s royal manor. The family that took over the estate after this, in the middle ages, were sometimes referred to as Hugenpoet. This romantic name actually translates to ‘toad pond’ in old German. Like nearly every large building in the area, the castle was destroyed in the Thirty Years War, and then rebuilt in 1647. This rebuild forms the framework for the castle you see today, with updates in the late 19th century. It first becomes a hotel in the 1950s.
What’s it like to stay there
The rooms vary, depending on where you are in the building. My room was in the old stables building. It was spacious, with a hallway complete with closets and suitcase storage. The bathroom was all beautiful lighting, gorgeous deep bathtub, and separate shower. I had a view over the stone bridge at the entrance of the Schlosspark, and when I pushed the windows open on arrival, the birdsong flowed in. I was ready to move in, I have to say. A word on the staff as well: everyone I interacted with were genuinely friendly and lovely.
Walking back to your room after a spectacular meal, or stepping out for a breath of fresh air in the morning – it is hard to explain how beautiful and amazing this place is.
In the morning, I took a walk through the gardens. Throughout the Schlosspark behind the castle there are benches, chairs, and loungers tucked into little corners.
Michelin Star dining on site
I had the pleasure of trying Chef Erika Bergheim’s menu while I was staying at the Hugenpoet. It was a Her Michelin-starred restaurant Laurushaus is in the former tithe barn (where the surrounding farmers would store the goods due their local baron or duke). It’s a cozy space, with a limited number of tables, and a small private terrace open in the summer. If you have your heart set on dining here, it’s worth noting that the restaurant is only open from Thursday through Saturday, and has several closure periods throughout the year (including the last two weeks of July). Book early!
Heavenly breakfast, cake, and more
If you’re looking for a less fancy option, there’s the more relaxed Hugenpöttchen restaurant overlooking the Schlosspark. That’s where you’ll have your excellent breakfast, with creative house-made jams and excellent coffee to order. Fresh tulips in bud vases graced every table. The restaurant is open for lunch from 12 noon, and continuously until dinner with cakes and treats created by the in-house patisserie available for mid-afternoon requirements. Of course, if you’re looking for a basket backed for a romantic picnic in the Schlosspark, with some notice, they can provide that for you too every Sunday from May until September (with 48 hours notice).
Where is this amazing place?
About a half-hour by car outside Essen or Düsseldorf, or about 45 minutes by train plus a short taxi ride. There’s lots of explore nearby, like the Zeche Zollverien, a huge old industrial site now transformed into art spaces, restaurants, and several museums.
Can you do this hotel with kids?
Yes! I have it straight from the hotel staff themselves. There is a little fenced playground at the end of the courtyard, great for smaller kids, including somewhere for adults to sit. There’s the Schlosspark behind the castle of course, which you’re welcome to roam around in. Not only that, there are special events for kids including an afternoon meal and castle manners lesson, that ends with a little run around outside of course, and cooking and baking classes as well. Possibly my favourite idea though, is the in-house babysitting. Contact the hotel ahead of time, and you can arrange a babysitter for the evening while you enjoy a romantic meal downstairs in the castle restaurant. How glorious would that be? If you’re looking to stay at the Schlosshotel with kids, book one of the junior suites or the larger suites, and let the staff know you will need space for children to sleep.
Some great times to visit
Christmas time, from the end of November to just before Christmas Eve, is a magical time to be in Germany. The markets in Düsseldorf and Essen are both gorgeous, and the Schlosshotel itself has its own market, in 2019 it’s on 5-8 December. In the summer months you can take advantage of their picnic baskets, and explore the local area, including the Zeche Zollverein, which has events on all summer.
Book your visit right here:
Getting to Schlosshotel Hugenpoet
As I mentioned above, you can get to the hotel from either Düsseldorf or Essen by train in about 45 minutes, getting off at the nearby station of Essen Kettwig Stausee, A short taxi ride from the station will have you arriving through the picturesque gates of the castle in no time. By car, it is about half an hour.
Book your train journey in English here:
This stay was included as part of a press trip exploring the region, organized by Nordrhein-Westfalen Tourismus. All opinions expressed are my own.
Everyone I speak to who stops in Heidelberg for a day trip wishes they had stayed longer in our picturesque little German town – so I’ve collected up some of the best hotels in Heidelberg based on where our friends and relatives have stayed while in the city. These are recommendations from people I know, not just a list I pulled from some hotel website.
Best hotels in Heidelberg
Hotel am Schloss
You can’t get much more central than this modernish hotel located in the same building as the bottom of the funicular up to the castle. It is a bit of a maze to find your way in (the entrance is via an elevator to the left of the ticket booth), but once you’re up there, enjoy the terraces, skylights, and beautiful views over the Altstadt. The rooms are definitely bigger than your average European hotel, and there are a few apartment rooms available with separate bedrooms, and even one with a kitchenette. I met up with an American family who were staying here, and they were pleasantly surprised with the size of their room, and they raved about the breakfast. You’re moments from the Altstadt, but off the main street enough for it to be quite quiet (I have friends who live around the corner, they report it’s fine, even during Christmas Market season). If you’ve rented a car, this hotel has parking which is unusual in the Altstadt.
This gorgeous central Heidelberg hotel is the only 5 star hotel in the region, and it’s a favourite with famous folk coming to town. I had only glimpsed their green courtyard in passing, but I toured the building this spring and staying here would be such a treat. Think rooftop sun terrace, pool, spa, and garden courtyard for opulent breakfasts that let you imagine you’re visiting royalty. The hotel has been run by the same family for over 50 years, and you can feel their warm personal touch all over the hotel.
We’ve been watching this brand new Heidelberg hotel as it was built in our neighbourhood. If you’d like to be a little out of the main drag for a quieter weekend, this is your ideal spot. This hotel is right on our local Marktplatz, complete with little playground, local kids playing soccer against a 12th-century church tower, twice-weekly market, and three different restaurants to choose from in the square. Every warm evening the tables under the leafy trees, locals and visitors alike enjoy dinner in the sunshine. You’re a two-minute walk from the Neckarwiese, the meadow along the river Neckar, with fenced playground, plus a natural stone water playground, beach volleyball nets, riverside cafe, and on sunny afternoons and evenings, every Heidelberger enjoying themselves. If you want to head into the Altstadt and the castle, you can either hop on a bus, or walk along the riverside until you get to the old bridge – it’s about 15 minutes.
This hotel is luxury on all fronts. The staff is faultless, and the hotel is across the river from the castle and the Altstadt, so you can secure a gorgeous view. Rooms and common areas are opulent and impressive, and there’s a little garden in the back in benches. They have their own in-house spa as well. The hotel restaurant is on a boat, moored on the riverside in front of the hotel. You can book a dinner or brunch cruise on the restaurant boat as well (non-guests can book too). It is gorgeous, there’s no question of that, but the price tag reflects this. If you’re looking to splurge, we know several people who have stayed here and it’s just as impressive as it looks.
In the quiet Neuenheim neighbourhood just over the river from the Alstadt, the Hotel Heidelberg Astoria also benefits from being in close proximity to the local Marktplatz, like the Rafaela. This hotel is spread across two large houses down a quiet side street. It’s a little less helpful for families as the rooms are smaller, but if you’re looking for a two-person getaway, this is a great find. The main house with the lobby and breakfast room is very large and airy inside, and you’ll find the furnishings are quite modern. The staff are very friendly and helpful, and they got to know us a bit as we were in and out with our in-laws who were staying. It’s worth noting they don’t have air conditioning, but you’ll find this isn’t unusual in Germany. Rooms are provided with fans, however. Again, you’re close to a little playground here, and a five-minute walk from the river meadow. And possibly the most important thing – you’re two minutes from our favourite gelato in town.
I know a lot of you travel on points, and Marriott is a common choice for North Americans heading overseas. My husband has stayed in this Marriott several times, and though it’s a bit dated, it’s very clean. The garden right on the river Neckar is a highlight, you can sit out here and enjoy a drink. It’s worth noting this hotel is a little further from the Altstadt and the rest of the sights, and while the walk there isn’t too far, it’s not a super picturesque one. You can expect decent-sized rooms, air conditioning (that’s worth noting, lots of hotels don’t have it), and a restaurant full of heavy duty wood paneling. It’s vey easy to get in and out from the motorways, and there’s ample parking if you’re renting a car and doing day trips. It’s worth noting that US hotel chains are relatively quite expensive, so unless you’re using points, you will find better value elsewhere.
We love the Ibis chain of hotels and they are always our first choice. Rooms are basic, clean, and straightforward, but the rates are also reasonable. Breakfasts are always great, and staff have been unfailingly polite and genuine. I think we’ve stayed in over 20 different Ibis hotels across Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and France. This Ibis is right next to the main train station, which is not usually my favourite place to stay in any given town, but our train station area is not as depressing. It’s also where you can catch trams into the old town, or walk through the train station to the new Bahnstadt neighbourhood to sample their selection of excellent newly built playgrounds and public spaces. This is the cheapest option on the list, and you’re paying less being next to the train tracks. Check with the hotel, often you can book a second room for 50% off if you’re all one family.