10 places in and around Heidelberg to spend a Sunday afternoon

Heidelberg is a town located on the bank of the river Neckar in the state of Baden-Württemberg in South-West Germany. It is famous for its romantic cityscape and a beautiful baroque-style old town. Located at just one-hour driving distance from Frankfurt international airport, Heidelberg is very popular among international tourists. The town is also well-known for its university, which is ranked among top 10 universities in Germany. The university attracts a lot of international students from all over the world. I was fortunate to get accepted for a graduate program in Heidelberg university. During my residency of a few years in Heidelberg, I had a chance to explore some places off the beaten track. This blog post is about some known and some not-so-known places in and around Heidelberg. Don’t expect a palace with exciting historical tales and unexplored architectural splendors. These are small gateways where a Sunday afternoon. A short bike-ride to one of these places followed by a warm coffee or a glass of beer will certainly make your weekend more happening.

The beautiful cityscape of Heidelberg
1. Schloβgarten – The castle of Heidelberg is very well known. However, the core area of the castle requires you to buy a ticket. Although the core area offers excellent view of the old town and the river, the adjoining garden offers even better perspective without buying any ticket. To go to Schloβgarten, take a left turn from Kornmarkt and walk up the hill. This route goes around the main building of the castle and takes you directly to the garden. The garden is very spacious and well-maintained. The garden has a promenade facing the old town and the river. From here, you can see the ruins of the castle, the beautiful churches and streets of the old town, and the river Neckar flowing by the town. The route towards the garden, unlike the stairs, is a pleasant walk. In summer, the city administration of Heidelberg organizes a firework show (Schloβbeleuchtung). The garden promenade is the best place to watch the firework show. Make sure that you go there early enough to grab a place, from where the view is not obstructed by trees.

The garden and the castle (source: Internet)

The firework show as seen from the garden
2. Kӧningsüthl – It is a 568 m high hill located on the southern bank of Neckar, overlooking the city of Heidelberg. The summit of Kӧningsüthl is connected to the old town and the castle via a historic funicular railway called Heidelberger Bergbahn. However, the best way to reach the summit is by hiking up. The hiking trail begins from behind the castle and passes through the forest almost parallel to the tracks of the funicular railway. It is fun to watch the funicular railway riding up the hill while you walk through the forest. If you are not in the mood to hike, you can take bus number 39 from Bismarckplatz. From the summit of Kӧningsüthl, you can enjoy the fascinating view of Heidelberg and the surrounding area. At the summit, there is a small café where you can enjoy a warm coffee and some snacks. Besides the café, there is a small bird park. A falcon show is organized in this park every Sunday during the summer months. The forest behind the café is an ideal place for a picnic. 

The funicular railway
The backside of the cafe
3. Neckar cruise – Several companies offer a short boat ride in the river Neckar. The cruise departs from a tiny harbor in front of the city hall (stadthӓlle). The most popular route is from Heidelberg to Neckargemünd. As you travel upstream, the hills of Odenwald come closer to the river bank. At some locations the river makes a mighty turn in the valley, which makes the landscape photogenic. Tiny villages like Schlierbach and Ziegelhausen enhance the beauty of the landscape. The river bed is not exactly at the same level throughout the region. It is fascinating to see how the boat travels from the lower region to the higher region with the help of a special arrangement. You can enjoy a coffee, snacks, or even a beer while on this ride.

Neckar river cruise (source: Internet)
4. Thingstӓtte – It is a magnificent open-air theater, which is situated on the top of Heiligenberg, a hill on the opposite side of the old town. It was built in the first era of the Nazi regime, in the year 1935. After the second world war it was used for offering Easter service. The plans of using it for real theatrical performances have not been successful because of lack of electricity. Since 1980, the place is being used for the celebration of Walpurgis nacht. On the evening of 30th April, around 10000 students gather at Thingstӓtte and enjoy the performances of fire dancers and jugglers. This event is gaining popularity over the time. Apart from this event, the place is worth visiting on a sunny Sunday afternoon. Behind the theatre, there are some ruins from the Roman time. You can hike to Thingstӓtte from Philosophenweg or from Mühltalstraβe in Handschusheim.

Heidelberg old town- as seen from Heiligenberg
5. Schwetzingen – It is a small town located 15 km southwest of Heidelberg. The town is famous for its magnificent baroque-style palace and the beautiful garden around the palace. The palace was built by the regional ruler in the mid-18th century on the basis of the palace of Versailles in France. The garden around the palace was developed by following a typical ‘English garden’ style. A section of the garden harbors a small forest of Japanese cherry trees, which bloom at the onset of Spring. It is mesmerizing to stroll among the Cherry trees when they are in full bloom. You can take a direct bus to Schwetzingen from Heidelberg train station. Alternatively, you can take a tram 22 until its final destination. From there, a connecting bus will drop you right at the entrance of the palace.

The Schwetzingen palace
The garden in Autumn
Cherry trees in full bloom
6. Speyer – This beautiful town is located 32 km southwest of Heidelberg. It is situated on the western bank of the river Rhine. You can reach Speyer by regional train via Mannheim in 40 minutes. The history of this town dates back to the Roman era. The most famous monument in the town is the cathedral. Built in the year 1030, the cathedral is today a UNESCO world heritage site. The medieval clock tower and the technical museum are some other sites worth visiting. The pedestrian area around the cathedral is a nice place to walk around and grab a coffee. If you walk a little further, you will reach the Rhine beach. Your excursion to Speyer is not complete without a walk on this beach.

Speyer cathedral and the city center (source: Internet)
7. Weinheim – This medieval town is located 15 km north of Heidelberg. You can reach Weinheim by S-bahn or tram number 5 from Bismarckplatz. The best way to go there is to ride a bike. Weinheim is known as ‘Zwei-burgen-stadt’ (two-castles-city), named after the two fortresses Windeck and Wachenburg, overlooking the city. The city-center is located in a valley, and is dotted by cozy cafés and restaurants. Slightly up on the hill, sits a small garden called Exotenwald. From here, you can hike further up into the forest and enjoy the beautiful landscape of Odenwald.
Weinheim city center (source: Internet)
8. Ladenburg – It is a tiny town located 10 km northwest of Heidelberg. You can reach there by S-bahn or by riding your own bike. The town has some ancient ruins from the Roman times. The most interesting place in the town is the huge garden on the bank of Neckar. This place is ideal for a Sunday afternoon stroll or a grill party. In the middle of the garden, there is a small gallery, from where you can enjoy the beautiful landscape. There is a ferry that takes you to the other side of the river.

Neckar in Ladenburg
The garden on the bank of Neckar in Ladenburg
9. Dossenheim Steinbrüche (stone quarries) – Dossenheim is a tiny suburb of Heidelberg, located 5 km north of the city center. Because of cheaper accommodation and good connectivity to the city center, it is popular among students as a place to live. Located at a 15-20 min walking distance from the tram station of Dossenheim are the stone quarries. These quarries, once operated by Leferenz were used for extracting stones until mid-1960’s. Today, the quarry is a small garden and an open museum. Some remains of the old mining equipment can be seen in this quarry. A small trail leads you to the upper section. Along the trail, written on the boards, you can find some information about the quarry, its history, mining equipment, and the geology of the place. At the end of the trail, there’s a small garden that overlooks the Neckar valley. This is absolutely a must-visit place on a summer evening to watch the sunset. 

Stone quarries at Dossenheim (source: Internet)

Weisser Stein tower

10. Weiβer Stein – Up in the hills, east of Dossenheim, is a place on the hill top called Weiβer Stein. Located at 548 m, it is one of the highest places in Odenwald. It takes approximately 30 minutes by car from Heidelberg. Unfortunately, there’s no public transport available to reach there. You can walk up through the forest from Dossenheim Steinburche, which is perhaps the best way to reach this place. On Weiβer Stein, there is a 20 m tall lookout tower, which was built by Odenwald Club in 1906. From the top of this tower you can enjoy the beautiful landscape of Odenwald. There is also a beer garden nearby.

The road that leads to Weisser Stein
Hope you enjoyed reading this post. Do visit these places and share your experience.      

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