You’ll find images of Perkeo, the fabled court jester with a Bacchanalian thirst for wine, scattered amongst Heidelberg’s beautiful baroque streets. But this is hardly the only reason to visit. Even if you can’t make it to the annual Ball of the Vampires in February (!!!), there’s still plenty to do.
Since I'm a mere hour away from the town of vampires and courtly entertainers, I decided to train over and spend a few hours seeing what Heidelberg was really all about. If all you have is one day there, here are five awesome non-vampire-related things to get the most out of your time:
1. Old Town
My travel companions and I were on a sacred mission to find The Cute in Heidelberg, and The Cute we did find. The Altstadt, or old town, is a 20-minute walk away from the central train station. Don’t stress when you disembark into contemporary suburban surroundings — just head straight over to Hauptstraße, the main drag, for charm aplenty. It’s a pedestrian street teeming with shops and restaurants that get more and more alluring the further you walk.
Why does everything look better the longer you walk? Because you’re practically starving, honey. Pop in at Perkeo right there on the Hauptstraße for a double-dose of food and culture. The restaurant feels grand and traditional, with an overabundance of stained glass and framed pictures of celebrities along the walls. Try the salmon and spinach Flammkuchen (“flame cake”), a German-Alsatian dish that resembles pizza. Take a tip from Perkeo and order some wine — the fedeweißer is ice-cold and delicious.
3. The Castle
If you’re expecting a fairy-tale château with spires and a drawbridge, you may be disappointed. The castle’s mix of architectural styles, red stone construction, and state of decay leaves it looking anything but dainty. You can take a funicular up the hill, or follow our example and walk off your Flammkuchen. Beware: It’s a hike! Make sure to walk all the way around the castle to see epic ruins of the “Powder Turret,” the macabre-looking result of a major explosion.
4. Chocolates & Pastries
One of the major highlights of being in Germany is the sweets, and Heidelberg has them in spades. (The other best part is that you walk everywhere, so a quick pick-me-up is not only pleasant, but key to your survival.) You can take your pick from any of the Schokoladengeschäft and Konditorei along the Hauptstraße, or head off the beaten track to find the storefront from the film Chocolat, because Heidelberg is totally the kind of town where you’d find something like that. We contented ourselves ogling the picture-perfect pastries at Cafe Gundel. Zwetschgenkuchen? Yes, please. You don't have to be able to pronounce it to eat it.
5. The Philosopher’s Walk
As I was spending the afternoon with a gaggle of Doctors of Philosophy, it seemed only appropriate to lead them across the picturesque Old Bridge and to experience the famed Philosopher’s Walk. If you heeded my advice about fortifying yourself with pastry, you will be prepared for another large hike uphill. The effort is worth it, though — when you get to the top, the view is stunning. As we say back home, San Francisco's great, but Oakland has the million-dollar views of the Golden Gate Bridge. Same principle applies here — the panorama of the Neckar River, Heidelberg Castle, and the red roofs of all the tiny little buildings makes you immediately want to go talk to a real estate agent.
I'll be back in February to do important vampire ball recon, and who knows? Maybe I'll even find myself there sooner to catch more pastry by the river — and see if I can find more places Perkeo is hiding.