It was just a short drive from the Frankfurt airport, where we arrived early that morning, to Heidelberg, a famous German city located on a tributary of the Rhine River. Heidelberg sits on the Neckar River wedged between two hills, the Königstuhl, or Kings Chair, and the Heiligenberg, which translates approximately to “Holy Mountain” or “Mountain of Saints.” It’s a lively and historical city. Surrounded by mountains, Heidelberg is also a nature-lover’s paradise. That combination really appealed to my husband and me. We looked forward to exploring the two different sides of this beautiful place.
Heidelberg was saved from destruction during WWII, so there are still many traces of its history. It is also home to Germany’s oldest university, Heidelberg University, founded in the 1300s. Today, part of the university is still located in the old city, giving it a young and vibrant feel. Since we only had one day, we immediately set out to explore.
We made our way toward Altstadt, or old town, the oldest part of the city. Before long, we spotted Bismarkplatz, a central square bordered by big department stores. It’s a meeting point for both people and transportation, and the beginning of the pedestrian-only Hauptstraße, or Main Street in English.
Hauptstraße is apparently the longest pedestrian street in Europe. Lined with boutiques, shops, and galleries, it’s a shoppers’ paradise. We were there on Whit Monday, the day after Pentecost (the seventh Sunday after Easter). It is a German public holiday, so all the stores were shut, although there were still many people out and about.
Germany has very strict rules about shopping hours. German law mandates that Sunday is the Ruhetag, or resting day. This ensures that workers have a free day each week to spend time with family, hike, visit a museum, or do as they like. Ruhetag does not apply to cafes and restaurants, so many people go out for a meal on their day of rest. As we wandered down Main Street, taking in the sights and sounds of the city, we passed countless cafes filled with people enjoying a leisurely lunch and soaking up the late May sunshine.
Along the way, there were impossibly narrow alleys that were fun to explore.
We admired the many soft pastel colored houses with window boxes bursting with color. We noticed that the flowers seemed mature for May, more like what you would expect in July. That is because Heidelberg has its own microclimate. It one of the warmest places in Germany, so flowers bloom earlier here.
Hauptstraße runs parallel to the river and there are many small streets that connect the two. A detour took us to the walking path, where we enjoyed a brief and pleasant stroll along the river before returning to Main Street. It was hard to get lost. The old city is very easy to navigate, and much of it is pedestrian-friendly.