Why Heidelberg? It's the oldest and most well known university town in Germany, with an adorable old town, handful of museums, fun shopping area, castle, and beautiful cathedral. Plus, it's really beautiful and historic.
Getting There. Deutsche Bahn is the train system in Germany - we got a day ticket for 44 Euros, which enabled all five of us to travel from Frankfurt and back on regional trains (not the super fast ICE train). It took about an hour and a half, no big deal. When we arrived in Heidelberg Hauptwache (the main train station) we considered taking a bus to the Altstadt (old town) but the busses were crowded for a stroller, and it is only a 20 minute walk, so we walked. There's a tourist office at the train station that can give you a free, detailed map of the town.
THINGS TO DO!
We looked at Lonely Planet's Germany book, and read the few pages on Heidelberg and easily narrowed our activities down to enough to fill a busy, fun day. After a quick lunch at one of Germany's countless bakeries, we headed to....
Studentenkarzer and Universitats Museum, Augustinergrasse 2, 3 Euro, closed Mondays. The Studentenkarzer is the student jail, which was used from 1823-1914. My kids loved this, and talked about it for days afterwards. You can see the cells, the toilet, and there is crazy graffiti, poems, and murals all over the walls.
The Studentenkarzer is connected to the Universitats Museum. We didn't spend much time here but did walk to the second floor to see the old lecture hall, which is really neat. My kids thought it looked like church. Nobody was there so we explored the podium area too.
Heiliggeistkirche, right in Marktplatz.
This is Heidelberg's biggest and most famous church, built around 1400. I really like visiting old churches because they are so spectacular and amazing and old, and I love the peaceful beauty of them. I don't try and get my kids bogged down in the history of them and we only spend a few minutes there, so my children like old churches too, they seem castle-like and magical to them. We explored it, wrote wishes and gratitude on sticky notes to put on a prayer wall, they wrote their names in a guest book, and we payed a few Euro to climb the tower, which was awesome. SO many windey steps, and such views at the top! Totally worth doing!
Schloss Heidelberg (Heidelberg Castle)
At the edge of the old town there is a funicular that takes you right to the castle (Bergbahn Funicular), I believe it was about 12 Euro for our family to go on the funicular and for entrance to the castle. You can go up the hill further as well, but we didn't, so I can't say what is up there! We explored the castle on our own, deciding to skip the tours due to the kids short attention spans. This castle is huge and beautiful, and is partially in ruins, so you can get a good sense of both it's age and imagine what it was like in it's glory. There are a few cafes, an interesting pharmacy museum (Deutsches Apotheken-Museum) with a kid's area, and a neat basement-ey area with a snack bar where wine or beer was brewed in this enormous barrel.
We also visited the castle gardens (Schlossgarten) and sat out on a picnic blanket and relaxed in the shade. There are great views of the castle, and some fountains.
Cool Science Thing....
Our Restaurant Recommendation....
After the Schloss we were ready for an early dinner and to head back to Frankfurt. We wandered around looking for a perfectly child-friendly restaurant that was in the shade, not to crowded, and not too full of smokers. We found the most awesome place!
Schmidts Heidelberg, Hauptstrasse 187, www.schmidts-heidelberg.de
This is a great restaurant with a big menu, in a great location, right in the center of the old town area of Heidelberg. The food and beer was excellent, and they even have a HARRY POTTER THEMED KIDS MENU. My daughter is a huge Harry Potter fan (as am I) and this was incredibly exciting to her. The menu even says (in German) that if you can perform a spell and make food appear, your dinner costs 0 Euro. The kids found this hysterical.
Overall Heidelberg is awesome and totally worth a short visit. We loved it! I don't know what Rick Steves was talking about!