Considered one of the most beautiful cities in Germany, Heidelberg should be on your to-visit list. But a day sightseeing in a tourist place will usually see you parting from lots of money, no? We spent an entire day exploring and less than twenty euros. Find out what’s on our list of free things to do in Heidelberg!
Although five things doesn’t sound like much, they took us all day, and we could have easily carried on. Heidelberg is quite a large city with lots to look at.
In this post, we’ll share our top 5 free things to do, show you what else to look for and tell you where we spent our money (hint – delicious cafés!). There are also free things to do in Heidelberg that we didn’t get around to, but we’ve listed them for you.
We visited Heidelberg in Spring, and it was reasonably quiet. However, we’ve seen some pictures online at the height of tourist season, which looks hectic! Because it’s such a tourist destination, it’s bound to get busy. So, if you prefer things quieter, like us, we advise going out of season.
Hi there! We’re Jolly, Nemi, and The Vanbino, a travelling family living full-time in our self-converted Luton campervan “Vandertramp”.
We’re a thrifty family on a budget who loves exploring new places. We like to go at a steady pace and share with you our honest and realistic travel guides.
Free Things To Do In Heidelberg
1. Mooch Around The Old Town
The Old Town (or Altstadt) is a massive part of why Heidelberg has been dubbed one of Germany’s most beautiful cities. It’s big compared to the Altstadt in Koblenz, but it’s easy to explore without missing anything.
The main street, which eventually morphs into the newer part of the city, is flanked by two parallel streets. In addition, many connecting smaller streets make it easy to systematically weave your way around the Old Town.
2. Walk Along The Old Bridge
Also at the top end of the Altstadt is the Alt Bruke, or Old Bridge, which would have originally been the gateway into Heidelberg city, and it’s rather grand and lovely. You can walk across the bridge to the other side of the Neckar River to take THE photo of the Old Bridge with the city behind it.
When we visited, it was quiet on the bridge, and we managed to snap some good photos, but we doubt it would be so quiet at the height of tourist season.
3. Touch The Brükenaffer
By the archway at the start of the Altbruke (coming from the Aldstadt side) is a bronze statue of a monkey (the Brükenaffer). Touching different parts of the monkey is meant to bring different types of luck; touch the coin for prosperity, his outstretched finger to return to Heidelberg, or touch a nearby mouse for fertility.
The monkey’s head is hollow, so you can miss touching his lucky bits and wear his face as a mask.
4. Explore Heidelberg Castle
Although you need to pay for entrance to the castle, the walk up to it, the castle gardens and the spectacular views over Heidelberg are all free! Additionally, you can walk outside the castle and see some of the castle ruins.
The castle is up a hill at the top end of the Altstadt- you can spot it from street level.
If you fancy paying to go in, the price is €9 for adults and €4.50 for concessions. They also have an hour-long guided tour for an additional €6/€3.00. The ticket prices are reasonable, as they also include a return journey on the mountain railway (saving you from a trudge up the hill!), admission to the German pharmacy museum and entry to the cellars where the giant wine barrel lives.
They also do special tours on certain days of the year, such as an adventure tour for children. See their website for more info.
5. Visit The Haus Zum Ritter
Admiring the old buildings was one of our favourite free things to do in Heidelberg. While exploring the Altstadt, keep your eyes open for this architectural beauty! It’s the only burgher* house to survive Heidelberg’s fire in 1693, making it the oldest one in Heidelberg.
Built initially for cloth merchants, it is now a hotel and restaurant.
*The burghers were the upper middle classes of the medieval world and were usually traders and merchants. The bourgeoisie, darling!
Things To See Around Heidelberg
Although five free things to do in Heidelberg may seem like a little list, plenty of interesting sights keep you occupied. So as you wander the streets (new and old), keep your eyes peeled for all the smaller details Heidelberg has to offer.
Some signs outside shops and pubs have kept the traditional signage, while other buildings have traditional paintwork.
And there’s plenty of architectural interest, too. Many of the buildings have shutters, decorative stonework or gargoyles.
There are some beautiful churches, the most prominent of which are the Church of the Holy Spirit (Heiliggeistkirche) and the Jesuit Church (Jesuitenkirche)
While looking for beautiful architecture, you’ll no doubt find Heidelberg University’s buildings.
Also, if you want to part from a bit of money, there’s the student jail at the back of the university. The “studentkarzer” was once where troublesome students became incarcerated for transgressions such as drunken behaviour, insulting authorities or staging a duel. The graffiti covering the walls shows the boasts of the offenders about their crimes. For ticket prices and opening times, click here.
Every side street you walk past is inviting you to take a photo. Although some streets have their charm diminished by parked cars, others only have the odd bicycle parked here and there.
While mooching around, you’ll come across various statues, including one of Robert Bunsen, inventor of the Bunsen burner.
And although you’re having a thrifty sightseeing day in Heidelberg, you can still enjoy window shopping!
Other Free Things To Do In Heidelberg
There are other free things to do in Heidelberg that we didn’t have time to do. We’ve included some links to them for further reading.
The Philosophers Walk
Follow the Philosophers’ Walk (Philosopherweg), where the academics and philosophers from the university would come and think.
For more information, click here.
Near the philosophers’ walk is the Heiligenberg Hill, a place of history, legends and myths.
Visit Heidelberg’s largest green space, spanning five hectares.
Where We Spent Our Money In Heidelberg
No surprise that we spent our money in cafes. We may be thrifty, but we love a coffee!
Both cafes are at the top end of the Aldstadt, near the Church of the Holy Spirit (or Heiliggeistkirche).
Our first cafe stop didn’t have anything specifically vegan on their menu, which was a shame as the cakes and pastries looked uh-may-zing, darling. We had a coffee outside with a fantastic view of the castle on the hill. It was called Cafe Gundel, just past the church on the Kornmarkt square.
Rada Coffee & Rӧsterie
We stumbled upon the second coffee shop by accident. We’d gone into Schneeballenträume (Snowball Dream), a small bakery selling “snowballs” – delicious-looking balls of deep-fried cake with a variety of different toppings.
We went in to ask if they did a vegan option, which they, unfortunately, didn’t (yet?!). But the lady in the shop was super helpful and pointed us to a cafe just around the corner that offered vegan cake.
It was called Rada Coffee & Rӧsterie on Untere Strasse.
We both had a coffee, Nemi had a vegan carrot cake, and Jolly had a vegan apple cake.
Unlike Koblenz, you have to pay to use public toilets. They cost 50 cents, so make sure to carry some change.
As we were travelling in a campervan, we didn’t have any expenses for accommodation. We parked for free, a forty-minute walk outside the city, next to the Bauhaus car park on Eppelheime Strasse.
There are also numerous side streets as you approach the city, which you’d probably be able to stealth camp in if you’re in a smaller campervan.
Activities for children
As the Vanbino was seven months old, she was happy being carried around in her sling. But if you’ve got older kids to entertain, there are also child-sized free things to do in Heidelberg. Dotted around the city are various play parks for the younguns to go wild and burn some energy.
There are free “bucherregal” (bookshelves) in Heidelberg where people exchange books. Although most titles are in German, you might happen upon a free English book!
Breastfeeding in Germany feels more relaxed than in the UK. Nemi fed the Vanbino in several places throughout the day, and nobody batted an eyelid.
In Rada Coffee, there were also two other women breastfeeding.
As in Koblenz, we couldn’t find anywhere specific to do any baby changing. There weren’t facilities in any of the toilets, so the Vanbino had to put up with being changed on a bench again.
Although it seems like a small list, our 5 free things to do in Heidelberg should keep you busy all day. If you also manage to get around to the free things we didn’t have time for, you’ll definitely have a full day exploring!
So have fun exploring, and we really recommend the coffee and cake at the vegan coffee shop. Let us know in the comments what you get up to!
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