With the warm glow of sunset reflecting off the red sandstone, nestled high in the forests southwest Germany, it’s easy to understand why the Heidelberger Schloss (Heidelberg Castle) is thought to be one of the most scenic ruins in Europe.
First mentioned in 1225, the castle has endured much history. Its original purpose was for the residency of the Count Palatine of the Rhine—late known as the Prince Electors. It was said to become one of the grandest palaces of the Renaissance, and the ruins today are still considered to be the most important of the genre north of the Alps.
Up until the late 17th century, the Castle was highly regarded and continuously improved with impressive constructions: Gläserner Saalbau, Ottheinrichsbau, Friedrichsbau and Englischer Bau, each considered a masterpiece of Renaissance architecture. Together, these created a frame for the courtyard.
In the late 17th century, however, the Castle suffered a series of attacks, both by war and fire as well as two devastating lightning strikes in 1537 and 1764. Though repairs were made, they were not sufficient to maintain and the castle was left in ruins.
In the 19th century, however, the palace was elevated to the status of a national monument, encompassing the epitome of the spirit of the Romantic Movement. As well, the castle is also highly regarded for its famous gardens, Hortus Palantinus, which was the last work commissioned by the prince electors, but never completed.
Today, you can see a small portion of the grandeur that the gardens were intended to provoke through the last remaining landscaped terraces and other remnants.
Throughout the 19th and 20th century, the castle became more popular as a tourist destination, especially for American tourists. The famous American writer Mark Twain explained the beauty and splendor of his visit to the Heidelberg Castle in his 1880 travel book “A Tramp Abroad”:
“A ruin must be rightly situated, to be effective. This one could not have been better placed. It stands upon a commanding elevation, it is buried in green woods, there is no level ground about it, but, on the contrary, there are wooded terraces upon terraces, and one looks down through shining leaves into profound chasms and abysses where twilight reigns and the sun cannot intrude. Nature knows how to garnish a ruin to get the best effect.”
Visiting the castle today will bring just as spectacular experience as Twain had over 100 years ago. It is situated high above the city of Heidelberg, on the northern side of the Königstuhl hillside.
To reach the castle from the city, you can either take a private car, in which case parking could be difficult, bike (I’m not sure how easy this would be because of the altitude), walk from the path that begins at Burgweg up to castle, following either the short or scenic route, or you can take the Funicular which leaves from Kornmarkt or take either bus 11 or 33 to the Kornmarkt/Bergbahn stop and take the Bergbahn (literally: mountain train) up to the first stop, the castle. The town itself is not very large, however, so it will be easy to find your desired route up to the castle.
The palace interior is only visible with guided tour Mon-Sun from 8 am to 6 pm, with the last tour leaving at 5:30 pm. I would definitely recommend to set plenty of time aside to also admire the outdoor surroundings, the physical castle itself, the gardens and especially the beautiful view.