Heidelberg: A Magnet for Mark Twain and Millions More

Historic Heidelberg Enlarge image Historic Heidelberg (© picture-alliance/dpa) Heidelberg is one of the most beautiful cities in Germany. Mark Twain visited it more than once in the 19th century, and it remains a popular destination for tourists from all over the world.

Located along the Neckar River, the city's main attraction is its sprawling castle, which is illuminated to great effect during dramatic summer spectacles. 

A French army practically razed Heidelberg to the ground in 1693, and the castle illuminations - held three times every summer - serve to commemorate this event.

"Picturesque and otherworldly Bengal fires drench the ruined walls in a dazzling red light," is how the tourism site heidelberg-marketing.de describes it. "When the 'fake fire' dies away, a cheerful, brilliant fireworks display takes over, which enthuses thousands of visitors every time, and adds festive glamour to the beautiful Old Town."

With or without grand nocturnal illuminations, Heidelberg is simply breathtaking.

Heidelberg Castle (detail) Enlarge image Heidelberg Castle (detail) (© picture-alliance/Burkhard Juettner/vintage.de)

The "old town" (Altstadt), which wends its way along the Neckar River, is long and narrow. It is dominated by the ruins of Heidelberg Castle, located on the steep wooded slopes of the Königstuhl (King's chair or throne) hill. The castle was built and re-built over a period spanning several centuries in a mix of styles ranging from Gothic to Renaissance. There are also several noteworthy historic churches located in and around Heidelberg. The city's iconic old stone bridge was completed in 1788.

Heidelberg, with a history dating back some 800 years, has also long been famous as a place of learning. The University of Heidelberg, founded in 1386, is one of Europe's oldest universities and the oldest university in Germany. Among just some of the great minds associated with the university are Georg Friedrich Wilhelm Hegel, Jürgen Habermas and Hannah Arendt. Heidelbergs's library, founded in 1421, is moreover one of the oldest still intact public libraries in Germany.

A view of the old bridge, city gate and castle in Heidelberg. Enlarge image A view of the old bridge, city gate and castle in Heidelberg. (© picture-alliance/Burkhard Juettner/vintage.de)

In 1878 the great American writer Mark Twain and his family spent a few months in Heidelberg. He returned to this stunning city several more times, both to learn German and for creative inspiration. In his book "A Tramp Abroad" he wrote extensively about Heidelberg, including the castle, student life, a raft ride on the Neckar River and a visit to the opera.

Like Twain, most people who have visited Heidelberg are enchanted by it timeless old town, by its cobblestone streets and market squares flanked by intricate Baroque architecture and inviting outdoor cafes, and by the picturesque castle ruins overlooking it all.

And you don't necessarily need to be a poet or a student to enjoy Heidelberg - the city's romantic, fairytale-like appeal is universal, which is why it is one of Germany's top tourist destinations.

Germany.info

HEIDELBERG FAST FACTS

Population: (around) 140,000

Federal State: Baden-Württemberg

Area: 108.83 square kilometers (42.02 square miles)

Proximity to Frankfurt: Heidelberg is only about 77 kilometers (48 miles) from Frankfurt am Main, the location of Germany's largest international airport, which is less than one hour away by car or by rail (at slow to average speeds).

Heidelberg University: Germany's oldest university was established in 1386. It was distinguished by the "Excellence Initiative" of German's federal and state governments as an "elite university" in October 2007.

Tourism: Heidelberg attracts some 3.5 million guests per year, 65 percent of whom come for professional reasons.

Economy: More than 80 percent of Heidelberg-based enterprises are in the service sector. Heidelberg is the center of the BioRegion Rhine Neckar Triangle. Among the companies based in Heidelberg are Lamy, Heidelberger Druckmaschinen AG, HeidelbergCement, SAS Institute, ABB, MLP, Springer Science and LION bioscience AG.

Source (facts and figures): heidelberg.de

Heidelberg

Heidelberg Castle