My family and I just spent a few nights exploring the charming and vibrant university city of Heidelberg, Germany, which is an easy, one-hour drive from Frankfurt.
In general, Germany as a whole is extremely family-friendly, with plenty to do (heck, even the taxis have pop-up booster seats). I found Heidelberg to be extremely welcoming, charming, easy-going, and safe for families with kids of all ages.
We were able to get a great rate at the Marriott Heidelberg, located about a mile down the river from the old city. While not directly in the center of all the action, the walk to the old city along the river was scenic and enjoyable.
Though the rooms in hotel are probably due for an upgrade soon, we had a great stay with an excellent breakfast, welcome amenity, and lounge, which always helps keep the costs down with kids in tow!
Here are some great family-friendly suggestions and highlights from our visit:
Free Walking Tour
One of my favorite things to do when I arrive in a new city is to participate in one of the free walking tours. Walking tours are not only a great way to familiarize yourself with new surroundings and meet other travelers, but it’s a great way to have access to a local expert at your disposal.
In between sites, I enjoy talking with the guides to some off-the-beaten path excursions and things to do during my stay. After settling in from a hectic travel day (we arrived into Frankfurt 6 hours later than expected due to a delay/misconnect) and adjusting to the time change, we took the Heidelberg Free Walking Tour, which meets at 2:30pm Wednesday through Sunday at the famous bridge monkey statue at the Old Bridge Gate in the center of the old city.
The tours are lead by students and last about 2 hours. They are entirely free and family-friendly. The tour guides work for tips, so be sure to take care of them if you enjoyed the experience. Registration ahead of time is encouraged, but not required.
The Parks and Playground and Neckarwiese
On the north bank of the river, between the Theodor Heuss bridge and the Ernst Walz bridge, is where local families and students enjoy quality outdoor time all summer long. You’ll find a great stretch of grassy area including the many playgrounds of Neckarwiese, which is a perfect local spot to spend a few hours relaxing. For parents needing a break, there is even a small cafe to grab a coffee or a bite to eat while watching the kids play.
Heidelberg Palace + HeidelbergCARD
The iconic attraction of Heidelberg is the Heidelberg Palace, which was built on the site of a medieval castle complex overlooking the Old Town. Even if you’re not a history buff, a trip up to the Palace and the gardens for the views alone is certainly worth it on a nice day.
The Palace is open Monday – Sunday from 8am – 6pm. If you’re interested in viewing the interiors, its only possible via a guided tour (5€ per adult, 12.50€ for families).
If you’re visiting Heidelberg as a family for at least two days, then the HeidelbergCARD might make sense for you. The HeidelbergCARD allows you to travel for free on buses and trains in Heidelberg, free admission to the castle courtyard and the barrel cellar, as well as the German Pharmacy Museum at Heidelberg Palace. You’ll also get discounts at over 60 restaurants, shops, museums and other attractions such as the Heidelberg Zoo, which is a great stop with young kids.
It costs 36€ for a 2-day family HeidelbergCARD, which is valid all day on the first day and until midnight at the end of the following day for a family with 2 adults and up to 3 children under the age of 16 or a family with 1 adult and up to 4 children under the age of 16.
Though we drove directly to the castle and parked our car in the lot by the gardens (for 3€), the HeidelbergCARD also comes with a roundtrip ticket on the funicular railway that takes you up to the castle. You can get to the Heidelberg Palace by public transportation by taking bus line 33 from Heidelberg central station to Bergbhan and then by taking the Bergbahn (funicular railway) to Schloss (Palace) station.
We had a blast at The Heidelberg Zoo! It’s less than a 3/4 of a mile scenic walk from the Marriott Heidelberg and it was a really nice and laid back zoo that included great animal exhibits, plenty of playgrounds, and cafes to relax and grab a bite to eat. The zoo is open from 9am – 7pm during the summer. Admission is 19€ per adult and kids under 4 are free. You can save 10% on admission with the HeidelbergCARD
Boat Ride on the Necksarsonne
Another fun way to take a break and take in some sights is by enjoying a serene tour of the city on a silent and 50-minute boat cruise aboard the Neckarsonne.
The Necksarsonne is a new ship along the Neckar River that’s emission-free and solar powered. The boat departs several times between 10am and 6pm daily by the Old Bridge, on the old town part of the river. Tickets can be purchased on board (adults tickets are 9€, while children 3-11 pay 3.50€), and you could enjoy some snacks, coffee, and tea for purchase.
For more outdoor and picturesque family fun, You can take the funicular railway up to Königstuhl, the highest mountain of the Odenwald, which offers great views over Heidelberg and the Neckar River. There’s hiking on the forest discovery trails and are a lot of nice leisure opportunities for families, such as Märchenparadies, which is a cute fairytale amusement park that’s fun for young children!
Renting a card and exploring smaller towns in Germany is easy-breezy, and it’s nice way to take in local culture and history in a relaxed ambiance.
The weather is absolutely perfect in the summer. The only complaint I had was that dining outdoors was nearly impossible thanks to the pesky German wasps that invade during the summer months (they seemed to love swarming me anytime I ordered Serrano ham). Here is a great article I found that explains exactly what I’m talking about!
As far as good food, one of our favorite dinners for traditional German food (recommended by a local reader) was at a restaurant in the Old City called Palmbräu Gasse. The Schwäbische Käsespätzle (a German noodle dish with cheese) was out of this world!
Have you visited Heidelberg before? If so, feel free to share some of your favorite spots!