Why Heidelberg is Germany's most inspiring city

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Why Heidelberg is Germany's most inspiring city
Heidelberg. Photo: DPA.

The small, southwestern city was named Germany's most inspiring place to visit in a recent report. What is it about the university town that makes it so special?


According to the report published by TravelBird, the most inspiring city in Germany isn't Berlin, Hamburg, Munich or Cologne - it's the small university town of Heidelberg.

Nestled in a sloping valley, surrounded by forests and steep cliffs, this historic city on the river Neckar in southwestern Germany was ranked the ninth most inspiring city to visit globally.

The university town was beaten by places such as San Francisco, Bruges and Miami, which came first.

Germany is apparently a pretty stimulating place generally, with nine of its cities making the top 50, including three - Berlin (22), Cologne (28) and Munich (30) - in the top 30.

Cities were ranked according to a variety of factors, including their performing arts institutions, art schools, galleries, museums, film industry, startup scene and general romantic feel.

So what is it about Heidelberg that gives it that spark?

It's been inspiring famous visitors for centuries

The hype around Heidelberg isn't restricted to 2016. It's been attracting famous visitors for a long time.

Germany's beloved writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe seemed pretty enamoured with Heidelberg when he said it had "something ideal" about it.

Goethe stayed there in 1779, particularly enjoying drawing in Heidelberg Palace's gardens - and if it's good enough for the giant of German literature, then it's surely good enough for us.

A sculpture Johann Wolfgang von Goethe in Weimar. Photo: DPA.

William Turner, the influential British landscape artist, found Heidelberg worthy enough of his artistic talents to warrant several paintings of the city and its surroundings during his tour of Germany in the 1840s.

One of William Turner's Heidelberg paintings. Photo: DPA.

Huckleberry Finn author Mark Twain also found inspiration in Heidelberg during the few months he stayed in the city in 1878.

The famous American satirist reflected: “One thinks Heidelberg by day - with its surroundings - is the last possibility of the beautiful; but when he sees Heidelberg by night, a fallen Milky Way, with that glittering railway constellation pinned to the border, he requires time to consider upon the verdict.”

Not the expression on Mark Twain's face when he first saw Heidelberg. Photo: DPA.

For 21st century travellers, there is still lots to excite during a stay. This is no doubt the reason why this small city attracts 11.8 million visitors every year.

Heidelberg emerged largely unscathed from Allied forces' allied bombings during the Second World War, meaning that, unlike many other German cities, much of its beautiful pre-war architecture can still astound a modern-day visitor.

Heidelberg Palace

Photo: DPA.

This ruined castle where Goethe liked to take a stroll still sits atop Heidelberg's hillside.

First built in the 13th century, Heidelberg Palace was one of the most beautiful examples of Renaissance architecture before it was blown up by French troops in the 17th century, and set on fire by a series of lightning strikes in the 18th century.

However, this semi-destruction only added to its romantic appeal.

Its charming ruins still attract around one million visitors a year and it was ranked second in the 2016 German Travel Board's top 100 sights in Germany.

And if you manage the climb to the top, you'll be rewarded with a great view of the city's baroque Altstadt or old town.


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Heidelberg University

Heidelberg is also home to the oldest university in Germany, and one of the oldest surviving universities in the world.

The venerable institution has been shaping young minds since it was established in 1386, and after 736 years it is still one of Germany's best universities, according to a recent ranking of the world's best universities.


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The university library.

The university is so influential, it has produced no fewer than five German chancellors.

Philosopher's Walk

One of the city's most famous streets is the Philosophenweg (Philosophers' Walk), a path made famous by professors and philosophers from the university who would stroll down it pondering everything from university matters to the greater questions of life.

Tortured souls and those lost in thought, this way. Photo: DPA.

A walk through this most intellectual of cities will reveal bookshops, publishing houses and libraries around pretty much every corner. So it's no surprise that the town was named UNESCO City of Literature in 2014.

Add to all this the city's funicular railway, churches, museums, squares, parks and gardens, and it's easy to see why Heidelberg is a perfect place for contemplation as well as inspiration.

Heidelberg also prides itself on its environmental credentials, having received the European Sustainable City Award on two occasions. Alongside these, it was honoured with the Global Green City Award in 2015 for its commitment to sustainable development.

By night

Heidelberg is just as beautiful by night as it is by day.

When the city's 18th century sandstone Alte Brücke, or old bridge, is lit up you can see what Mark Twain meant about the beauty of Heidelberg at night.

By Charley-Kai John


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