Few places can boast a population dating back at least 600,000 years, but the good folk of Heidelberg in south-west Germany know that an extinct species of human did live in their region at least that long ago.
The city has changed somewhat since good old Homo heidelbergensis used to eke out a living there, and today it is considered to be one of the most charming cities in Germany, particularly as much of it survived the destruction of World War II. It is a picturesque and romantic city that is situated on the banks of the Neckar River.
Located about 89km (55 miles) south of Frankfurt, Heidelberg boasts original buildings from both the Middle Ages and early Renaissance period that are still standing. Here you can enjoy the charm of narrow streets, picturesque houses and of course the world-famous Schloss (castle ruins).
Whilst you may think that such a place may be a bit staid, Heidelberg is the exact opposite, mainly because it is home to the oldest university in Germany, which dates back to 1386. Hence, the student population and university life impart a palpable energy, felt especially in the narrow lanes and lively inns of the Altstadt, or Old Town.
The beautiful old castle dominates the Heidelberg skyline, which looms over the old town and you enjoy particularly good views of the city and river from the Belvedere Garden. The castle may be called a Schloss because it contains a 221,000 litre wine barrel which, sadly, was emptied long ago.
The best way to reach the castle is to hop on the Bergbahn (mountain railway) from the Kornmarkt parking garage. The castle is at the first stop, but once you have completed your visit, you can hop on the Bergbahn again to visit Königstuhl which rises 450 metres (1480ft) above Heidelberg. It’s quite a long way up and you’ll have to change trains half way up but once at the top you get some truly wonderful views of Heidelberg and the surrounding area.
Or you can take the Himmelsleiter, a stairway of 1200 steps which winds up 270 metres (890ft) to end, perversely near the upper funicular station.
One of the places to visit in the old town is to wander along the Hauptstrasse (High Street), which is now a pedestrian mall (although it was once also a tramway). This is the main shopping street, and because the town is home to tens of thousands of poor students there are many bargains to be had.