8 hints for the Heidelberg Christmas market
Heading to Heidelberg during the holidays? Here are eight things you should know about the 2016 Christmas market.
1. The market takes place through Dec. 22, 2016. Stands open at 11 a.m. daily and close at 9 p.m. Sunday to Friday, an hour later on Saturday. Unique this year, the Winter Woods program transforms the Kornmarkt into a festive forest; stands here are open until Jan. 1. The ice rink at Karlsplatz is also open through New Year's Day (closed Dec. 24).
2. The market is spread across six areas of the city, so wear comfy walking shoes. The fest starts at Bismarckplatz and follows Hauptstraße east to Karlsplatz. Download a map of the market before venturing out.
3. This year, there is not a separate market at the Heidelberg Castle ruins. However, you can visit the castle for panoramic views and photos — take the funicular if you'd rather not climb lots of steps. A walk through the castle interiors is only possible with guides. English tours are available Monday-Friday at 11:15 a.m. and 12:15, 2:15 and 4:15 p.m. Tours depart hourly Saturday and Sunday from 11:15 a.m. to 4:15 p.m. Tours are limited on Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve. The castle is closed Christmas Day.
4. You can easily reach Heidelberg by train. It will take 1.5 hours by car, but only 45 minutes by train from the Stuttgart Hauptbahnhof. From Wiesbaden and Kaiserslautern the drive takes 1 hour, the train 1.5 hours. The ride will be a bit longer from Landstuhl or Ramstein, whether traveling by car or train.
5. If you're driving, check a handy map for parking. The Heidelberg Parking website has real-time updates about the number of available parking spaces at garages and lots across the city. Click on each garage name for hourly rates and the entrance street address to type into a GPS. Look for lots that are open 24 hours, so that no matter how late you return, you can retrieve your car.
6. The market will be busier than usual Saturday, Dec. 17. Area businesses will be open until 10 p.m. for a late-night shopping event, a great opportunity to complete your holiday gift list. If you'd prefer to enjoy the market minus the crowds, arrive early.
7. Look for businesses with red "Nette Toilette" stickers on their doors or windows. Some shops and restaurants participate in the "nice toilet" program, meaning visitors can use their facilities without being customers.
8. The city's tourism office is offering a three-for-two deal. If you stay three nights in a participating hotel, you will pay for only two nights. Breakfast, chocolates and the Heidelberg Card — which offers discounts on many local atractions and free public transport — sweeten the deal. This package is available now through the end of March, except the four Pre-Christmas Advent weekends. During the Christmas market, you'll need to stay weeknights to take advantage of the offer.