Heidelberg remains one of the best-known and most visited cities in Germany, identifiable by its graceful baroque towers and the majestic ruins of its red-sandstone castle. From this grand city, the narrow and quiet Neckar Valley makes its way east, then turns to the south, taking you past villages filled with half-timber houses and often guarded by their own castle—sometimes in ruins but often revived as a museum or hotel. This part of Germany is aptly named the Burgenstrasse (Castle Road).
The valley widens into one of the most industrious areas of Germany, with Stuttgart at its center. In this wealthy city, world-class art museums like the Staatsgalerie or the Kunstmuseum in the center of town contrast with the new and striking Mercedes and Porsche museums in the suburbs, adjoining their sprawling manufacturing facilities.
A bit farther south, the rolling Swabian Hills cradle the university town of Tübingen, a center of learning in a beautiful historic setting on the banks of the Neckar River. Overlooking the town is—of course—a mighty castle.