View of a thatched house on the beach
View of a thatched house on the beach© DAAD/Daniel Reuber

By the seaside – The islands of the North and Baltic Seas

Sun, sea, surf, endless sandy beaches and breath-taking scenery by day, chilled party vibes by night: the islands off Germany’s North and Baltic Sea coasts have it all.

Sea – Sun – Beach

Although not generally known as a beach paradise, Germany does in fact have several idyllic island destinations off its North and Baltic Sea coasts, each with its own unique charm and attractions. Depending on the island, you can swim in the sea, while the day away in a classic Strandkorb beach-chair, surf big waves, hire a bike and explore nature, or party the night away on the beach. While the climate of the Baltic Sea coast tends to be mild and balmy, the North Sea coast is known more for its wild and stormy beauty. Affordable accommodation is not a problem, thanks to Youth Hostels, private hostels, and camping grounds. Read on to find out about some of the most popular island destinations.

View of chalk cliffs by the sea
View of chalk cliffs by the sea© DAAD/Daniel Reuber

Rügen and its white chalk cliffs

Rügen is the largest – and, in the minds of many, the most beautiful – of Germany’s islands, with its endless pristine beaches of soft sand. What’s more, it is easy to get to by rail, bus or car. The island is best known for its white chalk cliffs, perhaps most famously depicted in ‘White Chalk Cliffs on Rügen’ by the 19th-century German Romantic landscape painter Caspar David Friedrich. Not that you’ll be able to find the exact landscape shown in the painting – it has long since crumbled away and fallen into the sea. This ongoing process of erosion is why you should heed the safety signs and stay well back from the cliff edge. We recommend you take the clifftop path from Sassnitz to Lohme, where you can enjoy magnificent views of the chalk coastline and its highest elevation, Königsstuhl (King’s Seat), from five lookout points along the way.

The island’s many other attractions include the historic Seebrücke pier in Sellin, Jasmund National Park with its ancient, UNESCO World Heritage beech forests, Cape Arkona, and the Störtebeker Festival, an open-air theatrical re-enactment of the exploits of the infamous 14th-century pirate Störtebeker. If you like your fun a little darker and more mystical, then a trip to the ruins of Dwasieden Castle, the bizarrely stunted beeches of the Hexenwald (‘Witches’ Wood’), and the island’s various Stone Age burial mounds may be just the thing for you.

Rügen also boasts a wealth of scenic cycling tracks – perfect if you want to combine sightseeing with a good workout. Or for a more leisurely approach, we recommend a steam train tour of the southwestern part of the island on ‘Rasender Roland’, Germany’s oldest narrow-gauge railway, stopping at the seaside resorts of Binz, Sellin and Baabe. Nightspots include bars in Binz and the Hyperdrome club in Sehlen.

Rügen, like many other German island destinations, is very strong on sustainability, and its tourism board has various initiatives to reduce littering and protect the environment.

View of a beach by the sea
View of a beach by the sea© DAAD/Daniel Reuber

Soaking up the sun on Usedom

If you have your sunhat and sunblock handy, then you’re all set for a day at the beach on the island of Usedom. This Baltic Sea island is one of Germany’s sunniest spots, and it has 42 km of sandy beaches to match, complete with grand historic spa resorts in Heringsdorf, Bansin and Ahlbeck. Usedom is connected to the mainland by two bridges, so you can get there easily by car, bus or rail – no need to get on a ferry. The island is a paradise for lovers of water sports, with windsurfing, wakeboarding, stand-up paddling, sailing, canoeing and more on offer. There are even special water-sport camps for students. And once you’ve had enough of the water, you can get on a bike and discover the stunning island scenery, the bison sanctuary in Prätenow, and lovely old fishing villages with their thatched cottages. Coastal beauty spots to stop in along the way include Rankwitz, Zirchow, Loddin and Krummin, and there are charming little country cafés to be discovered in the hinterland. You might also want to take a trip to Peenmünde, home of Germany’s main V2 rocket and aircraft research facility during the Nazi era. And when the sun goes down, it’s time to sample the nightlife. People in the know go to Zinnowitz or Heringsdorf, or head across the border to Świnoujście, on the part of the island that belongs to Poland.

A woman in a tent in front of the sea
A woman in a tent in front of the sea© DAAD/Daniel Reuber

Sylt is a much favoured haunt of Germany’s rich and famous, a place of up-market restaurants, clubs and bars, and all-night parties on balmy summer evenings. But you don’t have to be a wealthy celebrity to go there. In fact, there’s a seaside Youth Hostel in a prime location amid the dunes where you can stay for a very modest price. On the west coast of the island, you’ll find swimmable, sandy beaches stretching as far as the eye can see. And if you’re looking for something a little more active than lounging on the beach, there’s surfing, sailing and paddleboarding. Or you can pick up a rental bike from just about anywhere on the island and go sightseeing. And to nourish your soul, there’s nothing better than a stroll along the aptly named Rotes Kliff (red cliff) beach area between Wenningstedt and Kampen, just as the setting sun turns everything a fiery orange-red.

Tip: Taking the Ferry

The East Frisian Islands

The best way to get to the East Frisian Islands is by ferry. It’s worth taking your binoculars, as you might just catch a glimpse of seals basking on the sandbanks on the way over. The islands – Borkum, Juist, Norderney, Baltrum, Langeoog, Spiekeroog and Wangerooge – form a chain in the North Sea off the coast of East Frisia in Lower Saxony. The climate is considerably wilder than off the Baltic Sea coast, the surf is stronger, and there is an invigorating salty tang to the air. Whether quiet and remote, homely and welcoming, or vibrant and hip, each of the seven islands has its own unique character – but all are variations on a universal theme of beaches, sea, dunes and untamed nature.

Daily tide calendar

It’s also advisable to consult a daily tide calendar to find out when low and high tide are going to be.


The rhythm of life on these islands is dictated by the tides. At low tide the water recedes completely and you can walk barefoot or in wellingtons on the mud flats, collecting mussels, or just revelling in the power of the wind. At high tide the water comes right back up to the coastline, and you can go swimming. It’s never a good idea to just head out onto the mud flats on a whim, as the tide comes in faster than you think, and you can very quickly find yourself at serious risk of drowning. This is why you should only ever go out as part of a guided group. 

Tides are caused by the gravitational pull of the moon, which causes the oceans on the side of the Earth closest to the moon to bulge out. For various reasons, this also causes the oceans on the side of the Earth farthest from the moon to bulge out in the opposite direction. These two bulges represent areas of high tide, and the midway points between them are areas of low tide. To put it simply, we experience oscillating high and low tides as our part of the planet rotates through these tidal bulges.


A boy stands on a paddleboard
A boy stands on a paddleboard© DAAD/Daniel Reuber

Car Prohibition

Cars are banned on most East Frisian Islands, so you’ll generally be getting around on foot or by bike, bus, horse-drawn carriage or tourist train. On Spiekeroog even bikes are frowned upon – but don’t worry, Germany’s only horse-drawn rail vehicle will get you to where you want to go. Baltrum, the smallest of the islands, is where you go for peace and quiet, while Norderney is known for its busy calendar of events, festivals and concerts. Langeoog, meanwhile, is the sunshine capital of the islands. On Wangerooge you can chill out with a nice cocktail – or if action is more your thing, you can indulge in a spot of wind or kite surfing, stand-up paddling or kayaking. It’s a similar story on Borkum, where you can go zooming along the beach F1-style in a kite buggy. And then there’s Juist, which at 17 km long and only 500 m wide, is one endless stretch of beach and surf. If ‘Schietwetter’ puts paid to outdoor pursuits, a strong brew at a traditional East Frisian teahouse is a great way to beat the rainy-day blues. Just use the universal North German greeting ‘moin’, and you’ll be welcomed like a local.

Douaa on her German island life

Our testimonial Douaa lived on a German island for a long time. Read what she experienced there in her personal report.

Travel checklist – Don’t forget to pack the following:

  • swimming costume and beach towel (in summer)
  • rain jacket and umbrella (any time of year!)
  • hat, scarf and gloves (in winter)
  • active footwear and clothing (any time of year)
  • your personal ID card and insurance card
  • wellingtons, if you want to go walking on the mud flats

Everything included? Then have fun and enjoy your trip!