Germany Holidays: North Sea islands

These low-lying low-impact islands run all the way along the top of Germany’s North Sea coast.

Germany’s North Sea islands are typical of the content of this site: they are little travel gems, completely individual and practically unknown overseas.

The seven inhabited East Frisian islands are, from East to West, Wangerooge, Spiekeroog, Langeoog, Baltrum, Norderney, Juist and Borkum. They are low-slung plateaux which rise out of the Wadden Sea (Wattenmeer), an inter-tidal zone that runs all the way along the coast from Denmark through to the Netherlands. It’s a shallow belt of mudflats and sand, where seals lie on the sand-banks and there are sea-horses in the shallows.

Old-fashioned resorts, of differing degrees of gentility, with one foot firmly planted in the past

The islands are all connected by frequent ferry services, and most make their living from tourism, with fishing playing a small walk-on part. On the whole their towns are old-fashioned resorts, of differing degrees of gentility, with one foot firmly planted in the past. Some are marketing themselves as spas, and only two – Norderney and Borkum – allow cars. On the others, cycling and walking are the order of the day, and there are stupendous sandy beaches, dunes, watersports, naturists, bandstands, museums of curiosities and Italian icecream parlours, suggesting leisurely summer weeks with granny and grandpa. In summer they are a favoured destination for school trips (little danger, not much room to get lost). In winter, the skeleton communities struggle to keep their (sometimes thatched) houses in good order under the onslaught of marine weather, which can be deep Frisian.

The Frisians were first brought to British attention by a spy novel called The Riddle of the Sands, by Erskine Childers, published over 100 years ago, but the story is not the only British interest hereabouts, because the Frisians’ easterly neighbour, Helgoland, was actually once British property, only handed back to the Germans in 1890. British weather forecasts refer to the region as ‘German Bight’.

Some 70km out to sea off the mouth of the Elbe, Helgoland is a rather different beast to the Frisians, being effectively a slab of red rock surrounded by cliffs. Despite its distance this is generally a day-trip destination, particularly for Hamburgers, who travel here up the Elbe on high speed catamarans. On arrival, they walk from one side of the island to the other, sniff the air, eat a seafood lunch, and go home again. Helgoland is keen to get them to stay longer, and has recently opened a designer spa complex to get them to do so.

Getting There: International airports are at Hamburg and Bremen.  International rail connections to Hamburg are via Cologne from Brussels (Thalys), which connect with the Eurostar from London. See our Travel page for airlines, rail and tour operators. The Helgoland website has details of flights and passenger boats, plus hotels.

Staying There: our recommended hotels are here for Niedersachsen, here for Bremen, and here for Hamburg.

Information on the East Frisian islands (site in German only)


Looking for more? See other destinations in Northern Germany

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