The idea of holidaying in Germany is more likely to conjure up images of romantic hilltop castles and quaint villages with pretty timber-framed houses than sweeping, sandy beaches and rugged, handsome coastlines. But the country’s northern coastline, which extends some 1,400 miles along the Baltic and North Seas, offers precisely that – swathes of pristine coastline and sandy beaches, not to mention dozens of coastal islands barely known to outsiders, and some impressive lakeside beaches dotted around the country to boot.
Granted, there are pine trees rather than palm trees lining the promenades, and it’s not bikini weather all year around – but it’s certainly warm enough in summer to enjoy a nice dip, with water temperatures rising to a balmy 18 degrees. Plus, what Germany’s beaches might lack in Mediterranean exoticism they make up for in diversity: choose from low-key spa retreats ideal for relaxation; classic beaches for sun-worshippers with dedicated sections for free-spirited naked bathers (FKK or Freikörperkultur – ‘free body culture’); islands devoid of residents as well as cars; wild and windy coastlines perfect for surfers and water-sport enthusiasts; and nature reserves filled with marine and bird life and scenic hiking trails.
While some of these spots are well known to Germans and can therefore get busy during peak season, they’re not as busy as the classic Med beaches on the whole, and there are plenty of options for avoiding the crowds. Prices are often cheaper than the famed resorts of southern Europe too, whether for restaurants, hotels or train travel. Below are some of the best beach experiences the country has to offer…
For sun, sand, surf and solitude (in other words a bit of everything)
Nicknamed the Königin der Nordsee (Queen of the North Sea), Sylt (sylt.de) is Germany’s northernmost island, located just to the west of the Germany-Denmark border. One of the North Frisian islands, it also overlaps with the Unesco World Heritage Wadden Sea – a coastal system of intertidal sand and mudflats that stretches all the way west to the Netherlands. The island’s popularity with (mostly) Germans lies in the diversity of its impressive 25 miles or so of beaches, ranging from family-friendly spots like Wenningstedt-Braderup, with its calm, shallow waters; Rantum in the south with striking sand dunes and wide tidelands; and more remote areas like Ellenbogen, part of a nature reserve. There are also wilder, windier delights for surfers and watersport enthusiasts, including Hörnum and Brandenburg Beach in Westerland, which hosts the annual Windsurf World Cup. Don’t know how to surf? No problem: there are schools dotted around the island that rent equipment and offer courses. Around a third of the beaches are designated nudist areas too, and local scenery includes stripy lighthouses, rugged cliffs, golf courses and pretty villages with health resorts, all accessible via cycling and hiking trails.
Strandhotel Sylt (00 49 4651 98980; wyn-sylt.de) offers double rooms from £180 per night
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.