When to go?
Germany’s warmer months coincide with UK summertime, but luckily the seasons are a little more predictable here, with July and August offering up the best temperatures. Expect breezy summer averages of 18°C on the North Sea and Baltic coasts, while Bavaria can hit 25°C in July. Locals take their beach holidays seriously, so to avoid the crowds during peak season, aim for May or June, when the temperatures are already starting to build nicely.
Germany’s northernmost island is fondly known as the ‘Queen of the North Sea’. While lovers of Lindisfarne or Heligoland may disagree, Sylt can claim the crown thanks to its beaches. There are nearly 40 km of postcard-perfect sandy beaches along its west coast, so you should easily be able to find a spot for yourself. Wide Wenningstedt is best for families with a handy, child-friendly hotel nearby at Hotel Villa Klasen while Samoa and Sansibar own bright white shores worthy of their tropical names. End a day on the beach by watching a lovely, burnished sunset from Rotes Kliff (red cliff) near the classy village of Kampen, before dipping into some of the bars and restaurants of the village’s ‘Whisky Mile’.
2. Bay of Lübeck
Known more to historians than students of the sun, the old medieval trading post of Lübeck boasts more than one beautiful beach. There’s Timmendorfer, Scharbeutzer, Grömitzer (plus the dune beach at Dhame) and Pelzerhaken in the south, where you have the sun for the whole day. If you get bored of the beach, there are several lighthouses and the pier at Scharbeutz to explore, and you can break for an appropriately ocean-going lunch in the fishing village of Sierksdorf. Try the terrace restaurant at Hotel Hof Sierksdorf and sample seasonal grilled fish as well as the regional speciality, sauerfleisch, or sour, spiced pork.
The Pomeranian island of Usedom, shared between Germany and Poland, has a 45km-long coast with stunning sandy beaches trailing along small bays. It’s also known as the island of ‘Singing Sands’, thanks to the symphony of squeaking sounds sometimes produced when the grains of sand rub together! Popular spots are the seaside resorts Drei Kaiserbäder, Bernsteinbäder and the Ostseebäder. Zempin is the smallest seaside resort in Usedom, more boutique than bucket and spade, where you’ll always find a quiet spot. You can exert yourself with any number of activities from horse-riding to cycling here but when you need to relax again, make like the German emperors of old who used to weekend here from Berlin, and head to one of the island’s indulgent thermal spas. Osteetherme in Ahlbeck is more like a wellness complex, with a gym and sauna as well as several therapeutic pools, but some of the best spas on the island are located at hotels like Das Ahlbeck.
4. St. Peter-Ording
St. Peter-Ording in Schleswig-Holstein is known more for its healing sulphur springs than its beach, but a walk along this 12-km long stretch is sure to do wonders for body and mind. The tide recedes a long, long way so you have to walk a while to get to the water if it’s out but its expansive size means it rarely gets busy, despite being understandably popular amongst kite surfers. Dine on the boardwalk above the waves at Strandbar 54 Grad Nord – even on a blustery day, you can be snug and cosy inside with an unparalleled view and a ‘beach coffee’ (coffee with eggnog and whipped cream).
The island of Amrum is south of Sylt, with the Wadden Sea on its east side, and on its west, the Kniepsand, a 10km-wide sandbank. Amrum is known as the ‘Island of Freedom’ and on an early summer’s day you may well have a beach to yourself. It’s the very picture of a cute island resort, with the Frisian influence showing in the striped deckchairs, windmill, candycane-coloured lighthouse and floral inland villages, reminiscent of parts of the Netherlands. Amrun is small enough to do in a day from Sylt or Dagbüll (find out how to book a ferry crossing here) on the mainland, with various circular walking/cycling tours depending on how energetic you’re feeling, but the flurry of holiday cottages and homey guesthouses may tempt you to lose a week here.
The Baltic island of Hiddensee covers a mere 17 square kilometres. It is completely car-free, so you have to leave your vehicle behind at the harbour and continue on foot, horseback, by bike or the ‘Bimmelbahn’ toy train. The west coast of the island is one long sandy beach, backed by sand dunes, with the sections of shoreline at Vitte, Kloster and Neuendorf manned and cleaned regularly, which makes them popular. The gently-shelving beach next to Vitte is a family-favourite, but be aware that it also has a designated nudist area! Bird-watchers might want to ask about spotting rare species such as the Little Tern – there are local guided walks around the island from June to September.
Known locally as the ‘magic land’, Juist is one of the seven inhabited East Frisian Islands which stretch across the north coast of Germany. At the heart of the Wattenmeer National Park, it has an extensive white sandy beach, perfect for long walks across the UNESCO-protected tidal flats and paying a visit to the resident seals who’ve made the eastern tip of the island their home. Driving is also not allowed on Juist; the transport is provided largely by bicycles, or if you’re arriving via the tiny airport, you can take an elegant horse-drawn carriage into town.
Juist Airport (connecting flights from Norden on the mainland). Nearest international airport is Eelde Airport.
Germany’s biggest island, Rügen, is actually an archipelago boasting around 60 km worth of beaches and several seaside resorts like popular Binz, with its leafy boulevards, pretty Prorer Wiek Bay and promenade, as well as some of the island’s best accommodation including beach hotels like Cliff Hotel Rugen. Some 20 minute north of Binz, don’t miss the sight of the waves crashing against the Königsstuhl chalk cliffs, especially poignant if you’re a fan of Caspar David Friedrich’s dramatic paintings of the area. Atop the cliffs are the ancient beech forests of Jasmund National Park, a UNESCO world heritage site. The average 1800 hours of sun each year are a further bonus, making Rügen also the sunniest – and one of the hottest – places in Germany.
With a good beach of fine sand, Warnemünde is the highlight of a trip to Rostock, situated where the River Warnow flows into the Baltic. Sat on the beach seats made for two or paddling in the shallows on a warm day, cruise ships docking in the distance, you could almost imagine yourself in the Caribbean rather than the Baltic. Graal-Müritz is another resort, near Rostock, which draws the crowds not only to its beach but to its glorious Rhododendron Festival, held every May in the town’s Rhododendron Park.
A beach doesn’t have to be by the sea. Germany has many lovely lakes, including Chiemsee, known as the ‘Bavarian Sea’. Main hub Prien am Chiemsee is a chocolate-box Bavarian town with enough mountain biking and hill-walking to keep active bunnies happy, while anyone looking for respite will find plenty in the numerous spa hotels and resorts. Cross the lake by boat to marvel at Schloss Herrenchiemsee, the area’s finest attraction, a castle built in admiration of Louis XIV’s Palace of Versailles.
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