While Germany might not scream "island paradise" to you, it actually has quite a few beautiful islands. Most are located off the northern coast and feature such attractions as car-free environments, perfect beaches, butterfly sanctuaries, or UNESCO World Heritage status. Here are the seven German islands you should add to your itinerary.
01 of 07
Insel Rügen (island of Rügen) is the ideal German island. Perched above the Baltic Sea on stoic white chalk cliffs (Kreidefelsen) and sandy beaches (some clothes-free), it has attracted visitors throughout the ages from Otto von Bismarck to Sigmund Freud to Albert Einstein. During the time of the GDR, the island was the favored spot of the elite such as Erich Honecker with the famed Romantic painter Caspar David FriedrichIt sharing its popularity with the masses.
Rügen is Germany’s largest island and hosts an impressive range of attractions from swimming and surfing to to sailing. Nationalpark Jasmund — the country's smallest national park — is on the peninsula. Here sits Königsstuhl (King's Chair), a viewing platform rising 118 meters out of the sea. From here you can see primeval beech forests and birds on the fly.
Seaside resorts also dot the coastline with Sassnitz and its museum submarine, Art Nouveau Sellin with its Seebrücke (pier) from 1901, and Binz, the largest resort on the island. Find other highlights in our post on towns of Rügen.
02 of 07
On this little island west of Rügen, cars are banned and the only way to get around is by bike, horse carriage or on foot — the ultimate cure for the city blues.
Large parts of Hiddensee are designated nature conservation areas as it is the largest island within the national park, Vorpommersche Boddenlandschaft. The west coast is identified by long sandy beach bordered by dunes. Visit Kloster, Neuendorf, and kid-friendly, gently sloped Vitte to sunbathe when the weather cooperates.
When the clouds roll in, watch for wildlife on the salt marsh and arm up at the many fishing villages.
03 of 07
Lake Constance (known as Bodensee in German) is the third-biggest lake in Europe and holds islands like well-known Lindau connected by bridge, or the smaller, even more charming Mainau. This tiny, floral island is renowned for its greenhouse butterfly sanctuary — the biggest butterfly house in Germany. It attracts more than a million visitors every year.
While strolling the island, stop to smell the nearly 10,000 rose bushes or find some shade beneath the 150-year-old giant sequoias and Viktoria lime planted by the grand duke in 1862. There is also a 13th-century baroque palace which dates back to the Teutonic Order of Knights who owned the island for almost 500 years.
The island is open every day from sunrise to sunset. Entry in summer is €19.90 (winter discounted to €9.50).
04 of 07
Spindly Sylt doesn't have much of an interior, but it does have nearly 40 km of beachfront. Located at the northernmost tip of Germany, the Königin der Nordsee (Queen of the North Sea) has white sand beaches backed up to stunning red cliffs. Rolling dunes let out into spacious beaches where there are usually more seals than people.
Once part of Jutland, there is evidence of inhabitation since 3000 BC. The local dialect of Söl'ring — a mix of Danish, Dutch, and English — is still practiced by some residents, but it is eroding like much of the island.
The island is marked with well-established resort towns like Westerlan, as well as its own nearby deserted island of Amrum. This is also the site of Germany's first official nude beach, established in 1920.Continue to 5 of 7 below.
05 of 07
Just below Sylt and the Danish border, the island of Föhr is the second largest North Sea island in Germany and a major seaside destination. But don't let this description fool you, it is still cozy at only 12 by 7 kilometers.
The island is surrounded by Wadden Sea, one of the country's must-see UNESCO attractions. Located in a unique tidal basin, it is the largest unbroken system of intertidal sand and mud flats in the world. Visitors can walk from island to island in millimeter deep waters, barely wetting the top of their sneakers. As you walk, watch out for oysters and their even rarer treasure of pearls.
Seagrass meadows protect the many animals who call Föhr home, like harbor seals, porpoises, and migrating birds. Visit in October for the Migratory Bird Days, when an average of 10-12 million pass through the island.
06 of 07
You might not even notice that some of Berlin's best museums are on an island. Museumsinsel sits amidst the action in the center of the city, covertly connected by broad bridges. The island is one of only three UNESCO World Heritage sites in the capital.
This historic ensemble of five world-class museums showcases everything from the famous bust of Egyptian Queen Nefertiti to master European paintings. Each museum was built under a different Prussian king and features the distinct style of their time. The renowned Pergamon has undergone several long-term renovations and is currently set to re-open in 2019.
Along with the museums, the re-constructed Berlin Palace is currently a work in progress and will incorporate the Ethnological Museum of Berlin and the Museum of Asian Art.
07 of 07
Usedom, in the Baltic, has long been divided between Germany and Poland. Most of the island belongs to the German district of Vorpommern-Greifswald while the eastern section (and largest city of Świnoujście) belong to Polish West Pomeranian Voivodeship.
Despite its location so far north, it is one of the sunniest locations in Germany and labels itself the Sonneninsel (Sunny Island). Visitors can park themselves in a strandkorb (German beach chair) on the 45 km of coastline and make use of all the amenities at resorts like Drei Kaiserbäder, Bernsteinbäder, Ostseebäder, and Zempin. Scenic piers let you walk right out on the water.
If you get off the beach, take advantage of the expansive cycling routes, horse riding paths, and thermal spas. Usedoms Botanischer Garten Mellenthin is worth leaving the sand with 50,000 plants neatly arranged in 14 geographic areas like Latin, German, and Polish.
When you retire at night, there is no need to leave the sea. The island's historic lighthouse is nearly 100 years old and has been transformed into a three-level, private, mini-hotel. It features 24-foot ceilings, wooden Jacuzzi, and a wrap-around balcony that showcases the one-of-a-kind view.