German islands are a favorite for vacationers and islands like Lindau have both a spectacular natural setting and charming small-town quality. Located in the state of Bavaria, Lindau is on the eastern side of Lake Constance (known as Bodensee in German), the third-biggest lake in Europe. Lindau is connected to the mainland by a bridge; the island is a showpiece with its magnificent harbor, guarded by a Bavarian lion and ancient lighthouse.
The lake borders Austria and Switzerland and includes several islands with gorgeous beaches, butterfly sanctuaries, medieval villages, castles, and additional activities to engage in. There are plenty of adventures for people of all ages.
The highlight in Lindau is its picturesque harbor. The Neuer Leuchtturm (New Lighthouse) dates back to 1853 and is Germany's southernmost lighthouse. At 36 meters high (118 feet), this tower provides one of the best views of the lake, if you can brave the 139 steps.
Across from Neuer Leuchtturm is the iconic Bayerische Löwe (Bavarian Lion), the symbol for the region of Bavaria—a 50-ton statue carved from sandstone. It presides over the harbor on a pedestal with the Roman numerals MDCCCLVI marking the date it was erected: 1856.
The 13th-century Mangturm (Old Lighthouse) stands at the northern edge of the port. Though not generally open to the public, there are Märchenstunden (Fairy Tale hours) typically from April through October.
Stop at the tourist office just off the harbor before heading into the altstadt (historic town center); use their free maps to navigate the cobblestone streets and medieval half-timbered houses, or just allow yourself to wander.
Maximilianstrasse is the main, pedestrian-only promenade. There are family-run shops, quaint cafes, and restaurants, as well as row after row of beautiful homes. Admire the decorative gables and ceiling paintings that tell stories of the town. Enjoy a walk through the Alten Markt (old market).
The 15th-century Altes Rathaus (Old Town Hall) is also off this street. Decorated with frescoes of cherubs, this is the city's most important building. Continue along the south side for more paintings and a historic sundial, as well as the Library of the Ehemals Reichsstädtische Bibliothek (Former Imperial Free City). It holds over 13,000 historical books, including some very early printed documents and an example of the first complete German translation of the Bible by Martin Luther.
Another standout building is the Romanesque Peterskirche; this church is over 1,000 years old with frescoes of the Passion of Christ. The merchant house Haus zum Cavazzen is the most beautiful Baroque building in Lindau and holds the Stadtmuseum (city museum, in renovation). Another must-see is the Diebsturm (Thieves Tower) next to the church, constructed in 1380 and much less endearing as the former town prison.
Mainau is a tiny, nearby island at Germany's most southern point, renowned for its gardens and greenhouse butterfly sanctuary with about 120 different species. It is a model of excellent environmental practices and one of the main tourist attractions of Lake Constance. Stop to smell the nearly 30,000 rose bushes, find some shade beneath the 150-year-old giant sequoias, and step into the 18th-century castle.
While swimming is not possible on this island, it is an option in Litzelstetten, the beach to the north. For children, Mainau island has a playground and at the farm, pony riding as well as a petting zoo. The island is open every day from sunrise to sunset, rain or shine (shorter hours for the interior may apply). Various methods of transportation to the island are possible.
Around the harbor and Maximilianstrasse there are plenty of restaurants to choose from—perhaps too many. Each features cozy interiors with views of the water, nice for a romantic date or a whole-family outing.
However, few offer a better sense of gemütlichkeit (the feelings of coziness, cheerfulness, friendliness, and social acceptance) than the historic wine tavern of Engelstube, at the site of a renovated hotel established way back in 1390. Check out their beer and wine while you enjoy excellent service and eat fresh fish straight from Bodensee.
It is rare to talk about visiting an island without mentioning the beach. Some people jump in year-round, but summer season (mid-May to mid-September) is the best, offering warmer water temperatures. There are four freibads (open-air pools) available. You can also rent a canoe, kayak, motorboat, or electric boat—or even a paddleboard—and spend your time moving around the aquamarine waters.
To journey around the scenic island, many visitors choose to bike. There are multiple bike rental shops and paths around the island, as well as the opportunity to travel onto the mainland and continue riding around the massive lake.
If you visit Lindau in the winter, strap on a pair of skates (they are available to rent) rather than a bathing suit or bike helmet. A public ice-skating rink is set-up next to the lake, offering ice hockey and figure skating, afternoon games, and more activities for all ages and levels. On Saturday evenings, have some fun at the ice disco with a DJ and disco lighting.
The nearby mountains also offer the opportunity to ski at one of the many resorts in Vorarlberg, Austria's westernmost province. Another option is to ski or snowboard at Kleine Scheidegg/Männlichen-Grindelwald/Wengen in the Jungfrau region of neighboring Switzerland.
With so many fantastic locations nearby, Lindau is the ideal location to base your travels. You don't even need to hop in the car (or boat) to reach Bregenz, Austria. The town is within walking distance on the eastern shores of the lake.
City tours can guide you through the culture, history, and architecture of the small town. A cable car takes visitors up the Pfänder (home mountain) on a quick 6-minute ride with breathtaking views of numerous Alpine peaks in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland.
In summer, there's the famous Bregenzer Festspiele music festival that has taken place for over 70 years, featuring opera performances and a magnificent stage right on the water.
In such a spectacular environment, you may want to consider staying in the outdoors and soaking up nature. Nearby campsite Gitzenweiler Hof, between the villages of Weissensberg and Oberreitnau, has been voted the second-best in all of Germany with good reason, as the place is full of positive attributes.
The campsite provides options for tents, caravans, motor homes, and cabins. There is a family-friendly vibe and a live entertainment and activity program, along with bikes for rent, an herb and vegetable garden, a supermarket, a pizzeria, and even a hairdresser. One interesting note: Twins, triplets, or multiple birth babies of any age won't have to pay any fees or tourist taxes, and the campsite offers other discounts and promotions as well.
The best views of Lindau are from the water; cross over to Austria and Switzerland to enjoy additional destinations. Jump on one of the many ferries between the cities on the lake, like Bregenz, Konstanz, or Friedrichshafen. Two routes allow for cars to cross the lake by ferry: Konstanz to Meersburg takes about 15 minutes, and Romanshorn to Friedrichshafen ride lasts approximately 40 minutes.
Check with the ferry companies for exact schedules and days of operation. Fares are usually inexpensive and you can buy snacks and drinks on board. Bring your camera to take pictures of the entry to the harbor and surrounding Alps.
If you have more than sightseeing on your itinerary, different tours also offer plated lunch and dinner, as well as cruises with live music and themes.