Germany's largest island, Rügen, is probably larger than you think. It was certainly bigger than I expected as my family tried to connect with our ancestral roots on this northern point.
As luck would have it, the trains were being worked on so we had to move around by bus and we were just a few days short of the Christmas markets opening. Nonetheless, we decided to make the most of it and explore.
Rügen is known for its sandy beaches and chalk cliffs, but the chilly fall air wasn't exactly compatible with these plans so we decided to keep our travels town-centric. Here are the principal towns of Rügen and their attractions.
Bergen - as its "mountain" name indicates - sits on a hill in the center of the island. At a mere 91 meters above sea level, it offers gentle views of the surrounding area and Baltic waters. To the northeast is the Kleiner Jasmunder Bodden, to the southeast is Greifswalder Bodden and to the northwest is the lake of Nonnensee.
The town itself centers on an old center, rebuilt after a disastrous fire. On the site of a former castle, current showpieces include:
- Former abbey church, St. Mary's, from 1168. Don't forget to peruse the goods at the neighboring artist shops.
- Benedix-Haus's half-timber architecture sites prominently within the center with colorful details. Dating back to the 16th century, it is one of the oldest timber-framed houses on the island of Rügen. The traditional home of bakers, it has been carefully maintained and renovated over the years. The site is hard to miss with the tourist information center also located here. Other stellar architectural examples include those at Klingenbergstraße 34 and 39 (pre-1709) and Kirchenplatz 13.
- St. Boniface's Church, seat of the Roman Catholic Church in Rügen.
Bergen Süd (south) holds more modern housing including the East German staple of Plattenbauten.
The largest seaside resort on Rügen is located between the bay of Prorer Wiek and the Schmachter See in the southeast. Its iconic resort architecture and natural beauty have drawn the majority of visitors since sun-bathing became popular since 1875. The town is also located near major attraction Jasmund National Park.
Vacationers can parade the promenades and 370-meter-long pier, beachfront and shop Hauptstraße ("Main Street") for seasonal goodies. For something more on firm ground, the Jagdschloss Granitz (or Granitz Hunting Lodge) is an impressive mid-19th-century schloss (castle) open to visitors.
The smallest and oldest town on Rügen, the town lies in the southern portion of the island just off of Bergen.
Here visitors can find the highest point on the island at Ernst Moritz Arndt Tower. Built in 1877, its glass cupola offers views of the woods of Rugard and surrounding waters.
Once the seat of royal power, Putbus offers the oldest resort on the island and official recognition as a resort town. Located on the southeastern coast and founded in 1810 by Prince Wilhelm Malte zu Putbus (hence the name), he built a Classicist park and palace here as his residence as well as the Goor Swimming Baths in 1817. A renovated bath can still be visited in a private hotel, or visitors can take to the open waters also popularized by the Prince at nearby Lauterbach.
Sassnitz connects the island with Trelleborg, Sweden, and Rønne, Denmark by ferry. Its natural splendor and ancient beech wood forests is a protected UNESCO World Heritage site.
Another alluring seaside resort between Binz and Baabe on the eastern coastline, this town has 19th century Art Nouveau features and past as the playground of the German elite. Explore the main street of Wilhelmstraße for glamorous architecture and modern shops and restaurants. The Seebrücke from 1901 is another attraction as the longest pier on the island at 400 meters.
Not actually located on the island, this gateway town is a destination in itself. Read our full post on the city to discover its attractions.