A guide to Germany’s North and Baltic Sea coastlines

A guide to Germany’s North and Baltic Sea coastlines

When you first moved to Germany, it won’t have been long before you picked up on the country’s expansive love for its limited coastline. Here’s where to head on the German coastline if you want to find out whether it's all hot air or a sight truly worthy of a Romantic missive home.

Germany’s northern coastline

Germany’s northern coastline runs from its western border with the Netherlands, is briefly interrupted by Schleswig-Holstein’s land border with Denmark, and stretches to its eastern border with Poland on the Szczecin Lagoon.

On either side of Schleswig-Holstein lie the two seas which border Germany: the North Sea to the northwest and the Baltic Sea to the northeast, each punctuated with peninsulas, islands and capes.


Image credit: ii-graphics /

The North Sea coastline 

From Shetland to Bergen to the German Friesian Islands, locals look out the window upon the infamously chilly North Sea (Nordsee). 

Closer to the almost right angle of the German shore, in what is known as the German Bight, is the Wadden Sea, an intertidal zone which begins on the western shores of Borkum island in Lower Saxony, runs along the coast up to Sylt, and a little over the border into Denmark.

With the wind matting your hair and sea air in your nose, there are plenty of Bight delights to tickle your fancy along the North and Wadden Sea coastline.

Which cities lie on the German North Sea coastline? 

While there are many islands, towns and villages along the German North Sea coastline, cities are few and far between. Bremerhaven lies in the Weser estuary of the Wadden Sea and Hamburg around 100 kilometres down the River Elbe.

Founded in 1827, Bremerhaven (literally "Bremen’s Harbour") was founded as a port for Bremen. Today, though it is a small city, Bremerhaven is home to many museums and galleries, including the German Emigration Houde and Climate Experience Centre.

Hamburg needs little introduction for most; the second-biggest city in Germany is a must for any fan of pickled herring, the Beatles, classical music or the contradictory pull of the world’s largest miniature train set.


Image credit: Sina Ettmer Photography /

Lighthouses along the German North Sea coastline

Once in the thick of European maritime commerce, the German North Sea coastline is heaven on Earth for any pharologist. 

Dotted along the coast are more than 50 lighthouses, including the Neuwerk lighthouse, originally built as a watchtower in the 14th century, the famous sister lighthouses Dicke Bertha and Schlanke Anna at Cuxhaven, and the light station at Travemünde, the origins of which date back to 1226.

Islands on the German North Sea coastline

There are some 34 islands along Germany’s North Sea coastline, most of which are part of the East Frisian or North Frisian Island groups. Together with northwestern parts of the German coastline and the northern Netherlands, these islands make up the cross-border cultural region of Frisia.

The East Friesian Islands

The nine East Frisian islands along Germany’s North Sea coastline are Borkum, Lütje Hörn, Kachelotplate, Memmert, Juist, Norderney, Baltrum, Langeoog, Spiekeroog, Wangerooge and Mellum, all of which are part of Lower Saxony.

While these islands are all small, Borkum is the largest with just 5.800 residents distributed over 30,7 square kilometres, the fact that the majority of them have an airport is a testament to how beloved a holiday destination they are. Bokum, Juist, Norderney and Wangerooge are among the most popular of the East Frisian Islands for tourist visits.

Ensuring maximum relaxation and air quality for inhabitants and visitors, all of the islands are partially or completely car-free and accessible via ferry crossings from mainland Germany. While they all have their individual claims to fame, they share many things; namely long stretches of white, windswept beaches, dunes, stripey Strandkörbe and big skies excellent for watching sunsets over summer.


Image credit: Iwona Fijol /


70 kilometres offshore from mainland Germany lies Heligoland, with its red cliffs and nearly pollen-free sea air. The island is actually made up of two pieces of land, the main island and the Düne to the east, which is just 0,7 kilometres squared and not permanently inhabited.

At least, not permanently inhabited by humans: one of the main pulls to Heligoland is the seal pups who populate Düne during winter, filling its beach like tired teenagers with whiskers in silver sleeping bags. If you’re lucky, they will rear their heads to give a smile and a wave; if you’re unlucky they may fall victim to your dog’s taunts. Best to leave the dog at home.


For good, bad and ugly, Sylt has managed to garner more of an international reputation in recent years. In 2023 the island off the coastline of Germany and Denmark was named by TIME magazine as one of the world’s greatest places.

The North Sea is about as good as it gets for a German holiday. And in the German collective imagination, Sylt is the crème de la crème of the holiday islands.

The swank and glamour status of what TIME calls a “chic beach hideout” is largely thanks to celebrities like Brigitte Bardot and bon vivant Gunther Sachs raising its reputation in the 1960s. Pale blue skies, a grey-blue sea and pale white sand dotted with those iconic, cobalt blue-striped Strandkörbe - Sylt is where the other half holiday.


Image credit: Pawel Kazmierczak /

The German Baltic Sea coastline

Germany’s 750 kilometres of the Baltic Sea (Ostsee) coastline runs from the port city of Flensburg to Usedom island. 

According to paleoceanographists at the Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research, the history of the Baltic Sea began between 14.000 and 12.000 years ago, when Scandinavian ice melted to form the Baltic Sea basin. But it wasn’t until 11th-century German chronicler Adam of Bremen would give the sea its current name, after comparing it to a belt.

Sights along Germany’s Baltic coastline

Cliffs, beaches, cities, cycle routes and regional specialities: Germany’s Baltic Sea coastline has everything you need for whatever kind of summer getaway floats your boat.


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Cities on the German Baltic Sea

The cities of Flensburg, Kiel, Lübeck and Rostock all sit on the German Baltic Sea coastline. While German residents may know Flensburg for its swing-top beer, the maritime city’s claim to fame is as a trading port for rum from Caribbean colonies in the 18th century, earning it the nickname “Rumstadt” (rum city).

With 240.000 inhabitants, Kiel is the largest city in Schleswig-Holstein and the largest city on the German Baltic Sea coastline. Another maritime centre, the city hosts the world’s largest sailing regatta each June, the Kieler Woche. For those who want who keep their feet firmly on the ground, the city is also home to a botanical garden with over 14.000 plant species.

In the centre of Lübeck, the second largest city in Schleswig-Holstein, lies one of Germany’s most extensive UNESCO World Heritage sites. Move over lighthouses of the North Sea coastline, Lübeck’s old town has a jaw-dropping six church towers which stretch over 100 hundred metres, making it the number one city worldwide for high church towers! For the literary inclined, Lübeck is also the birthplace of Thomas Mann, and for the sweet-toothed, determined by the EU Council Directive to be one of two official homes of marzipan.

Rostock stretches from the city’s centre along the Unterwarnow to the coastal neighbourhood of Warnemünde. The city in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern is home to one of the world’s oldest universities, founded in 1419, and one just 25 Pfeilstörche (arrow storks) in Germany. These storks survived being impaled by spears over Africa before migrating back to Europe, a phenomenon which helped explain bird migration to 19th-century zoologists.

Vorpommersche Nationalpark

The Western Pomerania Lagoon Area National Park on the island of Rügen is known for its flora and fauna, including pine and beech woods, cranes, geese and Baltic Herring which spawn in its shallow bays. A stay in the youth hostel near the park makes for a perfect few days in the forest and exploring the swimming spots around the peninsula. 

You can also walk the 3,5-kilometre long circuit, Rundwanderweg Darßer Ort, and get to know your way around the northern parts of the peninsula.


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The white cliffs of Rügen

Look to the other side of Rügen and there is plenty more to find, namely the island’s chalk cliffs, similar to those lining the English Channel. The Königsstuhl Kreidefelsen sit on the edge of the Jasmund National Park and offer some views worthy of a Caspar David Friedrich painting.

If your walk to the peak 118 metres above sea level whets your appetite to know more about the history of the “King’s Chair”, you can head to the visitor centre overlooking the Baltic coast.

Meeting Poland in Usedom

The island of Uedom in Pomerania is divided between Germany and Poland, just north of the Szczecin Lagoon estuary, with around 80 percent of the land belonging to the German side. With no fewer than 1.906 hours of sunshine each year on average, Usedom is the sunniest place in Germany. What more can you ask for?

Usedom has a particular pull for Berliners looking for some more sun and any sea. Stretching 334 kilometres, the Berlin-Usedom cycle path is a peaceful, direct route to the beach for anyone living in the Hauptstadt. The journey takes between 2 and 4 days depending on how fast you cycle, and there are plenty of campsites and hostels to put you up along the way.

Set sail for the German coastline!

Seals, sun, sea, sand, salt, cycling, slippery sandwiches, storks, swimming spots, stripey Strandkörbe, spires and celebrity spotting, what more could the German North and Baltic Sea coastline have to offer? 

Do you have any favourite spots along the 1.200-kilometre-long stretch? Let us know in the comments below.

Thumb image credit: Hussmann /

Olivia Logan


Olivia Logan

Editor for Germany at IamExpat Media. Olivia first came to Germany in 2013 to work as an Au Pair. Since studying English Literature and German in Scotland, Freiburg and Berlin...

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