You’ve probably heard about – or even seen first-hand – the stunning mountains of Bavaria or strolled around the gritty streets of Berlin. But have you ever heard of a little place called Sylt?
For those in the know, this island just off the north-west coast of Germany and in driving distance from Hamburg and Bremen (with the last lag on motorail), is a real hidden paradise that’s blessed with miles of untouched scenery and some awesome seaside walking trails! Locals have been lounging on Sylt’s beaches and staying in its five-star hotels for years, earning it the nickname “The German Hamptons.”
Keen to check out what all the fuss is about and why it might be the ideal destination for your next family getaway? Here’s our guide to this sandy paradise.
So, where exactly is Sylt?
Yes, German holidaymakers love Sylt, but the island itself might not share the love. It’s actually slowing moving away from Germany further out into the North Sea! At the last time we checked, it was about 9km and counting!
It’s part of the North Frisian Islands and people have lived on it for over 1000 years. It used to be all about whaling and oysters once upon a time. Now there’s less time spent tackling the elements out at sea and more relaxing and enjoying the benefits of the salty sea air. With a little sophistication thrown in too.
We wonder what the whalers might think of it now? Oh, well we’re off to explore vast sandy beaches (including the longest in Europe!), soak up some spectacular scenery, and (this is the best bit) tuck into fresh seafood in one of more than 200 restaurants – three of which have Michelin stars. You coming?
How to spend your time on the island like a true jet-setter
Tired after a long drive? You can finally relax on the Queen of the North Sea. Here’s the lowdown on what to put on your itinerary when holidaying at this glamorous destination:
If you’re in the mood for a road trip…
The tiny North Sea isle is dotted with a dozen quaint villages which each have their own unique charm and are easily accessible by car. Westerland, Keitum and Hörnum are Sylt’s major resorts where you’ll find streets lined with charming holiday cottages, sleek boutique shops and endless independent spots for lunch.
At the north end of the island is List, a tiny village with the sea on one side and dramatic heathland on the other. Its harbour is a particularly picturesque spot to tuck into fresh fish sandwiches (a local specialty) with views of the sea.
If sharks are your spirit animal…
One of the top attractions on the island is the Sylt Aquarium. You’ll find it a stone’s throw from Westerland station and it’s home to over 150 varieties of exotic sea creatures from both the North Sea and the Tropics. The aquarium’s two panoramic tunnel tanks are truly mesmerising – stand beneath them and watch as sharks, rays and smaller oceanic species glide over your head.
If you’re craving complete peace and quiet…
The Ellenbogen Nature Reserve is a stunning sandy stretch and famously the most northern point in Germany. One of the most peaceful and isolated places on Sylt (until the kids arrive!), it’s home to pristine beaches and the candy-striped Ellenbogen Lighthouse – one of only three surviving lighthouses on the island. You’ll be able to reach the area by car (note that there’s a €6 entrance fee) or cycle there from nearby List.
If you want to walk on water (literally!)….
This is a super-fun one for the kids – you can walk out into the sea!
The Wadden Sea stretches from the Netherlands in the south all the way up to Sylt and it’s impressively the largest area of sand and mud flats on Earth! At low-tide, it’s entirely possible to explore the section of the sea located off Sylt’s east coast on foot with a guide.
The area is super-rich in plant-life and wildlife. Make sure you look out for the vast sea grass meadows and pods of silky seals, in addition to scavenging seabirds soaring overhead.
If the waves are calling your name…
The west side of Sylt is dominated by beaches boasting crashing waves and wonderful wind conditions – perfect if you fancy going surfing. You can reach this area on foot over the dunes from Westerland or drive and park up your hire car in one of the public parking lots. Once there, you’ll spot a couple of surf and windsurf schools which offer day courses and one-to-one lessons for the kids and bigger kids too. Head on in and catch a wave. The water’s lovely. And a little cold, so don’t forget your wetsuit!
If you want a glimpse of Sylt in ye good olde days…
Keen to know more about the island’s heritage? Why not go back in time to 18th century Old Frisian House in Keitum on Sylt’s east coast. Once owned by a former sea captain, the quaint thatched cottage – that’s been fully restored to its original condition – now serves as a local museum documenting exactly what life was like on the island during the 1700s.
If you’re brave enough to swim in the North Sea…
Did you know that swimming in icy water is thought to be good for your health? If the idea of jumping into the North Sea chills you right to the bone though, you’ll be glad to hear that some of Sylt’s more popular sandy beaches are littered with saunas where you can warm yourself up before you plunge into the ocean for a refreshing swim.
Getting to Sylt
Whether you’ve flown into Hamburg or have been exploring the magical fjords of neighbouring Denmark, you’ll find there are multiple ways to reach this North Frisian Island. The most popular option is to hop in a hire car and make your way to Niebüll station on the mainland. There’s a causeway there which connects to Sylt, however it’s only accessible via rail so you’ll need to drive your rental car onto a flatcar and be towed across (takes just over 30 minutes).
You could alternatively catch the car ferry from Havneby on the neighbouring Danish island of Rømø, get the train as a foot passenger from Niebüll or fly into Sylt Airport from Hamburg, Berlin or Düsseldorf.