Unlike most German
clichés of traditional lederhosen, loud football fans and great beer, Germany’s
northernmost island of Sylt presents a different side to the country, driven by
laid-back attitudes, a relaxed beach culture and old-fashioned traditions that
cannot be found anywhere else in the nation.
south of the Danish border and stretching little more than 30km from north to
south, quaint Sylt is under the radar for most international tourists. And the
best time to visit starts when the weather warms up in May, as the island’s
main attraction is the almost 40km-long, white sand coastline.
Begin your trip
in the island’s biggest town, Westerland, home to a population of approximately
9,000 and the only train station (if you are travelling overland, the
Hindenburgdamm causeway has connected Sylt with the mainland since 1927).
Besides the Sylt Aquarium – home to a mesmerising collection
of North Sea and tropical fish – and the Syltness
Center – an ideal place for a hot seawater bath, an island tradition that
dates back hundreds of years – Westerland is famous for hosting the annual
autumn Windsurf World Cup (held this
year from 27 September to 6 October). Here on Brandenburg Beach, the
combination of rough North Sea waters and strong winds draws windsurfers from
more than 30 nations for the biggest event of its kind. If you are interested
in trying the stunts and jumps for yourself, Sunset Beach, Westerland’s
surf school, offers daily lessons – in kite surfing, wave surfing and windsurfing
– starting at 75 euros for three hours.
The best way
to explore the rest of the island is on two wheels, but since it is a popular
way to get around, arrive early at one of the many renting facilities in town. Sylt Fahrrad, located right by the train
station, offers online bookings (if you are not a cyclist, public buses operate on a regular
Westerland, head 16km north to List, a small town known for having two
picture-perfect, red-and-white lighthouses – the northernmost lighthouses in Germany.
Located just 3km apart, both were built in the 1850s; the western one by the
Danish and the other by the Germans. While they are not open to the public,
they light up each night to guide approaching ships, many of which are ferries that
run between List and the Danish island of Rømø, a hugely popular holiday
destination for Germans and Danes. Rømø
also became Denmark’s southernmost island in 1999 following the sinking of
uninhabited Jordsand due to storm tides and floods.
highlight to a visit to List is the Wattenmeer (Wadden Sea), a Unesco World
Heritage Site since 2009. Formed by storm tides as early as the 10th
Century, the Wadden Sea is responsible for the distinctive formations of its
many islands, characterised by high sand dunes and lush, wide beaches on the
open sea side and a shallow coast towards the mainland. Although not ideal for
swimming, this unique inter-tidal zone spread over 10,000sqkm from the
Netherlands to Denmark – sometimes covered by shallow water, other times an
area of mudflats – is where some of Germany’s most outstanding nature can be
found, with thousands of species including mussels, snails, ducks and geese
living on the rich, fertile soil. Low tide makes for excellent guided mudflat
hiking, and incoming tides can be dangerous for those unprepared.
10km cycle south from List leads to the town of Kampen, renowned for celebrity
holiday homes, luxurious shopping and dining, and some of Germany’s most
expensive real estate. Stop at the Dorfkrug,
a cosy, locally run restaurant established in 1876 that draws both visitors and
locals with its authentic German cuisine; try the local smoked salmon with
traditional potato pancakes.
If you do not
want to stray far from the beach, La
Grande Plage has outstanding views overlooking Kampen’s Weststrand (West
Beach) and is the go-to place for a quick meal throughout the day, offering
anything from spaghetti to fried herring.
About 8km south
of Kampen lies the idyllic town of Keitum, offering some of the island’s most
beautiful thatched-roof houses, a Nordfriesland region tradition. This style,
found almost nowhere else in Germany, uses dry straw and water reed to build
the roofs, resulting in a home that is cool in the summer and warm in winter. The
white and blue two-storey Friesenhaus in the centre of town is the most iconic,
resembling a fairytale-like dollhouse tucked in between two tall chestnut
trees. While it is a private residence, it is worth just a look from the
houses are also the way to go when it comes to finding accommodation, as they offer
an authentic Sylt experience in a traditional home, often owned by local
families who can offer great advice. The island’s tourist board, Sylt Marketing, has an online list of all
From Keitum, Westerland
is just an 8km bike ride west along Keitumer Landstrasse (Keitum Street), where
you can spend the rest of the day cocooned in a Strandkorb – literally
translated as “beach basket” – a sofa-like wooden seat on the beach that offers
protection from sun, wind and any occasional rain.
of these beach sofas are distributed throughout the island’s beaches and can be
rented for 8 euros a day. Iconic to the region, the blue and white painted
two-seater has a footrest that can be pulled out and a locakable drawer to keep
towels, valuables and other beach attire. The furniture has become so famous
that almost 3,000 are exported as souvenirs each year. If you want to buy one for yourself, the Strandkorb
factory, where the beach chairs are still made by hand, is located just
12km south of Westerland in the village of Rantum.
For an end to
your relaxing holiday, snuggle up in your Strandkorb to watch one of Sylt’s
colourful sunsets spread across the west side of the island, covering the ocean
in vibrant reds and yellows. It is the perfect way to conclude a not-so-typical
day in Germany.