Skip to main content

For the seasoned traveler wanting to find a novel vacation spot that brings the true meaning of the word getaway to life, there is a place: the German island of Sylt.

Germany's hidden haven is unknown to many -- not all Germans have visited, and few Americans have ever heard of it. But Sylt is well worth the trip, as it's exclusive without being snooty and secluded but not difficult to get to.

Thomas Coss, a native of Bochum, Germany, who made his first trip there in June 2005, says, "There are tons of Germans who have never even gone to Sylt. I've heard of it and have always wanted to come here, so it was a very special moment for me."

Located in the North Sea and the largest of the Frisian island chain -- which runs from the west of Denmark south to the Netherlands -- Sylt is a 24-mile long, 1,800-foot-wide ribbon of sand and sea.

In the 12th century, Sylt was part of


(today, Denmark and northern Germany). Political and cultural fluctuation between the German and Danish spheres lingered until 1435, when the entire island was ceded to Germany.

The island served as a military outpost during World War I, and concrete bunkers were built below the countless number of sand dunes in World War II, when it became a fortress.

And with the most recent dune formations going back 3,000 years, they are to the Frisians what the Alps are to the Bavarians. The fissured hills were formed by strong winds blowing sand from the sea, and they provide the island's highest natural elevation -- the


dune, at 170 feet above sea level. The adjoining platform provides an expansive view of the island, and it is located near the lovely old town of Kampen.

Ah, Kampen. Sylt's northern section boasts a cosmopolitan flair, as well as many landmarks, including the island's oldest lighthouse. It was built in 1855, stands 200 feet and is still fully functional.

A sophisticated locale, Kampen is not only stomping grounds for the rich, but also a picture-perfect wedding and honeymoon all-in-one spot.

After "I do's," newlyweds merge into one-ness with a stunning look -- a love gaze -- at the open sea, as well as the neighboring Danish islands of Amrum and Fohr.

Westerland, the capital of the island, is the only real city that accommodates most vehicular activities (such as bus tours) and has the most shopping, clubbing and hotels on the island.



there are swank nightclubs, tourist shops and pricey restaurants to enjoy a Frisian seafood meal; street markets Wednesday and Saturday mornings sell everything from fresh fruit and vegetables to handicrafts.

In the eastern region, or


, it's especially easy to forget one's worries and cares amongst the pounding waves, which are ideal for meditative solitude and seclusion.

And despite the many wellness centers on the island, tourists often head east to lather themselves at one of the five bathing-spa locations: Archsum, Keitum, Morsum, Munkmarsch or Tinnum. (Prices range from $12 to $30 for any treatment.)

Sylt-East also has quiet tidal flats called


, which display the world at the bottom of the ocean when the water retreats with the daily tides. Walking among the shallows is one of the real treats for Sylt's visitors as the variety of living organisms can be astonishing -- up to 40,000 miniature crabs have been found living in one square yard of silt on the island.

The Kurhaus Connection

Sylt's tourism can be traced to the mid-19th century when it was an exclusive destination for the wealthy. The attraction wasn't only due to the sandy beaches, but rather to the local spa treatments, which are even more prevalent today.

In those days, each village maintained at least one


(cure house) where visitors received a prescription regimen of full-body massages, mudpacks, saunas and saltwater inhalations using deep seawater collected offshore. This was reputed to ward off every physical ailment imaginable.

The island's healthy atmosphere -- clean, unpolluted air and sea -- and relaxing environment has lured many of the roughly 21,500 year-round residents.

And according to the Marketing Board, roughly 5.9 million overnight stays come each year.

"We just love it here. There's no place like Sylt," says Julia Gluma, a journalist on mainland Germany who, along with her husband, owns an apartment on Sylt and tries to stay there at least two nights each visit. "It relieves the pressure of hard work in the city."

And in the summer months, when darkness falls close to midnight and daylight dawns at a few hours later, the island offers perfect exploration weather through multiple options: bicycling, horse riding, tour buses or foot-traipsing across golden sand.

With clean North Sea air said to be like champagne to the mind -- it's more sharpening than an hour at the therapist -- and better than any expensive beauty product for the skin, Sylt provides a much-needed rejuvenation from congested city living.

Island Novelties

Sylt is also notable for two other unique features:


-- hooded wicker-seat sand baskets dotting all of its beaches -- and the Frisian architecture of thatched-roof houses.

Despite frigid winters and rainy springs, the baskets withstand year-round weather. They form an ideal sanctuary for sun-worshippers as they enjoy the beautiful beaches without enduring too much light, wind, sand or stares (they also offer total seclusion).

The thatched roof houses were generally built in the direction of the prevailing wind, which is east-west, to confront raging sea storms with minimal exposure.

The roofs not only look attractive, but thatch can withstand the rigors of nature for up to 30 years, keeping houses cool in summer and warm in winter.

Travel Tips

Sylt really has no one high tourist season, as it boasts different attractions and comforts all year round.

Hotels are plentiful throughout the island, and whether it's untouched nature preserves, world-class windsurfing or unbelievably fresh seafood you're after, you'll be able to find it.

One feature adding to Sylt's appeal is that there is no road from mainland Germany. The main way is the seven-mile area of sand flats holding a rail causeway, built in 1927.

Auto shuttles run from various German cities for about $100 round-trip; other options include intercity trains, ferries from Denmark and even

flights to the island's small airport.

All in all, everything is special within Sylt's twelve villages, each with their own natural, vibrant charm. No matter where you stand, you'll never be far from the sea.

Don't wait -- dive in and enjoy this secret northern paradise.

Enjoy the Good Life? Email us with what you'd like to see in future articles.