Sylt is often referred to as being the playground for the posh and famous, and A-list celebrities are known to come here to unwind, relax and party. The largest and most expensive of all North Sea islands lures with champagne bars, romantic restaurants and luxury boutiques. But saying that, there’s nothing that speaks against getting a couple of beers and heading to one of the white sandy beaches for a low-key picnic instead. Plus, you can spend your days here sipping wine at Germany’s northernmost vineyard, stroll the picturesque town of Keitum or take up windsurfing.
Like some of the other islands on this list, Juist is free from motorised traffic – ambulances and the fire brigade are the only exceptions here. Everything else is moved by horse carriages. The 17-kilometre-long (10.5 miles) hideout lures with idyllic beaches, seal colonies and a laid-back atmosphere. Set in the midst of the Wadden Sea National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, a guided tour of the unique ecosystem should not be missed. Round off your trip with a cycling tour around the island and a signature Thalasso treatment at the local wellness hotel.
Norderney is probably the most touristy of all North Sea islands. Back in 1797, the first beach resort in the North Frisian archipelago opened here, and today, hundreds of thousands flock to the island each year. A quick glance at the scenery and the activities make that not much of a surprise and is the reason that its visitors range from professional kitesurfers and shopping enthusiasts to families and bird-watchers. The accommodation types are just as varied, and you even have the option of spending a romantic night sleeping under the stars in a canopied beach chair that transforms into a bed.
If you find the larger islands unappealing and want to get away from the noise and buzz of civilisation, you’ll probably like the smallest of all East Frisian islands. Baltrum measures no more than 5.5 kilometres (3.4 miles) in length and only has its stunning beaches and two villages, Ostdorf and Westdorf, to offer. To get around, you either walk or take a horse-drawn carriage – both bicycles and cars are prohibited on the island – which leaves only the sound of the turning waves and the singing of birds to disturb your holiday.
The Heligoland archipelago lies in solitude, 40 kilometres (24.8 miles) from the coast. The lengthy journey lets you feel as if you’re travelling abroad, many thanks to the fact that you can shop duty-free once you arrive. Fans of nature and wildlife get their money’s worth. Dramatic red sandstone cliffs and dunes dominate the landscapes, and dozens of seabird species nest on the coast. Also, you can watch the resident seal colony from up close.
The Gulf Stream brings pollen-free and iodine-rich air to Borkum, and in 2013, the island was certified as Europe’s first allergy-friendly island. Given that, it comes as no surprise that it is a great spot to book yourself into a health and spa resort for a couple of days. Alternatively, you can spend your holidays exploring the labyrinth of cycling routes and walking trails, venturing out to the mudflats or climbing the new lighthouse for panoramic views over the island.
South of the Sylt buzz is Amrum, a much smaller island known for its beautiful long sandy beach on one side and a lush forest on the other. A ferry from Dagebüll gets you to the car-free island for a holiday filled with cycling trips around the island and long walks through dunes and the mudflats of the Wadden Sea National Park. Nightlife here is virtually non-existent and reduced to a handful of bars and restaurants, but in return, you get to experience nature, tranquillity and fresh air.