Baltic Coast

Overview

Introduction

Germany's Baltic Coast is home to several popular vacation spots. The lovely island of Rugen in the Baltic Sea is also Germany's largest. It can seem a bit overcrowded in summer and is best visited in May, June and September. The main beach resort towns are located on the southeastern coast: Binz, Sellin and Gohren. You'll have to book in advance if you want to stay there in July or August.

Rugen, which lies 150 mi/245 km north of Berlin, has plenty of other attractions, too. Kap Arkona, on the island's northeastern tip, has a picturesque lighthouse. The Stubbenkammer is a group of stunning white chalk cliffs that greatly inspired Romantic painter Caspar David Friedrich. Bergen, a nice town in the interior, and Putbus, with its neoclassical circus (somewhat similar to the architectural highlight in Bath, England), are also worth visiting.

The island has some beautiful and varying landscapes, especially its tree-lined roads, rolling hills and beech forests. Touring by car is a nice way to see the island, but traffic can sometimes be heavy. Cobblestoned roads, as well as the car traffic, make bicycle tours less enjoyable.

From Rugen you can cross over to the smaller, more tranquil island of Hiddensee. It was a famous haunt for German writers and actors in the early 20th century and offers beautiful hiking opportunities and lovely windswept beaches. When the sea buckthorn is in bloom, the whole island seems to be clad in yellow.

Rugen is connected to the Baltic Sea port and old Hanseatic city Stralsund by road and rail bridges on the mainland. Stralsund is home to the late-Gothic St. Mary's Church, which yields a good view of the town from the church tower. There are historic and oceanographic museums, and boats cruise to Hiddensee and Rugen islands.

Southeast of Rugen is Usedom, an island off northeastern Germany, near the border with Poland. Its sandy beaches are popular with vacationers. The main resort towns are Heringsdorf, Bansin and Ahlbeck with historical piers dating back to the times of German Emperor Wilhem II, who frequently visited Usedom in summer. Book early if you plan to go in July or August.

Still on the Baltic Sea but southwest of Stralsund is Rostock, which has a nice 13th-century church, a good cultural and historical museum (Kulturhistorisches Museum), a maritime museum (Schiffahrtsmuseum; http://www.schifffahrtsmuseum-rostock.de) and the Ozeaneum, a new state-of-the-art aquarium.

Nearby is a large beach resort, Warnemunde, which retains its Baltic fishing-village flavor and is a better place to stay. It's worth a stop if you're in the area, but don't go out of your way to include it in your itinerary.

Halfway between Rostock and Lubeck on the Baltic coast is the pretty 13th-century-founded trading town of Wismar, once ruled by Sweden. It's featured in Murnau's famous vampire movie Nosferatu: eine Symphonie des Grauens, shot in the 1920s. Many beautiful old houses remain. It is also worth stopping to see the decorative early-17th-century waterworks and the church St. Nikolaikirche.

There are boats to the island resort of Poel. Inland a little is Schwerin, an attractive small city. It has an especially nice Gothic cathedral and an eclectic palace on an island. The city is full of old half-timbered houses, and just outside the historic Schliefmuhle quarter is a zoo. You can easily see the town on foot in a day. Schwerin is a good base from which to explore the surrounding Mecklenburg Lake District.

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