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Another Easter holiday, another German island! Much like our plans of Easter 2017, the Prince and I decided to head back out to a German island again. While Sylt is considered the ritzy island of Germany, we wanted a new experience this Easter and decided to opt for the island of Rügen. Located in northeast Germany on the Baltic Sea, the island used to be part of East Germany. Rügen is both the largest German island by land mass and number of yearly visitors. Between the resort architecture, charming seaside towns, sandy beaches, chalk cliffs, lighthouses, and the infamous Prora structure, there are so many historical places to visit on Rügen! While the Prince and I only had 24 hours on the island, we were able to tackle all the highlights (with plans on returning soon!).
Table of Contents
- History of Rügen
- Historical Places to Visit on Rügen
- How to Get to Rügen Island
- Where to Stay on Rügen Island
- Best Restaurants in Binz
- Final Thoughts on Rügen
- Like the Post? Share It!
History of Rügen
With a cultural background, the island of Rügen has been under Danish, Slavic, Swedish, Prussian, and French rule before finally returning to Germany in the 1800s. In 1816, the first bathing resort was established on the island and Rügen remained one of the most famous and beloved islands of Germany until the start of WWII.
Traditional resort architecture famous on Rügen
Interestingly, it was actually through the work of Hitler that Rügen became such an important and modernized holiday resort. As noted below under Prora, Hitler started building a resort complex on the island to house up to 20,000 people at a time. He really promoted the idea of vacations for the middle/working class and encouraged a culture that advocated for vacations throughout the year (something that has stuck in Germany – I have 6 weeks of paid vacation every year!). Additionally, he built the bridge that now connects Rügen to the mainland, making the island much more accessible. Before the bridge was built, the island could only be reached by ferries.
After the end of WWII, tourism came to a screeching halt due to Rügen being zoned into East Germany. Because the East German government attempted to nationalize all hotels, taxis, and service companies, almost all tourism completely stopped in the 1950s. While the island did regain its role as a tourist destination in the subsequent decades, it wasn’t until Germany’s reunification that tourism really exploded on Rügen.
And here’s a fun fact: Angela Merkel, the current Chancellor of Germany, actually represents the constituency that encompasses the island of Rügen!
Historical Places to Visit on Rügen
The island of Rügen is dripping in historical locations and places to visit. The best part about the island is it is virtually unknown to tourists outside of Germany. Thus, I heard no other English speakers the entire time I was on the island. While it was absolutely freezing while we were there (0 C/32 F – and we got caught in a terrible snowstorm getting back to Hamburg), the island is just as gorgeous in the wintertime as it is in the summertime.
1. Admire the Seaside Resort Towns
The number one thing you MUST do on Rügen is visit as many seaside resort towns as possible! The island is known for its gorgeous resort architecture and it definitely doesn’t disappoint. While the Prince and I only managed to visit a few (and there was some weird, off-season road construction happening), we especially liked the towns of Binz and Sellin.
The Prince and I actually chose Binz as our base. It is quite centrally located which made getting to the other towns, Jasmund National Park, Prora, and Cape Arkona lighthouse quite easy. However, it still seems remote and quaint.
The town was first mentioned in 1318 but really rose in prominence after the introduction of bathing complexes in the 1800s. However, the population of the town is still only 5,000. My favorite parts of the town were walking the main road to the pier (and make sure to walk along the pier) as well as admiring all the gorgeous architecture! After the reunification of Germany, most of the old hotels and summer houses were returned to the prior owners (opposed to being nationalized) and the town has steadily grown its tourism sector.
After a full day of driving, I was exhausted and just wanted to stay holed up in the hotel room for the rest of the night. The Prince convinced me that we should go for an evening walk and happened to stumble upon this sunset!!! Seriously, the colors were incredible.
Sellin + Sellin Pier
Even older than Binz, Sellin was first mentioned in the late 1200s and became one of the most important spa towns on the Baltic Sea in the 1800s. Much like Binz, the town has undergone a huge transformation since the reunification of Germany. However, it still has its old-time charm and resort architecture. In terms of important residents, Albert Einstein spent a summer living in Sellin!
I made the Prince take a detour to Sellin just so I could visit the famous Sellin Pier. As the longest pier on Rügen, it is absolutely stunning – especially when viewed from high above (there are 100 stairs leading to the pier or else you can take the elevator). Unfortunately, this is not the originally pier. The first pier with a restaurant was built in 1906 but subjected to both ice damage and fire damage. It was rebuilt in 1925 but, once again, was badly damaged by ice in the winter of 1941/1942. While the pier wasn’t fully destroyed, over time it was neglected and ignored, causing it to be completely demolished in 1978. In 1991, after German reunified, efforts began to rebuild the pier. It officially opened again in 1998 and was based on the original designs of the 1906 and 1925 pier. Definitely don’t miss this impressive structure when visiting Rügen.
2. Stroll the Sandy Beaches
Due to the freezing/below-freezing temperatures for much of the weekend, the Prince and I didn’t have the opportunity to fully enjoy the beautiful sandy beaches of Rügen. In the summertime, Strandkorb (the striped covered beach chairs) line the beaches of Rügen, and the sandy beaches invite people to lounge and hangout on them all day. Unfortunately, my experience was much different and instead of Strandkorb lining the beaches, little huts were open offering hot wine and hot chocolate to any that dared to actually venture out to the beach! Don’t worry, a trip in summertime is high on my list ;)
Guess how cold I am?
3. Explore Jasmund National Park and Königsstuhl
The real reason I wanted to visit Rügen? To explore Jasmund National Park and the famous chalk cliffs! This is actually how I initially heard of Rügen 12 years ago. My high school German teacher made us read an article about this island and specifically, the chalk cliffs. Ever since then, it’s been a bucket list item for me.
The famous chalk cliffs are almost identical to the White Cliffs of Dover in England. As one of the last acts by the East German government, they declared these cliffs and the surrounding area as a national park. Königsstuhl (King’s Chair) is the largest chalk cliff in Germany. At this location is a visitor’s center which explains the rare animals and plants that inhabit the area as well as the history behind the cliffs. There is also a viewpoint over Königsstuhl and many hiking trails. These cliffs have been forever immortalized in the famous paintings of Caspar David Friedrich.
Absolutely gorgeous views from the cliffs!
A few important notes – you can’t go directly to the cliffs via car. Instead, you park your car in a parking lot a few kilometers away and can either walk or take a bus to the visitor’s center. The bus is about 6 Euros round trip and entrance into the visitor’s center is 8 Euros. There was a bit of confusion by me and the Prince in regards to the opening hours but everything worked out fine (they changed their schedule to the summer hours a few weeks early due to the Easter weekend). Many of the hiking trails are outside of the visitor’s center and don’t require a fee (in case you’re just interested in hiking!).
4. Learn about the Prora
As mentioned above, Prora was envisioned by Hitler as a vacation resort for over 20,000 German families. Due to the start of WWII, the structure was never completed and never used as a vacation resort. The complexes that were built now extend over 4.5 kilometers (2.8 miles) along the coastline. While one building houses a museum, the other buildings are now being renovated as apartments, offices, and vacation rentals. As a structure, Prora is one of the longest in the entire world.
Contrast between the original buildings and the renovated buildings
During WWII, the existing buildings were used as refuge from Allied bombings. In particular, the buildings housed many residents of Hamburg who were escaping the city (the bombing of Hamburg and its almost complete destruction during WWII deserves its own post!). In 1945, the buildings were taken over by the Soviet Union and they established the buildings and surrounding area as a military base. Many of the buildings were stripped bare by the troops and the usable material recycled. Additionally, they demolished two of the buildings for materials.
After the formation of East Germany, the buildings housed East German troops and became a restricted area. Many East German conscientious objectors served as “construction soldiers” at Prora in order to fulfill their military duty.
5. Ride the Rügen Narrow-Gauge Railway
While the Prince and I didn’t have time to visit the Rügen narrow-gauge railway, it is high on our list of places to visit the next time we’re on Rügen. With a route of only 24 kilometers (15 miles), this steam-engine train has been operating since 1895 and reaches a maximum speed of 30 kilometers/hour (19 miles/hour). The railway connects the popular bathing resort towns including Binz and Sellin as well as Göhren, Baabe, and Putbus.
6. Visit Cape Arkona Lighthouse and Putgarten
Cape Arkona Lighthouse isn’t actually one lighthouse but a combination of two lighthouses plus a radio navigation tower. The old lighthouse is now a museum about lighthouses and maritime rescue while the radio navigation tower is an art museum and studio. All three towers have viewing platforms at the top.
This was my last stop on Rügen before the Prince and I left for the mainland. Because we were trying to get ahead of the snowstorm (#fail), I didn’t end up climbing to the top of any of the towers. It’s important to note that the lighthouses can’t (or shouldn’t) be reached directly by car – most people walk there or take the shuttle bus. Because the Prince and I weren’t actually stopping, we took our car directly to the lighthouses – and subsequently felt guilty the entire time!
If you have time, definitely explore the adorable area of Putgarten (right before Cape Arkona Lighthouse). It is absolutely charming and I’m kicking myself for not having enough time to explore it!
Bonus | Other Points of Interest
Besides the island of Rügen, make sure to check out the island Hiddensee right next to Rügen. Much like Mackinac Island in my home state of Michigan, Hiddensee is a totally car-free island and a popular tourist destination as well!
Also, before heading to the island of Rügen, make sure to stop by the medieval, gorgeous towns of Greifswald and Stralsund. They are both great stopover destinations for a half-day or day trip.
How to Get to Rügen Island
The easiest way to reach Rügen is via car. Especially with the bridge connecting the island to the mainland, it’s really easy to get between the two. Additionally, due to the sheer size of the island, many places aren’t necessarily near each other and a bit out of the way. A car makes reaching and seeing these places (including most of the above locations) much easier!
There is an airport on the island of Rügen as well as the nearby town of Rostock on the mainland. Rostock does handle commercial flights to destinations within Germany as well as abroad. Unfortunately, the airport on the island of Rügen only caters to charter flights from Hamburg, Berlin, and Bornholm (Denmark).
Surprisingly, Rügen has great train connections – especially high-speed trains. The island can be reached by high-speed trains from Berlin, Dresden, Prague, Hamburg, Hannover, Kassel, Frankfurt, Karlsruhe, Halle, Erfurt, Fulda, Rostock, Münster, Duisburg, Köln, and Mainz.
Flixbus, the most extensive bus service in Germany (and most of Europe), serves several locations on Rügen including Bergen auf Rügen, Binz, Sellin, Baabe, and Göhren. The buses from these towns on Rügen connect to a large network of cities in Germany!
Long-haul ferries from Trelleborg, Sweden; Rønne, Bornholm (island of Denmark); and Klaipeda, Lithuania service the island of Rügen. There are also a ferry from mainland Germany (Stahlbrode near Greifswald) to Glewitz, Rügen.
Where to Stay on Rügen Island
The best part about Rügen is that you have so many accommodation options! If possible, try to stay in one of the seaside resort towns. Based on recommendations and the central location, we stayed in Binz and absolutely loved it! I’d definitely return to Binz again as there are many hotel options, great beaches, and yummy restaurants.
Hotel CERÊS am Meer | Strandpromenade 24, 18609 Binz
If you’re looking to splurge on accommodation, look no further than the gorgeous 5-star Hotel CERÊS am Meer. With stunning views and right next to the beach, everything about the hotel screams luxury. While it doesn’t have the traditional resort architecture that’s common on Rügen, it does have a really modern and sophisticated charm.
Hotel am Meer & Spa | Strandpromenade 34, 18609 Binz
Not only is Hotel am Meer & Spa a 4-star hotel, but it has the classic resort architecture so beloved by the tourists of Rügen. Besides having a spa (duhh, based on the name), the views and interior are top-notch. Definitely book yourself a room overlooking the water – with the high ceilings and huge windows, you won’t be disappointed with the view!
Centralhotel Binz | Hauptstraße 13, 18609 Binz
If you’re looking for an affordable but still luxurious option, look no further than the 3-star Centralhotel Binz. The Prince and I stayed here and absolutely loved our visit! Although it isn’t on the water, the beach is one street away and the hotel itself is located on a hopping main street. Additionally, the restaurant on the first floor is absolutely fantastic (for both breakfast and dinner) and it was the perfect way to end an exhausting day. Just one tip – if coming by car, make sure to let the hotel know ahead of time. There is limited parking on site that fills up quickly!
Best Restaurants in Binz
The Prince and I were both really impressed by the sheer number of amazing restaurants in Binz! While we only got to sample of a few, here is a collection of some of the best restaurants in the town – from super affordable to ultra ritzy.
And in April, Germans drink mulled wine on the beaches!
Fischraucherei Kuse | Strandpromenade 3, 18609 Binz
A fourth-generation fishing company, the fish at Fischraucherei Kuse are caught daily and can be brought home for cooking or enjoyed on site. This affordable option is located directly on the beach, just right of the pier. Best to visit this restaurant for lunch or an afternoon snack as it closes at 7 pm.
Dolden Madel | Schillerstraße 6, 18609 Binz
The Prince and I tried to make reservations at Dolden Madel during the Easter weekend and they were fully booked for almost a week. Rightly so! This restaurant is known for serving a wide selection of craft beer as well as hearty foods. My biggest regret is that we didn’t think to make a reservation ahead of time because the restaurant looked super cool and the beer looked even more delicious!
Wirtshaus Alte Brennerei | Jagdschloß Granitz 1, 18609 Binz
In a super location with a charming feel, Wirtshaus Alte Brennerei is known for having reasonable prices and yummy, hearty meals. If you’re looking for a traditional German meal with a quaint, cozy atmosphere, look no further than Wirtshaus Alte Brennerei. Do note that this restaurant closes at 6 pm so put it on your list for lunchtime!
Bootshaus | Strandpromenade 49, 18609 Binz
I wish I liked seafood because this restaurant looks like the holy grail of fish! The portions are huge and the building is a traditional northern German island house (all the brick!). Make sure to book a table beforehand because this restaurant is constantly packed and finding a seat might be difficult.
Final Thoughts on Rügen
My only regret when visiting Rügen was not having enough time to fully explore the island. There’s so much history, culture, and politics tied to this one island. I’d definitely recommend spending at least a weekend, if not more, exploring the entire island. The Prince and I absolutely loved our time in Binz and can’t wait to return when it’s a bit warmer!