In my last blog, I talked about our Easter holiday to Büsum on Germany’s North Sea coast. We had a brilliant two weeks in this wonderful seaside resort. This small fishing town has changed a lot over the years, and I can honestly say for the better. However, there is one thing that will never change, and that is the stunning Wadden Sea, and the many beautiful sunsets that hold a special fascination for so many. It’s not easy to capture these romantic moments in videos and photos, as you really need to experience it in real life. But I’d like to give you my unbiased opinion, and show you the true beauty of Büsum and its surrounding area.
I promised that I’d write about our day trip to Heligoland (in German and Danish it’s called Helgoland). So, here it is – a summary of a great family adventure to Heligoland.
Exploring means learning
I love learning about new things
Every time we go somewhere, I’m keen to explore the surrounding area and include a few day trips. I must admit, I do sometimes need to convince my husband and my nine-year-old son to go a bit further afield. Luckily, it never takes long for me to tweak their interest to visit some close-by places, or do something a bit different. However, this time it took them some time to convince ME to try out something new!
Overcoming the fear
You either get seasick or you don’t – it’s not something that can be psychologically controlled
My husband knows Büsum and its surrounding area quite well, as he often went there as a child. Several years ago, he told me the story of when he visited Heligoland in the late seventies with his parents. He explained that the boat trip from Büsum to the island hadn’t been the most enjoyable experience because of the rough sea. As you can imagine, being on a boat in stormy weather wasn’t the best place to be! My husband told me that many of the passengers were seasick, and no one enjoyed walking around Heligoland in the rain. He certainly wasn’t doing a good job of selling the idea of a boat trip to the island to me!
Yes, I can or no I can’t?
Heligoland was calling me
With that (not very) motivating story in my mind, my husband and son tried to persuade me to book a trip to Heligoland. I’ve seen the island featured on many TV documentaries, as well as the stunning photos in guidebooks – but NO thank you!
I trusted ‘MS Funny Girl!’
The weather had been fantastic throughout our stay in Büsum, and with the forecast being even more promising for the Easter weekend, I started to warm to the idea of trying out this adventure. Bear in mind, I suffer from severe seasickness, so it really was a mammoth task to get me on board! I remember being on a catamaran in the Caribbean, and feeling so unwell that I had even considered returning by taxi.
However, I was itching so see Heligoland island for myself, so I took the plunge and decided to buy tickets for the ‘MS Funny Girl’ day trip. I always find small islands fascinating, and I enjoy the calmness of having no cars to disturb the peace. That’s why the Isle of White is on my must-go travel list too!
Heligoland here I come!
I prepared myself with anti-sickness tablets and boarded at 9am. Fortunately, the weather was on my side with a beautiful blue sky, sunshine and a calm sea – perfect! We sat outside as we left Büsum harbour, and we enjoyed just being on the open sea without seeing any land for a while. The ferry was comfortable, with a nice restaurant area. My husband enjoyed some soup, and I even fancied eating something, so I ordered some scrambled eggs.
Sunbathing on the top deck followed by a little fun time
Heligoland is about 70km from Büsum (around two and a half hours by ferry). That meant we had plenty of time to walk around the ferry, which my son enjoyed a lot, as well as giving me an opportunity to read up on Heligoland. It was only then I found out that the ferry doesn’t actually go into Heligoland harbour itself. It anchors just off the island and then small boats (each carrying around 50 people) take us to Heligoland harbour. My husband was laughing when I asked him why he hadn’t told me. His reply was, “well, you probably wouldn’t have gone if I had”!
All I can say is that he was lucky that I didn’t mind hopping into the bobbing boats, and that I quite enjoyed the little adventure! My son was also a little nervous getting on board the small boats, but he soon felt safe and loved the adventure.
Arriving on Heligoland, we spotted the colourful houses situated along the seafront. They used to be warehouses and workshops that were used by fishermen to repair their nets and other equipment. Now, they are cafés, snack shops, duty-free and souvenir shops or galleries.
I just had to have those shoes and belt
Because Heligoland is an offshore island, you’ll find a fair few shops selling products at attractive duty-free prices. I couldn’t pass by the ‘Schuhtick’ shoe shop, without having a peek inside. I certainly hadn’t planned on going shopping while I was on the island, but I ended up going home with a pair of fashionable trainers and a leather belt!
Truly stunning nature
The most attractive part of being on Heligoland is the wonderful nature and its tranquillity. The island has a lower and higher level, as well as an additional small island lying just in front of the main island.
You can get to the higher level by walking through the narrow streets and taking the steps, or there is also a lift. I can definitely recommend going up to the higher level as the nature and views are impressive. The paths lead you to the famous Lange Anna rock formations, and you can watch the birds nesting on the edge of the rocks.
Heligoland is a paradise for photographers interested in nature
Although we were very keen to follow the guidebook’s advice and try out the famous Heligoland lobster with a glass of wine in one of the restaurants, we decided to explore the island on foot instead.
We arrived on the island at around 12pm, which meant that we had around three and a half hours to explore. It was definitely the right decision to resist the urge to have a culinary break (as we usually do) to see the amazing landscape, the red cliffs, and learn about the island’s history. There were viewing platforms with benches situated in just the right spots to take in the breath-taking views. It’s a place where you can relax and recharge away from everyday life.
The good weather certainly helped me create some fantastic photos and videos – only using my iPhone.
It has been German, Danish and British
We now know that Heligoland’s sovereignty has changed hands many times over the last couple of hundred years. It has been handed backwards and forwards between Germany and Denmark, and then from 1807 until 1890, it was a British island. The British used Heligoland as a large warehouse for goods like cotton, coffee, tea, sugar and spices. At this time, Heligoland’s residents started to rent out rooms, and the small dune island became an attractive magnet for tourists.
On 1st July 1890, Heligoland was officially transferred to Germany with the signing of the Heligoland–Zanzibar Treaty (also known as the 1890 Anglo-German Agreement). Some people can still see the island’s similarity to British seaside resorts like Scarborough, which is somewhere I’m also keen to visit.
Holiday in Heligoland
Do something good for your health – breathe in some clean air
While we were on the ferry, I noticed just how many people had suitcases with them. I now know that Heligoland is known for its healthy climate – making it the perfect retreat for a healthy break. Its clean, salty, North Sea air is rich in iodine and oxygen, which can help those suffering from allergies or respiratory diseases. Being car-free, the island is almost emission-free, and the lack of pollution certainly helps keep pollen levels low.
The Gulf Stream influences the island’s mild Mediterranean climate; creating the perfect habitat for unique plants. Various birds like gannets, seagulls, as well as seals have chosen this place as their home.
Being lovers of small islands, we’re definitely considering returning to Heligoland (with our suitcases this time) to fully embrace its beauty. I’d also like to take the ferry across to the dunes, where there are some beautiful, family-friendly, sandy beaches.
It’s no surprise that many writers and artists are fascinated by the beauty of this island. Hoffmann von Fallersleben composed the German national anthem (Lied der Deutschen) here, and Heinrich Heine and Franz Kafka are some other important writers who have enjoyed being on Heligoland.
I thought it might be useful to create a little list of Heligoland facts:
Access: Via ferry from Büsum, Cuxhaven or Bremerhaven (two to two and a half hours). You can also travel from Hamburg with the new Halunder Jet that includes stops in Wedel and Cuxhaven (three hours and forty-five minutes). Heligoland also has a small airport; you can fly with OFD from Heide or Büsum to Heligoland.
MS Funny Girl return tickets:
Adults 42.90€, children (4-14 years) 23€ (prices as of 2019)
You can find more information about ferry schedules and prices from Büsum to Heligoland here: https://www.adler-eils.de/helgoland/
Size of Heligoland main island: 1km²
Size of Heligoland dune island: 0.7km²
Specifics: Germany’s only offshore island, duty-free shopping available. In 1962, Heligoland officially became a spa town. It is car-free, and has unique plants, birds and other animals.
Federal State: Schleswig-Holstein
Population: around 1,500
Visitors per year: approximately 350,000
Distance to mainland (Büsum and Cuxhaven): approximately 70km
Traditional dishes: Knieper (Heligoland crab) and lobster
Read some TripAdvisor reviews about Helgoland
Here you can read an interesting article about Heligoland on the Guardian’s website (2011)
At some point, I would like to investigate Heligoland’s history in more depth, and will pass on my new findings to you. So, watch this space if you’d like more information about Heligoland.