Heligoland is a small German archipelago in the North Sea. It's a somewhat popular destination for one-day ship cruises. A feature of the island is almost total absence of car traffic, which makes it a safe and quiet location.
Heligoland (or Helgoland, as it is known in German) is a somewhat odd case as it is the only German island that is not close to the coast or at least the mouth of a river (as is Borkum). It changed hands several times between English and German governments and in one example that is a "widely known" trivia fact in Germany was traded to Germany in the late 19th century for the German interest in Zanzibar (although the Heligoland-Zanzibar-treaty does not specify the islands to be exchanged, as Germany never had any kind of possession over Zanzibar). During the "English" period German poet Hoffmann von Fallersleben (who wasn't a noble but born in Fallersleben, now near Wolfsburg, hence the name) wrote a poem while in exile on the island that has been put to music originally written for the Austrian emperor's hymn and thus became the "Lied der Deutschen", the German national anthem.
In World War II Heligoland was heavily used by the German military and as a consequence of this British forces bombed it heavily and even tried to blow the island up after the war in one of the biggest non-atomic explosions to date. However this failed in destroying the island, as has - until now - the North Sea. The island of Düne that is within immediate vicinity of Heligoland used to be connected but a storm flood in the 18th century separated both islands, meaning that to get from one to the other you will now have to use a ship or boat.
Heligoland is one of the most important breeding areas for a wide variety of seabirds and therefore environmental considerations make parts of the island off limits to all but scientists.
Daily tours are available from Cuxhaven and Büsum by boat and from Hamburg by high-speed catamaran. Most travelers visit Helgoland as day-trippers. Boat trips allow for a stay of up to 4 hours on the island.
Helgoland consists of a rather large sandstone island and a smaller sand island nearby. Both are worth strolling around. In general, motor vehicles and bicycles are prohibited on the archipelago.
The normal stay of about 4 hours will give you ample time to walk around the cliff-top of the island, visit the aquarium and do some shopping. For a more in-depth experience a stay of at least one night is necessary. This will give you time to explore the island and the bathing-island called Düne with its fabulous beach and clear water.
- Aquarium Helgoland.
- Helgoland Museum (Stiftung Nordseemuseum Museum Helgoland), Lung Wai 28.
- The old "Bunker"
- Lange Anna
One of the largest gannet breeding areas in Europe. Bring a telephoto lens! The island offers multiple photo scenes, especially at the crumbling rocks and shore on the north side.
Visit the satellite island of Heligoland, Düne. Its beaches are very beautiful and often you can find seals lying on the sand.
Helgoland is a duty-free zone. Tobacco and alcohol may be purchased as well as electronics and other high-duty items. Heligoland's shops offer an extensive collection of Scotch malt whiskeys. Keep in mind that customs officers may search through your merchandise on re-boarding the boat so either stay below the limits or declare your imports.
Like in duty free areas of some airports you may also get sweets or liquor that isn't usually sold on the mainland or at least not in this packaging. Prices tend to be comparable to airports (i.e. high) for all but high duty goods, however.
During the day most restaurants will only offer small snacks as the average traveler only has a very restricted time on the island. Helgoland used to be the center of Germany's lobster fishing. Lobster is still served as a local specialty, as are crabs' claws (Knieper) and all varieties of local seafood (plaice, prawns, herring).
Helgoländer Eiergrog is made from brown and white rum, eggs and hot water. It is very high in alcohol and should be consumed with consideration.
There are many possibilities for all budgets, including a youth hostel. The Düne island has got a small campsite for tents and basic cabins for rent. Accommodation should be booked in advance as there will be no way to travel on, should the island be fully booked, once the ships have sailed in the afternoon.