The area is in the Lower Saxon Wadden Sea National Park. There is a somewhat cheeky saying to memorize the names of the inhabited islands from east to west, which works in German and can be losely translated into English if one uses a somewhat awkward word order "Welcher Seemann liegt bei Nanni im Bett" - "Which sailor lies besides Nanni in bed", which gives Wangerooge, Spiekeroog, Langeoog, Baltrum, Norderney, Juist, Borkum.
From West to East
While many of the inhabitants still speak Plattdeutsch (low German) at home and among other people from the region, people in the tourist industry will all have a firm grasp of standard German, though sometimes with a slight "Missingsch" (northern accented standard German) tinge to it, as well as the "dry" humor, that is often associated with it. As this region caters primarily to Germans don't expect too much in the way of foreign languages, although you should get by reasonably with Dutch (very similar to Plattdeutsch) as well as English (widely taught in schools).
Most islands have one ferry-port that connects them at least once daily to the mainland. Because of the tides departure times may be uncomfortable especially when coming from far away. As most of the islands are car-free there are parking lots close to the ferry for those arriving via automobile.
As shown in the map at the top of the page, each island has one harbor that primarily connects it to the mainland. You can take a boat from Eemshaven (Groningen, Netherlands) or Emden to Borkum, from Norddeich (Mole) (Served by regular Intercity trains under this precise name) to Juist and Norderney, from Neßmersiel to Baltrum, from Bensersiel to Langeoog, from Neuharlingersiel to Spiekeroog and from Carolinensiel to Wangerooge. There are sometimes connections from/to other harbors but those are mostly for day trippers visiting another island than the one they are staying at. That means in essence that while "island hopping" is possible, it requires a bit of effort on your part (boat tickets, short term accommodation) and isn't all that common.
Be sure to research the departure time of your boat in advance, as they can only sail during high tide which changes day to day and also year to year. In the North Sea high tide "travels", so high tide in e.g. Borkum is not the same as high tide in, e.g., Sylt.
- See also: Rail travel in Germany
Deutsche Bahn offers some through tickets including ferry service or at least the bus up to the ferry. As you cannot use a car on most of the islands anyway this might be the most practical and - in some cases - the cheapest option. The boat and bus on the last leg of the trip are usually scheduled to wait for each other in case of delays.
As the ports connecting the islands to the mainland are - with the exception of Emden, Eemshaven and Norddeich (Mole) - only served by buses, you will need to change to a local train (most likely to Esens) and then you will have to take a bus for the last few kilometers to the boat.
There are guided tours to some of the islands that take you there through the mudflats that are exposed as the sea recedes during low tide. Only do this with a licensed guide in your group, as it can be very dangerous to go alone because the flood has trapped more than one hiker and fog is an ever-present danger to lose your orientation.
While most of the islands do have a spot where small planes can land and most even have scheduled flights to Emden and other nearby spots on the mainland, flying is a rather uncommon and expensive way to get to any of these islands. Furthermore, you won't save all that much time compared to the boat, as the thing that most determines time of arrival is when transportation is scheduled and not its speed. Planes can operate independent of tides but are more susceptible to winds and visibility as the airstrips on the islands lack many of the features allowing landings in heavy fog.
Various companies operating Intercity buses in Germany have at least seasonal service to the ferry ports serving the islands. Keep in mind that bicycle space can be booked out far in advance as it is limited and bikes are a popular way to get around on the islands. Booking in advance will usually get you better rates. As of April 2018 Flixbus serves Norddeich (ferry to Juist and Norderney), Emden (ferry to Borkum) and Bensersiel (ferry to Langeoog).
- Ostfrieslandexpress, ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. A local bus operator that has a single route going from Bremen via Harlesiel (ferry to Wangerooge), Neuharlingersiel (ferry to Spiekeroog), Bensersiel (ferry to Langeoog), Dornumersiel (no ferry), Neßmersiel (ferry to Baltrum), Norden and Norddeich twice on Friday Saturday and Monday and once Sunday with return journeys on the same days of the week. Tickets have to be pre-booked online or via phone. €18 or 20 depending on the length of the trip with a further €2 surcharge for not booking online. One piece of luggage (up to 20 kg) included further luggage, strollers or bike €6.50 under 15 year olds pay half the fare.
There are numerous ferry connections between the islands and from individual islands to the mainland as well as to Helgoland. These are mostly intended for day trippers, but if you book the accommodation in advance "island-hopping" is doable though uncommon.
Most islands are small enough (and apart from dunes very flat) to make walking a viable alternative for the untrained as well as marathon runners, especially since in some of the island-villages this is your only option, as both bicycle and car are forbidden.
Outside of the villages proper this is a terrific way of seeing the islands and the flat terrain aids a lot in this, however keep in mind that it can get very windy and the predominately westerly winds rarely change direction, especially if you had the wind in your back on the way to a destination, which might make the way back strenuous and unpleasant. Cycling on Baltrum and Spiekeroog is discouraged and, considering the very short distance you actually could cycle and the cost of taking a bicycle to these islands, it is not a good idea to bring a bicycle there.
Some of the islands have small (often narrow-gauge) railways mostly connecting the main settlement with the harbor. Often the use of these is included in either the ferry-fare or the Kurtaxe (hotel surcharge in most sea-baths in Germany)
- 1 Wangerooger Inselbahn (Wangerooge Island Railway), Wangerooge. This is the only narrow gauge railway operated today by Deutsche Bahn. The metre-gauge line is 6 km (3.7 mi) long and uses small diesel locomotives to haul trains at a speed not exceeding 20 km/h (12 mph).
Apart from Norderney and Borkum, cars are not allowed on any of the islands. There are parking lots at the ferry ports, but it is wiser to arrive without a car in the first place.
- 1 Old lighthouse (Alter Leuchtturm), Zedeliusstraße 3, Wangerooge, ☏ .
- 2 Water tower (Wasserturm), Langeoog.
- Old customs house (Altes Zollhaus), Baltrum. Museum
- 3 Selden Rüst Windwmill (Inselwindmühle), Marienstraße 24, Norderney. Restaurant
- 4 Kurhaus, Strandpromenade 1, Juist.
- 1 Museums-Pferdebahn (Horsecar line), Spiekeroog. The Pferdebahn (Pferd meaning horse) is a horse-drawn tram running on rails through scenic landscape.
- Watch the wildlife (birds and aquatic mammals stand out in particular).
- Hike through the Watt (the area of seafloor that is periodically left dry by the tides). Caution: only do this with a licensed guide: going on your own can be both dangerous and illegal and every year people drown because they were not cautious enough in the Watt.
- Relax in the quiet nature.
- Swim in the North Sea. (It's a bit cold, but notably warmer than most of the US's share of the Pacific.)
- Kitesurfing schools offer introductory courses and equipment rental
- 1 Strandhalle, Höhenpromenade 5, Langeoog, ☏ . Panorama-Restaurant
- 2 Meeresfrüchtchen, Noorderpad 3, Spiekeroog. Fischbistro
- 3 Pizza Loog, Westerloog 6 Spiekeroog.
- 4 Old Laramie (Café im Westend), Westend 5, Spiekeroog.
- 5 Fischrestaurant Capitänshaus, Noorderloog 11, Spiekeroog.
- 6 Historisches Altes Inselhaus, Süderloog 5, Spiekeroog.
- 7 Spiekerooger Leidenschaft, Noorderpad 6 , Spiekeroog-.
- 8 Hotel zur Linde, Noorderloog 5, Spiekeroog. Restaurant & bar in hotel
While this is by no means a party destination (except maybe Norderney), there are places where you can have a quiet beer or other alcoholic beverages. Drinking in a pub tends to be more expensive than on the German mainland.
A word concerning water: While the water is perfectly safe to drink and there is usually enough for everybody, you should economize, as most islands are not connected to the mainland water grid and thus draw from a "bubble" of fresh groundwater that "swims" atop the salty water and is only replenished through rainfall. If too much fresh water is drawn, the salty water starts mixing in, making the water unusable for years and probably decades to come. So far this hasn't happened, and local authorities are sure to intervene if the situation becomes dire, but your cooperation can go a long way in letting it never come to that. On some islands there are salt water showers and cleaning devices at or near the beach. Be sure to use them if your are very sandy to save fresh water.
When inquiring about the going rate for a room, do ask whether prices include Kurtaxe, the German sea-bath surcharge
- 1 Jugendherberge Borkum "Am Wattenmeer", Reedestr. 231, 26757 Borkum, ☏ , fax: , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Hotel Papst, Strandstraße 15/16, Juist, ☏ .
- Meyenburg & Gerd´s Höft Appartements am Wattenmeer, Billstraße 16, Juist, ☏ .
- Westfalenhof, Friesenstraße 24, Juist, ☏ .
- 2 Strandhotel Kurhaus, Strandpromenade 1, Juist, ☏ .
- 3 Nordseehotel Freese, Wilhelmstraße 60/61, Juist, ☏ .
- Hotel-Pension Sanders Höft, Damenpfad 5, 26571 Juist, ☏ .
- 4 Hotel-Pension Angelika, Mittelstraße 7, Juist, ☏ .
- 5 Jugendherberge Juist, Loogster Pad 20, 26571 Juist / Nordsee, ☏ , fax: , ✉ email@example.com.
- 6 Hotel Dünenschlösschen, Haus Nr. 48, 26579 Nordseebad Baltrum, ☏ , fax: , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org.
- 7 Hotel Pension Lottmann, Westdorf 62, 26579 Baltrum, ☏ , fax: , ✉ email@example.com.
- 8 Hotel Strandburg, Haus Nr. 139, 26579 Baltrum, ☏ , fax: , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Romantik- und Wellness-Hotel Achterdiek Juist, Wilhelmstraße 36, 26571 Juist, ☏ .
- Sunburn and sun protection is a concern even and somewhat especially in windy or cold-ish weather, as the sun's UV rays have a lot of power even if you don't feel the heat. Misjudging that on your first day may make the rest of your stay miserable.
- The day trip to Heligoland is probably the most popular excursion, other than that there are few options for onward travel that don't boil down to going back to the mainland. Borkum, however, has ferries from and to Emden in Germany as well as Eemshaven in the Netherlands, so you can arrive from Emden and leave for Eemshaven or vice versa.