Heligoland (German and Danish: Helgoland, North Frisian: Deät Lun) 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, and a hotspot for birdwatching.
Heligoland (or Helgoland, as it is known in German and Danish) 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). The island belonged to Denmark until 1807, when it was occupied by British troops. It changed hands several times between the Danish, British and German governments, and in one example that is a widely known trivia fact in Germany, it 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 part of Wolfsburg, hence the name) wrote a poem while in exile on the island that has been put to music that had been written for the Austrian emperor's hymn and thus became the "Lied der Deutschen", the German national anthem.
In World War II Heligoland was extensively used by the German military, and, as a consequence of this, British forces bombed it heavily and 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 (which has the airport on it) that is within immediate vicinity of Heligoland used to be connected but a storm flood in the 18th century separated the islands, meaning that to get from one to the other you will now have to use a ship or boat. Plans to reconnect the islands by technological means have been proposed but soundly rejected by the Heligolanders and are thus unlikely to come to fruition any time soon.
Heligoland is one of the most important breeding areas for a wide variety of sea birds and therefore environmental considerations make parts of the island off limits to all but scientists.
- 1 Heligoland Airport (HGL IATA) (On the island of Düne). This air strip has connections from Cuxhaven, Hamburg and other places just on or near the coast, most of them operated by OFD. As there are no scheduled international or in fact long distance services, chances are you will prefer arriving by boat unless you are based in Northern Germany anyway or are rather short on time and money is of no concern to you. The airport also accommodates general aviation.
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. Among those operating trips are Helgoline.
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. This prohibition has been enshrined in the federal traffic code (Straßenverkehrsordnung or StVO §50, in case you were curious).
The normal day trip 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".
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.
The Ornithological Station has guided tours once or twice a week. The weather permitting, they will demonstrate how they catch a bird and ring it.
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. 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.
- Bude 31, Hafenstraße 1011. Jewellery from red Helgoland flint.
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 speciality, 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 caution.
There are many possibilities for all budgets, including a youth hostel. Accommodation, including camping on the beach, 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.
- The Düne island has a small camp-site for tents depending on the size of the tent: mid-June to mid-Sep €8-20, May to mid-June and mid-Sep to mid-Oct: €7-17 (2018).
- 1 Haus der Jugend (Youth Hostel), ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. Breakfast included. Full board and half-board available. Up to age 26 from €25.70, 26 and over from €30.20.
- 2 Hotel Rickmers Insulaner, Am Südstrand 2, ☏ .
As Heligoland is Germany's only island in the high seas, there are few if any connecting services. Most travellers return with the boat they came on to the port from which they set sail.