Beach holidays complete with sun loungers, sun cream and cold beers in the shade are probably not the first thing travelers associate with Germany.
But the country of beer, bread and trains running (mostly) on time has an impressive 2,000 kilometers of coastline along the North and Baltic seas as well as over 30 islands in both seas.
The country also has plenty of rivers and lakes to cool down in on a hot summer’s day when you travel here.
From river shores and idyllic lakes to endless white sands stretching as far as the eye can see, here are 10 of Germany’s best swimming spots.
Wangerooge is the easternmost of the so-called East Frisian Islands and one of the smallest, with a population of just over 1,000.
No cars are allowed, meaning you can only reach the pristine white sand beaches on the north and east side of the island by bicycle or horse-drawn carriage.
Here, besides the usual beach activities, visitors can also partake in windsurfing, kitesurfing and board riding.
But if the North Sea winds pick up, as they sometimes do even in summer, visitors can recline on the colorful strandkörbe (wicker beach chairs) and read a book while listening to the wind and the cries of seagulls.
This 20-square-kilometer island, positioned to the east of Wangerooge, is truly a hidden gem.
Part of the North Frisian Islands, Amrum boasts picturesque fishing villages, a stunning red and white lighthouse, beautiful white sand dunes, and most importantly, one of Europe’s widest sand beaches.
During summer, this endless beach is the perfect getaway spot to wind down, while the dunes are a great spot to take a stroll whatever the season.
You don’t have to travel to the fringes of the country to enjoy a nice German beach.
The Elbstrand in Hamburg is a 13-kilometer long stretch of sandy beaches and green coves on the northern shore of the Elbe River.
Stretching from the Oevelgönne to the Rissen district, it’s perfectly placed for watching the many ships leaving and entering Germany’s largest port against the backdrop of massive cranes and docks on the southern shore – all with your feet in the warm sand and a cold beer in hand.
A popular spot both with locals and visitors, the Elbstrand is also great for barbecues, which are permitted on many of its beaches (as long as visitors take all their rubbish with them.)
Binz Beach, Rügen
Rügen is Germany’s largest island located in the Baltic Sea and holds a rather spectacular and unusual history.
The chalk cliffs on the northern coast inspired legendary Romantic landscape painter Caspar David Friedrich to paint his well-known Chalk Cliffs on Rügen and it’s also where Nazi Germany built a four and a half kilometer-long concrete holiday resort, known as the “Colossus of Prora,” which is currently being modernized into real estate.
However, Rügen’s most beautiful and elegant beach is the five-kilometer sand stretch at Binz, a 19th century spa resort that still contains many of its original buildings and grand hotels.
The main draw here, besides the usual beach activities, is its impressive 370-meter long pier, built in 1994.
Ahlbeck Beach, Usedom
Cradling the border with Poland, Baltic island Usedom is a bit more rugged than Rügen.
Measuring a huge 445 square kilometers, it holds plenty of private locations for those looking for a tranquil holiday.
One such spot is Ahlbeck Beach, which comes complete with dunes, white sand, and a pier that juts far out into sea.
Part of the spa town of Heringsdorf, together with the neighborhoods of Heringsdorf and Bansin, Ahlbeck forms what was known as Dreikaiserbäder, the Three Imperial Spas, a reference to the vacations that German emperor Wilhelm II used to spend here.
The beach stretches 42 kilometers across the border into Świnoujście in Poland, and is home to the 280-meter-long Seebrücke, the oldest preserved pier in Germany.
The German capital has its very own set of nice beaches, frequented by hipsters and families alike in summer.
Berlin also has many lakes within its city limits, not to mention the over 30,000 kilometers of waterways it shares with the neighboring state of Brandenburg.
From the legendary city lido at Wannsee, immortalized in the 1951 German pop hit “Pack die Badehose ein” by Conny Froboess, to the smaller city beaches at Plötzensee in the Wedding district or the Tegeler See in the north of the city and the Schlachtensee lake in the south west., Berlin has swimming spots for everyone.
All are easily accessible by public transport, which means they’re often crowded, especially on weekends and public holidays.
With 72,000 square meters, this former borrow pit is one of the largest lakes in the Rhine-Main area of Germany and its turquoise waters attract a number of visitors in summer.
Located 20 kilometers south of Germany’s financial center Frankfurt, Langener Waldsee comes with a 900-meter-long sand beach and offers surfing, sailing and angling as well as camping areas.
It serves as one of the locations for the Ironman European Championship, which takes place each year, regardless of the weather.
While Munich is mostly associated with Oktoberfest, pretzels and beers, everyone flocks to the pebble beaches along the Isar in the summer time, with or without Lederhosen.
There are a number of bathing spots along the river, such as the Flaucher and the Marienklausenbrücke, but the most central sits right in the center of the old town along the Praterinsel, on both sides of the river.
Ice cold Bavarian beers are available from the nearby corner shops.
Bavaria has its share beautiful and tranquil lakes, despite being hundreds of miles from the nearest ocean.
One is located just 80 kilometers from Munich, but feels a world away.
The 780-square-kilometer lake is not only one of Germany’s deepest and largest alpine lakes, which means the water temperature only ever gets to 68 F (20 C) in summer.
It’s also one of the few lakes in Bavaria where shores can be easily accessed from most surrounding areas, so there’s plenty of secluded bathing spots.
However, the only “noisy” activities permitted here are surfing, sailing and diving.
Another refreshingly cold lake that offers a variety of beaches and water activities is the Schluchsee, located in the Black Forest near Freiburg im Breisgau in the state of Baden-Württemberg.
Although it’s positioned pretty high above sea level, 930 meters, Schluchsee is still very popular with swimmers.
The majority of the shoreline here is easily accessible, and secluded bathing spots can be found pretty much anywhere.
Visitors might even stumble across locals partaking in a popular German pastime – skinny dipping.
Marcel Krueger is a German writer and translator based in Dublin and Berlin. He mostly writes about history, travel and beer – or all three combined.