Borkum is an island located 30 kilometres from the mainland, in the north westerly corner of Germany, close to the border with the Netherlands. The island is the largest of the seven East Frisian islands, situated within the Lower Saxony Wadden Sea National Park. Due to its remote and idyllic nature Borkum is a popular spot for tourists, who come to enjoy its mild climate, sandy beaches and unspoilt beauty.
What to see
1. Borkumriff sandbank
Although the island has many spectacular beaches, Borkumriff sandbank is a favourite amongst both locals and visitors. Naturalists and photographers love to observe the families of seals which bask on the sandy beach soaking up the sun. Due to the unique climate of the region this area of the island is home to a unique variety of flora and fauna who inhabit the dunes, flowering meadows and open water pools. Rare orchids can be found here that grow nowhere else in the world, making Borkum a popular destination for botanists.
The long unspoilt beach offers a great place to relax on a sunny day and is a popular tourist spot in summer. A video featuring the dunes in high summer can be seen below:
2. The old lighthouse
Borkum has a rich historical tradition, which visitors can experience first hand at the site of the Neuer Leuchtturm, or old lighthouse. In the past, the nearby North Sea was a popular transit route for whaling vessels, which would regularly become shipwrecked near the island, necessitating the need for its construction.
Today the lighthouse is open to visitors, who are able to climb up the steep steps and enjoy one of the best views on the island. Just be sure to take your camera. The local lighthouse keeper will be only too happy to provide you with a tour, helping to give some context to your visit.
3. Dykhus museum
The Dykhus museum pays tribute to the history of the island with an exhibit documenting its whaling tradition and former Nazi stronghold. The museum is the perfect place to while away a rainy day exploring the exhibits, and children in particular will enjoy marvelling at the display of a life-size sperm whale skeleton.
4. High ropes course
Kraxelmaxel Kletterpark Borkum is the perfect place for adrenaline junkies to brush up on their climbing skills. With over 60 stages to climb this attraction, it suits all levels of ability from first timers to pros. With so much to do and see here you’ll find the hours pass by quickly. More information on the attraction can be found here in the following video.
5. Borkumer Kleinbahn
Borkumer Kleinbahn is a railway that helps the island remain partially car free during the summer months, connecting the ferry terminal with Borkum town. This journey is included for free as part of your ferry ticket. Travel in style onboard the antique train and enjoy the spectacular views across the coast. Be sure to get your camera out ready!
The recently renovated family run aquarium makes for a great day out for all the family, particularly on those rainy days when the beach isn’t an option. A variety of North Sea wildlife can be observed here including fish, sea urchins and sea spiders. Detailed placards help you to learn as much, or as little, as you like.
7. Art classes
Popular local artist, Nicole Wenning, offers watercolour painting classes at her Atelier am Meer shop, situated right on the sea front. Whether you choose an individual or group session, you’ll be guided through the basics and by the end of your session you will have the opportunity to create a unique hand painted souvenir of your trip.
8. Water sports
Make the most of your holiday and stay active by picking up a new sport while on your travels. World of Wind is a water sports company located on the main beach offering a full range of activities, including windsurfing, kite boarding and sailing. Instruction is available for all levels, and equipment can be bought or rented on site.
If you’re looking for some relaxation on your break, never fear. Strand sauna Borkum is a full service sauna and spa located on the main nudist beach. Enjoy the exhilarating experience of a hot sauna followed by cooling off in the icy North Sea.
Best time to visit
The summer months are the most popular for guests, with the focus of activities on the island centred around outdoor pursuits and nature. From May to October the weather is at its best, making it a better time to visit the island during this period.
Typical regional dishes
Cooking in the Lower Saxony region is typically hearty and down to earth. Due to its island location fish is particularly popular in Borkum, with a fresh catch arriving into the harbour daily. Whether you enjoy crab, mussels, mackerel, trout, or eel, there’s something to suit every taste. The most popular fish restaurant on the island is Knurrhahn so be sure to pay it a visit for an award winning meal.
Although Borkum offers a popular vegan offering at the Pferdestall restaurant, traditional food in the area caters more for the tastes of carnivores. Braunschweiger Wurst is a popular lunchtime option. This soft and spreadable sausage is great on freshly baked bread and is comprised of pork, beef, and bacon. Souvenir pots are available as gifts for your friends back home.
Perhaps surprisingly, the Frisian islands have a local culture of tea drinking, with the small area consuming a quarter of Germanys total tea imports! In Borkum tea is served strongly brewed, with fresh cream and sugar. Be sure to give it a try and compare it with your favourite brew back home. Beware: Do not stir!
Where to stay
As a relatively small but popular island, it’s always best to book your hotel early to avoid disappointment. The summer months can get booked up 6 months in advance, particularly around the school holidays.
Accommodation options are available for a variety of budgets and preferences. At the high end of the spectrum, the four star Strandhotel Hohenzollern is the highest rated hotel on the island. Situated right on the beach with access to its own extensive bar, restaurant and sauna, rooms here will set you back around £160 a night.
While the island sadly does not yet offer any hostel accommodation for those on a shoestring budget, consider using a service like Air BnB to find shared accommodation from a local. This offers a great way for solo travellers to integrate with the local community and make new friends.
For groups and families who like to self cater, the Aparthotel Kachelot is a popular choice. With a central location, modern clean facilities and a friendly local service, a stay here is great value at around £60 per night for a double room.
Although the island has a small air strip in the Tüskendör area, flights can be irregular and prohibitively expensive. The best way to reach the island is by ferry. This method of transport has an added incentive as guests can then benefit from a free ride on the spectacular Borkumre Kleinbahn railway line. Ferries to the island can be caught from Edmaen in Germany and Eemshaven in the Netherlands. If you’re planning on extending your trip, consider arriving from one port and leaving from another to prevent backtracking.
In an effort to maintain the natural beauty and rich ecological diversity, the island is partially car-free. During peak season when a high volume of tourists visit the area, several car free zones are dotted around the island to help lessen the environmental impact of the increased footfall. However, thankfully the lack of a car won’t hamper your sightseeing capabilities, as reliable public buses offer extensive services across the island with very reasonable rates.
As you can imagine, Borkum has limited shopping opportunities. However, you can find a stunning souvenir at Atelier am Meer. This small shop is frequented by local artist, Nicole Wenning, and offers a plethora of high end watercolour paintings available for purchase. The advantage of purchasing art from Atelier am Meer is the opportunity to speak to the artist yourself and discover more about the background of the painting. If you don’t mind waiting you could even commission a custom piece and arrange for it to be shipped back home.
Borkum is an island with a focus on rest and relaxation for visitors, so you won’t find the all-night clubbing scene you might expect from other beach resorts. Instead, evenings are mainly spent in the local pub, the Lord Nelson. This popular establishment serves a wide variety of traditional ales and spirits, with special events timed to coincide with Christmas and Oktoberfest. International football matches are also available here on the big screen and are a popular draw for both visitors and locals alike. However, never fear if football isn’t your thing. The Biercafe Das Ei is another popular evening venue, offering billiards, darts and boardgames with regular live DJ sets.