Sylt – German Wadden Island or Nordseeinsel

Sylt is the northernmost German Wadden Island, or Nordseeinsel, as the Germans say. Sylt is located in the North Frisian Wadden Sea and the island is the busiest of the entire row of Dutch, German and Danish Wadden Islands. It also has the most inhabitants. Actually, it is no longer an island since it was connected to the mainland by the Hindenburg Damm. The history of the island is interesting. The geological history is special, the archaeological history is worth seeing and the history of the rise of tourism and the spa industry is interesting.


The island has an elongated shape, with a thin southern arm and a narrow northern arm with a hook – the Elbows – and a wide center. It is the largest of the German Wadden Islands, but has the most inhabitants and the highest number of visitors of all the Wadden Islands. In the months of July and August, the high season, almost half a million tourists spend the night there every month.
The island is located on the border with Denmark and has a fixed ferry connection with the Danish island of Rømø. After a 40-minute boat trip you will be on the southernmost of the Danish Wadden Islands. Those who want to travel to Sylt board the train in Niebüll and those who want to travel to the island by car take the car train, the Sylt Shuttle, which stops in the middle of the main town of Westerland and goes to the island via the Hindenburgdamm. The dam, named after President Paul von Hindenburg, is 11 kilometers long and was built in 1927. It’s not a road, just a track. Due to the connection with the dam, Sylt has actually become a peninsula.

Sizes and numbers of Sylt

  • The area is 100 km²
  • Length is 40 kilometers
  • Width is between 200 meters and 12.5 kilometers
  • Highest dune is 52 meters above sea level
  • 22,000 inhabitants
  • The main town is Westerland
  • The administrative center is Keitum

Boulevard with high-rise buildings and Hotel Miramar in the background / Source: Ameland Press AgencyHotel Miramar / Source: Ameland Press AgencyTetrapods as coastal protection / Source: Ameland Press Agency


Sylt belongs to the Kreis Noord-Friesland in the German state of Schleswig-Holstein. The island is having a hard time with the force of the North Sea. Over the centuries, the island has become smaller and smaller due to erosion and various measures have been taken to combat that process. The measures are:

  • plants of beach oats
  • place tetrapods
  • sand supplementation
  • basalt blocks off the coast


Islanders and second homes

Sylt is the northernmost island of the Frisian residential area. It is thought that the first islanders came to the island as a kind of colonists from East Frisia in the 8th and 9th centuries. They developed into fishermen (especially oyster catchers) and farmers. Like most Wadden Islands, Sylt has a whaling history and islanders have become commanders. They sailed together with the Dutch or worked for shipowners from Hamburg.
The Biikebrenner festival, which takes place every year on February 21, is said to have originated from whaling. The celebration with the great fires would be a farewell to the whalers who left the island on February 22 for a trip to Greenland or Spitsbergen.


Oyster farming and whaling brought prosperity, but in the 20th century tourism emerged and brought wealth to the island. Sylt was discovered for its healing North Sea bath and developed as a health resort. There is a dark side to this popularity, because none of the Wadden Islands has been overrun and changed as much by tourism as Sylt. Partly due to the wealthy Germans who discovered the island at the beginning of the 20th century, second-home owners pushed up real estate prices so much that Frisian households felt forced to look for a house on the mainland. Or they saw their opportunity to ask a large sum for their home and sold it to wealthy people in order to afford to move to the mainland themselves. It has drastically changed the face of the villages. The Art Nouveau bathhouses of the early twentieth century have made way for apartment buildings with holiday apartments. Only the beautiful Miramar hotel still stands on the North Sea coast.
Source: Ameland Press Agency

Friesenhuis and second homes

Housing on the island is no longer affordable for ordinary workers. The asking price for a semi-detached house is 2.25 million and a two-room apartment is for sale in 2016 for two and a half to three euros. The 22,000 islanders are therefore largely new islanders.
The number of second homes and holiday apartments also many times exceeds island homes. Beautiful characteristic houses are the Friesenhuizen with thatched roof. In Keitum, the main town in the 19th century, you can see them at their best. At that time, wealthy captains built their houses there with a view of the Wadden Sea. There is also a nice example in Wenningstedt. Commander Teunis built a beautiful house there, of which the front door is especially famous. The whaling captain’s name appears above the door and the door itself is richly decorated.
Friesenhaus / Source: Press Agency AmelandHuis van de Commandeur / Source: Press Agency AmelandCommandeur Teunis / Source: Press Agency Ameland There is a lot of new construction on the island in a similar style, but inflated. Instead of the small single-family homes with thatched roofs, predominantly large semi-detached accommodations are being built. Also with a thatched roof. What is striking on Sylt is the high-rise buildings, apartment buildings on the edge of the dune and beach, with a view of the North Sea. Sylt has clearly developed very differently from the Dutch Wadden Islands and has focused on being large, expensive and rich.


A . Niebüll
B . Hindenburgdamm
C . Westerland
D . Keitum
E . Wenningstedt
F . Elbows

read more

  • Rømø – Danish Wadden Island in the Wadden Sea World Heritage Site
  • The Wadden by Toon Fey – a visual Wadden book
  • History of the Wadden – Canon of the Wadden Islands
  • Bosch – disappeared Wadden Island near Schiermonnikoog
  • Sylt – Jetset island with coastal defenses with tetrapods

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