“The sun reflects strongly off the puddles, so don’t forget to put sun protection on your knee pits”, orders Ute pointing at my bare legs as we start walking on water off the shores of Cuxhaven.
I already did, but under her strict eyes, I repeatedly do as I am told. I do everything Ute marshals: The next four hours, she will guide me together with about two dozens other hikers into the tideland off the shore in Cuxhaven. My life will depend on her knowledge and sense of orientation.
We will be sort of walking on water – so I better listen to my leader.
I was raised in Northern Germany and like any kid that grows up there, almost every school field trip meant going to the North Sea and….nope, not hanging around on the long beaches that end somewhere on the horizon, chasing after boys while being chased by humongous seagulls for any kind of snack we held in our hand.
Nope, a field trip to the North Sea always meant learning about the rich and fascinating phenomenon of the tideland – including far too long walks wearing ugly yellow gumboots. We were sliding on the disgusting slush of the mudflats and squeaking hysterically as the Arenicola Marina, or more rustic: sandworms, ejected mud that hit our calves.
This wasn’t by any means alluring. All we yearned for was the water to come back and end those stupid walks so we could just hang out on the beach chasing and being chased.
Today, many decades later, I still enjoy hanging out on the beach, but I also totally appreciate the fantastic phenomenon of the tides, created by moon phases.
I’m grateful for the slimy, smelly slush that actually is full a life and more important for our atmosphere than the rainforest. I’m awestruck by the tiny, practically invisible creatures that are there in incredible numbers. And I’m thankful for what they are doing for our planet.
World’s largest Wadden Sea stretches in the North-West of Europe from the Netherlands along Germany all the way up to Denmark and has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2009.
The Lower Saxon Wadden Sea National Park is a major part of this area and spreads over 1,335 sq mi. It was established in 1986 and consists of the East Frisian Islands, mudflats, and salt marshes.
The National Park is home to about 10,000 species from flora and fauna such as mussels, fishes, and mammals like seals. In addition, every year, 10 to 12 million birds are taking a refreshing break.
On their long trip between the breeding habitats of Siberia, Scandinavia, and Canada and their wintering grounds in South West Europe and Africa, they feast here on worms, fishes, clams, and snails.
But also wingless visitors enjoy the diversity and beauty of the mudflats: As soon as the water is gone, you can see people observing the ground for worms, crabs & co. Or just strolling around enjoying the squishy mud between their toes.
For longer hikes, a guided tour is recommended. Firstly, you’ll get tons of information on all the incredible phenomenons you cannot see just looking around. Secondly, it’s dangerous venturing on the mudflats by yourself.
The term ‘mudflat’ is misleading since the ground hardly ever is really flat: There are tidal creeks whose courses are not always clear and might change pretty fast. As the water comes back, these creeks fill up really quick and entrap lost wanderers. Faster than you think the vast, empty mudflat turns back into an ocean with high waves.
What to Wear
When I was a kid, we used to wear gumboots in the mudflats. According to recent findings – respectively to my guide Ute – you should wear shoes that are tight around your ankles otherwise the mud just sucks them off your feet.
We also used to walk barefoot. This is not recommendable because you might cut your foot pretty bad on some of the shells and oysters. This is a rather new phenomenon and due to the climate change that has a negative impact on the mudflats.
Crossing the Ocean
The most spectacular walk on the mudflats can be taken at Cuxhaven, a small town located about 100 km / 62 miles either from Hamburg or from Bremen. Here, you don’t have only the chance to meander along the shore, here you can actually cross the mudflat and walk all the way to an island.
The tours start in the districts of Duhnen or Sahlenburg in the outskirts of Cuxhaven and they take between 2.5 and 4 hours depending on how many stops your guide makes to explain things and, of course, on the walking speed of your group. But don’t worry, these experienced and prudent guides get you across the ocean on time before the water comes back.
Just so you know, the distance is 12 km / 7.5 miles from Duhnen and 10 km / 6.2 miles from Sahlenburg.
Obviously, the schedule depends on the tides and trips are canceled if the weather gets really bad; some drizzle is considered liquid sunshine…. Clearly, the tour guides cannot wait for guests who run late: It’s the water and the water alone that determines the program.
I took the guided tour with
They offer different tours, just walking or combined with a boat trip; no horseback riding or carriage trips. The guides are very experienced, knowledgeable, highly passionate and make the trip a wonderful experience.
There are basically three means of transportation to cross the tideland: By carriage, on horses, or using your own feet.
Going by carriage or riding allows you to make it to the island and back within one low tide. If you choose to walk – and if you are not lame or footsore, you should definitely do the walking, it’s amazing – you have to go back by ferry. And this is what determines the number of participants: The ferry, obviously, can go only during high tide, spaces are limited to one trip per tide, so when the boat is full, the boat is full.
What to Take
Before you start, you should pack sun protection and a hat, a change of clothes since you do not want to spend the rest of the day soaked in mud and slush in case you slip and fall. A pair of shoes for your stay on the island: Mind on the tideland you will be walking in mud, but also through more or less deep tidal creeks – your shoes will be soaked (on Neuwerk, you can leave them in front of the Information Center to dry a little, nobody will take them).
Possibly a bottle of water – and on the other hand, make sure to go to the bathroom before you leave, it’s up to four hours and there are no bushes or trees to squat behind.
Depending on the schedule, once you reach the island, you have between one to three hours to relax and refresh, visit the information center Nationalpark-Haus for more information, eat fresh fish and homemade cake, watch the ocean, the seagulls, or the grass grow.
It’s calm. Very calm.
This calm spot amidst the rough Northern Sea is called Neuwerk. 39 people share 3,3 square kilometers. Interestingly, although from here it’s about 120 km to the city, Neuwerk belongs politically to Hamburg; which even many Hamburgers do not know, though. I spare you the details of the changing history why Cuxhaven and Neuwerk used to belong to Hamburg; and the latter still does.
It’s sort of a North German Gibraltar and the 39 people have the same rights as any other citizen of Hamburg: In Germany, there is compulsory school attendance and homeschooling is illegal. Therefore they had to send a teacher to instruct both the two pupils that are currently living on the island.
Every small child in Hamburg is entitled to a place in daycare. Therefore they had to send a kindergartner for the younger sibling of the two pupils.
It probably won’t surprise you that the teacher lives at the school and the kindergartner at the kindergarten?!
Living Off the
The parents of these three Neuwerkers – along with the rest of the islanders – make their living from tourism: Many houses have guest rooms, many homes run cafés and restaurants; and the pupils’ father has a cute little souvenir shop where he sells really cool stuff – mostly designed by himself.
So after you had time to recover from the walk and get to know cozy little Neuwerk, it’s probably time to hop on the ferry and head back to Cuxhaven.
Another 90 minutes to just sit back, relax and awe at the wonders planet earth has in store.
So you’re back to Cuxhaven, to the port called Alte Liebe, Old Love. From here, you can take either one of the city buses or a shuttle bus back to where you started from.
Cuxhaven – while the trip to Neuwerk is undoubtedly the most unique attraction in this coastal town, there actually is more to explore.
First of all, the ocean also fills up again so that you can spend the day on the beach doing everything people do on beaches around the globe: Playing, swimming, sunbathing…possibly in a typical German Strandkorb, a wicker chair, invented 1882 in Rostock.
This chair provides shelter against the sun but also against the wind so that you can enjoy the beach regardless of the weather conditions. It is cleverly designed with little foldout tables and lots of storage room in the extendible footrests. Actually, I don’t understand why the good old Strandkorb never became an export hit – it’s such a genius invention.
Thalasso and SPA
However, it’s Northern Germany so, despite the fact that it’s a beach destination, the weather gets often more bitchy than beachy. The clever Cuxhavians have provided for the days of liquid sunshine by building the SPA and thalassotherapy center with the silly name ‘ahoi!’.
While the name is tacky and old-fashioned, the facilities are very spacious, beautifully decorated and state of the art.
Besides about eight different saunas, a steam bath, various jacuzzis, and pools in the SPA area, they have a huge and fun swimming pool and on the hour for about five minutes, there are huge waves – a great alternative to the sea outside.
Besides this super-fun wave-pool, they have two smaller pools with all sort of water jets massaging your entire body.
Add the inviting lawn for sunbathing and you’ll understand how to spend an entire day at these great facilities – and already be looking forward to coming back as soon as possible.
I’m a huge SPA-expert – and this place is probably the nicest I’ve ever visited.
If your guesthouse doesn’t have a sauna – most of them do, though – it’s also a great place to relax these tense muscles after a hike across the tideland.
Phone: 04721 404500
The Center is open daily from 9 a. m. to 9 p. m.
Before Cuxhaven became a popular German beach destination, it was a mediocre town, living mainly off the fishing industry. Like I already mentioned, it belonged to Hamburg till 1961 and the land the new harbor was built on even till 1993.
There are still remains from these times to be found around the city which I personally find pretty charming.
Chronologically incorrect, we start at the harbor. There is the part called Alte Liebe, Old Love, where you cannot only take a ferry to Neuwerk, but also to Helgoland, Germany’s only deep-sea island, or to Hamburg cruising along the river Elbe.
There are a couple of restaurants and souvenir shops, but nothing special. Later it gets much better, I promise.
Wanna visit a really special ship? Right next to the Alte Liebe pier docks the Feuerschiff ELBE 1 which is a museum ship, but it’s quite a mobile museum: Formerly Germany’s largest lightship, built in 1948, is still carrying passengers back and forth between Cuxhaven and Heligoland.
Walking from the Alte Liebe towards the city center, you’ll spot a quite high levee to your right and at the end actually floodgates; they are not for decorative purposes, believe me.
On the Waterfront
As you make a sharp left turn practically back towards the sea, there are old cobblestone streets between the canals. Here you find an unbelievable number of excellent fish restaurants – many of them have a store where they sell their fresh goods so you can prepare it at home as you wish. Don’t worry about the smell, firstly, fresh fish doesn’t smell much and secondly, they are really handy packing it tightly.
You will notice – and it won’t surprise you that this area is undergoing some gentrification because it’s actually a prime location.
Today, Cuxhaven’s industry is taking place elsewhere: Cuxport, the modern industrial part, is located about a mile down South. Here, fish is being canned and made into fishmeal.
Also, the entire car trade to and from Great Britain is proceded via Cuxhaven, on the huge parking lot you see all these BMWs with the wheel on the wrong side and Rovers that just were shipped in. Yes, the key is in the ignition – so this is a high-security area.
If you are really interested in this aspect of Cuxhaven, I suggest you join a CUXLINER tour. It is a hop on hop off bus tour that takes you to all the points of interest. If you don’t feel like hopping, they offer the same tour for only 13 instead of the regular 16 €uro.
The CUXLINER also stops at the next two points of interest – where a visit is highly recommendable.
Already the building of the museum Windstärke 10, storm force 10 – that would be a heavy storm, that was opened only in December 2013, is spectacular: Not only did they remodel two former fish market halls, they also integrated the street between them by constructing a fantastic glass structure.
The exhibition is very informative and grasping, using all sorts of modern media. And life with and from the sea is not sugar-coated here.
It starts with a wreck – focusing on the struggle and hardship, the tough jobs on the fish trawlers, the danger of wreckage and much more.
It’s very vivid, complete, and actually exciting. In one word: a must-see (actually it’s two words and a hyphen).
The museum is open from April to October daily from 10 a. m. to 6 p. m. and from November to March from Tuesday to Sunday from 10 a. m. to 5 p. m.
Migration Through the Port of Cuxhaven
The next one is not as spectacular – anymore, but has a rich history that somehow connects the world: Cuxhaven’s Amerikahafen was one of the ports from where emigrants sailed to the New World. As I explained in my last post, the highest number left via the port of Bremerhaven.
Cuxhaven, belonging to Hamburg at that time, was an important port of embarkation since that way the big ships didn’t have to go from the North Sea along the river Elbe all the way to the port of Hamburg.
There are still the old Hapag Hallen. These were the waiting halls for the passengers coming by train from Hamburg.
The Hapag-Halle can be visited on occasional guided tours.
But on the second floor of the terminal building on the pier Steubenhoeft is a permanent exhibition which doesn’t look very spectacular – compared e. g. with the award-winning hands-on exhibition at Bremerhaven and at the Ballin-Stadt in Hamburg, too – but however, if you take your time reading the panels, it’s very informative and touching. Definitely worth the visit.
Also, I’ve published a comprehensive post on migrations to the New World through North German harbors.
Schloss Ritzebüttel – The Noble Past
Yes, most of the activities around Cuxhaven are related to the sea. But not exclusively. Coming from the harbor into the city center, pass the train station, walk down the Große Hardewiek and you’ll get the Schloss Ritzebüttel*, a castle from the late medieval times.
In the 18th century, a baroque porch was added. The castle together with the administrative building was an exclave of the city of Hamburg from 1394 to 1937. The, however, ever-changing history can be traced on a visit to the castle.
The garden surrounding the castle is not only a serene green oasis in the center of the city – whereby Cuxhaven is not exactly Manhattan – but also has a nice collection of modern sculptures.
The castle can be visited Monday to Thursday from 10 a. m. to 1 p. m., Tuesday to Thursday also from 2 p. m. to 5 p. m. Weekends from 11 a. m. to 3 p. m.
In Hamburg sagt man
So for the summer season, this was the last post on Northern Germany. I hope I introduced you to some new places and unique and interesting attractions.
I’d be happy if I inspired you to check out a more unknown part of Germany, far from Oktoberfest and cuckoo clocks.
Let me know what you think in the comment section below.
* Translating to ‘At Hamburg they say Tschüss’ – it’s the title of a popular local folk song.
If you’re not driving, you can get to Cuxhaven easily by train. The Deutsche Bahn, Germany’s national train company, offers the so-called Ländertickets, the country tickets that are valid for one day in a specific federal country. Every federal country has its own and the cost varies from about 24 to 29 €uro.
Cuxhaven is located in the federal country of Lower Saxony, and the Niedersachsen-Ticket costs 24 €uro for one and you have to add another 5 €uro per person travelling with you. So if you are two adults, it will set you back 29 €uro for both of you, if you travel with four other people, you’ll pay 44 €uro for your party of five; not bad, right?!
A child under 15 travels for free with two adults.
While you can actually travel the entire day within the respective federal country, you are only allowed to take the regional trains – train numbers beginning with RE, MET, etc., but not the interregional trains such as the Intercity (IC) or Intercity Express (ICE).
However, keep in mind that if you are travelling by yourself, just a oneway trip to Cuxhaven from e.g. Hamburg or Bremen might be cheaper than the Niedersachsen-Ticket. Therefore and for other connections and rates, please visit the Deutsche Bahn’s website, it’s available in seven languages.
And Getting Around
If you are coming to Cuxhaven to hike across the mudflat to Neuwerk, you should check the tidal calendar and plan your trip accordingly.
Cuxhaven has a very good public bus system, however, their website is only in German. Long live the google-translator!
Where to Stay
Especially if the walk is taking place in the morning, you might want the spend the night before at Cuxhaven, hence, you’ll find some suggestions on where to stay on this map*:
Since 2001, 19 European countries paying with €uros, and Germany is one of them. The exchange rate is 1 US$ = 0,83 EUR (January 2021), but you can check the conversion on this page.
Mind you, there is no ATM on the island of Neuwerk so you have to bring cash from the mainland.
Cuxhaven caters mainly to national tourism so that people’s command of English or any other foreign language might be limited to some very basic expressions.
Therefore, for some useful words and phrases, you might want to practice a little with help from e. g. Babbel (the first lesson is for free and already supplies you with useful basic vocabulary).
Note: In this article, I’m writing out some of the German names of brands and places and you will notice that there are letters that might not exist in other languages: First of all there is the letter ß that exists only in the German alphabet and it’s by no means a B – it’s a ‘sharp’, double S as in kiss. When writing, you can actually replace it by a double S. Then there are three more vowel, ä being the easiest one since it’s pronounced like an open e as in head. Ö and ü are tougher, ö being pronounced more or less like the e in her and ü as the u in huge.
After having read this post down to here, do you still need further information or have specific questions? Of course, I’m here for you, but more importantly, so are the people at the Tourist Information.
You can check their website or get your info in person at
The shipping company serving Neuwerk will be happy to inform you of ways to get to the island and back
If you book a hiking tour, the ferry ticket should already be included. I went with the company
Please use one of these pictures if you choose to pin this post:
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Disclaimer: I deeply appreciate that the Nordseeheilbad Cuxhaven GmbH generously supported my blogger trip by supplying me with various tickets, booking the hike to Neuwerk and a visit to the Thalassozentrum ahoi! as well as a hotel room for me. However, all opinions on these services are mine and weren’t by any means influenced by my cooperation partner.
Note: This post is being regularly completed, edited, and updated – last in January 2021.