“So, by which ferry did you get here?” asks the chubby little lady and her accent gives her away as Southern German. “Well, I came here walking”, I beam at her, still thrilled by my hike from the mainland to the island of Neuwerk.
The lady looks over the rough sea where the huge waves are rolling towards the shores of Cuxhaven. She frowns and shakes her head and is, obviously, thinking I’m trying to tell her a cock and bull story.
Little does she know: Visiting the island of Neuwerk, the way is the goal; definitely.
Neuwerk is one of the many small islands scattered in World’s largest Wadden Sea that stretches in the North-West of Europe from the Netherlands along Germany all the way up to Denmark.
With a size of 3,3 square kilometers respectively 1.2 square miles, it is by far not the smallest of Germany’s almost 90 islands; and a population of 39 isn’t outrageous, either.
What makes Neuwerk really outstanding and a bit quirky is the fact that it is an exclave of the city of Hamburg. Basically, her Gibraltar. Although it’s about 120 km apart from the northern metropolis and geographically located in the middle of the federal state of Lower Saxony, Neuwerk is politically part of one of Hamburg’s boroughs.
The reason for this special status lies in historic events when Hamburg and Prussia where trading territories. In the end, Hamburg ended up with i. a. Neuwerk.
A North German Gibraltar
Governing an exclave 120 kilometers down the river Elbe can be a bit tricky at times. The 39 Neuwerkers have the same rights and duties as the other 1.8 million citizens.
For instance, in Germany, there is compulsory school attendance and homeschooling is illegal. Therefore, Hamburg had to send a teacher to instruct both the two pupils that are currently living on the island.
Every preschooler 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?!
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. Also, the pupils’ father has a cute little souvenir shop where he sells really cool stuff like fun T-shirts – mostly designed by himself.
Birds of…Different Feathers
Neuwerk, by the way, has two small exclaves herself. The islands of Nigehörn and Scharhörn are not inhabited – at least not by humans.
They are an important breeding and nesting place for birds. Every year, 10 to 12 millions birds are taking a refreshing break at the Wadden Sea National Park – which, by the way, has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2009.
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. Since the National Park is home to about 10,000 species from flora and fauna such as mussels, fishes, and mammals like seals, there is enough for everyone.
So Neuwerk is an ideal nursery for numerous bird species and thus a paradise for nature lovers and ornithologists. Beginning of May, waterfowls begin to breeding on the grassland and in the salt marshes. The nests and even the chicks are often hard to spot in the green grass of the meadows, therefore, all visitors coming to Neuwerk during the breeding season are asked to move around very carefully.
What to Do on One Square Mile
Apart from Neuwerk’s three farms, there are not too many buildings: One of the most interesting ones for visitors is the information center Nationalpark-Haus where you get information on the fascinating phenomenon that is the Wadden Sea. They are housing the Jordsand association that I’ve already introduced on my post on Heligoland.
The Jordsand association organizes events and guided tours.
At the Nationalpark-Haus, you’ll find also clean bathrooms as well as lockers for free at your disposal which is a great service if you visit the island only for a couple of hours.
Insel Neuwerk 6
27499 Hamburg-Insel Neuwerk
Their opening times, like life itself on the island, are based on the tides.
Walking east of the Nationalpark-Haus, you get to the Friedhof der Namenlosen, the Cemetery of the Nameless. This is very common on the islands and along the coasts. People buried here could not be identified and were flushed ashore mainly as victims of shipwrecks or pirate raids.
Neuwerk’s Cemetery of the Nameless was consecrated by bishop Konrad of Megara and three other clergymen as early as June 1319.
However, today, found dead are transferred to the mainland and buried there.
Not far from the Nationalpark-Haus and the Cemetery is Neuwerk’s most prominent landmark, the old lighthouse; actually, everything is not far from…. on Neuwerk….
Funny enough, the lighthouse on Neuwerk is one of Hamburg’s oldest buildings. It was completed in 1310 and served as a navigational mark as well as a stronghold against hostile pirates. In addition, the islanders sought shelter here during heavy storms. Also, the tower gave Neuwerk its name: Neues Bauwerk, new building, became Neuwerk over time.
The beacon was installed around 1800 and originally operated with oil lamps. It was not until 1942 that the company switched to electricity. Today, there is a guest house in the tower.
It can be climbed and from the viewing platform, you have a wonderful panoramic view.
Another landmark of Neuwerk is the Ostbake, the eastern beacon, an important orientation point and also a technical cultural monument. It was built in 1925, but forerunners can be traced back to 1635.
Over the centuries, there were always fires or storms that damaged the eastern beacon – the last one being hurricane Kyrill in 2007. Thanks to successful fundraising, the reconstruction was completed in 2009.
So yes, there is this quirky political status, there are fields and marshes and it’s definitely not overcrowded – fine, but what exactly is it that makes Neuwerk worth a visit?
Well, let me put it this way: The way is the goal.
Take a Hike
Neuwerk is located about 15 kilometers northwest off the coastline of the city of Cuxhaven – a coastal town which, by the way, used to belong to Hamburg politically till 1961, too.
Since at Cuxhaven, the river Elbe empties into the north sea, the town is in a very attractive spot and was therefore of strategic significance for the commercial city of Hamburg.
Today, Cuxhaven is not only an important port, but it is also an attractive tourist destination with beautiful beaches along the North Sea – which every couple of hours becomes a muddy tideland.
World’s Largest Wadden Sea
World’s largest Wadden Sea stretches in the North-West of Europe from the Netherlands along Germany’s Westcoast 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 square miles. It was established in 1986 and consists of the East Frisian Islands, mudflats, and salt marshes.
In my series on German islands, you’ll also find a post on the westernmost of the East Frisian Islands called Borkum.
Mudflats – that means basically that about every four hours, influenced by moon phases, the water disappears, leaving a huge muddy area with a fascinating, almost invisible wildlife that’s more important for our planet than the rainforest.
Not only a fascinating phenomenon, but also great fun: As soon as the water is gone, the vacationers rush out on the tideland, observing the ground for shells, worms, crabs & co. Or they just stroll around enjoying the squishy mud between their toes.
Better Let Them Guide You
While goofing on the tideland along the shore is great fun, longer walks should be led by a certified, responsible tour guide.
Not only will you get tons of information on all the incredible phenomenons you cannot see just looking around. More importantly, it’s dangerous to venture on the mudflats by yourself since the water might come back faster than expected.
Also, 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.
Walking on Water
The most spectacular walk on the mudflats can be taken at Cuxhaven, a small town located about 100 kilometers respectively 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 the island of Neuwerk.
The tours start in the districts of Duhnen or Sahlenburg on 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 kilometers or 7.5 miles from Duhnen and 10 km or 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 the company Wunderwelt Watt, I give you their details in this post’s tourist info section below.
Go As You Please
They offer different tours, just walking or combined with a boat trip. The guides are very experienced, knowledgeable, highly passionate and make the trip a wonderful experience.
Nonetheless, they don’t do either horseback riding or carriage trips, these you have to book with other companies, but there are many to choose from.
Basically, there are 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.
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 you, on the tideland, you will be walking in mud, but also through more or less deep tidal creeks – your shoes will be soaked.
Once you reach Neuwerk, there are facilities to wash your feet and your wet and dirty shoes can be left in front of the information center Nationalpark-Haus. Seriously, who do you think might want to steal them?!
Obviously, for walking around on the island, you should bring an extra pair of shoes. Usually, sandals or flip flops should do.
You might also want to take a bottle of water – and, on the other hand, make sure to go to the bathroom before you leave, the hike takes up to four hours and there are no bushes or trees on the tideland to squat behind.
However, sometimes the good people of Neuwerk came to the tideland with their Watt Oase, their mudflat oasis, consisting of a beer stall and a mobile toilet.
There is accommodation for about 150 people on Neuwerk, often it’s guestrooms in private houses.
Since you are on this quirky island, why not add a bit of unusual and spend the night at a rustic hay hotel? At this time, four guesthouses are offering beds of straw, you’ll find them in the Where to Stay section below.
Quite frankly, there is not much to do on the island. You can sit on the dike and watch the grass grow. Although there is not a designated beach, you’ll get a huge beach every four hours when the tide is low. Then, you can take a refreshing dip in the deeper tidal creek.
There are a couple of small cafés and restaurants – other than that, nothing but nature and serenity.
However, if you are visiting only on a day trip, the length of your stay depends on the tides – it can be from one to about three hours. The ferry leaves always at the same time, but the schedule when you get to Neuwerk depends, obviously, on the tides.
So anyway, whether it’s on the same day or a couple of days later, there comes the moment to hop on the ferry and head back.
After a 90 minutes ride, you’ll reach the mainland at the port of Cuxhaven.
Subscribers to my Monthly Calendar Sheet (i.e. newsletter) will get a complete packing list for a hike across the mudflats. If you want one – as well as informative and fun information – please subscribe to my blog by either using the pop-up form or sending me an email. As soon as I get your subscription, the list will be automatically sent to you.
To hike to Neuwerk, you first have to make it to Cuxhaven. If you’re not driving, you can get there 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 state. Every federal state has its own and the cost varies from about 24 to 29 €uro.
Cuxhaven is located in the federal state 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 state, you are only allowed to take the regional trains. Those train numbers are beginning with RE, MET, etc., but not the interregional trains such as the Intercity (IC) or Intercity Express (ICE).
Extra: The city-states of Hamburg, as well as Bremen and Bremerhaven, are automatically included in the country tickets of Lower Saxony.
However, keep in mind that if you are travelling by yourself, just a one-way trip to Cuxhaven from 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.
I presume that you come to Cuxhaven to hike across the mudflat to Neuwerk. Therefore, you should check the tidal calendar and plan your trip accordingly.
If the walk is taking place in the morning, you might want the spend the night before at Cuxhaven. Here are some suggestions for accommodation.*
If you want to spend more time in Cuxhaven, you might want to check out the guide I wrote.
There is a bus stop right next to the train station. From there you can get easily to Sahlenburg or Duhnen in about 20 minutes.
As I’ve explained, you can cross walking, ride, or on a carriage.
Where to Stay
If you don’t want to visit Neuwerk on a day trip but spend the night, here are some lodging options to choose from. Mostly they are in private homes, however, you can also sleep in the old tower….*:
Until now, 20 European countries replaced their former local currency with the €uro starting in 2002. Obviously, Germany is one of them. The exchange rate is 1 US$ = 0.94 EUR as of January 2023. However, you can check today’s conversion rate on this page.
Mind you, there is no ATM on the island of Neuwerk so you have to bring cash from the mainland.
Actually, the Neuwerkers, like many islanders especially in the North, are not a very chatty bunch. Also, they don’t get enough visitors from foreign to practice their English.
I assume that you won’t have to discuss very complicated and complex topics on the island. Therefore, pointing and smiling should get you as far as you’ll need.
However, 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).
Also, in this post, I’m writing out some of the German names of brands and places.
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. 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 vowels, 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
Cuxhavener Straße 92
Phone: +49 – 4721 – 4 04 – 200
The shipping company serving Neuwerk will be happy to inform you of ways to get to the island and back
Reederei Cassen Eils
Bei der Alten Liebe 12
Phone: +49 – 4721 – 66760-0
If you book a hiking tour, the ferry ticket should already be included. I went with the company
27639 Wurster Nordseeküste
Phone: + 49 – 173 – 734 15 19
Here is a map – although Neuwerk is very….overseeable. Click on the slider symbol at the top left or the full-screen icon at the top right. This way you’ll see the whole map including the legend.
This is the fourth post of a series on five absolutely fascinating islands in North Germany. I hope you’ve enjoyed it. Did it make you curious for more? Then make sure to check out these posts on the other great isles:
If you choose to pin this post, please use one of these pictures:
Note: This post is being regularly completed, edited, and updated – last in January 2023.
Did You Enjoy This Post? Then You Might Like Also These:
All you need to know before going to GERMANY
Guide to POTSDAM – how Frederick made a small town great
24 hours in MUNICH
Guide to HAMBURG, the “Gateway to the World”
How to Visit the NordArt in 2022
24 hours in HAMBURG
BERLIN – a Guide to the Wild Wild East
Weekend in DUISBURG – Steel And Style in Germany’s Ruhr Area
Disclaimer: I appreciate that the Nordseeheilbad Cuxhaven GmbH generously supported my blogger trip. They booked a hike to Neuwerk and a hotel room for me. However, all opinions on these services are mine and weren’t by any means influenced by my cooperation partner.
* This is an affiliate link. If you book through this page, not only do you get the best deal. I also get a small commission that helps me run this blog. Thank you so much for supporting me!
48 Replies to “The Island of NEUWERK – where the way is the goal”
I’m impressed, I must say. Seldom do I come across a blog that’s both equally educative and entertaining.
I’m glad you like it. The island of Neuwerk is really extremely unique 🙂
Thank you for sharing this wonderful description. My family took me here when I was a little kid in the 70’s. I can still remember some of the patterns in the mud and the occasional mudflat creek crossing. It was a surreal experience to walk to an island. We stayed in one of the hay-hotels. I’m hoping to take my daughter on a similar journey and this guide is the perfect reference!
I’m so glad you like it! Yes, I find this ‘phenomenon’ to walk basically across the sea so, so special. I’m sure your daughter will enjoy it, too 🙂 🙂
Hi there! Do you use Twitter? I’d like to follow you if that would be ok. I’m definitely enjoying your blog and look forward to new updates.
Of course I do, my handle is @byemyself_. However, you’ll find all my presences on social media in the upper right corner of this page. Welcome to my….whatever you choose 😀
This fantastic post was very nicely written, and it also contains many good facts. I appreciated your professional way of writing the post. You have made it easy for me to understand. Good and precise info.
It was a pleasure looking through the details you provided. Thank you very much for taking the time to create the informative site. I definitely will revisit very soon.
What a journey! Great post. I love the melding of personal story-telling and informational. Just my style!
It still amazes me you walked to an island. That’s definitely is an experience to have at least once.
…and it still amazes me every time I think about it! I’m so glad you share my amazement 🙂
It’s an amazing experience. I envy you!)))
It’s so sad, yet interesting to read about the cemetery of the nameless! I love imagining who might have inhabited a destination years ago. I hope those souls are at peace. What a unique destination to write about!
Wow, that us indeed a fascinating way to go. I can only walk 1.5 miles on ordinary grounds but 6.2 in mudflats? I don’t think I can make it. It has to be a carriage!
I loved this. It was so fascinating reading about the high and low tide. It seems like low tide lasts quite awhile to be able to make that far of a trek. I giggle thinking of the people stranded in the baskets. Who would take tat chance? Lol. It also struck me that it would be cheaper to transport the 2 children to the mainland for school, rather than bringing a teacher and kindergartener to the island?
The point is that the nearest mainland is a different federal country. As I wrote, Neuwerk belongs politically to Hamburg but the next shore is Lower Saxony.
Wow! I just learned a ton about this beautiful island! My husband and I would love a trip like this. So much history but adventure too. Gorgeous!
I’m glad you like it. Yes, I can totally recommend this hike – I had soooo much fun!
An ultimate guide to the island. I enjoyed reading your fantastic experience.
This island looks so fun and like a great vacation! Great traveling tips!!
“The way is the goal” – I love it! I always tell may family that the way can bring more happiness that the destination
Sounds really a trip full of fun. Any traveling enthusiast would surely want to visit the island. So wonderful and judging by your experience I think the people are wonderful too. Thanks for this.
What a beautiful Island. I would not mind exploring it. I truly cannot wait to resume my traveling habit.
Such a lovely little Island. I would love to visit in there…
It sounds like you had an amazing trip. This place has much to see.
I love exploring places wherethere’s not much tourists yet! The place looks incredible and you captured it perfectly. I wish this pandemic will end soon so we’ll be able to travel again.
What an amazing experience. And this is the ultimate guide on what to know and how to get there. Great stuff!
WOW I didn’t realize that homeschooling was illegal there. It is really pretty.
I loved this read! This looks like the perfect getaway for a relaxing weekend! Thank you for providing the extra info (tourist info)!
This looks like a very beautiful Island. I would love to explore and experience the fun around this unique looking Island.
Like!! I blog quite often and I genuinely thank you for your information. The article has truly peaked my interest.
Spot on with this write-up, I really believe this amazing site needs far more attention. I’ll probably be returning to read through more, thanks for the info!
You are so cool! I do not suppose I’ve truly read a single thing like that before. So great to find somebody with unique thoughts on this topic. Really.. thank you for starting this up. This site is one thing that is needed on the internet, someone with a little originality!
Wow I'd never even heard of this island before. Seems to have so much going on! The lighthouse place has such an atmosphere to it. I would love an adventure here!
What an interesting island! It's so gorgeous and quaint sounding. How interesting about the school kids. Sounds like such a unique spot to visit.
As I have been reading your posts over the last couple of weeks you have been introducing me to parts of Germany that I had no idea existed – and they are So beautiful. This looks like another great spot. I love anything on the water – ocean, lake, river and this one looks magical!
You got me at the Watt Rock T-shirt. That is a great souvenir to get from this tideland like Neuwerk. It is a new place I got introduced to and I really enjoyed the pictures and the information of what to expect and how to get there.
Quite an unusual destination. I like the way you have drawn our attention to the minute details like the mussels and algae and the microlife around. I would not mind visiting the lighthouse and the cemetary. Looks like a great place to explore.
This is definitely the most unique destination I've read about in a good while! I would love to experience a place like this. Between the mudflats and the hay hotel, I know I'd have quite the adventure. Fantastic post.
Never heard of Neuwerk Island. However from your account, it looks like I would enjoy the place. 12M walk on mudflats…wow…what happens if there is a high tide in between. haha. I like the "Watt Rock" T Shirt, an obvious take on Hard Rock Cafe.
I'd never heard of Neuwerk, although I have been to Hamburg. What an interesting and unique island and story about how it became part of Germany. And how amazing that you can walk to an island across the tidelands. Loved reading this post!
LOL, looks like a fun and interesting little island. The wagons remember me of Amish country in the US. Who knew homeschooling is illegal in Germany.
Oh wow! This looks like we would need at least 10 pairs of socks/shoes to get around comfortably. Never heard of this place before reading this to be honest with you. When we're out near northern Germany next time we will have to take the trip to give this a view!
Wow, I love that you could walk to the island. We walked to Bar Island in Maine, but it was only about a quarter of a mile. The 7.5 miles you hiked is much more impressive! On Bar Island if you get stuck on the island, you have to hire a boat taxi to get back at a ridiculous price! I like that Neuwerk has a ferry to get back to the main land.
Neuwark is gorgeous! I would definitely take the walking tour. I dont mind getting my feet dirty. Isnt that the best way to explore nature? Love that you called rain – liquid sunshine. A little bit of rain doesnt hurt at all!
More fascinating stuff. I'm using your accounts to make a bucket-list for when I get a chance to visit the area.
This looks like an offbeat destination. But totally loved the pictures. Pinning to my bucket list
This is so cool! I love that you can walk and how interesting are the mudflats?