Stralsund was once the second-most important member of the Hanseatic League, after Lübeck, and its square gables interspersed with Gothic turrets, ornate portals and vaulted arches make it one of the leading examples of Backsteingotik (classic red-brick Gothic gabled architecture) in northern Germany.
With its white-sand beaches, canopies of chestnut, oak, elm and poplar trees, charming architecture and even its own national park, Rügen offers myriad ways to enjoy nature.
Rostock was devastated in WWII and later pummelled by socialist architectural ‘ideals’. Its best feature is 13km northwest, where the Warnow River flows into the Baltic Sea: Warnemünde, which has one of Germany’s best beaches.
With its gabled facades and cobbled streets, this small, photogenic city looks essentially Hanseatic. But although it joined the Hanseatic trading league in the 13th century, it spent most of the 16th and 17th centuries as part of Sweden. There are numerous reminders of this era all over town. The entire Altstadt was Unesco-listed in 2002.
Rügen’s largest and most celebrated seaside resort, ‘Ostseebad’ (Baltic Sea spa) Binz is an alluring confection of ornate, white 19th-century villas, white sand and blue water. Its roads are signed in Gothic script and lined with coastal pines and chestnut trees.
Greifswald & Usedom Island
The lovely old university town of Greifswald, south of Stralsund, was largely unscathed by WWII thanks to a courageous German colonel who surrendered to Soviet troops (a move usually punishable by execution).
Nature lovers and artists will be captivated by the Darss-Zingst Peninsula. This far-flung splinter of land is part of the 805-sq-km Nationalpark Vorpommersche Boddenlandschaft, which also encompasses the island of Hiddensee and the west coast of Rügen Island.
Baltic Coastal Resorts
Heiligendamm and Kühlungsborn are among the atmospheric beach resort areas along the starkly beautiful coast west of Rostock. The Molli Schmalspurbahn is a popular narrow-gauge steam train that travels to the coastal resorts from Bad Doberan. Catching the train and walking along the coast between some stops makes for an atmospheric day out.
Nicknamed Badewanne Berlins (Berlin’s Bathtub) in the prewar period, Usedom Island is a holiday spot sought-after for its 42km stretch of beautiful beach and average 1906 annual hours of sunshine that make it the sunniest place in Germany. Usedom (Uznam in Polish) lies in the delta of the Oder River about 30km east of Greifswald.
On the Nordperd spit, Göhren’s stunning 7km-long beach – divided into the sleepier Südstrand and the more developed Nordstrand – lives up to its hype as Rügen’s best resort beach.
‘Dat söte Länneken’ (the sweet little land) is much mythologised in the German national imagination. This tiny patch off Rügen’s western coast measures 18km long and just 1.8km at its widest point. What makes Hidensee (pop 1100) so sweet is its breathtaking, remote landscape.
Putbus appears like a mirage from the middle of modest farming villages. At its heart lies a gigantic circular 19th-century plaza, known as the Circus, which has a 21m obelisk at the centre. Sixteen large white neoclassical buildings – some in better shape than others – surround it. Nearby, the 75-hectare English park is filled with exotic botanical species.
The symbol of ‘Ostseebad’ Sellin is its Seebrüucke (pier), an ornate, turreted pavilion sitting out over the water at the end of a long wooden causeway. The original pier was built in 1906. It's had a checkered history since: the not-terribly attractive modern pier you see now is somewhat modelled on a 1927 version.