Travel Guide to Schleswig-Holstein: 12 Best Places to Visit in Germany's Northernmost StateEverything you need to know about visiting Schleswig-Holstein including what to do, which towns to visit and when to go
Germany’s very north
Being the only German state that has access to two seas (the North Sea and the Baltic Sea), water is never far away.
Here you’ll find some of the Federal Republic’s finest stretches of sand – and although the weather may only be truly summer-like for a few months of the year, the beaches and beautiful coastal landscapes invite you to go on contemplative walks all year round.
Nature and culture go hand in hand in Schleswig-Holstein.
Most towns have historically been placed either by the ocean or up one of the many rivers that crisscross the land; the very rivers Vikings once sailed (and which have since helped make the region rich in trade).
While touring the coast is no doubt a great way to experience the ocean state, we hope this travel guide will also inspire you to discover some of the inland experiences Schleswig-Holstein has to offer – including a mystical mountain and some truly enchanting lakes in hilly Holstein Switzerland.
Table of contents
Schleswig-Holstein is the northernmost of Germany’s 16 federal states.
The three largest cities are Kiel (its capital), Lübeck and Flensburg.
About 3 million people call Schleswig-Holstein their home.
Here’s a map of all of the destinations mentioned in the travel guide:
What to do in Schleswig-Holstein
During our trips to Schleswig-Holstein, we’ve had the luck of visiting a lot of wonderful places.
With a mix of historical towns, culture and a wide variety of landscapes, we think most travellers will find what they’re looking for here.
The list follows a clockwise order (more or less).
Here are the 12 best things to do and see in Schleswig-Holstein:
- Flensburg – Little Denmark in Germany
- Schleswig – Historic Viking city
- Plön – Land of the lakes
- Eutin – Cultural heart of Holstein
- Brodtener Steilküste – Dramatic seaside cliffs
- Lübeck – City of the 7 towers
- Bad Segeberg – Home to the mystical mountain
- Duchy of Lauenburg – Historical towns & nature experiences
- Schaalsee – Huge protected lake
- Breitenburg – Castle & quarry
- Büsum – Gateway to the Wadden Sea
- The island of Sylt – Germany’s most famous island
1. Flensburg – Little Denmark in Germany
Being located almost at the doorstep of Denmark, Flensburg boasts a characteristic Danish essence.
After all, Flensburg was Danish for about 400 years (until 1864).
The town was the first place we visited ourselves on our virgin trip to Schleswig-Holstein and it’s definitely a charming place to discover on a day trip.
You can easily spend a few hours taking a walk along the harbour and the pleasant streets in the historic centre.
Tip: When driving to Flensburg directly from Denmark, it’s advisable to be extra mindful of German traffic regulations. For instance, remember that a complete halt is required before turning right on a permanent green arrow at an otherwise red light.
2. Schleswig – Historic Viking city
Sometimes (wrongfully) overlooked, we think Schleswig is a must-visit in Schleswig-Holstein if you’re into culture, (Viking) history and/or simply spending time lazing by the water.
Schleswig is a rather small city of less than 30,000 people, but it easily outperforms its size with its huge cathedral (which is also taller than it “should be” based on its base!), its medieval castle turned Renaissance fortress turned Baroque castle and last but surely not least its interesting Viking past.
All of this history is perfectly reflected in the calm waters of the Schlei Inlet, the shores of which you can spend many hours discovering by bike or by foot – until you jump in from one of the charming beaches.
3. Plön – Land of the lakes
Plön is located in between so many lakes that it’s fairly impressive that a city could actually be built on this narrow piece of land.
Wherever you look, you’ll see a lake. And they come in all sizes. Lake Plön (Großer Plöner See), for example, is the largest lake in the whole state of Schleswig-Holstein.
Naturally, the lakes are the focal point for both local life and tourism here.
But while this region is perhaps best experienced waterside, you certainly shouldn’t miss Plön’s fabulous castle or its charming Old Town – all to end your day with a dinner overlooking the sky’s changing reflections in the calm water.
At least that was more or less how we spent our time in Plön!
4. Eutin – The cultural heart of Holstein
Despite its small size, tourists have been drawn to Eutin for a long time.
The most obvious highlight of Eutin aka “the cultural heart of Holstein” is the grand Eutin Castle and its gardens located right next to both the Old Town and Lake Eutin.
From here you can venture further into the hilly countryside (so hilly, in fact, that this part of Germany is called “Holstein Switzerland”!), where you can easily access forested hikes, scenic bike trails or paddling on tranquil waters – all directly from the lakeside promenade in Eutin.
If you would like to combine culture and history with outdoor activities in nature, Eutin has a unique way of seamlessly blending both in a charming, accessible package.
5. Brodtener Steilküste – Dramatic seaside cliffs
If you plan to visit either Plön, Eutin or Lübeck we think you should add a stop at Brodtener Steilküste (which translates into “the steep coast of Brodten“) by the Baltic Sea, just before the beach resort of Travemünde.
Here you can walk along the rocks for a little over four kilometres and enjoy the coastal scenery either from the footpath from above or from the beach below.
We paid a few euros to park at Hermannshöhe Adventure Cafe.
6. Lübeck – City of the 7 towers
Visiting Lübeck is one of the true highlights of any trip to Schleswig-Holstein.
Nestled on the River Trave, the city’s strategic location close to the Baltic Sea once crowned it the Queen of the Hanseatic League – a flourishing alliance of merchant cities during the Middle Ages.
This has made Lübeck rich in both history and gold which is evident when you walk around the historic Old Town (Germany’s most extensive UNESCO World Heritage Site!).
Here you won’t be able to miss the impressive seven towers of the five main churches along with the many medieval merchants’ homes.
Walk along the banks of the river to take it all in from afar, float along on the water at sunset or try to get lost on the narrow cobbled streets of the Altstadt; no matter what, we’re sure you’ll fall head over heels for Lübeck.
7. Bad Segeberg – Home to the mystical mountain
From we first saw photos of Bad Segeberg’s mystical Kalkberg (chalk mountain), we knew that this place had to be special.
The 91-metre-high gypsum mountain is the city’s landmark and also sets the scene for the famous Wild West-themed Karl-May Festival held annually.
Up to 30,000 bats live in caves inside the mountain in winter, and in summer it’s possible to explore the caves with a guide. We did so and had a thrilling experience.
Bad Segeberg is also home to a lovely lake, perfect for swimming and peaceful hikes.
Nature is always close by here in Bad Segeberg; a climatic health resort and spa-certified town surrounded by lakes of all sizes and the green, hilly landscapes so characteristic of the area.
8. Duchy of Lauenburg – Historical towns & nature experiences
If you seek some of the best and most tranquil nature experiences in Northern Germany, visiting the overlooked southeastern corner of Schleswig-Holstein might be just what you’re searching for.
The Duchy of Lauenburg region (Herzogtum Lauenburg) is rich in historical towns (like Lauenburg, Mölln and Ratzeburg) as well as in protected natural areas.
We loved discovering the forests full of both flora and fauna in between the rolling hills.
In this land of 40 lakes, there’s always a place to find peace in a beautiful setting.
9. Schaalsee – Huge protected lake
Although only half of Schaalsee is technically located in Schleswig-Holstein (the border to Mecklenburg-Vorpommern splits the lake!), we still think Schaalsee deserves its own spot on this list.
Being a part of Schleswig-Holstein’s oldest nature park, Lauenburg Lakes Nature Park, Schaalsee is a true biodiversity hotspot in the state.
To best experience Schaalsee, we recommend visiting one of the several nature reserves located around the huge lake.
We went on a lovely hike through the Seedorfer Werder forest, where there’s an established hiking trail of approximately 5 kilometres taking about an hour to complete. Along the way, you can admire the wilderness and feel like you unwind completely.
10. Breitenburg – Castle & quarry
Staying at Hotel Breitenburg (adlink) in southwestern Schleswig-Holstein, close to the town of Itzehoe (and the smaller town of Breitenburg), we got the chance to both visit Breitenburg Castle (Schloss Breitenburg) and the Lägerdorf quarry.
From two vantage points in the town of Lägerdorf, only 3-4 kilometres from the hotel, you can look out over the large chalk quarry, where the coloured lakes really stand out in the barren landscape.
The Breitenburg Castle is right next to Hotel Breitenburg. There are rarely guided tours here, but it was beautiful to see the castle up close.
11. Büsum – Gateway to the Wadden Sea
The land, the sea and the ocean all melt into one in Büsum as the tide retreats, uncovering the ocean’s treasures.
We had never before experienced the legendary Wadden Sea and were blown away on our first evening as the sunset reflected magical hues of purple, red and orange in the wet sand.
We truly hope you get to witness a similar spectacle when you visit!
At the next low tide on the following day, we ventured further out into the Wadden Sea under the baking summer sun to discover the vast amount of life that calls the North Sea its home.
Bicycling along the dykes, pedalling along the quiet paths next to cute sheep, it felt like neither the ocean nor sky marked boundaries we couldn’t cross. Rather, they invited us to go on adventures without limits.
This coast is something else. And we didn’t even mention the actual beaches; simply perfect for lazing in the sun or staying cool in the shade of a strandkorb.
12. Sylt – Germany’s most famous island
Endlessly long, white sand beaches filled with iconic blue-striped beach baskets.
The boundless sea that reflects the open sky.
The red rocks, the pink roses, the colourful heath landscapes, the thatched houses…
In Germany, the island of Sylt is known for being a bit of a jet-set hot spot.
In the summer, the famous and the rich crowd the beach bars, as if it were the French Riviera, and especially Hamburg’s millionaires take temporary refuge in thatched (summer) houses with their electric Porsches and Mercedes cars parked out front.
But Germany’s northernmost island is of course much more than that.
And you definitely don’t need to be wealthy to enjoy the best experiences and attractions on Sylt.
Most of the island is protected nature and nature lovers will enjoy the countless beaches, well-marked paths and abundant wildlife.
There really is a lot to do on Sylt.
We loved our time on the island and we think you will too!
How to get to Schleswig-Holstein
It’s generally easy to reach Germany by car from other countries in Europe as there are lots of motorways connected to neighbouring countries.
As soon as you are in Germany, you can get to the Schleswig-Holstein region via Germany’s famous autobahn (motorway).
Be aware that cars on the autobahn generally drive fast – and by fast, we mean up to 200 km/h!
There are several sections with no speed limit at all so it’s important to look thoroughly in the rearview mirror and side mirror before changing lanes and overtaking.
The train network in Germany is large, relatively cheap and very reliable.
There are many connections between most major cities and to get to Schleswig-Holstein, you can, for example, take the train to Hamburg Central Station (Hamburg Hauptbahnhof), Lübeck Central Station (Lübeck Hauptbahnhof), Kiel Central Station (Kiel Hauptbahnhof) or Flensburg Station (Flensburg Bahnhof).
From there, there are usually connecting trains to the smaller towns.
We have previously used the Deutsche Bahn website to order train tickets.
To get to Schleswig-Holstein in Germany by plane, you can fly to the big international airport Hamburg Airport (Flughafen Hamburg, shortened to HAM) as well as the smaller Lübeck-Blankensee Airport (also sometimes called Hamburg Lübeck, shortened to LBC) that mostly offers domestic flights.
From there, you can take a train or rent a car.
Use our adlink below to find the cheapest tickets:
When to visit Schleswig-Holstein
There is really no bad time to visit the state of Schleswig-Holstein, although there are, of course, noticeable differences between the seasons.
But when is the best time to travel to Schleswig-Holstein?
We have been there ourselves on three different occasions (in July and August 2022 and in June 2023) and all three times we enjoyed warm, perfect summer days.
Like almost all tourist destinations in the world, it’s smart to plan your trip around the most common holidays and instead visit in shoulder periods (if that’s a possibility for you).
That way you can avoid the biggest crowds and generally get cheaper accommodation and save on car rentals.
If it’s not possible to travel outside the holidays, fortunately, Schleswig-Holstein doesn’t really get crowded.
Spring (March, April and May) is a beautiful time to visit Schleswig-Holstein and Northern Germany with sunny days and blooming flowers. It can still be a bit chilly, so check the weather forecast before you pack.
Summer (June, July and August) is of course the hottest season and the temperatures can get quite high in July and August. At the same time, it’s also at its rainiest in the summer so pack a rain jacket or an umbrella, just in case. The sun is usually shining from early morning until very late in the evening. The summer holidays in Germany are spread out between mid-June and mid-September.
Autumn (September, October and November) is a wonderful time to visit Northern Germany. The autumn colours paint the landscapes in shades of yellow, orange and red. The most beautiful autumn colours can typically be seen at the end of September and in October, perhaps also at the beginning of November before the leaves fall off the trees.
Winter (December, January and February) is generally cold but on the other hand, there are usually fewer tourists. If you’re planning to visit during Christmas or New Year, it’s smart to book your accommodation ahead of time.
Our best tips for visiting Schleswig-Holstein
- Credit cards can be used in most shops, but as in the rest of Germany, cash is still often used and it’s not unusual for cash to be used in parking and ticket machines, at cafés and the like.
- Get up early and be one of the first at an attraction if you want to avoid crowds in the high season.
- Drink tap water. It’s not only good for the planet, it’s also good for your wallet. The tap water in Germany is absolutely safe to drink – so bring a refillable bottle.
- Travel to Schleswig-Holstein outside of the holidays. Accommodation prices are lower, good deals are easier to find and there are fewer tourists.
What to bring to Schleswig-Holstein
- Travel insurance (adlink). Never travel without it!
- A good camera – here’s a guide to the gear we use.
- Sunscreen (adlink). Especially if you visit Schleswig-Holstein in the summer. We recommend that you use an organic, vegan sunscreen without oxybenzone and other harmful chemicals.
- Hiking shoes, sneakers or other shoes you can walk in comfortably.
- Swimwear and a towel if you plan to swim in the summer or if you are staying at a hotel with a spa area.
- A refillable water bottle and snacks. You can drink the tap water in Germany.
- Cash for parking and other small purchases, especially 1 and 2-euro coins. Not all places in Germany accept credit cards.
Sustainable travel tips
To travel as sustainably as possible, we recommend the following:
- Bring your own drinking water in a refillable bottle.
- Avoid single-use plastics.
- Dispose of waste properly and do not throw it on the ground.
- Check your sunscreen before going in the water. Many brands contain oxybenzone and other chemicals that can be harmful.
- Take only photos, leave only footprints. Let everything stay in its natural place.
- Respect wildlife.
What do you think of Schleswig-Holstein?
Thanks for reading our take on the best cities to visit and things to do in Schleswig-Holstein. We hope this travel guide has been useful.
What do you think of the state of Schleswig-Holstein?
If you have been to Schleswig-Holstein, it would be great to hear about your best memories and what you enjoyed the most.
And if you haven’t been yet, don’t hesitate to ask us anything in the comments. We are happy to help!