Travel

A Week Visiting (Surprisingly) Lovely Sylt, Germany

As part of our trip to Europe, we spent one week in Sylt with my mom and her partner. Odds are that most OMAAT readers have no clue what Sylt is. And frankly I didn’t either, except for the fact that my mom really loves it there, and for years had been borderline harassing us about visiting. 😉 I’m so happy she did, because we loved Sylt, and can’t wait to return!

For context, Sylt is a 22-mile long island in Northern Germany, right on the North Sea, a few miles from Denmark. It can only be accessed by train or plane, so there’s no way to drive there (without putting your car on a train).

My mom’s Sylt sales pitch

I’ve been beyond fortunate to take so many amazing trips with my mom in the past few years, since she was diagnosed with cancer. We’ve gone everywhere from Hawaii to Greece, and since she’s still able to travel (against all odds), we asked her where she wanted to go this summer.

Here’s roughly how that conversation went (or at least my takeaway from it):

Me: “Where should we go this summer? Maybe other islands in Greece, or Turkey, or what sounds best to you?”
Mom: “Baby, I want to show you and Ford Sylt. It’s my favorite place.”
Me: “But what is there to do?”
Mom: “Well, you can sit on the beach. Just make sure you bring ski underwear.”
Me: “Ski underwear? To sit on the beach in summer? How cold is it?”
Mom: “Well, it can get very windy.”
Me: “How windy?”
Mom: “You know, maybe 30 mile per hour winds, and the temperatures are sometimes in the 50s. But it’s so beautiful. The air is so fresh.”
Me: “You understand we could go to Greece or somewhere with nice weather, but you want to go sit on the beach on the North Sea in ski underwear?”
Mom: “Yes, it’s my dream that you visit because you will love it.”
Me: “Okay, if that’s what you want…”

Shortly after this conversation, Ford found a great Airbnb in Sylt, and next thing you know our trip was booked. While I don’t think my mom had the most convincing sales pitch for Sylt, I’m thrilled we listened to her, because we had an unforgettable time.

Our experience visiting Sylt

Sylt reminds me of a mix between the Hamptons and Fogo Island. The island has half a dozen small towns, each with their own charm and highlights. It’s easy to get around the island, as there’s one main road going north to south, and you can also rent electric bikes to easily get around. The island has amazing topography, with everything from beaches, to sand dunes, to a rugged and rocky coastline.

While Sylt only has around 20,000 residents, it’s an extremely popular destination in summer, and does get lots of (German) tourists. So this is by no means some undiscovered hidden gem, though it’s very much a domestic destination for travelers.

It’s hard to put into words what makes Sylt special, and in some ways my mom wasn’t too far off with how she described it. This isn’t your traditional summer destination — the air is really crisp, it does get windy, and you’ll want to bring a jacket.

Yes, there’s the beach, though we never actually sat on it, but rather just enjoyed walking on the promenade by it.

Sylt beach
Sylt beach
Sylt beach promenade

There are endless walking trails in Sylt, whether you want to walk past farms, or along the water.

Sylt farmland
Sylt farmland
Sylt coastline

Sylt has the most consistent housing style I’ve seen anywhere in the world, as virtually all houses are the style of Old Frisian Houses.

Sylt home
Sylt houses
Sylt houses

There are biking paths spanning the whole island, so you can bike anywhere.

Sylt biking path
Sylt’s beautiful landscape
Sylt’s beautiful landscape

I was shocked by how high-end Sylt was, for better or worse. I saw more G-Wagons per capita than just about anywhere, which I wasn’t expecting. And my jaw dropped when I saw real estate prices, as it makes New York real estate look like a bargain by comparison.

Beautiful home in Sylt
3.29 million Euro for an ~1,130 square foot home?!?!?!?!
Shopping in Sylt

I was a little concerned about dining in Sylt, since I figured it would be very North Sea-centric. I’m not a huge fan of herring, or pickled this-or-that. So I was pleasantly surprised by the food, as there were lots of international dining options. There were also lots of fun outdoor restaurants and bars where you could grab a drink and just chill.

Sansibar in Sylt

Our Airbnb experience in Sylt

While I’ve stayed in some Airbnbs booked by others, I’ve never booked an Airbnb with my family, so this was a first. Sylt seemed like the right place to do that. Hotels here are outrageously expensive, and also aren’t particularly luxurious. You’ll pay $500 per night in peak season for something that could be a Holiday Inn.

A gorgeous-looking new resort named Lanserhof did just open in Sylt, but go figure it’s a “wellness resort,” and stays include a urine analysis. Hard pass. Why couldn’t it be a Six Senses, or something?

Given that we were traveling as a group, we spent ~$400 per night on a beautiful four bedroom house, which was less than even mediocre hotels were charging for just one room. Our experience was positive — it was so nice to have lots of space, a backyard, a fridge, a washing machine, etc.

Our Airbnb in Sylt
Airbnbs offer lots of room to hang out

I did miss some aspects of hotels, like easier and more flexible check-in and check-out, easier communication in advance, services, etc. But for a destination like Sylt, this was the ideal option, and I would rent the same house again in a heartbeat.

We can’t wait to return to Sylt

We couldn’t have had a better time in Sylt. Admittedly I think our impressions of places are largely informed by who we’re traveling with, and the general circumstances of the trip:

  • We’re incredibly grateful that we still have the chance to travel with my mom, and I’d enjoy spending time with her anywhere
  • Ford started learning German two years ago, and loves anything that lets him practice his German and experience German culture; Sylt is really German, so that made Ford super happy, and in turn made me happy
  • We came in with low expectations and those were greatly exceeded, and I think that always makes a trip disproportionately fun
  • Ford and I both like walking around and enjoying nature in a pleasant climate, and that’s exactly what we got in Sylt
  • I think we really lucked out with weather, as it can be hit-or-miss in June; there was only rain for one day, and otherwise we had almost perfect weather, with a breeze and temperatures in the 60s
Ford & my mom in a Strandkorb
Ford & my mom in another Strandkorb

Am I suggesting that everyone from around the globe should visit Sylt? No, probably not. But it’s a unique destination, one we enjoyed immensely, and one we plan to return to in the future. We’ve had so many amazing times with my mom, but our time with her in Sylt was among the most special.

Bottom line

I can’t say I was initially excited about traveling to a summer destination where ski underwear is recommended on the beach to stay warm. Fortunately Sylt exceeded all my expectations, and we had an unforgettable time that I’ll cherish forever. Ford and I are both grateful to my mom for introducing us to Sylt, and it won’t be out last visit.

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