As soon as I arrived in Germany I was excited to start planning trips, to start living again in my new home. Last month for my birthday – Rügen Island. It was somewhere I had never heard of before moving to Germany, but shortly after arriving here, a very kind travelling friend offered me her family's beautiful holiday home for a weekend and I thought what better timing than to go for my birthday! So the final weekend in May, we packed up the van and hit the road for a lovely long weekend at the seaside.
We had the most amazing weekend filled with ice cream on the beach, walking in the national park, exploring tiny towns and beautiful parks, and of course, stuffing ourselves with yummy food! I really wish I could go back and do that whole weekend all over again, I really wouldn't change a thing, it was a perfect way to spend my birthday. In this post I'm going to share all of the things we did and what I would recommend if you happen to be visiting, hopefully it will help you have a special trip and to make the most of your time there.
There is so much to do on Rügen Island, you'll be spoilt for choice! The best thing is that there is something for everyone, so whether you're away for a romantic weekend for two, or a big group holiday, everyone is sure to enjoy themselves. From the chilled beach bars and viewpoints, to the more active hikes and bike rides, you can design the holiday you want and do everything at your own pace.
There are so many lovely beaches to check out – hopefully you have good weather like we did – although I will warn you it is the Baltic Sea so don't start getting excited about swimming! We were staying in Sassnitz so we spent the most time on the east side of the island where we found some gorgeous beaches waiting for us. We had a day of beach-hopping starting from Binz and working our way through to Sellin, Baabe, Göhren and all the way south to Theissow. If you have the time on your trip, I really recommend visiting a few different beaches to get away from the crowds and see a different side to the island. Binz and Sellin are gorgeous beaches with all the cute charm of an old-fashioned seaside town, comparable to Brighton in the UK. Expect pricier accommodation and lots of bars and restaurants, as well as lots of people – these were the busiest places we visited – but they are very pretty and great for the evenings when you want to go out for dinner. The other beaches further round, especially Baabe and Göhren, are much quieter and its lovely to sit on the beach and enjoy a picnic and the uninterrupted views of the bay. Check out this article for a more detailed guide to the individual beaches.
For a really unique way to see the island, why not hop aboard the old fashioned steam train and power along the Rügensche Kelinbahn, a nostalgic nod to days gone by, from Putbus to Göhren on a 24km ride. Taking in everything from lush green forests to huge beach resorts, you'll get an eyeful when you take a ride on the fondly known, Racing Roland.
It's definitely worth taking some time to explore all the little villages and parks spread around the island during your stay. In Bergen, you'll find some pretty spectacular panoramas across the ocean, plus colourful old buildings including Benedix-Haus in the market place. Gary is close by and as the tiniest and oldest town on the island, you'll visit just to se the amazing views from the Ernst Moritz Arndt Tower. Putbus was our favourite village – originally we went there to see the beautiful palace I had read about online only to find that it had been torn down years ago – but we were pleasantly surprised by the gorgeous Insel Vilm eco-park that was waiting for us there and spent hours wandering around. If you get time to drive all the way north, I really recommend visiting Kap Arkona which is the northernmost tip of the island and boasts amazing views, a gorgeous beach and lighthouses you can climb to the top for even better panoramas.
One of my favourite parts of visiting the island was Jasmund National Park which completely took my breath away and was easily one of the most memorable places I have spent my birthday. Read all about our visit and my top tips for visiting, here.
If you love getting outside and being active, you'll be in your element at Rügen, hit the trails and go walking in Jasmund National Park or from beach to beach, or hire bikes and feel the wind in your hair as you cycle the island. There are also walking and bike tours available if you would prefer to join a group when you explore the island, or if you travel with a group and would prefer a guide to lead you around.
Everyone loves a sunset and on Rügen Island there are two places I found that will provide you with the best views in the evening. Sellin Pier is one sight you don't want to miss, so make sure you get there before the sun dips over the horizon to see it all light up. Imagine an old-fashioned, Brighton-esque pier bathed in the sun's last rays of the day and gently sparkling as its lights start to twinkle. It was a beautiful sight and a perfect place for a sunset walk before dinner. I also found out about another place called Panorama Hotel Lohme, which was up in the very north above Jasmund National Park, and boasts gorgeous panoramic views over the ocean. We didn't go to this one sadly as the weather was very cloudy and foggy on our second night on the island, but I've read great reviews and seen some beaut pics.
We came prepared and filled up the van with food for the whole weekend so we could have more of a self-catering experience and save a bit of money – we didn't know if it might be more expensive on the island. We ate our own food for breakfasts and lunches, but actually ended up eating out on both the Saturday and Sunday nights we were there. On the Saturday night, we decided to go and see Sellin Pier at sunset and realised we were both starving after a busy day, after checking out the menu for Seebrücke Sellin, we couldn't resist going in for a bite to eat. I was very impressed to find that it was actually very reasonably priced, I had expected it to be a lot more expensive, and that the food was absolutely delicious. We went for a goats cheese starter, then had the burger and a mushroom pasta, all of which were absolutely amazing and the service was great considering we walked in five minutes before they were due to shut the kitchen!
On my birthday night, we went on the recommendation of our friend who told us we had to go and eat at Rialto, an Italian restaurant in Binz which has the best pizza and ice cream. After thoroughly taste-testing, I can tell you that the pizza and ice cream are amazing!
We stayed at our friend's place in Sassnitz which was perfect – this side of the island has all the best beaches and sights, plus we were right at the entrance to Jasmund National Park. There are lots of hotels and holiday homes all over this side of the island for varying levels of luxury and price tags. I personally would recommend renting a holiday home or somewhere self-catering where you can cook your own meals or can even have barbecues in the long summer evenings. We loved having a bit more space and a place to prepare breakfast and lunches. Sassnitz is also a great way to stay close to all the action without actually having to be in busy Binz, it's still a cute little seaside town but with more of a cosy feel.
We went to visit at the end of May and the weather was gorgeous, but being close to the Baltic Sea, it is understandably harder to predict the weather. I would recommend visiting May to September for the best weather, but keep an eye on weather reports because if the weather is bad, there isn't much to do that doesn't rely on you being outside all day. Also, avoid school holidays as it is clearly a big holiday destination for families/elderly and can get busy.
There are buses and trains on the island which connect each of the little towns to each other, these are great if you don't have access to a car plus there are lots of bike paths and hiking trails if you like to keep fit. You also can access the island by bus or train from Hamburg. We drove to the island (around 3.5 hours) and throughout the weekend we used the van to get everywhere which was really helpful to make the most of our weekend. I would recommend hiring a car or driving to the island because it gives you so much more freedom to stay in more budget-friendly places and to be independent and spontaneous about your day. We would decide at a moment's notice our plans and easily went off to a new beach or town. If you rely on public transport you would be much more restricted on how much you get to see and how quickly.
Have you been to Rügen Island – what are your recommendations? Are you more of a beach or forests-lover? What summer travels have you got planned?
I'm lucky enough to travel to some truly amazing places and I'll be honest that sometimes that can mean that you become a little more immune to the wow-factor, but every once in a while, you go somewhere that restores your sense of awe to factory settings. Somewhere that really just takes your breath away and leaves you chomping at the bit to explore more of this incredible world around us. When we planned a weekend away at Rügen Island for my birthday, it was the result of a kind travelling friend who offered us a holiday home to stay in rather than a whole lot of planning. The spontaneous break was everything we both needed and much more, especially when we discovered how utterly beautiful both the island, and the national park, really were. It's not often a place leaves me speechless, but when it does, it usually comes down to the spectacle of nature because it takes something vast and powerful to really remind you what a tiny place you occupy in the world.
It may be Germany's smallest national park but Jasmund boasts some seriously spectacular views such as the famous chalk cliffs which won the heart of Romantic painter Caspar David Friedrich around 200 years ago. With lush forests and endless walking trails, plus the stunning coastline and beautiful beaches, Jasmund National Park has a lot to offer to anyone who ventures up to the north-east of the country in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania. A UNESCO Natural Heritage site and perfect for walkers, visitors will wander through ancient beech forests dating back over 700 years – if you're wondering what all those classic fairy tales were inspired by, it had to be mystical forests like this one.Perfect for exploring by foot or bike, there are lots of different trails that will take you through the forest, or along the 8.5km routes along the cliffs which can reach up to 117m tall. At the very highest point of the national park, you will find the entrance to UNESCO Natural Heritage site Könuigsstuhl, which is German for "King's Chair" and has long played an important role in local mythology. Overlooking the Baltic Sea, on a very clear day visitors can see right across the bay to the coast of Sweden as the sun warms the famous white chalk cliffs. According to legend, the name Könuigsstuhl actually comes from ancient times when the custom was that the first to climb the cliffs from the sea and sit in the chair on the top would be elected king. You can see why – with a history like that and the natural beauty of the area – it would capture the imagination of Romantic painters.
Jasmund National Park was honestly one of the most magical and mystical places I have ever visited, I felt as though I had truly stepped into a fairytale. The ancient beech forest was filled with swirling mist and dark shadows on the day we went and as we walked through the trees, I half-expected Robin Hood and his Merry Men to come running out brandishing bows and arrows. At every turn we marvelled at the spookiness of the fog as it engulfed us and yet the vibrancy of the green of the leaves and the colours in the bark. The walk only takes around 30 minutes to the top of Könuigsstuhl, but for us it took over an hour each way because we had to keep stopping for photos and just to enjoy our surroundings. At one point we went a little off-course and started exploring part of the forest around a lake which we were drawn to by the sound of the frogs chirping in the mist, it was simply too magical to turn away from.Eventually we reached the top and had to pay the €9.50 entrance fee but of course, with the mist, we were faced with a pretty much non-existent view! We didn't let it deter us and had a good laugh about it, exclaiming loudly how wonderful the view was in front of a group of confused tourists. We decided to make the most of our visit and check out the visitor's centre which is actually great with a really interactive audio tour which is available in English and will keep the family entertained. Then we also watched the short film they offer which was really interesting and tells you more about the forest and how they protect it. But obviously we were disappointed not to see the view, so we decided the next morning we would run the same route we had just walked to see the view and not waste time repeating the day.Thankfully our last day on the island dawned sunny and bright, with clear blue skies and we couldn't wait to see the view properly. We ran the same route again and arrived out of breath but were soon rewarded by the view, which was definitely epic enough to make our running worthwhile. We had to chat our way past the gate so that we wouldn't have to pay again just for the view but a lovely woman let us through for five minutes. It was spectacular and my words won't do it justice but hopefully the pictures will. On a side note: walking through the forest on the second day was definitely not as exciting as the first time with all the mist, although still beautiful it was a lot less atmospheric. If you get the opportunity, I would really recommend checking it out on a misty or duller day, it is one of the few places I have been that is actually worth visiting more than once for a totally different experience.
Have you visited Jasmund National Park – what did you think? Have you been to any other national parks in Germany? What summer trips are you planning?
One of the most common messages I receive from readers asks about how to budget for backpacking. I write about saving money and how to plan trips a lot on this site, but one thing I really want to focus on is how you can possibly know how much you will spend on a long-term trip. After all, at home you've been living month-to-month rinsing those paycheques dry until you're watching the days creep by towards pay day. The thought of not having a steady income and relying entirely on your savings can be scary for some - so it's important to budget correctly and plan realistically if you want to have the best time. I'm all about making the most of your money and every possible experience - I don't want to miss out on a single trip, meal or massage. BUT, I aways manage to do it on a budget because let's be honest - I'd rather keep travelling as long as possible than indulge in a week of full luxury.
So how do you budget for a long-term trip?
First of all you need to establish how long you want to travel for and where you plan to go - weighing up the cost of living/travelling in each country. For instance - travelling in Asia is the cheapest travelling I have found and I could easily do a year there on the money I would need for 5-6 months in Australia. But when travelling Australia I have been working along the way and earning a small fortune compared to what I could save at home in the UK. If you're on a break from work and only have a month - perhaps consider Europe which although expensive is a great way to see a lot of countries in a very short space of time. If you're looking to travel for six months on a tight budget, Asia is fantastic - you can see so many different countries and the cost of living well is very low. If you're looking to work abroad and fancy doing a year abroad - why not go for a working holiday visa in Australia, New Zealand or Canada and try a combination of working and travelling?
What kind of trip?
What are your priorities when you travel - are you looking for a full cultural experience of staying with locals? Are you planning to party your way around the world? Or are you a thrill seeker who wants to try every adventure trip going? You need to factor in the cost of trips/alcohol/food/living costs and be realistic. Always over-compensate - what's that quote?
"When preparing to travel, lay out all your clothes and all your money. Then take half the clothes and twice the money."
I couldn't agree more - take as much money as possible by giving yourself enough time to save and cutting costs wherever you can (check out my top tips here). I worked five jobs for a year before going away the first time - it was worth every miserable second when it meant I saved £10,000, didn't have to work for nine months and lived like a queen! I personally like a balance of cutting costs, partying a lot and adventure trips so I always think about how I can balance them. Sometimes I will stay in the cheapest accommodation possible and live off instant noodles so that I can justify an amazing road trip or island cruise. Other times I won't be interested in trips and will spend all my money on cocktails and my own private hut on the beach. When I budget for my trip I take that into account and over budget my living costs. I always try and budget roughly £1,000 a month no matter where I am - then I know that in Asia I will hugely underspend which balances out in Australia when I definitely overspend, likewise with Europe I budgeted more because I knew I was travelling around a lot very quickly which costs more - best way to cut costs when you travel? Stay still for a while in a cheap place and just live simple.
We all have those times when we accidentally splash too much cash, when we shop too much in the markets or take our card on a night out then look at our account the next day with horror. I know I'm definitely guilty of that at home and since I've ben travelling - but it's good to acknowledge it. If you admit you are possibly going to do it, budget for it and give yourself a cushion of cash to keep yourself out of the red.
Remember to account for any home costs while you're away - if you're still paying rent on a house or phone bills/credit cards you need to make sure you have the money available in the correct accounts at all times. You need to make sure you can afford to do this and don't end up in more debt as a result of messing up your money or under-budgeting.
Don't let budgeting put you off
Remember you will never have as much money as you would like. It would be great to live in that dream world where you have a constant supply to keep you going, but it may never happen. Don't let that stop you from travelling - I know people who have gone away with £1-2000 for a long trip and who have just figured it out along the way. I always think the less money we have, the better we are with it. And always remember - there are so many amazing options for working abroad these days - those working holiday visas I mentioned earlier, see if your own current working company can transfer you abroad, study abroad, teach English around the world, volunteer, work for accommodation. The options are endless and there is always a way to make your travelling dreams a reality. I've been both the richest and the poorest I've ever been since travelling and I can assure you I've lived the dream throughout both. If you're determined and committed to making it a reality, you will always find a way.
Need budget tips for your upcoming trip - leave a comment below with any questions! What are your best budget tips for preparing for a long-term trip?