Explore Dazzling White Cliffs on This German Island

Move over, Dover.

Jasper National Park
Bet you wouldn’t guess this is Germany. | Manfred Gottschalk/Stone/Getty Images
Bet you wouldn’t guess this is Germany. | Manfred Gottschalk/Stone/Getty Images

You may have heard of the White Cliffs of Dover. While that photogenic coastline in England is fairly famous, many don’t realize that another country—one in mainland Europe—has its own cliffs, white as chalk, jutting vertically out of a blue-green sea. Germany showcases a dramatic shoreline in Jasmund National Park, but with an extra appeal. Instead of just flat grass on top, the bone-white bluffs here are covered in dense forest that extends ever so precariously to the very last inch of the cliffside. The stark contrast between land and water makes it look like someone scooped out the island’s side, one big chunk after another, leaving a smooth, dramatic precipice.

The smallest of Germany's 16 national parks, Jasmund National Park is only 12 square miles, which is just a little bigger than Arkansas’ Hot Springs National Park. You can find Jasmund on the northeast edge of an island called Rügen in the Baltic Sea, and yup, you heard right—Germany has islands.

Rügen’s landscape was a favorite of German Romantic artists. One famous work by Caspar David Friedrich called Chalk Cliffs on Rügen was made from multiple sketches along these cliffs. Though that particular work is not an accurate depiction of one exact spot in the park, it certainly conveys the awe-inspiring beauty of the place that continues to draw visitors to the country of beer and sausages to this day.

For many, the white cliffs are the star of Jasmund National Park—but rest assured, they’re not the only reason to make the trek. Here you’ll also find ancient woods full of smooth, silvery trunks, because this park hosts the largest continuous beech forest on the Baltic Sea (and has been deemed a UNESCO World Natural Heritage site). This forest is notable for its “pristine” state, in the sense that it’s been almost untouched by humans.

Here’s everything you need to know and where to go in Jasmund to be impressed by nature’s wonders.

beach trees
Hike through the national park’s beach trees. | Westend61/Getty Images

How to get to Jasmund National Park

The train system in Germany may be extensive, but this is one of those trips that’s really significantly easier by car, if you can swing it. You could do a train or bus option (more below), but a car would be most convenient. Anyone who doesn’t happen to have a generous friend in Germany who’s willing to loan you theirs can rent one in Berlin or Hamburg. From either of those major cities it’s just a 3.5-hour drive. Basically, it’s far enough away to get you to a totally new landscape that’ll have your Instagram followers saying “Wait…that’s Germany?!” but close enough for an easy, quick trip when you’ve seen all the beer gardens and techno clubs in the cities.

Despite what your Google Maps navigation may try to tell you, you can’t drive directly into the national park, so don’t get confused if you find yourself at some kind of dead-end. Instead, you’ll need to park at one of the nearby lots, the main one being Großparkplatz Hagen. This large parking area (which you do have to pay a small sum to use) has lots of visitor info, a little cafe, and toilets, and it puts you in close proximity to the park’s most famous viewpoints. From here, it’s up to you whether you want to do the short hike to the cliffs or grab a shuttle bus. Another option is to leave your car at Parkplatz Nationalpark outside of Sassnitz, a nearby resort town, and then hike north into the national park.

If getting a car, rental or not, isn’t an ideal option for you, you can take the regional train to Sassnitz. Once there, the choice is yours again: get right to hiking into the park from the south, catch a bus to Großparkplatz Hagen and walk or shuttle from there, or ride a bus directly to the Königsstuhl National Park Center within the park.

white cliffs
This is one place where you do want to look down. | Powerfocusfotografie/Moment/Getty Images

See impressive chalk cliffs from above and below

The most popular hike in Jasmund National Park has to be the Direkter Weg, and you won’t even have to break a sweat doing it, as it’s an easy, 1.8-mile trail from Großparkplatz Hagen to Königsstuhl. Königsstuhl translates to King’s Chair, which is fitting, since at 387 feet tall it’s really the “king” of all the chalk cliffs here.

The hike starts off through beautiful beech forests and passes Herthasee, a small lake with a distinct dark color due to the humic acid from the area’s peaty soil. Get your wallet ready, because once you reach Königsstuhl, you’ll have to shell out €10 for admission into the big tourist complex before you can actually go see the Königsstuhl. Luckily, that fee also includes entrance to the large, on-site museum, which covers far more subject matter than just the chalk cliffs and is particularly fun for kids with all of its interactive elements.

Hot tip coming at you: The best view of the Königsstuhl cliffs isn’t even the actual Königsstuhl viewpoint. Unless you’re dying to see the museum, you can skip that whole tourist center and walk about half a kilometer more from the Königsstuhl National Park Center to Victoriasicht. Many will agree that this lookout offers a much better perspective on the cliffs and the far-reaching sea, and you don’t have to pay a cent to access it. King Wilhelm I was impressed enough by this spot to name it for his daughter-in-law, the crown princess Victoria, so you should be too.

For another angle of the chalk cliffs, break off from the Hochuferweg (one of the park’s main trails that follows the coast) and head down to do either the Kieler Ufer or Piratenschlucht hikes. These place you on the rocky beach, so you can gaze up at the cliffs on one side and stare off into the sea on the other.

Otherwise, hike through the forest to the UNESCO Weltnaturerbe Buchenwälder Wanderstützpunkt und Infostelle (UNESCO World Heritage Forum hiking base and information point) or right to the nearby towns of Lohme or Sassnitz. Whatever you do, just please remember to stay on the trail to protect the environment.

German national park
See the cliffs sail by. | MrPat/Shutterstock

Take a tour or hop on a boat

There are two kinds of people: Those who stop to read every informational sign and those who’d much rather just listen to someone in-the-know. The latter are in luck, because Jasmund National Park offers scheduled guided tours of varying routes and focuses, which are free to join—but donations are, of course, always welcome.

Speaking of different kinds of people: Some like to keep their feet firmly planted on land, and others jump at any chance to get out on the water. If you consider yourself a real sea fiend, you may consider taking a boat trip to see the chalk cliffs from the sea, giving you a whole other view of the landscape. There are boats departing from Sassnitz, Binz, and other towns on Rügen.

Binz Germany
Binz is a seaside resort town on Rügen. | Sina Ettmer Photography/Shutterstock

Where to stay near Jasmund National Park

Sorry to burst your bubble campers, but there’s no camping allowed within Jasmund National Park. As they don’t even let individuals drive into the park on their own, that shouldn’t be too big of a surprise. What you can do instead, if your heart is set on dreaming under the stars, is set up camp elsewhere on the island. Two options would be Naturerlebniscamp Birkengrund or Mobil-Campingplatz ''De Klomp'', and both are less than a 20-minute drive to the prime starting point of Großparkplatz Hagen.

Maybe you came to Jasmund National Park for the great outdoors but don’t necessarily want to sleep there—not a problem. There are holiday homes all over the island, and if you’re coming up short, try using the German search terms “Ferienhaus” or “Ferienwohnung” to find one. For hotels, you’ll find a good number in Sassnitz, since it’s a popular base for tourists. Alternatively, if you don’t feel the need to be right next to the national park, you can also look into accommodations in Binz. Just 20 minutes from the park’s southern border, Binz is the island’s largest seaside resort town and it has a nice long stretch of sandy beach for when you want to relax after all that cliff gazing and hiking.

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Cindy Brzostowski is a freelance writer and editor based in Berlin. In addition to Thrillist, her work has been featured in TripSavvy, The Points Guy, Greatist, Time Out, Roadtrippers, and more. Follow her @cindybrz.