The idea of ​​vacationing in Germany is more likely to conjure up images of romantic hilltop castles and quaint villages with pretty half-timbered houses than wide sandy beaches and beautiful rugged coastlines. But the country’s northern coast, stretching some 1,400 miles along the Baltic and North Seas, offers just that – stretches of pristine coastline and sandy beaches, not to mention dozens of coastal islands barely known to outsiders, and impressive lakeside beaches dotted around the country to boot.

Granted, there are pines rather than palms lining the walks, and it’s not bikini weather all year round – but it’s certainly warm enough in summer to enjoy a good dip, with temperatures water reaching 18 degrees. Plus, what German beaches might lack in Mediterranean exoticism, they make up for in diversity: choose from low-key spa retreats ideal for relaxation; classic beaches for sun worshipers with dedicated sections for free-spirited nude bathers (FKK or Freikörperkultur – ‘free body culture’); islands devoid of people and cars; wild and windy coastlines perfect for surfers and water sports enthusiasts; and nature reserves filled with sea animals and birds and scenic hiking trails.

While some of these spots are well known to Germans and can therefore be busy during peak season, they aren’t as busy as typical Mediterranean beaches overall, and there are plenty of options to avoid the crowds. Prices are often cheaper than in famous southern European resorts, whether for restaurants, hotels or train travel. Below are some of the best beach experiences the country has to offer…

Sylt

For sun, sand, surf and solitude (in other words a bit of everything)

Nicknamed the Königin der Nordsee (Queen of the North Sea), Sylt (sylt.delisten)) is the northernmost island of Germany, located just west of the border between Germany and Denmark. One of the North Frisian Islands, it also straddles the UNESCO-listed Wadden Sea, a coastal system of intertidal sand and mudflats that stretches into the Netherlands. The island’s popularity with (mainly) Germans lies in the diversity of its impressive 25 miles of beaches, ranging from family-friendly spots like Wenningstedt-Braderup, with its calm, shallow waters; Rantum to the south with striking sand dunes and wide tides; and more remote areas like Ellenbogen, which is part of a nature reserve. There are also wilder, windier delights for surfers and water sports enthusiasts, including Hörnum and Brandenburg Beach in Westerland, home of the annual Windsurfing World Cup. You don’t know how to surf? No problem: there are schools scattered around the island that rent equipment and offer lessons. About a third of the beaches are also designated nudist areas, and the local landscape includes striped lighthouses, rugged cliffs, golf courses and pretty villages with spas, all accessible via cycle paths and hiking trails.

Strandhotel Sylt (00 49 4651 98980; wyn-sylt.de) offers double rooms from £180 per night