Cuxhaven: My Favourite North Sea Resort

Cuxhaven Travel Blog

 › entry 1 of 8 › view all entries
Walking the mudflats

Cuxhaven is my favourite place on the shores of the North Sea. It is one on the few places on the mainland where the mudflats are sandy and solid, thus can be walked safely. About 10-15 kms of sea bottom fall dry at low tide, so no matter how crowded the beach has been, you'll be on your own when you set out.  The tidelands are part of the Nationalpark Deutsches Wattenmeer and full of life. For those who are interested in nature, there is a lot to discover. At the same time the town is big enough to offer all kinds of infrastructure and shopping. Train connections both to Hamburg and Bremen are all right, so the place is easy to reach without a car.

In late spring 2007 I spent three weeks in Cuxhaven and found it the PERFECT place for my purposes: I needed a quiet place far away from my phone, internet and the usual hassle to write/finish a book, and I wanted it to be close to the sea.

Footprints
There is nothing more relaxing to me than walking along a beach with my bare feet in the water, feeling the wind and the sun. Since I was little I have always been fascinated by big ships, so that was another plus. At the same time I wanted a place with enough infrastructure for emergency (computer store in case of laptop trouble, library in case of need for more information, good train connections, etc.) I rented a self-catered apartment in the suburb of Stickenbüttel in the house of a wonderful elderly couple who were always ready for a chat, rented a bicycle and divided my time between writing and outdoor activities depending on weather, daylight hours, tides (and momentary laziness). I even discovered a jewel that's made it into my book: the church of Lüdingworth.

I had long wanted to return and in summer 2013 I finally made it back.

In the mudflats
I rented an apartment in Döse this time, five minutes walk from the dyke and the beach. I stayed for 10 days, most of which were spent with my favourite pastime, i.e. tideland walks, tides permitting. But I also took the chance to go on day trips to Helgoland and Stade.

In March 2015 I spent two weeks in Otterndorf for research reasons, and I gave myself a day off for a hop over to Cuxhaven. At that time the beach was still empty, and it was too chilly for mudflat walking. A completely different experience.

Wattwandern - Walking the Mudflats

There is nothing more relaxing than a walk on the soft ground underneath a big big sky, feeling the wind and watching out for all those little animals that live in the mudflats - and, which is singular for Cuxhaven, watching the big ships entering or leaving the river Elbe.

Dramatic sky
 The mudflats are part of the "Nationalpark Deutsches Wattenmeer", thus a protected piece of nature. 
10-15 kms of dry sea bottom can be walked at low tide. You can walk out from the beaches outside Duhnen and Döse and also from Sahlenburg. There ground is solid. However, avoid the part between Duhnen and Sahlenburg where the salt meadows are, there it is soft and muddy and dangerous.

Wind and sunlight and clouds put on a show for free over the tidelands. The sky looks always different, often dramatic. The photos here are just random examples. I carried my camera whenever I was walking to the seashore... An evening walk on the beach promenade is also rewarding. The main beaches of Döse, Duhnen and Sahlenburg face northwest. The beach promenade and the stone dams are the perfect balcony to enjoy the sunset show over the mudflats.

The island of Neuwerk on the horizon
The colours and reflections are amazing. 

What is so fascinating about walking the muddy tidelands? A question I am often asked. Isn’t it boring?

No it isn’t, at least to me. It is one of the most relaxing activities on Earth. It appeals to all senses. Looking at the big big sky and the often dramatic clouds, and the endless horizon. Feeling the wind and the splashing shallow water that quickly warms up with the sun. Smelling and tasting the fresh salty sea air. Feeling the ground around your feet – sometimes soft and muddy, sometimes sandy, sometimes more solid with a pattern of little ripples or waves, sometimes a tickle from a baby fish or shrimp. Hearing the wind and the screams of the birds. The tidelands tell of eternal change. Panta rhei, everything is flowing.The water is constantly rising and falling and changes the structures of the ground and the water currents within minutes.

Sunset
Animals move with the changing tides. The only permanent structures are those that humans built. In the nature of the tidelands, nothing ever stays the same.

Walking the mudflats is safe if, and only if, you observe a few rules:

1. Check the tide calendar, take a watch and observe the hours!!! The end of walking time the calendar states is the hour of the lowest tide. You've still got some time till the water returns, but get back to the land side of the last Priel soon. The water comes faster than you imagine. Printouts of the tide calendar or blackboards with the up to date information are on display at all beach entrances. Make sure you understand what it says.

2. If the ground feels muddy or the water becomes too deep, turn around. Take care when crossing a Priel, the waterflows where the water leaves last and comes back first.

Don't step on me!
 

3. Watch your steps. Broken shells have sharp corners, and some crabs might show a nasty sense of humour.

Wildlife in the Mudflats

At first sight, the mudflats look like a boring patch of flat brownish mud, and nothing else. But they are full of life. Worms and shells, little snails, shrimps, fish larvae, crabs, jellyfish populate it. Various specieses of water birds feed on them. In spring and autumn millions of wandering birds use the tidelands for a rest during their long journey. Guided tours in the mudflats (Wattführungen) are a great way to learn more about the amazing variety of life in this delicate ecosystem. There are guided tours of all kinds, for kids, families, or adults, and even guided hiking tours across to the island of Neuwerk.

Race snail;-)
 Visit the tourist information office - there is one in each suburb - for details and times.

You will notice all this life very soon. During your first walks in the mudflats you will probably, just like I did, panic when something tickles your feet. The idea of a crab catching your toes with its pincers isn't too pleasant. In 99% of the cases, the causer is completely harmless and almost invisible. The shallow waters near the beach are full of tiny baby shrimps in late spring, and hardly bigger baby fish during the summer. 

Stranded Goods

The ancient law of the sea says: finders keepers. Stranded goods belong to whoever finds them. Modern legislation has a different approach concerning the load of stranded ships.

A place to wash muddy feet
Most likely you won’t find a whole super tanker full of petrol on the beach, though. When small items are concerned, this old law is still common usage and opinion. A Wattwagen driver told me that he has a whole collection of hats and baseball caps that he picked up on his regular rides to Neuwerk. My own best find was a watch. Quite far out in the tidelands I spotted something glittering among the mud. There was no one in sight who could have lost it, so it must have been there since at least the previous low tide. It is a pretty watch, a standard brand and not too valuable, and it kept running perfectly, and since then I have been wearing it almost every day for almost ten years.

Beach and Beach Promenade

The beaches along Döse, Duhnen and Sahlenburg are popular for sunbathing and all kinds of beach activities in the summer season.

The Pirate playground
They are also the starting points for walks into the mudflats. Strandkörbe (beach baskets) can be rented per day or for a longer time depending on the duration of your stay. Strandkörbe are a typical German beach item. The first one was created by a basket-maker in Rostock in the 19th century. On the beaches of Baltic Sea and North Sea the weather is not always reliable. The wind can be unpleasantly chilly even if the sun is shining brightly. The basket can be turned into the optimal direction to protect you from the wind but let the sun in, or to shade you from the sun, just as you like. The back reclines and foot rests can be pulled out. Strandkorb usually seats two people.
Strandkörbe at Duhnen beach
The front is closed with a wooden grid and locked with a padlock, so you can store your beach stuff inside overnight.

The sandy beach is fine, the waters are calm, but swimming the sea is hardly possible. At high tide the water is too shallow even far out. I tried and managed to swim a bit but always had to keep my knees from getting stuck on the sea bottom. Real swimming is only possible  
a) at the grass beaches of Grimmershörn and Altenbruch along the Elbe at rising tide
b) in the pretty big sea water spa in Duhnen
c) in the open air sea water pool among the dunes in Döse (Freibad Steinmarne).

A favourite pastime  on German beaches is building sand castles. Digging holes and canals in the wet ground just off the beach is also popular.

Sand castle
Sand and mud invite to dig. Some people build huge ramparts around their Strandkorb and decorate them with shells or whatever they find on the beach. Here is a particularly fine sand architecture, probably done with castle-shaped moulds for "sandcake baking". Showels, moulds and everything you and your kids need to play in the sand can be obtained from each and every souvenir shop on and behind the dyke. However, building huge sand castles around your Strandkorb, as it was popular some decades ago, is not allowed any more nowadays. There are certain rules concerning the size and extension of sand castles now.

All kids, big and small (and also some very big kids;-)), enjoy playing in the mud at low tide. Schlick surfing is a low-tide beach entertainment that looks like big fun.

Schlick surfing
.. You need a flat board that looks like a small surfboard; these are on sale in all the souvenir shops along the beach for a few Euros. Throw the board into a muddy puddle in front of you, run a few steps and jump onto the board. Then you “surf” on the mud – how far, depends on your speed and your balance. (Splash! But no worries, there are showers along the beach.)

A smoothly paved promenade extends all the way along the beach. It has benches, showers and taps to wash muddy feet, a couple of eateries and souvenir shops along the way and free toilets in several spots - everything that you need on the beach. It is suitable for wheelchairs, walkers, prams and strollers and toddlers' tricycles. The ramps over dyke and dunes prove the only problem that people with walking difficulties have to cope with.

Crab
Bicycles, however, are strictly banned from the busiest part between the bay of Grimmershörn and the thermal spa in Duhnen. Cyclists have to use the bike trail behind the dyke on this stretch.

The walk is very pleasant. If you find it too long, you can use the beach trainThis is not a train on rails but a motor vehicle in the shape of a train. It runs along the beach promenad, starting at the Western end of the beach in Duhnen and ending at Alte Liebe in the port, with several stops along the way. It runs right on the beach promenade. If you can't or don't want to walk long distances, this "train" is a fun alternative to experience the beach landscapes and the views of the sea, tidelands and the Elbe. There are only four rides per day, so check the timetable in advance and plan accordingly.

Jellyfish, a harmless species
The fare isn't cheap - 5.50 € for the full distance. You can buy tickets on the spot from the driver.

Strandhaus is a popular spot on the beach in Döse. It was built right on the dyke in the 1950s. The architecture of the building and the stage shell are typical for that era, unspoilt, and will raise the spirits of every 1950s fan. The upper floor hosts an upscale restaurant with large panorama windows. The ground floor has a souvenir shop and snack bar, and on the meadow in front they have a large self-service beer garden. Part of the outdoor seating is inside a tent with heaters. From Wednesday to Sunday they have live music on the concert stage outside – the quality of the bands and musicians varies. Some are quite good, the two guys who did the “Kölsche Abend” one night, however, deserve a “Warnings and Dangers” tip.

Who is tickling my foot? Loock carefully: There are four baby shrimps in this photo.
.. Their sound can be heard in half of Döse, so it is hard to escape them. Anyway, if you want to enjoy a beer with beach view, this is the place to go. Prepare for prices higher than average, though. 

The playground by the beach promenade next to Strandhaus Döse has this huge pirate ship. Two wooden figures represent the town mascots Jan Cux and Cuxi dressed up as pirates. The ship must be fun to play on for kids, and it makes a nice subject for photos.

The Beach Off Season

So far I had seen the beach always in high season, all filled with beach baskets and wind-protecting fences in between. In March, still off-season, the beach was wide and empty and undivided. Outside Duhnen they had already cleaned it and brought in fresh sand.

Shrimp
There were no wooden benches on the promenade and the showers and taps to wash dirty feet were not yet installed. One or two of the snack bars were open, the others still closed. The bonus point is that there was no tax charged for access to the beach. 

The new season was approaching and preparations were in full swing. In one spot the very first beach baskets had just been put up and people enjoyed the spring sun, well wrapped up in warm jackets. The horse-drawn carriages to Neuwerk had just opened the new season, there were four or five on tour - in late spring there will be 40 per day, during the summer holidays even twice as many.



Paulovic says:
Congrats on having your blog featured!
Posted on: Feb 17, 2017
HORSCHECK says:
Kathrin, congrats on your featured travel blog. Well done and well deserved.
Posted on: Feb 17, 2017
Join TravBuddy to leave comments, meet new friends and share travel tips!
Walking the mudflats
Walking the mudflats
Footprints
Footprints
In the mudflats
In the mudflats
Dramatic sky
Dramatic sky
The island of Neuwerk on the horiz…
The island of Neuwerk on the hori…
Sunset
Sunset
Dont step on me!
Don't step on me!
Race snail;-)
Race snail;-)
A place to wash muddy feet
A place to wash muddy feet
The Pirate playground
The Pirate playground
Strandkörbe at Duhnen beach
Strandkörbe at Duhnen beach
Sand castle
Sand castle
Schlick surfing
Schlick surfing
Crab
Crab
Jellyfish, a harmless species
Jellyfish, a harmless species
Who is tickling my foot? Loock car…
Who is tickling my foot? Loock ca…
Shrimp
Shrimp
Snail
Snail
Snail covered in barnacles
Snail covered in barnacles
Footprints in the Schlick
Footprints in the Schlick
Sunset over the mudflats
Sunset over the mudflats
Another sunset over the mudflats
Another sunset over the mudflats
Step 1...
Step 1...
... step 2...
... step 2...
... and step 3 - almost gone
... and step 3 - almost gone
Strandkorb impression
Strandkorb impression
The mudflats are gleaming in the l…
The mudflats are gleaming in the …
Cuxhaven Sights & Attractions review
The Salt Meadows Nature Reserve
The stretch of sea shore between Duhnen and Sahlenburg has no beach but salt meadows. At high tide they are partly flooded, at low tide they fall dry.… read entire review
Cuxhaven Sights & Attractions review
Church of St Jakobi in Lüdingworth: The 'Peasant Cathedral'
The church in Lüdingworth, a small village now a suburb of Cuxhaven, is known as "Lüdingworther Bauerndom", the "peasants' cathedral". How to get … read entire review
Cuxhaven Sights & Attractions review
Ritzebüttel Castle
Built as the seat of a local noble family who administered the place on behalf of the Dukes of Sachsen-Lauenburg, Ritzebüttel was conquered by the ci… read entire review
Cuxhaven Sights & Attractions review
Day Trips to Helgoland
The most popular and most attracive day trip destination from Cuxhaven is the island of Helgoland, some 60-70 kms out in the North Sea. Helgoland is f… read entire review
Cuxhaven General Tips & Advice review
What You Pay Your Kurtaxe For
The town of Cuxhaven charges a tourist tax (Kurtaxe) of currently 2.70 € per night from its guests. Day visitors have to pay an admission fee to the… read entire review
Cuxhaven General Tips & Advice review
Districts of Cuxhaven
DUHNEN Duhnen is the poshest of Cuxhaven’s suburbs with the highest price level. Built on the dunes (sic!) along the tideland coast, it has grown i… read entire review
Cuxhaven General Tips & Advice review
Walking the Intertidal Mudflats: Important Safety Rules
Observe the Timetable and the Weather Walking the mudflats is not dangerous during low tide and good weather but you MUST observe the hours. The ti… read entire review
Cuxhaven Sights & Attractions review
Boat Cruises to the Seal Sandbanks and through the Port
Three or four different companies do boat tours in the port and out on the Elbe. All of them depart from the quays next to Alte Liebe. The tours and t… read entire review
Cuxhaven General Tips & Advice review
CUX-Tourismus: Cuxhaven Tourist Offices
CUX-Tourismus is the tourist agency of the city of Cuxhaven and works as tourist information and as agency for booking rental rooms and apartments. Cu… read entire review
Cuxhaven
photo by: Kathrin_E