Rügen Island by Bicycle
The island of Rügen is included in the Baltic Sea cycle route. It is
an interesting place from both a geological and archeological perspective. It is
also a summer tourist destination because of the resorts and beaches.
rode on the Island of Rügen a year after we completed the second half of the
Ostsee Radweg. This happened because our partners on the first half, Guntram
and Ulla, wanted to join us on the second half but it was inconvenient. So, we agreed
that we would come back the next year. We planned to stay in one place and make
day-trips from there, coming back to our accommodation every evening. We quartered
ourselves in Lancken, which is on the peninsula of Wittow in the far north of the
island. The locals call Wittow an island but since it is connected to the rest of
the Rügen by a narrow strip of land (isthmus), I call it a peninsula. One thing
for sure, Wittow is windy.
Yes, Virginia, there are path signs
– but only occasionally. The signage is not great. Nevertheless, it is hard to get
lost on the island because there are so many bike paths and low traffic roads that
you can always find your way. See Maps and Guidebooks below.
There are many lodging opportunities.
Rügen is a major tourist destination. In addition to frequent campgrounds (for those
of you who have not yet discovered the weight difference between a wallet of cash
and a tent with a sleeping bag), there are numerous hotels of different qualities
(stars?). Additionally, there are many Zimmer and Ferienwohnunen
(FeWo), which is plural for Ferienwohnung or vacation apartment.
As a choice, we like Zimmer (advertised as Zimmer Frei) but there
are also Gasthäuser (Guest Houses), Pensionen (pensions or bed
and breakfasts), Jugendherbergen (Youth Hostels), and hotels. For a complete
discussion of the different types of lodgings and tips on reservations, see my
Overnight Accommodations page.
We always say that the stops we like may
not be your favorites so take these recommendations with that in mind. We did not
see the whole island but I can heartily recommend the following: The Stubnitz chalk
cliffs (north of Sassnitz), Kap Arkona, Hiddensee Island. Additionally, I have it
on good authority that the resort area both north and south of Ostseebad Binz is
beautiful. I also suspect - with no real proof - that the peninsula Mönchgut in
the southeast corner of the Rügen is worthwhile.
On the island in bookstores
and tourists shops, there are copies of the Fahrradkarte Rügen & Hiddensee,
scale 1:75,000. I found it the best resource, even better than bikeline’s Ostseeküsten
Radweg Teil 2: Von Lübeck nach Ahlbeck / Usedom, (Baltic Coast Bike path, Part
2: from Lübeck to Ahlbeck on Usedom Island)1/75,000 because you get the whole island,
not just the part that covers the Ostsee bike path.
Expect wind. Did I mention it is
windy on Rügen? We were lucky to have great weather but we still encountered a lot
of wind. Tailwinds are great but bicycling into a headwind is like riding uphill;
the stronger the wind, the steeper the hill. One friend calls a headwind, a poor
thing to expect is sandy trails.
rode a few kilometers on the northern part of the island and about 50% of the time
we were on pavement (either low traffic roads or designated bike paths), 25% of
the time on well-packed gravel or good dirt paths, and 25% of the time on single
track paths with some soft sand. The sand, if it has been dry, will grind to a stop
even wide tire bicycles. The island of Rügen is just a large pile of sand and gravel
leftover from receding glaciers at least 100,000 years ago. There are some hills
in the center part and on the southern part of the island but the northern end is
mostly flat – except for the chalk cliffs of course.
Though we bypassed Rügen the first
time we rode through Stralsund, I recommend it highly. The chalk cliffs, like the
White Cliffs of Dover in England, are impressive. Embedded in the chalk are pieces
of flint. The flint is in definite layers that seem to be 10 to 20 feet apart. Vacationing
Germans and locals enjoy collecting flint stones with natural holes in them. They
string several of these together with wire or cord as a decoration for their homes
The island is strewn with flint. As you can imagine, in the gravel roads and
on bike paths, flint breaks up a bit, leaving razor sharp shards. Riding over all
those shards, I expected to have flat tires but we did not have any. One theory
as to why the flint is in strata is that during the Cretaceous period, the animals
and sea critters that died left their bones in huge piles on the floor of a shallow
sea. This became unconsolidated chalk. Then a layer of rock that became flint was
deposited on top of the chalk. Over millions of years, these piles of chalk were
lifted to slightly different heights from volcanic up-thrust pressure. This carried
the flint stone to those slightly different heights.
During the ice age, glaciers flattened, compressed, and spread out the whole
thing into the layers we see today. Think of a stack of books that have fallen over
but each book is still resting on its neighbor, then the stack was put under enormous
pressure from ice over 1,000 feet thick so that the upper edges are now level but
stratified at an angle.
The island of Rügen has numerous archeological digs and active archeological
investigations. The island has been populated by humans for over 5,000 years. The
Slavs pushed out the early settlers around 1,400 years ago. The Slavs belonged to
a tribe called the Ranen. After defeat by the Danes in 1168, it was resettled by
Germanic tribes including the Danish.
Arkona is the site of a Slavic fortification that was attacked by those Danes. At
Kap Arkona we hiked the beach from the small fishing village of Vitt around the
northeast corner of the cliffs to the next staircase up. It is a distance of about
3 kilometers. The beach is mostly flint with a few fieldstones. For someone who
is a member of the Over Fifty with Bad Knees Club, it is a tough 3 kilometers. There
is no path and the rocks are hard on your knees and feet. But the view is worth
it. There is little tide difference in the area and part of the hike is close to
some erosion protection stonework over which you are not supposed to walk. However,
the option of walking on slippery, mossy, wet rocks in the sea is dangerous so we
violated the rules and walked on the stonework for 200 feet. Sue me but we did.
At the Stubnitz chalk cliffs (north of Sassnitz on the peninsula of Jasmund)
we hiked along the top of these chalk cliffs too. These cliffs are even more impressive
than those at Kap Arkona. It is an 8-kilometer hike from Sassnitz to Königsstuhl;
from there you can catch a bus back to Sassnitz. The hike is up and down some 30
to 50 feet but there are stairs for the steepest parts.
Rügen as on the mainland of northern Europe, you will find many Dolmens (tumuli
or grave mounds) or in German “Hügelgräber” or “Grossteingräber."
These are graves of people from the early Stone Age and are marked with large fieldstones.
One finds them frequently on high points of land. On maps, they are frequently indicated
as an archeological site. I don’t know how many of these there are in the state
of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern but there are over 900 of these graves in northern Schleswig-Holstein
alone. Interestingly, the stones used to mark these graves weigh thousands of pounds.
How were they moved from their original location to the grave site by Stone Age
people who had no John Deere backhoes? Or, did they? If I were an undertaker back
then, I would haul the body to a place where the stones already were – but that
is just me.
Hiddensee is an island on the west side of the island of Rügen. There are no
cars on the island (with a few exceptions, as always) so we either take bikes, or
rent them there, or walk. Those are your choices. Even the locals have to use pull
carts when the move heavy things (even groceries) from one place to another. Hiddensee
has its own history and is certainly a place to experience.
Beaches on Rügen and Hiddensee are great but the water can be chilly in the spring.
Bathing suits are optional. That is probably a good thing for hot and sweaty cyclists;
I would not know for sure. There does not seem to be any areas set aside for nude
bathing like other beaches we have seen in Germany. Much of northern Europe has
a completely different attitude about swimsuits than we prudes in the USA have.
They can take'm or leave'm and that is a good thing too.
Typical of buildings in the north of Germany, churches are made mostly of brick
but here they mix in some field stones right into the walls. The style is early
Gothic and the alters are detailed and beautifully carved and painted. Most are
open daily, worth a stop if you pass one.
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