Length — 162km (walked 2018)

Curious locals beside the route west of Breiholz

On maps of Schleswig-Holstein, you might find a line marked NOW: this is the route of the Nord-Ostsee-Wanderweg.

The official route’s western endpoint is Meldorf station; its eastern terminus is the Eiderbrücke at Schulensee, on the western edge of Kiel. Therein lies a substantial problem: the route’s title proclaims it as a coast-to-coast route, but there is no contact with salt water anywhere along its route. I decided to rectify this by adding a day’s walk at each end, starting and finishing at an iconic lighthouse. Please be sure to distinguish Meldorf (on the west coast railway) from Melsdorf (just west of Kiel) in any transport or accommodation searches!

For logistical reasons, I walked the route from east to west (perhaps my route could be distinguishable from the official route by calling it the Ost-Nordsee-Wanderweg instead): I chose mid-March. I therefore arrived at the Bülker Leuchtturm early on a Sunday morning: the temperature was said to be -4°C (a conservative estimate, I’d say) with a 100kph wind screaming off the Baltic; I completed the walk at lunchtime a week later at the lighthouse in Büsum, on the North Sea.

The entire route between Bülk and Rendsburg was walked under a bright blue sky: the sub-zero temperatures kept me moving. I must say that Kiel more than exceeded my expectations of urban slog: the alternation of firthside walking and urban woodland was very pleasant, and the street-slogging was nearly eliminated altogether. Navigation (having plotted the route using OpenStreetMap) was adequately easy, though I did pine for our Ordnance Survey 1:25000 maps. Be really careful in Osterrönfeld, near the Rendsburg railway bridge: the necessary diversion is not waymarked (but is described in the route-notes linked below).

West of Rendsburg, the skies were greyer with some light hanging mist at times, and for an hour or so out of Breiholz, I encountered some drizzle: only on the approach to the North Sea did the sun manage to break through again. All in all, though, that was a very reasonable meteorological hand I was dealt.

The route from Breiholz to Fischerhütte is mainly canalside walking: fascinating to watch the shipping, but otherwise a bit bland. Some of the lock-keepers on the Thames run little tea-stalls for the passing trade: if only Gieselauschleuse (or the ferry stations) had the same idea! And that is one of the defining memories of the route: the need to carry all provisions, for revictualling options are somewhat limited (with special thanks to the excellent bakery in Nübbel, though).

The forestry on either side of Albersdorf is a real delight, though keeping the waymarking up to date while logging is taking place would be a help: all it needs is a bunch of stakes with waymarks to give temporary guidance. Despite some long straight sections, the route into Meldorf is pleasant, but as noted above, finishing at the station feels a bit like self-sabotage. The town is a delight, and the best accommodation is not at the station. The walk to the coast is necessarily straight along the roadside for part of the way, but the equally simple walk along the coastline to Büsum is a fine winding-down, especially if the geese, oystercatchers and other birds are active. Büsum has its own charms, very different from those of Kiel, but it is just as clearly a point of arrival, or of departure. If you so desire, within an hour of reaching the end of the walk at the lighthouse, you can be connecting at Heide for a long-distance trip homewards.

There is also one possible cherry on the cake, after completing the route. You might enjoy a day trip (in season) from Büsum to Helgoland. The voyage takes three hours each way: the first-class option (highly recommended!) gives you a hearty breakfast on the way out, an afternoon snack on the way back, and a reserved table. There is plenty of time on shore to walk the clifftop path round the island (there is a lift to get you up and down) and catch some lunch before returning to the boat, MV Lady von Büsum.

The route falls into three sections, corresponding with the logical base-locations for a walker reliant (as I was) on public transport. These are Kiel, Rendsburg and Meldorf. Heide might be considered an alternative to Meldorf, since it has train connections to Albersdorf, Meldorf and Büsum (and a bus link with Rendsburg), but Meldorf is generally to be preferred for its ambience. Kiel’s extensive public transport system serves the walker as far west as Emkendorf, and Rendsburg’s less rich transport tentacles extend to Breiholz. From Albersdorf westwards, Meldorf is a natural centre.

Unless the walker has a supporting car and driver, this route will demand fairly long daily sections (at least, west of the Kiel conurbation), and a dedication to early starts in the day. There are two sections of the route which require catching buses at 0730 and 0745, with the next bus four hours or more later. However, since the altitude never rises above 50m, good progress may be made.

Base location: Kiel — Bülker Leuchtturm to Emkendorf

This section takes in the walk from the foot of the Kieler Förde (it’s the same word as Firth in English, as in “… of Clyde”) at the Bülker Leuchtturm, past the Olympic watersport centre from 1972 (there is no coast of Bavaria), across the eastern portal of the Nord-Ostsee Kanal, and through the northern suburbs to the railway station, before taking to the city’s south-western woodlands and the farmland to the west, as far as Emkendorf.

Base location Rendsburg — Emkendorf to Breiholz/Albersdorf

There is a possibility of being based at Rendsburg before setting off from Emkendorf, but it is easier to walk out from Kiel and walk into Rendsburg. Modern packs and lightweight clothing make it possible to keep a good pace up, especially in flat countryside. East of Rendsburg, there is a mix of forestry, farm and heath; to the west, the route takes to the canal towpath before heading across country through a mix of forest and farmland.

Rendsburg is worth considering for a rest day: it has cafés, restaurants and shops (for any replacement kit, or for provisions); also, there are museums and (of course) the industrial architectural marvel that is the bridge and railway, which spirals through 360° to make the altitude change between bridge level (which must have at least 41m clearance from canal level) and Rendsburg station.

Base location Meldorf — Breiholz/Albersdorf to Büsum

The bus to Breiholz leaves Rendsburg at 0730, and Albersdorf is really the only next option, with links onward to Meldorf by bus or (via Heide) by train: note that you buy your ticket from a machine on the train, and that you must do this promptly to prove your enthusiastic paying of your fare. The canal towpath looms large, until it is replaced by some interesting forestry (with neolithic remains) on the approach to Albersdorf. West of Albersdorf, the landscape is mainly agricultural as far as Meldorf, then it’s a straight run to the coast at Kronenloch, before the final coastline walk round the Meldorfer Bucht to Büsum. Hourly trains link back to Heide for onward connections.


There are no real difficulties in walking the Nord-Ostsee-Wanderweg: after all, the steepest climb is going over the dike on the approach to Büsum. So it probably isn’t for those who revel in speed-bagging Munros or Lakeland felltops. It is a good walk for families, especially if there is one parent as a designated driver for each day. Introducing children to walking with this route could be a good option (hint: some of the road sections might be skipped, but the canalside path should not be missed: the busy water traffic will always draw interest). For the solo walker, it will be very contemplative, for very few people seem to undertake the route — apart from a few Sunday-afternoon groups between Schulensee and Ihlkatenweg, the only walkers I saw in a week’s traverse were two or three people per day who were grasping dog-leashes (some of which had a dog attached). The emptiness of Nordmoor and similar stretches is heady and all-encompassing.

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