At the stage of design load analysis for offshore installations such as wave energy systems, a critical step is the determination of environmental cases to be evaluated for the definition of the characteristic design load. A commonly used methodology for load case selection, applied in multiple studies and recommended by technical specifications and guidelines, is the environmental contour approach. Here, 50-year environmental contours were generated for four study sites located in the North Sea, Skagerrak and the Baltic Sea by considering both observations and hindcast (model) data. For the construction of the contours, the well-established inverse first-order method (I-FORM) and a modified version using principal component analysis (PCA) were both examined. Furthermore, a 2-dimensional peaks-over-threshold (2D POT) method was evaluated. It was found that a version of the regular I-FORM was able to produce satisfactory contours which properly accounted for the highest waves. When using PCA, the dependency in the data was not properly captured by the probability functions under consideration. The 2D POT method, where applicable, was found to underestimate the extreme sea states. Comparisons between contours obtained from observations and hindcast data showed that the contours may differ substantially depending on the site and method, and thus care must be exercised when using hindcast data for such purposes.