The district is roughly situated in a triangle between the towns of Lübeck, Rostock and Schwerin. In the north there is the coast of the Baltic Sea with the small island of Poel; two large lakes are partially situated in Nordwestmecklenburg: the eastern half of the Schaalsee (23 km²) at the western border; and the northern half of the Schweriner See (63 km²) in the south, as well as one smaller lake, Mechower See (1.6 km2).
The district was created in 1994 by merging the previous districts Gadebusch, Grevesmühlen and Wismar, and also smaller parts of the districts Sternberg and Schwerin-Land. In the 2011 district reform, it was merged with the formerly district-free town Wismar. The name of the district was decided by referendum on 4 September 2011.
“Party per pale Or and Azure, dexter the half crowned bull's head Sable of Mecklenburg, sinister a bishopric staff Or”. The staff symbolizes the diocese of Ratzeburg, which in 1648 became the Principality of Ratzeburg. It also stands for the diocese of Schwerin. Also the Hanseatic city of Wismar is represented in red-white.
The coat of arms was designed by the designer and heraldic Heinz Kippnick, and was granted on July 1, 1996.