– a hidden gem in the Netherlands
There’s nothing like being in nature. Feeling the wind on your face, hearing the ocean waves lapse against the shore. All of your senses become finely attuned to the natural ebb and flow of your surroundings. The concrete jungle is both exhilarating and enticing but if you’re looking for something other than a city experience, then the Wadden Isles might be exactly for you.
Five islands line the northern coast of the Netherlands and are governed by the ebb and flow of the ocean’s tide. Hiking through the dunes and watching seals swim in the ocean are just a few of the many activities available on these timeless islands; here is a little travel guide so you can prepare for your next getaway.
– Relax and enjoy the beach in Texel
The island of Texel is the only one that’s considered to be a part of North Holland rather than Friesland and it’s also the largest of the five islands. It’s known for its long sandy beaches that span over a length of 30 kilometers and the many hilly dunes in between, making it one of the most beautiful spots in the Netherlands.
Texel is unique in that it’s the only area in the Netherlands that is fully pierced by the North Sea, leaving it with nature that’s one-of-a-kind. Beautiful natural orchid fields and sea lavender line certain areas, making it the perfect getaway to kick back and enjoy the scenery. Hiking is a great activity to do on the island and if you’re a little more daring, you can even try skydiving.
If you’re an animal lover, the Ecomare center is definitely a spot worth visiting. Ecomare is a sanctuary that hosts injured animals like seals and birds and nurses them back to health before releasing them into the wild. As a visitor, you can learn about the healing process, watch the animals get fed, and learn about Texel’s history.
– Find peace and serenity in Vlieland
Vlieland is the second island off the coast and is often called the ‘Sahara of the North’ due to the long stretches of sand that can be found on the island. Calmness is what this island is all about: with only one small village on the island grounds it’s a great destination if you’re yearning for some seclusion. This charming little island is perfect for romantic walks on the beach and getting lost in poetry. For the culture buffs, there are institutions like the Tromp’s Huys Museum and the Noordwester that offer information on Vlieland’s maritime history.
Seal-watching is a lovely activity here. A speedboat will take you out to their favorite spots where you can observe them from afar in their natural habitat. Since much of the Netherlands is below sea level, another unique activity in Vlieland is mudwalking: hiking across the bottom of the ocean during low tide.
– Connect with nature and culture in Terschelling
Terschelling is the second largest of the Wadden Isles and home to the oldest lighthouse in the Netherlands, dating all the way back to 1594. Nature is incredibly varied, ranging from sandy beaches to swamp marshes and forests. Cycling is a wonderful activity here, as is mudfloat hiking. Water sports more your thing? Don’t worry, Terschelling is great for balancing on surfboards as well.
Did you know that wild cranberries grow on Terschelling? The story is that in 1845 a cranberry barrel washed up on the shore. Ever since locals have found all sorts of creative ways to enjoy this delicious fruit – from jam to dessert. Other delicacies on the island include cheese and ice cream, both of which are locally produced.
Once you’ve got a belly full of snacks, grab a cocktail at a beach bar or view the remains of recovered shipwrecks at the Wreck Museum.
– Take a walk through history in Ameland
If you’ve ever been fascinated by tales of the lost city of Atlantis, Ameland may be the closest you’ll ever get to witnessing something similar. People lived peacefully in the area until the 18th century when extreme weather caused entire villages to be lost to floods and raging storms. These remained underwater until the mid-20th century when the construction of the Afsluitdijk caused them to reappear. Visiting museums like Sorgdrager and the Nature Center in Nes will teach you more about these historical events as well as Ameland’s history of whaling and merchant shipping.
Ameland is known as the ‘Wadden Diamond’ for its beautiful beaches and relaxing atmosphere. Fishing and seal watching are just a few of the activities available here, making it a great location for the entire family.
– Get away from the crowds in Schiermonnikoog
The last of these hidden gems is Schiermonnikoog, which is the smallest populated island in the area and also the most serene. Just one small village can be found on this captivating island with houses dating back as far as the 18th century. The rest of the island is plentiful in nature: from forests to dunes and lakes. Birdwatchers are more than welcome here as you can find over 300 different species!
In the center of the village is a huge whale jawbone that’s on display as a remembrance of the island’s history of Arctic expeditions for hunting. Other historic relics like old war bunkers can also be found on Schiermonnikoog. If you’re not that into history, Schiermonnikoog offers activities ranging from water sports to yoga on the beach. Bring your book and wind down, enjoy the languid afternoons the island has to offer.
– How to get to the islands
All islands are reachable by ferry, although from different harbors. To reach Texel it’s best to take the ferry from Den Helder; Vlieland and Terschelling can be reached from Harlingen; Ameland from Holwerd; and Schiermonnikoog is reachable from Lauwersoog. Taking your car into Texel, Ameland, and Terschelling is also a possibility; however, the other islands are car-free so if you’re planning on driving it’s best to leave your car parked in the ferry harbor. If you’re planning on traveling with public transport there are tons of train and bus connections that can take you to the ferries.
The Wadden Isles are true gems in the Netherlands and perfect for anyone yearning to unwind a little off the beaten path. As Pythagoras once said, “Leave the road, take the trails.” For more tips on the best things to do in the Netherlands, check out our travel blog here. And don’t forget to tag us on social media (@dernederlanden) when you’re enjoying Amsterdam with your loved ones!