Saturday 10 December 2022

Dutch destinations: Why not go Wadden Sea island hopping?

De Slufter tidal flats on Texel. Photo: DutchNews.nl

If you thought island hopping was something to do in Greece, think again. A tour through the five Dutch Wadden Sea islands is a great way to enjoy them in all their glory.

Dutch school children learn the names and order of the Wadden Islands, on the edge of the fauna-rich Wadden Sea using the clue TV Tas (or tv bag) for Texel, Vlieland, Terschelling, Ameland and Schiermonnikoog.

The islands, with their long sandy beaches, their wide open spaces, quirky museums and maritime history, are a popular place for a weekend, or even a summer holiday. Most people go to one of the other, but it is possible, with a bit of effort, to visit all five without going back to mainland.

If you can’t be separated from your car, this is not a trip for you. For a start, most of the ferries you will be using are not equipped for vehicles and non-residents cars are not allowed on Schiermonnikoog at all. Check time tables carefully and book in advance – especially if you are planning to take your own bike with you. Be aware too, that the tides and the weather can lead to changes in services.

From Den Helder to Texel

Blowing the cobwebs away on a windy beach. Photo: Sandra Koot

Head for Den Helder and the ferry port, which is close to the railway station. The ferry leaves every hour off peak and every 30 minutes in high season. You can book tickets if you want to be sure of getting a place.

Boasting 24kms of beaches and easy to reach via ferry from Den Helder, Texel is also famous for its lamb. All year, visitors can cycle around the island taking in the nature and stopping at one of the seven villages to refuel.

Getting windblown in winter on Texel

From Texel to Vlieland

Take ferry De Vriendschap (the Friendship) from De Cocksdorp, near the Cape North beach pavilion to Vlieland. You will arrive on the biggest area of sand in western Europe, where you will be picked up by a special beach bus and taken to nearby café and hotel, the Posthuys. From there you can travel onwards by public transport or bike.

Vlieland is smaller, less densely populated than the neighbouring islands and entices visitors with its serenity and nature, extensive network of cycle paths, and the promise of 20% more sunny days than the mainland.

The Terschelling museum is housed in old naval officers’ houses

From Vlieland to Terschelling

From Vlieland take the fast ferry from the main harbour  The trip takes about 30 minutes.  Check times and book here.

With approximately 20,000 tourist beds, Terschelling is the largest and most visited Wadden Island. Head west from the main town centre of West Terschelling to experience untamed nature and long white beaches. In June, the island hosts the 10-day Oerol festival, attracting many visitors to the art and theatre performances taking place across the island.

The Wadden Sea island of Terschelling

From Terschelling to Ameland

There are a couple of services between Terschelling and Ameland but they only operate in the high season. The ferries Zeehond and Ameland runs from the port a couple of times a day and on some days of the week, you can also make the crossing in the Willem Jacob or the Minerva, a pair of heritage clippers – which takes seven hours. If you take the afternoon voyage, you will sleep on board on arrival.

Ameland hosts a human population of around 3,500, an estimated 60 types of birds and copious flora species. In 1871, attempts were made to build a dyke between the island and the mainland. The 8.7km dyke lacked durability and was destroyed by storms the following year, leaving remains that can be seen at low tide.

Exploring the shores of Ameland

From Ameland to Schiermonnikoog

During the high season, the Robbenboot can also take you and your bike from Ameland to the last of the inhabited Wadden island, Schiermonnikoog. The ferry leaves from the harbour in Nes and takes about 2.5 hours.

The name of the island translates as ‘island of grey monks’, referring to the original owners who were forced to hand over the island during the Dutch Reformation. schiermonnikoog This was followed by 500 years of invasion, occupation and serious storm damage – until the island was turned into a national park in 1989.

A beach bar on the island of Schiermonnikoog. Photo: DutchNews.nl

Getting away from it all on Schiermonnikoog

Getting back home

Take a bus to the ferry from the main town, which is about four kilometres way. You’lll know when it is time to go when the queues start, but don’t worry, every bus on the island makes the trip. The ferry arrives in Lauwersoog after a two to 2.5 hour crossing, depending on the tides, where you will take the bus to Groningen and then the train back home.

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