rA trip to the Frisian (or Wadden) Islands is one you can cater to your own taste. Up for sports and adventure? Go for it! Want to explore nature? Go nuts! In need of a quiet and relaxing weekend? Possible as well! Trot Op! helps you on your way with the ten most exciting activities to do on the Wadden Islands.
Want to go on a real trip without having to sit in a cramped plane seat for hours? You’ll find all your heart’s desires on the Dutch Frisian Islands. Here, with the salty wind blowing through your hair, you’re truly away from it all. Moreover, the Wadden Sea handily separates the islands from the rest of The Netherlands, so you won’t have to suffer hordes of annoying trailer tourists here. On the Wadden Isles, life looks a little bit rougher, nature a bit less spoilt and the views somehow wider, but it all still feels typically Dutch nonetheless. It’s the perfect place for those looking for a bit of wildness in the Low Countries, and a great destination for your first post-covid foreign journey.
The Frisian Islands: 10 tips for a wild weekend trip
I took several trips to the Wadden Sea in the past few years, mostly to write travel reports for VAB Magazine. The most impressive journey was a multi-day cruise on the Iselmar: a perfectly restored century old clipper. The captain was a burly but sweet lady called Miriam, who stuffed us full of local delicacies and special beers (the life of a travel journalist is brutal). The whole trip was a delight. The article I wrote about it can be read here, and you should go through the story of my fellow blogger Tjoolaard as well. I think he won an award with it later.
“On the Frisian Islands, life feels a little bit rougher, nature a bit less spoilt and the views somehow wider, but it all still feels typically Dutch nonetheless.”
Island hopping on a sailboat is of course ideal, but can get quite costly. You can easily get on the largest isle of Texel in your own car, through a ferry service from Den Helder. This is handy if you want to see a lot of different stuff in a short time. Most other islands are kept somewhat car-free, but there are several ways for you to get from A to B nonetheless (you’ll find a handy list here). I visited every island except Schiermonnikoog. Should you know of an unmissable spectacle taking place there, please share it in the comments below. In anticipation of this revelation, I’ll share with you my very subjective list of ten activities you should definitely go and do on the Frisian Islands. Enjoy!
1. Spot some seals on De Richel
Want to spot some seals in the Low Countries? Better get your butt to the Wadden Sea then. More than 40.000 of them are left in the wild here, divided into two separate species. Some of them are big fat meat mountains of over 700 pounds, which is quite impressive to see. One of the best places to find them is De Richel: a sandbank near the isle of Vlieland. Hundreds of them are sunbathing on the beach here, and several dozens more will be diving and swimming all around you. Rib boat tours are offered from the neighbouring islands, but there is another option for seal lovers who prefer to stay on land. Ecomare on Texel is a rescue centre for seals, birds and porpoises – a tiny species of dolphin – that also serves as a Wadden Sea aquarium and museum. Very much worth your time, especially when they have fluffy seal pups. www.ecomare.nl
2. Walk on the sea floor
Outside the navigation channels, the Wadden Sea is surprisingly shallow. Every day at low tide, a large part of the seabed is laid bare. Apparently it’s even possible to walk from isle to isle sometimes, but I haven’t done this myself. What I did do was “wad walking” on the sea floor at the Texel coast. My guide Marcel Wijnalda was a pleasant bloke with an exceptionally Dutch sounding name, and he dug up a whole bunch of sea critters from the soggy mud for me to have a look at. A handful of scallops for example, who immediately started spitting before digging themselves under again. Rude mussels exist: we learn something new every day. Take a pair of good rubber boots with you when you’re going for one of these tours by the way. You’ll lose your regular shoes to the mud in about two steps.
3. Drive through an active military shooting range
There’s a vast sand plain in Western Vlieland, and it’s used for military practice. It’s one of the few in Europe where it’s still allowed to use both live ammunition and bombs. Vliehors – the official name of this beach – is deserted except for the occasional burnt out tank, but can be visited on the Vliehors Expres: a combination of a tractor and that yellow submarine from one of the only slightly annoying Beatles songs. Want to discover the island’s war history on foot without getting shelled? Visit Stelling 12H. This is a series of recently excavated German bunkers that were part of the Atlantikwall. www.vliehors-expres.nl
4. Marvel at sea treasures in the wreckage museum
The Terschelling Wrakkenmuseum is a fun place to rifle through. It showcases a vast collection of old garbage and strange objects that got washed up on the beach throughout the years. You’ll find everything here from actual historic treasures and old toys to a very large and quite veiny purple dildo. Apparently it isn’t only the band that keeps playing when a ship goes down. Not on Terschelling? Visit the castaway museum on Vlieland instead. This so called “Drenkelingenhuisje” used to be a place where shipwreck survivors could find dry clothes, food and water. Nowadays, it’s another – very tiny – museum full of salvaged beachcombing treasures. You can even get married here. Every message in a bottle found on Vlieland is answered by the way. Which is of course, quite nice. www.wrakkenmuseum.nl
5. Enjoy some wonderful natural views
There’s a lot of natural beauty to be found on land as well here. Each island has a couple of worthwhile nature reserves on offer. The Kroonspolders on Vlieland for example, are a vast birding paradise full of water and viewing huts. Nationaal Park Duinen van Texel takes up the entire northern coast of the island, and is separated into several different parts with their own characteristics. You’ll find everything from beautiful dune landscapes to surprisingly large forests and wetlands. In the Bollekamer (weird name, not my fault) you can even go and look for a herd of highland cattle. Ginger Scottish cows on a Dutch island. The world we live in!
6. Hug a little lamb
Were we ever more starving for a hug than in these dire times? I think not. Sadly, we’ll have to make do with that one close contact we’re allowed to have for now – nothing to do about it. But do you know who isn’t affected by covid-19 at all? Sweet little fluffy lambs! You can hug those until you physically can’t handle it anymore. And this is exactly what Schapenboerderij Texel allows you to do. This family farm breeds over twenty different species of sheep – some of them quite funky looking. All of their lambs are just as soft and cuddly though, so you can shower them with all the excess love you kept inside all year. There’s a playground outside for the hyperkinetic kids who can’t handle animals, and if you’re in for some excitement, sheep herding demonstrations with dogs are given as well. www.schapenboerderijtexel.nl
7. Go beach surfing in a go-cart
Everyone has to get out and do something wild once in a while, and since options are currently limited, why not go for some blokarting on a beach of choice? This is where they put a surfing sail on a go-cart, allowing you to reach ridiculous speeds when there’s adequate wind. I did this on Texel and Ameland, but they’re available on every island. Take care not to miss your turns, or you’ll be scraping your face off the beach (not fun). Also try not to run over any sand castle building toddlers while you’re at it (fun indeed, but not very nice).
8. Cycle till you can’t cycle no more
As said, the number of cars is limited on most Frisian islands. This is why the bicycle is often the preferred means of transport here. You can rent them anywhere, and there are countless wonderful cycling trails to follow: from village to village and from view to view. You can cycle straight through nature and through the dunes. I fondly remember a lovely tour through an otherworldly landscape on Ameland, and a nightly ride through a Vlieland forest towards a beach, where we got drunk around a campfire and went skinny-dipping while sea sparkle lit the waves around us a ghostly blue. I wish we could have parties again guys.
9. Climb a lighthouse
Anyone up for a random fact? Did you know the lamp of every lighthouse on the Wadden Isles rotates around its axis at a different interval? This way, sailors trying to make port on a dark stormy night, know exactly which island they are facing. Every lighthouse on the Frisian Isles can be visited and climbed. The one on Texel – on a lovely spot by the way – even gives you two for the price of one. The new one was built straight around the old one, after it was damaged by the Germans. During WWII by the way, not last year or something.
10. Get absolutely hammered
Let’s not beat around the bush here. The Dutch are not exactly known for their brewing skills. This is mainly because of the stale, fermented horse piss they sell as Heineken. This doesn’t mean they don’t produce any other decent beers though. There are plenty of good microbreweries to be found on the Wadden Isles. Texel alone has four, which can probably all be visited. My favourite Wadden beer is made on Vlieland though. Rampzalig (“disastrous”) was not named after the taste but to remember a 350 year old shipwreck. To honour the name, they sometimes pour it into very uncomfortable low whisky glasses, just for fun. Not beer but still quite tasty is Nobeltje, made in the village of Ballum on Ameland. This is a sweet liquor invented more than a hundred years ago by a brewer who didn’t get his supplies in time for winter. In order to still have something to booze, he mixed all his leftovers into one big kettle, and the result turned out to be surprisingly delicious. Improvisation is an art form.
There you go, you are now aware of my personal top ten activities on the Frisian Isles. This doesn’t mean there’s nothing else to see or do. There several beautiful villages to visit, like Oost-Vlieland and Den Burg. Or modern museums like Kaap Skil on Texel. There are plenty of great places to dine as well: in one of many beach pavilions looking out over the waves for example. Did I forget your personal favourite? Let me know in the comments below.
Staying on the Frisian Islands
During my trips, I stayed on three different locations.
The Iselmar can be rented for sailing trips. Everyone gets their own little cabin, and you’re expected to help a bit on board. Very exciting. www.iselmar.info
My home away from home in Texel was B&B Le Commandeur: a beautiful and luxurious bed and breakfast with a jacuzzi and sauna in every room. Spared no expense. www.lecommandeur.nl
Long ago on Vlieland, I spent some nights in the WestCord Hotel Seeduyn. It’s located on the North Sea beach. Had a lovely birthday party there.
For more info on the Wadden Isles, visit: www.wadtodo.nl