The Wadden Islands are located in the North Sea, separated from the Dutch, German and Danish coasts by the Wadden Sea. The five Dutch Wadden Islands are located north of Northern Netherlands (the provinces of Friesland, Groningen and Drenthe) and North Holland (Noord Holland). These Dutch gems are just five of the total of 55 islands belonging to the Wadden Islands group. Texel is the largest of these, followed by the Danish Rømø and the German Sylt. A handy ezelsbruggetje (mnemonic) for remembering the order of the Dutch Wadden Islands is TVTAS: Texel, Vlieland, Terschelling, Ameland and Schiermonnikoog.
Of course, you will have to take a ferry to get to each of these islands, and there are some ferries which run between islands. Some of the islands are car-free, and you can bring your car on the ferry to the others. Like much of the Netherlands, traveling by bike is a great way to explore the islands. You can either bring your own bike or rent one at the many bike-rental shops once you arrive at your destination.
The largest of the inhabited islands, Texel is actually part of the province of Noord Holland. It is just a short 20-minute ferry ride from Den Helder. Meredith Mani, AWCA VP, has shared her go-to list of tips and recommendations.
You can drive your car on Texel. Book your ferry ticket from Den Helder to Texel in advance online to save time. If you include your license plate number, you can drive directly up to the boat. Your ticket is always a return ticket and is not checked when leaving Texel. You can drive right on to the boat for the trip home.
Things to see and do:
- Ecomare should be on your list. It’s a seal rescue where they try to keep the environment as natural as possible. Baby seals—need I say more?
- Go seal watching. My kids loved this! You can get a ticket on a boat out of Oudeschild. It’s an adorable city and has the freshest seafood you can imagine. A great stop for lunch.
- Walk the dunes. It's fun and you will feel like you have been transported back to Martha’s Vineyard in 1950.
- Go to the lighthouse (vuurtoren). The beach goes on forever and it’s a fun spot to walk and collect shells.
- Rent an e-bike! The wind on Texel can be fierce but it’s so much fun to bike the island. Plus, it’s a breeze on an e-bike. The VVV Texel website has a page of bike rental companies on the island.
- Go to the Maritiem- en Juttersmuseum Flora (Shipwreck and Beachcombing museum Flora). It’s wild and wonderful.
- Charter a boat with the Oyster Man. He takes you to his oyster flats and lets you rake them up and then eat them as you are thigh deep in the ocean.
- Texels Bierbrouwerij (Texel Beer Brewery): what's not to love?
- The War Cemetery in Den Burg is a sobering but worthwhile experience.
- Fort de Schans is a star-shaped fort to explore near Oudeschild.
- Texel Aviation and War museum (Luchtvaart- & Oorlogsmuseum Texel) is an interesting place. You will learn things like, during WWII, people dropped their children off in Texel because they knew the locals would care for them. While they were starving on the mainland, Texel was self-sufficient and could feed its people.
- Wezenspyk Texel is a fun and educational cheese farm located close to where the ferry docks. It offers tours and also has a farm shop and a cafe.
- The lambing season starts in March. You’ll see baby lambs everywhere.
- Check out the VVV office on Texel for other activities as well as accommodations.
Bring a cooler and lots of small change. There are great farm stores on the island to buy lamb. Texel lamb is famous and it is unbelievably good! The small change is because locals tend to sell veggies and potatoes from their front stoop. You will see this everywhere and trust me, you want a bag of these potatoes!!
Spar grocery stores have a local section. Texel is also famous for its beer and lavender. Spar will sell these much cheaper than the tourist traps.
Buy flower bulbs. The bulbs on Texel are fantastic and will produce for years.
RUN to Het Kompas in Den Hoorn. A little old man and his wife run this restaurant and the food is fabulously authentic. The amazing thing is that the owner has been quietly amassing the largest collection of whiskey in Europe.
Bij Jef is a hotel with a terrific Michelin-starred restaurant in Den Hoorn. AWCA members had an excursion there a few years ago!
Places to stay, recommended by various AWCA members:
The Other Islands
The other four Dutch Wadden Islands are considerably smaller than Texel but offer just as much to do. They are part of the province of Friesland and are known for their nature and outdoor activities. Seal-sighting boat tours, horse riding and guided mudflat walking (wadlopen) are available on most of the islands. Walking, biking, beachcombing and lighthouse tours are staple activities on all of the islands. Given the windy nature of the islands, there are activities for the adrenaline junkies among us, too: blokarten (beach sailing), kite surfing and parasailing will get your heart racing! The best place to find out all about the islands is the VVV website of each island, which are all noted below.
Vlieland is a town as well as the second smallest Dutch Wadden Island. Nearly half of it is covered in sand but what it lacks in size, it makes up for with beautiful nature.
The ferry to Vlieland from the mainland departs from Harlingen (which, in itself, is a lovely Frisian city for shopping and dining*) and takes about 1.5 hours, although there are faster services (sneldienst). Besides the ferry from Harlingen to Vlieland, there is also ferry service (a 30-minute trip in a small covered boat) between Vlieland and Terschelling and vice versa. Tourists are not allowed to bring their cars to Vlieland, but it’s not necessary since the island has good bus service as well as taxis if you don’t care to walk or bike. Mainland parking in Harlingen is close by at Parking lot "Tsjerk Hiddes". You don’t need to reserve parking here (not even in the summer!) and it’s either a quick 10-minute walk to the ferry terminal or you can take their shuttle bus for a minimal p.p. cost. Other parking options abound.
The VVV Vlieland website has a wealth of information on places to stay, where to eat, things to do, and an extensive list of local businesses, from bike rentals to local delis to make your visit to the island enjoyable. Some favorites are listed below.
Things to see and do:
Vlieland has a cozy main street with interesting shops, a movie theater, and two museums. There are organized nature walks, monument tours, and trips to see seals, as well as the popular Vliehors Express off-road tour to what is called the ‘Sahara of the North’. If you hike up to see the lighthouse, don’t forget to stop in at the Kaasbunker (cheese bunker), either for a tour or to purchase some special cheeses made with island ingredients (seaweed cheese is delicious!). The annual Into the Great Wide Open festival, an event that showcases music and visual arts in the middle of the beautiful nature of Vlieland, is held in early September each year.
A trip to Vlieland would not be complete without an 8-km bike ride (one way!) to the Posthuys (which also has rooms to rent). Return on the path through the dunes, near the North Sea beach. Another favorite is the ‘t Badhuys beach restaurant on the North Sea beach. Most restaurants on the island are located in or near the main street, so they are either a refreshing bike ride or short walk away, depending on where you’re staying.
Places to stay:
Hotel DoniaState Vlieland is about halfway between the village and the North Sea.
Badhotel Bruin is a premium hotel on the village’s main street.
Near the Strandhotel Seeduyn side of the island, there are individual houses for rent on the Ankerplaats, near the dunes.
And if you’re the real outdoors type, you can pitch your own tent at Campground Stortemelk but you can also reserve a tent from private owners who set up their very durable tents at the beginning of the season around May and leave them up until about September. Campground guests also get free use of the island’s public swimming pool.
Check the Vlieland VVV website or your favorite hotel booking sites for many other hotel and apartment options.
*Harlingen is a great place to start or end your trip, for example, by staying overnight (Hotel Zeezicht, for one, is well located) before taking the early ferry the next morning to get the most out of your trip to Vlieland. Should you wish to begin or extend your trip like this, a great place for dinner or lunch is fish restaurant De Tjotter. They know how to prepare fish to perfection!
While much larger in size than Vlieland, a large part of Terschelling is a nature reserve but it also offers more to see and do in its 5 main towns and many other small villages. It also boasts a sizable harbor, which is filled to the brim in the summer.
From Harlingen, you can take a 2-hour standard ferry (cars allowed) to Terschelling or a faster direct service (sneldienst), which takes just under an hour. You can also get to Terschelling via Vlieland as a foot or bike passenger, since no cars are allowed on Vlieland.
Things to see and do:
Cranberries are a local specialty (as they are also on Vlieland) and you will find cranberry products for sale around the island. The Oerol Festival, held since 1982, takes place in Terschelling each June and transforms the island into a natural theater for the arts. If you want to know about the various ships that wrecked along the Terschelling shores, then a visit to Wrakkenmuseum Terschelling is in order. Dating from 1594, the Brandaris lighthouse is the oldest lighthouse in the Netherlands and is a must see. For other activities and a plethora of other information about Terschelling, see the VVV Terschelling website.
Places to stay:
These Terschelling hotels come recommended (and the last four have bigger family accommodations):
Hotel / B&B “Altijd Wad”
Paal 8 Hotel aan zee
Stayokay Hostel Terschelling
Westcord Aparthotel Boschrijck
Westcord Hotel Schylge
Like the other Dutch Wadden islands, Ameland has unique and beautiful nature. The Oerd scenic area has dunes that are still expanding each year, and the wide variety of flora attracts over 60 different species of birds. While it has only four villages, Ameland offers a great variety of landscapes and some of the best maintained crushed-shell bike paths of all the Dutch Wadden islands.
Ferry service to and from Ameland departs from and arrives at Holwerd. Cars are allowed on the ferry, and the trip takes about 50 minutes.
Things to see and do:
The four main villages on Ameland are Hollum, Ballum, Nes and Buren. Once you drive off the ferry, you’ll see (right after the Ameland VVV office) the village of Nes. To the west is Ballum and Hollum, with Buren to the east.
Hollum is the most western village and also where the lighthouse is located. It was built in 1880 and it’s 236 steps can be climbed for a great view — you may even see Terschelling! Hollum is also where you can see the impressive demonstration of a horse rescue boat (paardenreddingsboot demonstratie) that recalls Ameland’s long history of saving ships in distress off of its north coast. Ballum has a great cafe (Eetcafe de Boerderij) with a tractor built into the bar. In Nes you’ll find restaurants and cafés and shops housed in old buildings. The Agriculture and Beachcombers Museum (Landbouw en Juttersmuseum Swartwoude) is in Buren. Beach pavilion ‘t Strandhuys offers fantastic front-row seats to the North Sea surf. During the 17th and 18th centuries, whaling was a popular business on Ameland and its remnants can be seen overall — in the whale jawbones forming ports in front of the homes of former sea commanders to the whale sculpture that is part of the Ameland Nature Center (Natuurcentrum Ameland) in Nes. MadNes, a sustainable surf, skate and music festival is held one weekend each summer on the beach of Nes. And, of course, Ameland is a great place to ride horses.
Places to stay:
Westcord Hotel Noordsee is a great place to stay with kids, since they have family apartments and a playground near the back terrace.
Hotel Nobel has a fantastic restaurant and is famous for their Nobeltje liquor.
The smallest inhabited Dutch Wadden Island, Schiermonnikoog is also one of 20 Dutch national parks. There are more than 300 bird species to see throughout the year along with over 500 plant species and 100 different kinds of shells. Schiermonnikoog is also one of the darkest places in the Netherlands so it is one of the best places to see the stars at night.
To get to Schiermonnikoog, take the regular (50-minute) ferry from Lauwersoog or a fast ferry (20 minutes). Schiermonnikoog is a car-free island unless you have permission from Gemeente Schiermonnikoog.
Things to see and do:
Biking is a popular pastime on Schiermonnikoog and, with its small size, is easy for getting to where you need to go. For covered wagon rides around the island, you can go with Harthoorn Huifkarren. If racing along the sand in a blokart is more your thing, you’ll want to check out Thijs’ Vliegerparadijs. Riding a horse on the beach or through the woods is also possible at Florida Stable (Stal Florida). About halfway from the village to beach pavilion De Marlijn you’ll come across Bunker Wassermann, which is now a freely accessible viewing point. Near the beach is also an interesting small museum about the activities of World War II on Schiermonnikoog, Bunkermuseum Schlei.
Beach pavilion De Marlijn may seem far away (it’s the northernmost restaurant location in the Netherlands) but you’ll be rewarded with great (sea)food and views at a funky beach restaurant with stained-glass windows and sunbleached terrace. (They also rent out a 2-person vacation house in the village.)
Places to stay:
Vakantiehuizen Schiermonnikoog has vacation houses to rent. Hotel Graaf Bernstorff is located in the island’s only village and offers hotel and apartment accommodations, plus a café restaurant. Directly across the street is the Hotel Van der Werff, founded in 1726, with its historical wood-clad restaurant. Strandhotel Om de Noord is the northernmost hotel of the Wadden Islands and is near the part of the beach with organized activities.
Check the local VVV Schiermonnikoog website or your favorite hotel booking sites for more accommodation options.