West Frisian IslandsNetherlands. The islands separate the North Sea from the shallow Wadden Sea, with tidal mud flats. The uninhabited islands Griend, Rottumerplaat, and Rottumeroog are nature reserves, access requires a permit. Wieringen used to be an island, but has been connected to the mainland, since the reclamation of the Wieringermeerpolder in the 1930s. The islands are part of the transnational Wadden Sea UNESCO World Heritage site.
Today, some 25,000 people permanently live on the West Frisian Islands, or rather the Dutch part or the archipelago, most (around 13,500) on Texel.
The islands can be easily reached by car from Amsterdam.
- For Texel take the highway up north to Den Helder and take the (car) ferry to Texel.
- For Vlieland and Terschelling, same way up north and cross the 'Afsluitdijk' (that separates the Wadden Sea from the IJsselmeer). Then follow the signs 'Harlingen' and 'Ferry'. Note: you can't take your car to Vlieland.
- For Ameland, follow the signs 'Leeuwarden' and from there 'Holwerd' and the ferry signs.
- For Schiermonnikoog from 'Leeuwarden' follow the signs 'Dokkum' and from there 'Lauwersoog' and look for the ferry sign. Note: you can't take your car to Schiermonnikoog.
By public transport
The ferries to the islands can be reached by train and bus.
- For Texel, take the train to Den Helder, then take city bus 33 or walk (about 25 minutes) to the ferry.
- For Vlieland and Terschelling, take the train to Leeuwarden and then the train to Harlingen Haven, which is right next to the ferry.
- For Ameland, take the train to Leeuwarden, then take the bus to Holwerd, where the ferry departs.
- For Schiermonnikoog, take the train to either Leeuwarden or Groningen, then from either city take the bus to Lauwersoog.
Another possibility to visit more Wadden Islands in a short period of time is island hopping on the Dutch Frisian Islands. In a week time you visit at least four out of five islands in an 8-days sailing/cycling trip by authentic sailing ship. Check out: wadfietsen.nl (fietsen is Dutch for cycling).
- The Ecomare natural museum in Koog, Texel doubles as a visitors centre for the Texel Dunes National Park, and houses a seal rescue centre and an aquarium. It's a great daytrip for both adults and children with many activities in high season. There are organized trips into the dunes, seal feeding presentations and lots of expositions to see. The island of Ameland has its own nature museum, the Natuurcentrum Ameland. It's much smaller but has a sea aquarium as well and lots of information about the islands, their nature and sustainment efforts.
- Several of the islands have lighthouses, typically dating back to the 19th century. The Eierland Lighthouse on Texel is of particular interest, as it is open for visitors up to the 6th story. The square shaped Brandaris tower on Terschelling is the oldest lighthouse in the country, built in 1594.
- The island countryside is dotted with charming villages and monumental farms. The many buildings that have a protected monumental status (Terschelling alone has 111 listed properties, are of a picturesque, rural kind. There are no massive town halls or cathedrals, but rather centuries old village houses, parish churches and chapels and many old farms.
Oerol FestivalIn June, the island of Terschelling hosts one of the largest theatre festivals in Europe. The Oerol theatre festival is a cultural happening full of play, music and arts. Some 50.000 visitors come to the island to join the event each year. Stages are set up all over the island: in the dunes, in barns, on the dikes and in the villages, creating a delightful, bustling atmosphere all around.
Texel is in many ways the culinary highlight of the Dutch Wadden islands. It has a Michelin starred restaurant with a focus on regional products an annual culinary festival, and the tourist office even sells a bike route (€1) for self-caterers, with a Wadden island menu and a list of local producers from where you can buy the ingredients.
In terms of local drinks, Texel's own beer brewery in Oudeschild produces its own selection of beers, which you'll find at most cafés or can try at the brewery's tasting room. And then, there Syltsje, a distilled drink of Terschelling, commonly served on the other islands as well.