Between Den Helder in the Netherlands and Esbjerg in Denmark lies an ecosystem unlike any other in the world. The Wadden Sea is a UNESCO World Heritage Site comprising the largest system of intertidal mud flats in the world. It’s an incredibly diverse region that is ruled by the tides. Roughly 50 islands are dotted throughout the shallow Wadden Sea like a strand of precious pearls. The first of these pearls are the five Dutch Wadden Islands, each with its own charming ambience and character. They have something to offer for everyone, whether it’s a beach trip with the family, an active holiday or to enjoy the unique nature. Five islands, five unforgettable experiences!
With their wide open spaces and relaxing atmosphere, the Wadden Islands are the perfect place to get away from it all. They offer expansive beaches and inviting beach pavilions for a wonderful family holiday. Those looking for something a bit more active will enjoy cycling and walking in the many nature reserves with their remarkable flora and fauna. The five Wadden Islands all have their own personality and charm. Why not visit more than one? Because they are so close to each other, island hopping is also a great option!
The combination of shallow water, which warms up relatively quickly, and the tides ensures that the Wadden Sea is rich in plankton and seaweed. This means that it is teeming with countless fish and bird species and even seals. The Wadden Sea is one of the most important areas for migratory birds in the world and is therefore the perfect environment for a bit of bird watching. Nature lovers will also enjoy the many unique animals and plants. Want to know more about these Wadden Islands? Join us on an island-hopping journey from left to right and we’ll tell you all about them.
Texel: a sandy beach paradise
The largest Wadden Island of the Netherlands, Texel boasts about 30 kilometres of sandy beaches. It’s a true paradise for those who love beach holidays and has plenty more to offer, such as traditional villages and unique nature. The seven villages on Texel are known for having their own charming character and appearance. Take Den Burg for instance. It’s the unofficial capital and largest village on Texel, with various attractions and loads to see and do.
There is also De Koog, known as the premier seaside resort and centre of tourism on Texel. The only thing separating the village from the sea is a line of beautiful rolling dunes. The beach and the nearby wooded area are popular with tourists and dotted with hotels and campgrounds. And of course, don’t forget De Cocksdorp, the youngest village on Texel. It’s home to the most well-known symbol of the island, the red lighthouse.
Apart from the villages, there is plenty of unique nature on Texel. De Slufter nature reserve is a salt marsh region full of purple flowering sea lavender and nesting birds. The De Muy nature reserve is a dune region with wild orchids and a diverse landscape, and De Geul is a valley amongst the dunes that is home to the largest colony of spoonbills in the Netherlands. Or why not visit Ecomare? This aquarium and sanctuary for seals and birds offers a great day out, where you can learn everything about the Wadden Sea, the North Sea, the origins of the island of Texel and the National Park Dunes of Texel.
Vlieland: no cars allowed
Vlieland lies furthest from the mainland and is the smallest inhabited island of the Dutch Wadden Islands. It has only one (very quiet) village called Oost-Vlieland, located along the sea. Vlieland is known for its green-covered dunes, long beaches, forests and clean, clear seawater. An added bonus for those seeking real peace and quiet is the fact that no cars are allowed on Vlieland. With no cars and plenty of gorgeous nature to explore, it’s a great place for a bicycle ride. Vlieland may be modest in size, but its 12-kilometre-long beach certainly punches above its weight. It’s a delight to visit in any season.
Terschelling: cranberry island
Terschelling is the second-largest Wadden island. For those interested in lighthouses, one well-known sight on the island is the 55-metre-high Brandaris, the oldest lighthouse in the Netherlands (1594). Terschelling has 30 kilometres of beaches that are a kilometre wide in many places. You’ll feel the island vibes the minute you set foot on Terschelling.
Besides the famous Brandaris lighthouse, Terschelling is known for its cranberries. These tart and tasty berries were first discovered on the island in 1868 by Franciscus Holkema, the son of a Frisian pastor. The story goes that a barrel of American cranberries was blown off a ship during a storm and washed ashore in 1845. Because the beachcomber that found the barrel had no use for the berries, he left it behind in the dunes. The cranberry shrubs have since spread all over the island and the jams and liquors made from the berries are popular local products. Finally, between low and high tides, you can enjoy the amazing experience of walking on mud flats. You’ll be surprised at how many animals live in and on this unique environment.
Ameland: the diamond of the Wadden
Ameland is known as ‘the diamond of the Wadden’ and won the Quality Coast Award in 2009. It is home to some beautiful nature reserves such as De Hôn and Het Oerd. The De Hôn is a vegetated dune region with high dunes and marshy dune valleys. The dunes offer a spectacular view of the salt marshes, where many birds rest during high tide. The nature reserve is still changing, with new dunes still being formed and the salt marsh expanding. The pride of the nature reserve is the spoonbill colony which has been a permanent resident of the area since 1994. Short-eared owls also breed there and, at the end of the summer, the area is carpeted in a gorgeous shade of purple thanks to the sea lavender. With high dunes and dune valleys, Het Oerd is the largest nature reserve on Ameland. It’s home to thousands of birds, such as herring gulls, curlews, wheatears, avocets and common terns.
Schiermonnikoog: the ultimate island feeling
Like Vlieland, Schiermonnikoog is a small island but it has a little bit more landmass. This Wadden Island only has one village, also called Schiermonnikoog. Het Rif is the widest sandbank of the Wadden Sea and is actually over 1.5 kilometres wide in some places. If you want to be a bit closer to the water, there are other, narrower beaches available.
Schiermonnikoog has plenty to offer for nature lovers. There are forests, dunes, polders, a salt marsh, tidal flats and a few small lakes. Because of the diversity of its landscape, Schiermonnikoog was declared a National Park in 1989. Numerous birds feel at home in this varied, protected environment, and you can encounter about 300 different bird species throughout the year. The island is also home to hundreds of different types of plants, including nine species of wild orchids. There is also plenty to do around the island. For example, you can join a seal-spotting tour on a boat and walk on the sandbanks.
How to get to the Wadden Islands
The Wadden Islands are easily accessible by public transport and the well-organised ferry services. Texel, the largest island, can be reached directly by ferry from Den Helder.
Whichever islands you visit, the best way to explore these gems of the Wadden Sea is on foot or by bike. You can bring your own bike with you on the ferry or rent one once you reach your destination.
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