(Editor’s note: Terschelling is the next stop for our Staycation series as the pandemic limits travel in some European countries. You can see other staycation posts here. All photos are by Jackie Harding.)
Staycations offer us a great opportunity to explore the countries we are living in and I am no exception, despite my propensity for travel. (See Jackie’s extensive Dispatches travel archive here.) After living in the Netherlands for 10 years, I finally made the trip north to Friesland and the island of Terschelling.
Terschelling is one of the five inhabited Dutch West Frisian or Wadden Islands (from west to east: Texel, Vlieland, Terschelling, Ameland and Schiermonnikoog). Terschelling is just one of a chain of barrier islands that stretches from the Netherlands along the German north coast to the west of Denmark. The island is the second largest of the Wadden Islands at 604 square kilometres and has 30 kilometers of beach and more than 70 kilometers of cycling and walking trails. The main village and ferry port is West Terschelling, but there are a few smaller towns.
The year-round population triples during the summer, so a fall or winter visit is recommended if you are looking for peace and quiet. According to the island VVV tourism website, the island enjoys 20-percent more sunshine than the rest of the Netherlands, so that’s a bonus!
Things To Do
Hiking and Biking
With 30 kilometers of beaches and more than 70 kilometers of cycle paths, you are spoiled for choice on the island. Whether it is cycling or hiking along the Waddendijk or through the restful inland forests, along the North Sea coast, salt marshes, Noordsvaader or the Boschplaat nature reservation. You can also take a “fat bike” (thick, wide tires) 3-hour tour on the beaches, with a local tour guide who will fill your tour with local stories and information. Good level of fitness required!
This large area in the east of the island has been a reservation since 1970 and boasts immense sand dunes, rare plants and a surfeit of sea birds. The beaches provide solitary wanders, with the sea and birdlife the only sounds you hear.
The “Drenkelingenhuisje” is a beach house on stilts that used to provide shelter to anyone shipwrecked. If you are lucky you will see some seals sunbathing on the sand. As it is so remote it is also a “Dark Sky” park, providing pristine skies to stare in wonder at the stars.
You can also take a covered wagon tour of 2.5 hours whilst the coachmen islanders tell you the history of the island.
There are several options for those who have always wanted to gallop or trot through the surf on an empty beach. Advanced or beginner, these can be booked through West Terschelling VVV.
Sand Yachting on the long beaches on the island is possible with lessons. You can ride around a course or explore the empty beaches. Surfing lessons are available as are kite surfing and paddle boarding lessons.
If you fancy living the life of a sailor, the 125-year-old clipper Willem Jacob provides a cruise experience where you can join in or just sit back and look for seals.
De Toekomst is an old Dutch “koff” design from the 18th and 19th century and, if they have at least 12 passengers who are prepared to work hard, they will hoist the sails with your help.
The entire northern coast of the island is a beach, the Noordzeestrand. As the island is only four kilometers wide, you are never far from the beach … and the beach is 30 kilometers long! Scattered along the beach you find some wonderful beach cafes, strandpaviljoen, offering food and refreshing cold drinks to round off your hopefully sun-kissed day.
The island’s largest village of West Terschelling is an attractive place to wander around, with its 400-year-old lighthouse, De Brandaris, dominating its centre. Around the centre you can find a good selection of stores and restaurants, and the marina provides some attractive boats to admire. The
highest point of the island is behind the village, and at 31 meters above sea level, it provides some lovely views of the village and the nearby beach.
On the beach you will find a charming café called De Walvis, where you can sit, relax and enjoy the vast expanse of beach.
• The Natuurmuseum & Zeeaquarium in West Terschelling offer a fun afternoon for you and the kids if the weather isn’t so great!
• Wrakmuseum de Boerderij (Wreck Museum) is a museum filled with objects from local shipwrecks around the island by diver Hille van Dieren. The objects range from ancient cannons and a prow of an English submarine to numerous bottles containing messages that have washed up on the beaches.
• The Tiger Bunker Museum. The Nazis built more than 85 bunkers on the island from which to watch and attack Allied planes during World War II. You can visit four of the bunkers, but the guided tour is not in English.
This is the second largest village and is apparently popular with the younger crowd, so you can find nightlife and entertainment here. We found a wonderful café called Pura Vida, which had a delicious international menu.
Cranberries are not native to the island but were washed ashore from a passing ship in the 1800’s and propagated themselves. At first, the locals ignored these unknown berries but once recognized, they harvested them just for the island population.
Now they are the only cash crop on the island and the crop is made into jams, juices, wines, vinegars, etc. for tourists to purchase.
There are a couple of cranberry stores on the island. One example is the Cranberry Winkel at Formerum and an antique cranberry barn, once used for the harvest, which is now a café, store and museum, the Bessenschuur near West aan Zee.
Terschelling is a little island paradise, situated right on the Dutch coastline, so no flights necessary, with a promise of fresh salty air, long, empty beaches and a chance to leave all your stresses behind.
To get to the island requires a ferry trip, whether it be on the slower car/bicycle ferry, which takes 1 hour 45 minutes, or the high-speed passenger-only catamaran, which take 45 minutes. These all leave from Harlingen and here are the schedules.
We took our motorcycle but if you take your bicycle (the ferry will transport your luggage) or rent one whilst there, that is really all you need.
There are a surfeit of hotels, B&B’s, vacation rentals, caravan and camping sites on the island. We stayed at the comfortable Hotel Bornholm, just outside West Terschelling. All activities mentioned and more can be found at the Terschelling Tourist Information store at the harbor or here on the website.
(Author’s note: The availability of all activities is dependent on local coronavirus measures.)
About the author:
Photographer/Writer Jackie Harding was born in the United Kingdom. As a longtime expat, she’s lived in Boston for 12 years and in the Netherlands for the past ten years.
Trained as a nurse in the U.K., she worked for nine years in the United States as a special education teacher’s assistant. Since moving to the Netherlands, she has discovered writing and photography.
Contributing to Dispatches since 2016, Jackie has written about her travels around Europe as well as about expat life and issues.
She also covered the Women’s March Amsterdam.
She’s married to British businessman Martin Harding and is the mother of two international adult children.