All you need to know about visiting the Frisian Islands

Islands fascinate me. Especially offshore islands that are a just a short ferry hop away from the mainland. The Frisian or Wadden Islands or even West Frisian Islands hover over the top of the Netherlands like a string of pearls just waiting to be explored. Add in that they are a UNESCO listed heritage site. When we were planning our Dutch holiday, visiting the Frisian Islands was at the top of the list.

Which Frisian Island to visit?

First of all, let me make it clear that we are talking about the West Frisian Islands (but you knew that, as the East Frisian Islands are German), there are fourteen of them all together but only five are big enough to visit.

Harlingen Terschelling Ferry


Texel, pronounced Tessel, is the most westerly of the islands. Unlike the other four it can only be reached either from one of the other islands or from North Holland. You can catch car and passenger ferries from Den Helder, a few miles to the west of the Afsluitdijk, the ferries depart hourly on the half hour and the journey takes 20 minutes. Texel is 25 km long and 9 km wide, a perfect size for cycling round, bike hire is available as you step off the ferry. If you fancy a spot of island hopping then from May to September you can catch the ferry to Vlieland, the next island along, from the northern tip of Texel at De Cocksdorp. The ferries run twice a day and take about an hour.

Frisian Island bird


Vlieland is the Frisian Island furthest away from the coast. Cycling is the way to go on Vlieland as cars are not allowed. The island may be tiny but it has the most enormous sandy beach stretching for 12 km. The tide goes out a long way too, perfect for shrimping. Three ferries serve Vlieland in the summer and you can island hop from Texel and Terschelling but in the winter your only option is to sail from Harlingen. The crossing from Harlingen takes 1hr 45mins although for a little extra you can take the fast hydrofoil that knocks an hour off the journey.

Frisian island ferry


Terschelling is the biggest of the islands. Whether you catch the ferry from tiny Vlieland or from the Harlingen on the mainland, you arrive at the bustling port of West Terschelling where you will find many cycle hire shops and lots of rather smart cafes. Head away from the port and you are soon in pine woods that back vast dunes and huge beaches. All the Frisian Islands have wide sandy beaches facing the North Sea and seemingly endless mudflats on the Wadden Sea side. Those mudflats are home to thousands of seabirds perfect for bird watchers. The ferry from Harlingen takes about 1hr 45mins and there is also a fast hydrofoil that knocks an hour off the journey.


Ameland is tiny but very, very popular. In the winter the island is home to 3,000 people but on a summer weekend 35,000 people may visit. Thankfully it has the most enormous beach for all those people to play on; head to the eastern end of the island for the least crowds. In the summer, up to fourteen ferries a day run between Ameland and Holwerd on the mainland, the journey takes about three quarters of an hour.


Most easterly and tiniest of the accessible islands. This is island to visit if you want wild and remote, cars are not allowed so its hiking or cycling to get around. Ferries leave from Dokkum and take about an hour and a half.

sandy beach holland


Before our visit we studied the maps and timetables and decided that a day trip to Vlieland would be perfect for us: small, remote and accessible from Harlingen which was the nearest port. Unfortunately we got caught up in roadworks and missed the morning ferry. After a brief period of teeth gnashing, we changed plans and bought tickets to Terschelling instead. We opted (well we took what was available) for a slow boat out and fast catamaran back as foot passengers. The car spent the day in the car park right next door to the ferry terminal. It was a lovely day and so we spent the crossing sat on deck soaking up the sun as the ferry made its way across the Wadden Sea.

Once we arrived at West Terschelling the first decision was which cycle hire company, of the many lining the port, to use. We chose Fietsverhurr Zeelen, for no better reason than they had a bright yellow sign and yellow is my favourite colour; the bikes were fine. Mr CW and I had taken a decision that we would not take cycle helmets with us on the ferry. We cycled quite a lot whilst we were in the Netherlands and were always the only ones wearing helmets, we reckoned that the chances of leaving the helmets on a beach was high and the fact that we would be on cycle paths lowered the risk. As we set off the teens asked for the helmets and were shocked that we had left them behind. It was only then that it dawned on us that they have never been on a bike without a helmet and view them as I view seatbelts in cars!

Cycle path Frisian Island

Off we pedalled along a cycle path that meandered through pine woods at the back of huge dunes. Once every so often there was a gap for access onto the most enormous perfectly sandy beach. Every beach that we visited in the Netherlands, no matter how remote, had a beach cafe that was shielded from any possible winds by big glazed panels meaning that either a full lunch or a quick cup of coffee was always on offer. After a leisurely lunch we made our way back to West Terschelling to return the bikes and have an ice-cream before catching the catamaran back. As we watched the island retreat I wished that we had factored in a longer stay …. maybe next time.


The Wadden Sea is not just any old stretch of water it is the largest unbroken system of intertidal sand and mudflats in the world. So important is it that it is a UNESCO world heritage site. I grew up in East Anglia that has its fair share of mudflats and I confess that I find them very beautiful. The sea is very shallow meaning that at low tide glistening mudflats stretch as far as the eye can see. Salt marshes fringe the coast and are home to plants that don’t object to being inundated by saltwater twice a day. Birds skim over the water or wade in the mud. The colours of the sky are reflected in the glistening mud at low tide, glowering on a dark day and sparkling a sunny one. Sailing across the Wadden Sea to visit the Frisian or Wadden Islands is a treat.

Wadden Sea


Ferry not good enough for you? Then how about a spot of Wadlopen? What is Wadlopen? Roughly translated it means mudflat walking. At low tide it is possible to wade across the mudflats to either Ameland or Scheimonikoog. This should not be attempted without a proper guide, the right course needs to be taken to avoid being trapped by the mud or caught by the returning tide. Timing of Wadlopen is dependent on the tides but is usually between 6am and 10am.

What to wear for Wadlopen? Shorts or a swim suit, a fleece, windproof jacket, knee-high socks and high top trainers (that will be very very very muddy at the end of the trip) and don’t forget to pack a complete change of clothes in a light rucksack. One thing that you should definitely not wear is jeans. We left it to late to book Wadlopen but it sounds like a brilliant thing to do, but maybe that’s what comes of having spent many happy childhood hours playing on mudflats.

Our exploration of the Netherlands took us to many delightful places. Leeuwarden makes a good place to stay if you are just visiting the Frisian Islands for one day. Our journey to Friesland took us across the Afsluitdijk, we stayed in a castle complete with moat and ended our journey in Amsterdam without our hotel breaking the bank




  1. February 8, 2018 / 9:59 am

    Well I’ve never thought of holidaying here … but it all sounds so enticing now 😀

    • February 8, 2018 / 10:10 am

      It was peaceful and perfect. Suspect it would be otherworldly, in a good way, in the winter.

  2. February 9, 2018 / 3:38 pm

    And I thought Norfolk was flat! We’d be right at home 🙂

    • February 9, 2018 / 3:39 pm

      Friesland reminded me of Norfolk a lot, maybe that’s why I liked it so much!

  3. February 15, 2018 / 2:31 pm

    Oh I like the sound of island hopping along the Netherlands and islands where cars are not allowed! I’d rather take a bike and ride around! #FarawayFiles

    • February 15, 2018 / 9:27 pm

      They are beautiful other worldly places, perfect for push bikes

  4. February 15, 2018 / 8:29 pm

    That looks like such a lovely peaceful place to go cycling. I know what you mean about bike hats, my kids point out people without them in wonder! #FarawayFiles

    • February 15, 2018 / 9:27 pm

      I know, we felt very naughty having not bought them with us!

  5. February 15, 2018 / 8:31 pm

    I’ve heard of the islands, but never considered going, or know anything about them besides the name. Nic to get some insight! #farawayfiles

    • February 15, 2018 / 9:28 pm

      If you like long sandy beaches they are for you!

  6. February 16, 2018 / 11:54 am

    I had no idea the Netherlands had such beautiful beaches! Looks like a great place for a weekend getaway! #FarawayFiles

    • February 16, 2018 / 12:48 pm

      Every beach we visited in the Netherlands was stunning

  7. February 17, 2018 / 4:24 am

    Love the idea of island hopping! I really didn’t know much about this area until reading this post. Looks adventurous, beautiful and fun! #farawayfiles

    • February 17, 2018 / 3:38 pm

      They were perfect everything an island should be!

  8. nomadepicureans
    February 17, 2018 / 1:12 pm

    These look pretty cool 🙂 Love reading about lesser known Dutch areas.

    • February 17, 2018 / 3:38 pm

      We had an excellent family holiday exploring the Netherlands

  9. February 17, 2018 / 3:38 pm

    Any kind of island hopping is fantastic ❤ I need to write these down, they’re all SUPER hard to pronounce:D Pinned it for later!

    • February 17, 2018 / 4:51 pm

      Reaaly tricky to pronounce!

  10. February 19, 2018 / 12:26 pm

    Fab post! I love islands too. It’s the feeling of being cut off by water, that you’re in your own secret world. In Scotland we have a huge choice on the west coast. I’m looking forward to seeing some of them now I’ve been ‘repatriated’ from London.

    Meanwhile, if you hop onto my blog there’s a post on La Gomera. Which as you no doubt know is one of the Canaries. We took a day trip there from Tenerife when we were there recently.

    • February 19, 2018 / 9:18 pm

      La Gomera has been on my list for a long time, an island off an island … even better!

  11. Clare Thomson
    February 19, 2018 / 3:34 pm

    I’m an island lover too. These sound so delightful though that I’d like to linger for a few days in order to explore them at a slower pace. Great to find out more about them on #FarawayFiles

    • February 19, 2018 / 9:15 pm

      I want to go back for a longer stay

  12. Trish @ Mum's Gone To
    February 19, 2018 / 8:35 pm

    Well this is an eye-opener. I’ve learned such a lot from this post. I love the idea of the islands being the European Capital of Culture too.
    I fancy a spot of Wadlopen – do you think I could do that in the mudflats of The Wash?

    • February 19, 2018 / 9:15 pm

      I was reminded of The Wash and so I’m sure you could!

  13. February 19, 2018 / 9:29 pm

    We’ve never been to any of the Frisian islands – Dutch nor German. Mrs Daisy the bus is a big fan of wide sandy beaches, so a spot of island hopping in sunny weather would surely be a delightful mini-adventure. Thanks for the inspiration! #FarawayFiles

    • February 19, 2018 / 9:34 pm

      Similar to your doomed Danish lighthouse!

  14. February 19, 2018 / 10:58 pm

    Oh I bet this is such an adventure, I loved Germany when I visited so would love to explore these Islands x

    • February 19, 2018 / 11:03 pm

      Islands always seem adventurous!

  15. March 5, 2018 / 10:41 am

    I would love to do this trip! The mainland of the Netherlands is amazing, but I haven’t visited any of the islands.

    • March 5, 2018 / 2:11 pm

      Even better this year with European Capital of Culture

  16. March 5, 2018 / 11:21 am

    Oh wow I so want to visit these Islands they all look so unique and I love the idea of an Island without cars and walking from one Island to another, thanks so much for linking up #MondayEscapes x

    • March 5, 2018 / 2:11 pm

      You would be sooooo muddy after having walked to one of the islands!

  17. March 6, 2018 / 2:28 pm

    I love the idea of visiting the smaller islands, especially the ones without cars. That’s not something I’ve experienced before. Great guide to everything the Frisian Islands have to offer! #MondayEscapes

  18. Ruth Holt
    September 15, 2018 / 9:20 pm

    I’m in the UK and didn’t even know these islands existed. A cycling holiday for the future!

    • September 15, 2018 / 9:23 pm

      Definitely! They are very special places

  19. August 8, 2019 / 8:44 pm

    We love Vlieland! Lucky us – we now live in The Netherlands so got to holiday there this summer and a long weekend in December – but our family lived in North Norfolk for two years when we moved away from the USA. Just read you grew up in East Anglia!! We miss the big wide open North Norfolk skies and so much about the area! It will always have a place in our hearts!

    • August 8, 2019 / 10:01 pm

      Heading for the big skies next week!

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