Islands of the Netherlands: a guide to the Wadden and Frisian Dutch Islands

The Netherlands has small and sometimes uninhabited islands scattered around the country. The Dutch islands border the Wadden Sea and the “Frisian” islands are located on the edge of Friesland. Behind the Dutch islands is a large stretch of semi-solid ground, this area is known as the mudflats.

Before we go exploring, scuba diving, sunbathing, let’s first learn more about the Dutch islands, here’s our guide. For information on some of the many Dutch islands in the Carribean, see part 1 and part 2 of our guide.

Islands of the Netherlands: The Wadden Islands and the Frisian Islands

The Wadden islands make a belt off the bight of mainland Germany and the Netherlands, in an area known as the Wadden Sea. On mainland Germany, the area is known as Friesland, in which they speak Frisian. The Wadden islands encompass the Frisian belt and rest north of the bight, off the coast of Denmark.

The funny thing about these islands? They’re slowly but surely moving geographically from West to East. After unsuccessful attempts to rejoin the Wadden islands to the mainland, over the centuries houses on the west side of the islands were claimed the sea.

Are the Wadden Islands inhabited?

Well, funny you ask, inhabitants have been recorded in parts of the Wadden islands since as early as 800AD. The Roman author, Gaius Plinius Secundus, wrote pitifully about the inhabitants, “there these miserable race inhabits raised pieces of ground or platforms, which they have moored by hand”.

So, what places are there?

Islands of the Netherlands: Texel

Texel, (The Frisian word is phonetically pronounced: “Tessel”), is the most inhabited of all the Wadden / Frisian islands, with up to 14,000 inhabitants. Texel is a well-known Dutch island, tourism is high due to the visually endless beach and its out-of-the-city appeal. We even have a whole guide to Texel if you’re planning a day-trip (you wild-eyed free spirit, you).

The island is essentially the largest physical rampart between the North Sea and the Wadden Sea. One-third of Texel is a protected nature reserve, probably a contributing reason as to why hundreds of thousands of tourists visit the island each year. The island is great for cycling the beaches. Have you ever been caught in that howling wind that’s so fast and so so cold? You’ll find it whipping its way across Texel so be sure to take a wind-breaker.

Image: EvgeniT/Pixabay

Islands of the Netherlands: Vlieland

Between Texel and Terschelling rests Vlieland, with little more than a thousand inhabitants. For a little background on Vlieland, during World War Two it was utilized by the German’s to make up a part of the German Atlantic Wall. The Germans placed two anti-aircraft weapons on Vlieland and had mail delivered on the north side of Vlieland, from Texel. During this time there were more soldiers than locals occupying the island.

Today the inhabitance of Vlieland is less than 2,000 people. What is there to do on Vlieland? For starters try climbing Vlieland’s light-house for the best view on the island. After that? Why not catch an open-air film screening at Podium Vlieland, or go horseback riding before settling into some beach yoga? When visiting the Dutch islands, leisure and a sense of adventure are key.

Islands of the Netherlands: Terschelling

Between Vlieland and Ameland sits Terschelling, a Wadden island. This particular Dutch island has a bloody past, it was raided and burned to the ground by the British. In 1666, the Brits were hell-bent on disrupting Dutch trade routes and narrow the competition in European trade. How would the British overtake the Dutch in global trade dominance? By bombarding them at Terschelling and annihilated 150 Dutch ships.

It was Terschelling that would suffer from all this, the place was raised to the ground in a consuming blaze that would be known as “Holmes’ Bonfire”, after the British general Sir Robert Holmes. One year later the Dutch, led by De Ruyter, retaliated and gave the Brits what for in “The Battle of Chatham”, ending their disputes.

Dutch Islands
Image: jorttheeuwen/Pixabay

Today Terschelling survives off tourism and revitalizing items that wash ashore from the North Sea. Farms and barns are built out of shipwrecked masts (damn, that’s awesome), the island has a bit of agriculture but Terschelling is in many parts, a nature reserve. Terschelling is a beautiful Dutch island with much to offer. What is there to do? Ever driven a landrover on the beach? We didn’t think so, how about visiting a shipwreck museum? If ever there was a great story it began or ended with a shipwreck.

Islands of the Netherlands: Ameland

Ameland is inhabited, a few years ago its population comprised of just 3,500 people, fondly referred to as Amelanders. Hollum, Ballum, Nes, and Buren are the largest villages left on Ameland, there were others but sadly the ocean flooded them.

Ameland was claimed by the Netherlands after a series of its own lordships ruled over Ameland. The Italian and the Dutch of the day didn’t care to overthrow them, eventually, all the “lordships” in Ameland died out.

The Dutch Royal Family wrote Ameland into its constitution, as a part of Friesland, in 1813 when it was conclusively recognized as a part of the Netherlands. More than a century later, in 1940, German troops were shipped out to Ameland, where they took control of the island. The allied forces never engaged in combat with the German troops on Ameland, the island was seen as strategically worthless. This may be the reason that these stranded Nazi troops surrendered a full month after Nazi Germany fell, they were hard to contact or engage.

Dutch Islands
Image:378334 /Pixabay

Today Ameland has an airport, a bus route and is an especially colourful destination. The place is littered with flora and fauna as well as countless varieties of birds. The Dutch islands are great for thrill-seekers and adrenaline junkies, ever tried kite surfing? It’s calling your name from the island of Ameland.

Islands of the Netherlands: Schiermonnikoog

Getting out to Schiermonnikoog is always a great idea. The largest spanning beach in Europe is right here in Schiermonnikoog. What else is there? Mudflat walking (of course) because most of the sandbank is covered in shallow (walkable) waters, seeing the big blue sky reflected off the clear blue waters? Stunning, really really stunning.

Situated between Rottumerplaat and Ameland, Schiermonnikoog is commonly seen as a Dutch national park. It’s a municipality, a Frisian island… It’s also, a national park. Sometime around 1640, the aristocratic (rich as fuck) Stachouwer family bought Schiermonnikoog and for centuries it was their private property. What do you get when you mix native islanders with wealthy aristocrats? It rhymes with “shm-uprising”, that’s right, in the 18th century before the Napoleonic war, the people of Schiermonnikoog revolted against Maria Stachouwer. The Friesland states had to send troops to quell the uprising.

From 1858 to 1893 the private owner of Schiermonnikoog was Dutch poet, John Eric Banck (I know right, poets made money back then? A poet owning an island? These days the only poet even close to owning an island is Jay-Z). Whatever the reason (probably the uprising), the Stachouwer family didn’t want the island anymore, having kept their receipts for the Frisian land-mass, they sold it to Mr. Banck (of The Hague). He improved on the agriculture of the island, planting a hardy species of grass that would last well into the future.

What happened next? At the end of his run, Banck sold the island to a German count, Hartwig Arthur von Bernstorff-Wehningen. Bernstorff-Wehningen died in 1940, his son would go on to inherit the island. The son of the German count, Berthold Wehningen, would be the only thing standing between the Nazis that occupied the island, and its inhabitants. At the end of the Second World War, Schiermonnikoog was confiscated by the Dutch State under Article 3 of the Decree on Enemy Assets.

Mudflats behind the Dutch Islands

There are mudflats located between the Wadden islands and the mainland of Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands. During the first century (more specifically, when the human race was intelligent enough to begin counting the years), the Wadden islands were in trouble. Storms and oceanic surges had left north-Friesland broken up into five smaller islands.

The dunes just south of the Wadden sea played a pivotal role in preserving the unity of North and South Holland. Around 1600 North and South Holland were at risk of being separated, thanks in part to the mudflats behind the Wadden islands, and strategically placed dikes this never happened. The primary function of dikes is to protect the land behind it from flooding, in the 17th-century dikes were of critical importance to preserving the Dutch mainland. Who built the dikes? Monks of the era had a lot to do with it.

mudflat walking in the Netherlands
mudflat walking in the Netherlands. Image: jose1964/Pixabay

As you can see, the Netherlands ain’t just a piece of land sandwiched between Belgium and Germany. If you look further afield there are plenty of islands to explore alongside this beautiful country. 

How many have you been to? Let us know in the comments.

Feature Image: EvgeniT/Pixabay

Jesse Rintoul
Jesse Rintoul
I'm a 24-year-old writer living in Amsterdam, pursuing videography and media. The coffee I am drinking in my profile picture is a black coffee.


  1. I have been to Schirmonikoog only. In 1972 ging ik wadlopen naar Schirmonikoog met 14 andere Amerikanen en een groep Nederlanse jongens ook.


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