Unknown to many is the fact that there are 11 Dutch islands in the Netherlands. However, they are often overshadowed by the country’s more popular attractions, namely Amsterdam, tulips, canals, and windmills.
The Dutch islands you should consider visiting are the Wadden Islands (made up of Texel, Terschelling, Vlieland, Ameland and Shiermonnikoog) and those located in the Caribbean (Aruba, Curacao, Saba, Bonaire, Sint Eustatius and Sint Maarten) for a total of eleven. Taking a closer look at these islands will make you fall in love with the Netherlands more.
There are also uninhabited islands (Griend, Rottumerplaat, Rottumeroog, Simonszand, Engelsmansplaat, Het Rif and Zuiderduintjes), most of which are known to cradle several bird and plant species.
Here is the list of Netherlands islands to visit.
The Wadden Islands
Many consider this group of islands as one of the best-kept secrets of the Netherlands. The Wadden Islands are very popular amongst Dutch and German holidaymakers and adventure-seekers. Tourists from the rest of Europe and the world are yet to discover them and see their natural allure. They are practically accessible only in summer, so they are less popular than the Caribbean Islands.
The Wadden group of islands is found in the Wadden Sea, a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its uniqueness. According to UNESCO, “The Wadden Sea is the largest unbroken system of intertidal sand and mudflats in the world.”
This means the Wadden Sea is relatively flat and calm, extending from Denmark and Germany to The Netherlands, and consisting mainly of mudflats, sandbanks, mussel beds and dunes. This is the ideal home of mammals like seals and porpoises and the perfect breeding ground for millions of birds.
Texel is the Wadden Islands’ largest and most famous island, with 24 km of pristine beaches. It is the only island located within the province of North Holland that has more sheep than people. Visitors who come here enjoy the tranquillity and breathtaking bicycle ride around the island, stopping at one of the seven villages to eat, relax or meet the locals. There are over 300 kilometres of cycling and hiking paths here. Windsurfers also love coming here.
Texel is probably one of the most popular islands because it’s the largest island and easiest to reach from the mainland. You simply take a ferry to Texel from Den Helder (North Holland) for a picturesque 20 to 30-minute boat ride, making traveling to the island straightforward. Several ferries make their way to Texel, especially during peak seasons. There could be a long queue during weekends as so many Dutch people enjoy crossing the sea to spend their weekend at Texel.
Terschelling is the second-largest island and very popular amongst the Dutch looking for a great time over the weekend or for a holiday. People love coming here to see the nature parks, dunes, wetlands and forests, as well as Formerum, the island’s historic windmill and perhaps most unique landmark. Dating back to 1836, Formerum used to be a wheat and flour mill.
Terschelling has around 20,000 tourist beds, which get occupied during the annual 10-day Oerol festival in June. This is one of the Netherlands’ most popular cultural festivals, attracting many visitors to the art, music, and theatre performances across the island. It’s the place to be in June.
Terschelling is easy to reach. Simply take a ferry from the city of Harlingen in Friesland and enjoy the ride for an hour and 45 minutes. Upon arrival, head west from the main town centre to experience untamed nature and long white beaches.
Vlieland is a small island next to Texel, only 90 minutes by ferry from Harlingen in Friesland. With the promise of 20% more sunny days than the mainland, Vlieland is a delightfully peaceful island with an extensive network of cycle paths. It is the smallest island of all Wadden Islands, with a population of only over a thousand. Tourism is their main and most important source of income.
Before the early 17th century, no one lived in Vlieland. Then, during the heydays of the Dutch Eastern Company, the sea street between Vlieland and the Dutch mainland became an essential connection for the Dutch maritime company. It was around this time when a few people decided to begin inhabiting the island.
Two-wheeling is the only way to move around the island. Cars are not allowed in Vlieland, except for a few that are owned by some government organisations in charge of the parks. The island is relatively small, and everything is easy to reach.
Ameland is a small island with around 3,500 people living in four villages, amongst 60 types of birds and abundant flora species. Located between Terschelling and Schiermonnikoog, Ameland is the perfect getaway island for kite-flying windsurfing, cycling, and hiking. During low tide, people explore the mudflats of the Wadden Sea through a popular summer activity called mud walking or “wadlopen” in Dutch.
Also referred by patrons as “horizontal alpinism”, mud walking takes adventurous tourists across miles of the mire and thigh-deep brown mud along the seabed so see the birds, fish and plants, as well as a group of seals resting or a jellyfish draped on the sand. Mud walking is growing in popularity but is definitely not for the fainthearted.
To reach Ameland, take a ferry from the Frisian village Holwerd. The ferries leave at least seven times a day throughout the year and 12 times during the holiday season.
Schiermonnikoog is a national park and one of the most famous of the Wadden Islands regarding biodiversity. Many of the Dutch believe that Schiermonnikoog is the prettiest place in the Netherlands. It is also one of the quietest amongst the five islands, with only 1,000 inhabitants on a land surface of 44 square kilometres.
To visit this charming island, take a ferry from the Frisian village Lauwersoog. Cars are also not allowed on the island, making it the perfect place to ride your bicycle. There are electric buses for public commute between the ferry and villages.
Caribbean Dutch islands
The more popular islands are those located in the Caribbean, three of which have their own government and considered a country within the Kingdom of the Netherlands.
Aruba is a popular holiday destination for many foreign tourists, mostly Americans. They love Aruba’s white sandy beaches, tropical climate and blue seas, making it the perfect holiday destination for many people. The island is always warm, with almost zero rainfall.
Aruba is actually a country, with Oranjestad city as its capital. This island nation is almost as large as Wadden Island Texel. Papiamento is the most spoken and written language on the island, with only 6% speaking Dutch as their first language. The people are very hospitable and friendly.
This island is also a country within the Kingdom of The Netherlands, often referred to as “tropical Netherlands”, but it is nothing like the mainland when it comes to weather and culture, although 75% of the population is Dutch.
With Willemstad as its capital, Curacao boasts national parks, perfect diving spots, azure blue seas, white sandy beaches, a thriving nightlife, many cultural sites, and many festivals, including the North Sea Jazz Curacao Festival.
The tiny island of Saba is also a country with only 13 square kilometres of land. The island is essentially the top of a giant volcano and it is popular for its unspoilt nature and the Saba Marine Park, which consists of a diving site with beautiful coral reefs, turtles and sharks.
Bonaire is well-known worldwide for its biodiversity, amazing diving spots and majestic underwater life, with unique colourful reefs and many fish. It was the first Caribbean island with a national park. Like Aruba, American tourists love Bonaire, and it helps that direct flights are leaving from Houston, Miami, Atlanta, and even Toronto.
Sint Esutatius is another island in the Caribbean sitting on a dormant volcano. Locally known as Statia, this is one of the greenest Dutch islands in this part of the world and very popular amongst hikers, divers and nature lovers.
These 11 unique and thriving Dutch islands to visit are proof that the Netherlands is more than meets the eye. Not many international travellers realise that there are parts of Holland that are sunny, sandy and tropical.
But wait, there’s more. The Netherlands also boasts of uninhabited wonders in the Wadden Sea. For instance, the uninhabited island of Griend, which used to be the home of monks who lived in a walled monastery in the Middle Ages, is now known to cradle the largest colony of Sandwich terns.
Also, the tiny Rottumerplaat island is home to numerous bird species, while Zuiderduintjes provides sanctuary to birds and seals but is inaccessible to humans. You may visit some of the Netherlands’ uninhabited islands through guided tours.
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