Visiting the Dutch Wadden Islands: Ameland

Visiting the Dutch Wadden Islands: Ameland

A short distance from the northern coast of continental Europe lies a group of islands known as the Wadden Islands. Named for the Wadden Sea (the part of the North Sea located between the mainland and the archipelago), the islands span from from the Netherlands in the west to Denmark in the east.

There are five Dutch Wadden Islands currently inhabited: Texel, Terschelling, Vlieland, Ameland, and Schiermonnikoog (which are referred to collectively as the “Waddeneilanden” in Dutch). Today, we’re going to talk about Ameland — and if you’re not a Dutch speaker, that should make you happy, since it’s probably the easiest one to pronounce. (“AH-meh-lahnd,” in case you’re wondering.)

Real talk: these islands are something special. They’re worlds away from both the circus of Amsterdam and the countryside area of the Netherlands that I call home. In such a densely populated country, it’s quite remarkable to find the kind of space, the kind of stillness, that exists on the Wadden Islands. If you want to “get away,” this is where to do it.

View across a green field of a village clock tower and houses in Hollum, one of Ameland's four small villages

Even in the high season, Ameland won’t really be full of thrills or excitement — it’s the kind of place you go to take it easy, hang out at the beach, and have long lunches in cute (tiny) villages. In other words, it’s the perfect place to do pretty much nothing.

Its small size means it can be covered pretty thoroughly in just a couple of days, making it an ideal choice for an overnight or weekend trip. (Of course, if you want extra lying-around-and-doing-nothing time, you can factor that in as you please.)

Though Dutch is the main language spoken here, you should be able to get away with a bit of English or German while visiting. Additionally, as the Dutch Wadden Islands are part of the province of Friesland, you may also come across some Frisian or “Fries” — an entirely separate language from Dutch, spoken by nearly half a million people in this part of the country.

The Wadden Islands in general are quite a popular getaway spot for the Dutch and their German neighbors during the summer months (May to August), so it’s a good idea to book accommodation in advance if you visit during this time.

Visiting the Dutch Wadden Islands: Ameland

How to get to Ameland

Ameland is accessible from the mainland of the Netherlands by ferry. The ferry departs from the harbor in Holwerd several times per day, and the trip takes about an hour. There are toilets, plenty of seating (both indoor and out), and a wide range of food and drinks available on board. (Note that the different islands have different departure points, so you will not be able to access any of the others from Holwerd — only Ameland.)

Paid parking is available at the harbor; if you’re going to stay on Ameland overnight or longer, you’ll need to park in the long-term area. Visitors to the island are also permitted to bring cars with them on the ferry.

View of the Wadden Sea mudflats from aboard the ferry between Ameland and mainland Netherlands

You can purchase tickets at the harbor, but I personally recommend buying them online in advance. You can do this and/or find more information on the ferry service to Ameland here (available in Dutch, English, and German).

Private water taxis are also available; the bigger your group, the less you’ll pay individually, though it will likely still be more expensive than the ferry.

Getting around the island

As previously stated, visitors are allowed to bring their own cars to the island via ferry. If you aren’t bringing a car, you have a couple of other options for transport on Ameland.

First of, there is a bus service which connects to the different villages and beaches across the island. You can pay for the bus using an OV chip card, if you have one (this is the same card you use for public transport in many places in the Netherlands, including Amsterdam). Otherwise, you can buy tickets on board from the driver.

More info on the bus service can be found here (available in Dutch, English, and German).

Person walking with a bicycle down a dirt path surrounded by grass, trees, and a thatched-roof house on Ameland, the Netherlands

And of course: bicycles! You can bring your own or rent once you arrive; many different models are available, including tandems and plenty of options for kids.

If you’re able and willing to cycle, it’s probably the best way to move around the island. The landscape is fairly flat with only small hills, so it’s not too strenuous — and if you do get tired, there are a million lovely spots to take a break along the way.

Simon and I chose a tandem bicycle for our visit. Now, if you’ve read my blog before, you might be aware of my dislike for cycling; but as it turns out, tandem bicycles are kind of awesome for people that don’t like bicycles. If you’re visiting Ameland with someone else, I highly recommend giving it a try.

What to do on Ameland

Villages

There are four villages on Ameland: Nes, Hollum, Ballum, and Buren.

Nes is the largest of the four (though it’s by no means large, with only 1200 residents). It’s located near the southern coast in the center of the island, and is the closest village to the harbor where the ferry comes in.


The other three are even smaller and quieter; but each one has its own cafes, shops, and accommodation options, as well as a nearby beach.

There are also several museums showcasing the unique natural and cultural history of the Wadden Islands and their surrounding seas — including Ameland’s Nature Center (near Nes), the Sorgdrager Cultural History Museum (near Hollum), and Vuurtoren Bornrif (Bornrif Lighthouse — see more on this one below).

Hiking and Cycling

Just getting from point A to B on Ameland is a big part of the experience. There are 100 kilometers of cycling paths on the island, running through the village centers, past grazing cows and flocks of sheep, and alongside sandy dunes and grassy fields.

There are also several great walking routes that will take you through the best of Ameland’s scenery, ranging from short walks of two or three kilometers to longer ones of 10 to 15.

Visiting the Dutch Wadden Islands: Ameland

Whether walking or cycling, be sure to stick to the paths so as not to disturb the wildlife or landscape too much (especially the dunes). Don’t worry — everything is clearly marked, and the chances of accidentally wandering off course and getting lost are very slim.

Bornrif Lighthouse (Vuurtoren Bornrif)

This red-and-white striped lighthouse is probably Ameland’s most iconic landmark. Built in the late 19th century, it’s located on the western side of the island, near the village of Hollum.

Red and white striped lighthouse on the island of Ameland in the Netherlands

For a €5 entry fee, you can go inside the lighthouse and climb its 236 steps to the top. I didn’t climb it myself (I’d had enough exercise, what with all the cycling), but I imagine the view must be spectacular, covering the whole island and the seas beyond. As you ascend, you can also see various exhibitions on the the lighthouse’s history and its former keepers.

Fun language fact: in Dutch, a lighthouse is called a “vuurtoren,” which translates literally to “fire tower.” (If you ask me, “lighthouse” will forever feel a bit inadequate in comparison.)

Beaches and Dunes

Something you’ll see a lot of on Ameland is sand. A large part of its landscape is made up of beaches and sand dunes.

The highest point on the island is the Oerdblinkert dune, which is 24 meters above sea level (and if that doesn’t sound particularly high, well: welcome to the Netherlands).

Jokes aside, the view from atop the Oerdblinkert ain’t nothing to scoff at — even for people like me, for whom scoffing is a beloved pastime.

View of the Wadden Sea from the Oerdblinkert dune, the highest point on Ameland in the Dutch Wadden Islands

Pathway leading down to the seashore through grass-covered dunes on Ameland

And of course, Ameland has several beautiful beaches, perfect for sitting around with a cappuccino, laying around with a book, or going for a swim.

(Normally I’d make a joke about gray and rainy Dutch weather here, but it’s actually been hot af this summer so far. Most days, I’d give almost anything be closer to the sea!)

Beach near the village of Hollum on Ameland, one of the five islands of the Netherlands

Have you ever visited Ameland or any of the Dutch Wadden Islands? Feel free to share your own experiences or recommendations in the comments below.

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Ameland is one of the five Wadden Islands located off the northern coast of the Netherlands, and it's the perfect place to do...pretty much nothing. Click through to learn more about this idyllic Dutch getaway spot. | #Netherlands

Ameland is one of the five Wadden Islands located off the northern coast of the Netherlands, and it's the perfect place to do...pretty much nothing. Click through to learn more about this idyllic Dutch getaway spot. | #Netherlands

Ameland is one of the five Wadden Islands located off the northern coast of the Netherlands, and it's the perfect place to do...pretty much nothing. Click through to learn more about this idyllic Dutch getaway spot. | #Netherlands

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