The Dutch island of Terschelling.
The second largest of the West Frisian Islands, also known as the Wadden islands. However you call it, Terschelling is a beautiful place with a distinctive island atmosphere all its own.
Reaching Terschelling involves taking a ferry from the pretty port town of Harlingen. The crossing takes two hours and watching the Dutch mainland get smaller as you sail into open waters makes the journey to Terschelling feel like a real escape.
Escape made, what will you find? Well, coastline, history and cranberries.
The Beaches & Coastline of Terschelling
Do you remember the song about being fond of sand dunes and salty air? I do, and I am. You too? Oh, this could be the place for you then.
The wind whipping in off the sea means you may get the salty air in abundance, like it or not. On the plus side this makes the island great for kite flying, wind surfing and kite buggying.
Terschelling being an island, is ringed by coastline. And what a coastline it is. The North with its 30km of sandy beach is the place for traditional beach pursuits. Beach combing, sandcastles building, sunbathing and long sandy walks.
By contrast the South coast is wilder. This is where the island meets the Wadden sea, creating a unique environment home to seabirds and seals.
The real history of Terschelling is told through the people. Resilient, resourceful islanders who learned to live between the land and the sea. For an insight into the history of island life, I’d recommend the following:
The Brandaris Lighthouse: A Terschelling landmark, the 55m high lighthouse is the oldest in the Netherlands. Can only be viewed from the outside as it is still in use.
The Wreck Museum: Terschelling is known for holding an extraordinary number of wrecks within its waters- 150 or so at the last count- so it’s the perfect place for a wreck museum. The exhibits range from the intriguing to the absurd and are housed in an old farmhouse. Not a conventional museum, but not one to miss.
The Terschelling Bunker Museum: From April to October, it is possible to visit four WW2 bunkers. This can be combined with walking the Bunker Route, a sign posted walk that takes in forest and dune before ending at the Bunker Museum in West-Terschelling.
Terschelling and Cranberries
You won’t go far without coming across something cranberry on this island. Jams, juices, cakes and a sign that famously declares,’ Cranberries. Good for pissing!’. Can’t really argue with that, can you?
Cranberries are part of the island identity now, but it all started by accident. The story goes that back in the 1800s a couple of barrels of the berries washed ashore. The islanders opened the barrels in hope of something of interest. Finding only berries, they flung them in disgust into the dunes. The berries grew and a whole industry grew from them.
To try an island speciality at a unique Terschelling location, head to Koffiehuis de Koffiemolen. A charming place, this cafe housed in an old mill is a glimpse into the past. Tables made of old mill machinery, vintage signage on the walls and lots of images of the mill through the ages.
Along with tea and coffee, the mill is famous for serving up the traditional cream topped cranberry tarts alongside a range of other cranberry themed treats including cheesecake and ice cream.
As well as being a being place to sample true Terschelling tradition and hospitality, the mill is a social place. The open plan seating creates a communal and neighbourly atmosphere, encouraged by the friendly owners. Expect to end up chatting to your fellow diners.
That’s no problem though, the pace here is relaxed. Terschelling is an island where plenty is possible, but nothing is pressing. A real Dutch island escape.
This post originally published in 2017. Updated and reposted 2023.
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So interesting. I’d never given a thought to there being islands off the Dutch coast – and so cute.
It really is a lovely place, we only heard about Terschelling through word of mouth. I glad we made the effort to visit though. Thank you for stopping by and reading.
Thanks for the interesting info, Helen. That part of the Netherlands, West Frisia in general, is/was one of my favourite parts of that country. I used to sail there a lot.
That sounds amazing. I’d love to back and explore some more, the islands and the port of Harlingen. Not sure I have sea legs for sailing though!
This sounds our kind of place. Thanks for a relaxing and enticing visit.