PERFECT FOR: Nature lovers
WHY: Walk on the bottom of the North Sea coast on a guided mud-walking, or wadlopen (meaning “mudflat-hopping”), tour. Summer is prime time for mud-walking in the Netherlands’s portion of the Danish-Dutch-German Wadden Sea World Heritage site. “To really understand and experience the Wadden Sea, visiting guests need to step out of their comfort zone, put on rubber boots, and step in the fascinating world of thick mud and strange smells,” says Bart Sikkema, a mud-walking guide at Schiermonnikoog National Park, which covers most of the island of Schiermonnikoog, the smallest of the inhabited West Frisian Islands strung along Holland’s northern coast. “See the lugworm in its tube, hear the wading birds in the sky, catch the shrimp in the gullies, and see as far as the eye can reach. Nowhere else in the world will you find a landscape and an environment like this.”
Wadlopen tours take place twice daily in various locations when the receding tide reveals miles of organism-rich mud and silt. Guides point out what lies beneath and around, such as oysters, mussels, periwinkles, and gray and harbor seals. They also ensure everyone makes it back to shore before the tide comes in.
WHERE: The Wadden Sea, or Waddenzee, which is the world’s largest unbroken system of intertidal sand and mudflats, is located in the southeastern part of the North Sea. The Dutch portion stretches from Den Helder in North Holland, northwest along the Frisian archipelago. The closest international airport is in Amsterdam, and the best areas for mud-walking are off the northern coasts of Dutch provinces Friesland and Groningen. If the tides and winds cooperate here, it’s possible to walk (with a guide) between two of the five inhabited West Frisian Islands (Texel, Vlieland, Terschelling, Ameland, and Schiermonnikoog), or from the mainland to an island.
HOW: Mud-walking tours fill up quickly. If possible, book a tour in advance of your trip. Organizations offering guided tours include Wadloopcentrum Fryslân and Schiermonnikoog National Park. Use Holland’s efficient public transportation system to get around. At the airport, take a train to Leeuwarden, Friesland’s capital city, or Groningen, Groningen’s capital city. From here, use local trains, buses, and ferries to get around and travel out to and between the Wadden islands.
STAY: Rent a luxury cottage or apartment on the island of Ameland, dubbed the “Wadden diamond” for its natural beauty: pristine beaches and dunes, diverse flora and fauna (including an offshore seal colony), and quaint villages. To travel around the island, rent a bike at the ferry dock or in one of the villages. Landal GreenParks, part of Wyndham Vacation Rentals, rents condos with amenities such as pools, saunas, fitness rooms, and Wi-Fi on Ameland, Schiermonnikoog, Terschelling, Texel, and Vlieland.
EAT: In central Ameland, bike to Buren for an outdoor lunch at Restaurant Strander. Or try local Ameland cheese on a thin-crust pizza or hearty sandwich at Restaurant Zee van Tijd (meaning “sea of time”) in nearby Nes. While there, buy a bottle of the house-made and slightly sweet Ameland Fresh salad dressing.
PRACTICAL TIP: Choose mud-walking tours wisely. Even the easiest walk (less than two miles and appropriate for kids) can last two to three hours. Mainland-to-island or island-to-island treks are challenging. These longer excursions typically cover six miles or more and involve slogging through deep mud and high water in places.
WHAT TO WEAR: Dress for safety, efficiency, and comfort: closed-toe sneakers or rubber boots, shorts (less friction), and a long-sleeved water jersey or a light T-shirt topped with a sweatshirt (for warmth and sun protection). Bring or wear a rain jacket or waterproof wind jacket. You will get wet and muddy, so bring a change of clothes—packed in a watertight bag if you are walking out to an island.
FUN FACT: The Wadden Sea is home to about 10,000 animal and plant species and acts as a main filling station for migratory birds along the East Atlantic Flyway. Each year, more than 10 million wading birds and waterfowl—including arctic tern, oystercatcher, avocet, and spoonbill—stop here to feast on worms, mussels, fish, algae, and other food sources before flying south for the winter.