Off the north shore of the Netherlands there is a chain of 8 islands, starting with the island of Texel in the west. This is a lovely island to go hiking, and quite easy to reach. Even though Texel is not exactly an off the beaten track destination, if you go hiking you may soon find yourself all alone.
The Dutch islands are part of a larger chain of islands, the Wadden Islands, that stretches all the way to the island of Fanø in Denmark. These islands form a natural barrier between the North Sea and the mainland. The sea in between is called the Waddenzee in Dutch. This sea is in its entirety a World Heritage region.
The 5 inhabited Dutch islands are immensely popular with Dutch tourists, and in a lesser extent so with Germans. It is easy to see why: there are endless beaches, amazing dunescapes, nature & marine reserves, moors, pine forests and hiking opportunities on Texel. As soon as you get off the ferry, life seems to slow down a bit.
Is this an off the beaten track place? Partly: if you avoid high season and the tourist towns, you might not run into anyone during your hikes (not counting the sheep).
Why go hiking on Texel?
Dutch people can have endless discussions about which of the Wadden Islands is their favorite. I have a soft spot for Texel, but I’m writing about it now mainly because it is the easiest island to reach coming from the cities in the west, such as Amsterdam, Utrecht and The Hague. In fact you could even visit Texel as a day trip, if you don’t have much time to spare. You will regret that though! Once you have arrived you will want to stay longer.
By the way, in 2016 Lonely Planet Magazine named Texel as one of the top 10 European destinations. I haven’t been able to find information about whether this has caused an increase in foreign visitors.
Hiking on Texel
Texel offers many possibilities for hiking. My favorite hike on Texel is a two day hike from the ferry terminal down south all the way up north to De Cocksdorp. It is about 40 kilometers in total, so if you are a very energetic hiker you could even do this in one day. However, a visit to Texel is all about slowing down, so my advice is to spend the night halfway, in the tourist village of De Koog. Of course, you could also hike only one part. If you start in time, you will even be able to make it back to the mainland on the same day.
Downloading the tracks for 2 days of hiking on Texel
You can download the GPS tracks and maps for free from a website called Wandelnet. Though the route description is in Dutch, the GPS track and map should be enough to follow the trail.
What will you see during your hike on Texel?
day 1: ferry terminal to De Koog
The hike starts on top of a dike along a bay called Mokbaai. If you are lucky and the tide is low you will see thousands of birds here. The walk continues on through the dunes for a bit, after which you’ll arrive at a very wide stretch of beach. This area is usually quiet, because there are no tourist resorts nearby. After a couple of kilometers, the trail leads you back into the dunes, towards a pine forest and some moors.
You’ll pass by a place called Ecomare, where you can learn more about marine life of the area. This might be pretty crowded though. This is shortly before reaching De Koog. This is a VERY touristic town. However, if you want to continue the hike the day after, it’s probably best to spend the night here. Try any of the beach restaurants for dinner. The views of the sea will be nice, and you might be lucky and see an awesome sunset.
Day 2: De Koog to De Cocksdorp
Your second day of hiking on Texel will start spectacularly, as you pass by an area called De Slufter. At high tide the sea floods the creeks here, and the only plants are those that can withstand salt water, such as sea lavender and sea aster. You will spot a lot of birds here too. And tourists, in summer time.
After a short stretch of hiking along a bicycle road, the route will divert into the dunes, and finally onto the beach all the way towards the lighthouse. You have reached the northern coast now! After this the route bends back southward a little bit towards De Cocksdorp, a village that offers some accommodation and restaurants, and is far less touristic than De Koog. You could spend the night here, or take a bus back to the ferry terminal. Check the section about public transport below; you may have to book the bus beforehand.
Other hikes on Texel
There are many more hikes to be made on Texel. Visit the Texel Tourist Info in Den Burg, the capital of Texel, for route descriptions, or download the following GPS tracks from Wandelzoekpagina:
- Groene Wissel Den Burg an 11 km round trip from Den Burg
- Groene Wissel Oudeschild, a 13 km round trip from Oudeschild, on the eastern shore of Texel
- Groene Wissel De Koog, a 17 km round trip from De Koog, the main tourist town of Texel
Texel: a short introduction
Texel is the largest of the Dutch Wadden Islands. About 13.600 people live there, with about 9000 sheep. A very brief description:
- Its western zone consists of dunescapes and endless long white beaches. This is where you would go for a swim or to have a drink in one of the beach café’s. This is also where most of the tourists go. Despite all the tourists, it is still pretty laid back. There are hardly any high rise buildings on Texel. The 2 day hike I described will pass mostly through this area.
- The eastern zone is situated along the Waddenzee, the sea between the mainland and the Islands. This is where the seal-spotting tours depart. There is a dike along the larger part of this coast. Here you’ll be able to spot the sand banks and the sea bed during low tide.
- The central zone is an agricultural zone with polders and the capital town of Texel: Den Burg. (And a brewery, by the way!)
When to visit Texel?
Avoiding the tourist crowds
The most important rules if you want to enjoy some peace and quiet on Texel:
- try to avoid visiting in July and August. During the Dutch school holidays the Wadden Islands are pretty much overrun by Dutch holidaymakers, a strange mixture of nature lovers, beach bums and teenagers who are spending their first holiday without their parents and with just a little too much booze.
- plan your visit on a weekday instead of in a weekend. All of the islands are popular weekend-break destinations
Accommodation will be harder to find in the weekends and in the summer months, and prices tend to go up.
If you are a bird lover, you should visit the Wadden Islands when the migratory birds pass by in spring and in autumn. You’ll be able to spot huge amounts of birds then. Very special. If you are into birds, the island of Terschelling may perhaps even suit you more.
Climate on Texel
Dutch climate is kind of changeable. Even more so on the Wadden Islands. Despite the fact that actually the islands get the most sun hours of the country, it could still rain one minute, and be sunny the next. When walking on the islands be prepared. Of course, during summer your chances of good weather are much better than in winter. Still, even in winter Texel has its beauty. I spent two memorable Christmases there, went for refreshing hikes and felt rejuvenated when I came back! But I would say the best time to visit is either late spring (May-June) or early autumn (September-October). You’ll avoid the crowds and still have a fair chance of good weather.
How to reach Texel by public transport
Reaching Texel is very easy, at least, if you’re coming from anywhere in the western part of The Netherlands. It will take you just over 2 hours to get from Amsterdam Central station to Texel by public transport. First catch a train to Den Helder. From there catch bus no 33 to the ferry terminal (Veerhaven). It is only a short ride and you will be dropped off right in front of the terminal, where you can buy your ticket.
There are hourly departures so don’t worry if you have missed a ferry. The ferry ride itself is only 20 minutes, and costs EUR 2,50 for a return ticket. The ticket is not bound to a specific time or date. Read more about the ferry to Texel at the website of TESO (in English).
Once on Texel, you can catch another bus to your final destination. You could also rent a bike. There is a massive bike rental place right next to the ferry terminal. Having a bike will make it much easier to get around. Of course you could also catch a bus to your destination and rent a bike there. The 2 day hike that I talked about starts right at the ferry terminal. From your end point, you can catch a bus back to the ferry. Check the schedules for public transport on the island of Texel at the website Texelhopper (in English). Some of the buses need to be booked in advance!
What to see after Texel?
If you feel adventurous and want to continue on to another Wadden Island you could take a ferry to Vlieland. From May to October, this ferry leaves once daily from De Cocksdorp in the north of Texel. Make sure that you have booked a ticket in advance as this is a small ferry and might be full. Also note that in bad weather conditions it may be cancelled. Check the website of De Vriendschap (ferry to Vlieland, in English).
The long route to Vlieland would be to first return to Den Helder, then catch a bus to the city of Harlingen and from there take another ferry to Vlieland. This will take a lot more time and be more expensive.
Another option is to explore the area around Den Helder. Den Helder is the Dutch navy town and has a bit of a boring reputation. However, there are some nice dunescapes and beaches to be found here, that hardly anybody has ever heard of! Imagine the peace and quiet!