Weekend getaway: Texel island
ravelling with kids is always a conundrum, and oftentimes parents sacrificed their enjoyment to focus on kid-friendly travel. I’m not one of those parents and I’ve never been a fan of vacation parks with their enormous indoor pools with water slides and children’s theaters. Parent or not, my preferred travel destination involves huge, open spaces, with little interaction with kids and other human beings as much as possible. There’s really not many of these places in the Netherlands. But then, you have Texel.
Texel is the biggest of the five Dutch Wadden Islands, that includes Vlieland, Terschelling, Schiermonnikog and Ameland. It’s also the most popular, especially among Germans and Belgians. You wouldn’t want to come here in the summer, particularly during the school vacation. With only 463.16 sq km welcoming at least one million tourists each year, it is suffocating.
But between the first week of spring until the end of April, Texel is the most ideal place for a long weekend getaway, for grown-ups and kids alike. We’ve been here several times, as a couple and after our daughter was born.
Texel offers a diverse landscape unique in Europe. Whether you are a solo traveller, couple, and couples with kids, big families, or picky parents like us, there are loads to do on the island.
Here are my Top 10 things to do on Texel:
1. Beach day
With 30 kilometers of coastline, chilling at the beach day is perhaps the only thing you’d do all weekend, especially when the weather is nice. Granted it can still be quite chilly in early spring, there’s no cold weather that proper clothing can fix.
Dress warm, put on your rain boots, don’t forget your bonnet and spend sunrise to sunset at the beach.
Go walking, running, horse riding, dig big holes in the sand like the Germans, build sandcastles which kids love, lounge about naked, whatever you feel like (as long as it’s legal).
There are enough beach cafés serving hot chocolate or Irish coffee should the temperature dips too low. We frequented Paal 17 at De Koog.
2. Dunes of Texel Natural Park
For nature lovers, the Dunes of Texel Natural Park is a perfect destination. Forty-three square kilometers of beach, dunes, forest, heath and The Slufter, a nature reserve that connects directly to the North Sea.
Hiking, cycling and bird watching are some of the most popular activities here, which may not be suitable for babies and very young kids (we tried). If you have a good child carrier or an all-terrain buggy, hiking is highly recommended.
Or running. It’s one of the most tranquil spots I’ve run to in the Netherlands, which is quite ironic given the number of tourists that visit the island.
3. Eco Mare
Eco Mare is an animal shelter dedicated to rescuing wounded seals, porpoises (mini brown whales) and birds. Kids, even as young as one, will be thrilled at being so close to the seals and porpoises and to dozens of species at the Sea Aquarium.
Unlike most aquariums in big zoo’s, the ones at Eco Mare are lowered, at an eye-level of a toddler. For them it ‘s like being under water, surrounded by different kinds of fishes swimming around them. Kind of magical, judging from how my one-year old daughter enjoyed it.
Children (and adults too of course) can feed the seals and the fishes in the aquarium. It’s adjacent to the beach, and looks over the dunes, so after exhausting your kids with the marine animals, visit Museum Kaap Skil and Lighthouse Texel which are very close to Eco Mare (they offer combined tickets). The whole terrain is wheelchair friendly, and you can even rent wheelchairs and prams at the location.
Eco Mare Ruijslaan 92 De Koog ecomare.nl
4. Texel Sheep Farm
Sheep, lambs, chickens, rabbits, dwarf goats, pony’s – you can touch them, cuddle them feed them. Your kids can ride the tractor, roll in the straw, ride the pony’s and play in the playground. It is a paradise for little children.
For tired parents, have a cup of coffee or eat your lunch at one of the picnic tables while watching the young ones knock themselves out around this small property. Or shop to your heart’s delight at their little store. Although not all the their woolen products are from the Texelaar (Texel’s sheep breed), which is a tad disappointing.
Schappen Boerderij Texel Pontweg 77, Den Burg schapenboerderij.nl
5. Wellness island-style
It’s probably the last thing you’d think of doing in Texel but after an exhausting day of sight seeing or running after the kids, your perfect me-time would be at the spa of the Grand Hotel Opduin. At least for me.
Our go to address in Texel is Hotel Opduin, not only because it’s literally a stone’s throw away from the beach and the Dunes of Texel Natural Park, but because of its amazing spa and wellness centre.
They have a big pool, Turkish steam bath, Solarium, Finnish Sauna AND wellness centre where you can have facial treatment, massage, body scrub, mani and pedi, and what they call Texel treatment, where they use Texel wool cream.
When you’re done, you can have a long, relaxed dinner at their restaurant (because who would want to go out after a wellness treat), and maybe a night cap by the fireplace at their bar.
I wish I was paid to promote them but I was not. It’s not the cheapest accommodation in Texel but for everything you get in return, it’s worth the €500 or more you’ll spend here for a weekend stay.
Tip: When you come with a child/children, book one of the villas adjacent to the hotel. Cheaper than paying for a suite or separate rooms.
Grand Hotel Opduin Ruijslaan 22, De Koog opduin.nl
6. Lamb and Skuumkoppe
Springtime is when sheep give birth. And what could be more sumptuous than slow-cooked lamb, straight from their moms, downed with a bottle of Texel’s own brew, Skuumkoppe?
Most restaurants offer Texel’s lamb stew but try them at Brasserie De Zwaluw, if you can get a table. They can only accommodate up to 20 diners.
Brasserie De Zwaluw Kamperfoelieweg 1, De Koog hoteldezwaluw.nl
7. Pancakes at Catharinahoeve
Huge, Dutch-style pancakes topped with everything you like, in a quiet place at the Dennen Bos, Restaurant Catharinahoeve is where you want to have lunch before leaving Texel. Closely located near the port, you won’t feel rushed dining here. Their pancakes are really good but so is the lamb stew. They have a huge playground near the terrace so you can eat your meal in peace and quiet while the kids gets busy, and inside is a cozy fireplace for when it gets too cold to sit outside.
Catharinahoeve Rozendijk 17, Den Burg catharinahoeve-texel.nl
8. Ice cream farm Labora
An ice cream farm exists, and it is on Texel. At Labora you’ll find the tastiest, creamiest organic ice cream made from their own cow’s milk, flavoured with local products such as strawberries from their neighbour’s farm or Texel’s eggnog. It’s 7km from Den Burg, the island’s “capital”, and easily accessible with bicycle, or car if you’re feeling lazy.
Ijsboerderij Labora Hollandseweg 2, De Cocksdorp ijsboerderijlabora.nl
9. 60 van Texel
If like us you’re feeling tough and adventurous, Texel holds an ultra-marathon every two years called De Zestig van Texel. It’s a 60-kilometer run that goes around the whole island. Alternately you can do the 120-km, twice the fun. I attempted this race as my first ultra-marathon and failed miserably. Although it’s a great way to experience Texel and I’d probably do it again.
10. Boat trips and shrimp catching
It’s my least favourite thing to do in Texel because I don’t like the cold and crowd but it’s actually a nice way to learn about this island. Before it became one of the Netherlands top tourist destination, it was a farming and fishing island.
The boat will take to a sandbar to watch the seals and you could bring home Dutch shrimps (very tiny ones) from the boat. We once spent two hours peeling a kilo of those Dutch shrimps in a hotel in Den Burg. We didn’t dare to return.
If you get lucky, you’d be treated to the most beautiful roadside scenery on your way to Texel. At springtime the tulip fields of North Holland is in it’s most glorious. Drive slow from Alkmaar to Den Helder (where you catch the ferry to Texel.) There’s also a small tulip field on Texel located in Den Burg but it’s nothing compared to the ones along N29. Its beauty is surreal and it’s free (unlike Keukenhof).
Best tip: Along Rijksweg (N29), there’s a pluk tuin and flower shop called Floratuin Julianadorp, where you could pick tulips from their garden. They provide you with a bucket and you could bring home as many tulips as you can pick, for very little money, granted that you leave the bulbs behind.
Floratuin Rijksweg 85, Juliandorp floratuin.com
How to get Texel: Drive to Den Helder (about 1hr:15mins from Amsterdam) and catch the Tesso Ferry to Texel. Price is €2,50/person, or €37/car. Booking online is easiest www.teso.nl.
Where to stay: There are all types of accommodation on the island, including B&B’s. Our preferred address is Grand Hotel Opduin, especially for families. The best hotels are located in De Koog because of easy access to the beach.
You can find more information about Texel at www.texel.net.