The island of Terschelling was formed in medieval times after a sand bank known as De Schelling merged with the island located east from it, Wexalia. The name of Wexalia, the then name for the group of islands and sandbanks located where Terschelling lies now, has been out of common usage since the later medieval ages. The oldest settlements to have been found on Terschelling date back from around 850, being a little wooden church near Striep. A church list dating from the eleventh century mentioned the church of Echternach (Luxembourg) owning two churches on Terschelling.
Being located on the North Sea in an age in which the Dutch did not yet have their ability to protect against the seas, Terschelling was often damaged by storms and floods. The worst of these to have ever happened to Terschelling was in 1287, named the Saint Hubertusflood. This flood removed the ability to walk to the island via an shallow passage in the Wadden Sea, connecting to the island near Hoorn. The main connection shifted to the west at this point, making West-Terschelling the main settlement of the island.
Terschelling has been divided into two municipalities in 1612 after differences between inhabitants of the eastern and western parts of the island came to an all-time high. West-Terschelling became the capital city of West Terschelling, while Oost Terschelling was controlled from Midsland. Only after French occupation in Napoleonic times was the island reunited into unison.
Terschelling has been part of multiple countries and provinces, the last time of which was in 1942, when during German occupation the island along with its neighbour Vlieland was transferred from the province of North Holland to Friesland.
After a merchants fleet was destroyed on the Vlieree, the strait of water dividing Vlieland from Terschelling, on August 19th, 1666, West-Terschelling was attacked by the British navy the following day, led by captain Robert Holmes and Dutch deserteer captain Laurentz van Heemskerk. They attacked West-Terschelling since Vlieland, their original target, has prepared itself for possible attacks. Terschelling hadn't done so, and was therefore an easy target. The three hundred houses in the Town of Brandaris were burned to the ground without much resistance from the locals. The lighthouse Brandaris was one of the sole building to survive Holmes' Fire. Through help from up the hierarchy, namely the authorities of the district of Holland, the town was rebuilt successfully within several years. The layer of burnt ashes is still visible to this day, pitch black, it is found by digging down for about a meter. As of 2016, 350 years after the matter, a part of the ashes has been made visible in the Commandeursstraat, one of the oldest streets of West-Terschelling.
Nowadays, Terschelling counts roughly 8,300 permanent inhabitants, with that number tripling in high season. Like most of the West Frisian Islands, Terschelling thrives on domestic tourism who usually stay several days to enjoy the quiet, rural island atmosphere, spend time on the beaches and take bike trips to see the nature.
Terschelling is also the birthplace of explorer Willem Barentsz.
There are several small villages and hamlets on the island. The largest settlements are 1 West-Terschelling (with about 2,400 people) and 2 Midsland with around 1,000 inhabitants. All others are far smaller, with towns counting as little as 14 inhabitants as is the case with 3 Kaard. The towns of 4 Hoorn, 5 Formerum, 6 Lies and 7 Oosterend all count more than 125 inhabitants.
The ferry to Terschelling leaves from Harlingen and is mainly operated by Rederij Doeksen. The large regular ferry, named ms Friesland, makes its way to the island in about an hour and 45 minutes, allowing also for the transportation of bikes and cars. Note that you need to make reservations in advance if you plan on bringing a car, via the Rederij or via the tourist office. For passenger transport, reservations are not required but they are advised, and can be made online via the same channels, or via phone: +31 900-3635736. The ferry runs multiple times a day, but the times can vary. Always check on the ferry company's online schedule. One way tickets cost €25 for adults, bikes are another €14. Cars can be brought for no less than €140. The island is small however, and you might want to consider parking your car at the dedicated parking area at the Harlingen Harbour.
If you're not bringing a car, you can also opt for the fast service, which takes only 45 minutes and is carried out with smaller boats. Obviously, this is the preferred transport for locals, while visitors tend to enjoy the longer, regular ferry trip over the Wadden Sea. The fast boats also run a few times per day between Terschelling and neighbouring island Vlieland.
The island is fairly small. Cars are allowed but, also due to the high ferry costs, most people don't bring one. Biking and walking are the main ways around. Most hotels and the tourist office can rent out bikes. Despite its small size, the island has over 200 km of hiking paths, for which the tourist office has an excellent map.
Three buslines serve the island, all starting in the harbour of West-Terschelling. These are:
- Line 1 to Oosterend.
- Line 2 to Midsland Noord/Zee-Paal 8.
- Line 9 to Oosterend (night bus, replaces line 1 after 22:00).
Public transit information found in 9292ov and other services for planning your journey with the Dutch public transit is often wrong when it comes to Terschelling and the Waddeneilanden in general. Instead, refer to either the brochures found at Tourist Information (VVV) Offices and other points of interest or simply ask a bus driver. Unlike what you might hear, subscriptions on your OV-chipkaart also apply on the Waddeneilanden. Plenty of taxi companies are active on the island as well, should you want to avoid the hassle of public transit all together. Taxi's are often the cheaper solution when travelling in bigger groups.
The number one attraction is the island's lovely nature. There are large dune landscapes and lots of bird life. Some other sights include:
- 1 Brandaris, West-Terschelling. The islands light house is the oldest still operating one in the country, and a landmark that can't be missed. Locals refer to it simply as "the tower", and it's a square shaped, late 16th century structure. Unfortunately, the interior is not open for visitors.
- Harbour of West-Terschelling. The village harbour is a picturesque place. It's the arrival point for the ferries, but otherwise home base for many smaller boats. There are cosy cafés around, allowing to sit back and take in the atmosphere.
- 2 Formerum Windmill, Formerum. The only remaining mill on the island, it once was used to mill the grains for the local community. Now, it's called the "Koffiemolen" or Coffeemill, for the coffee bar that's housed inside it. The building is a national monument and was constructed in 1838. About 40 years later it was moved from it's original location near West-Terschelling to its current place.
- Museum 't Behouden Huys, Commandeurstraat 30-32 West Terschelling, ☏ . Housed in two historic commandor's mansions, this small but pleasant museum has an interesting collection on the island's history. There's a yearly changing exposition as well as a permanent exposition space. The museum is named after the shelter on Nova Zembla that Willem Barentz, born on the island, famously built in 1596, to survive the northern winter after his ship became stuck in the ice. € 4/2 for adults/children.
- Oerol Festival. The annual Oerol theatre festival is known throughout the country, and in fact one of the largest events of its kind in all of Europe. It's a cultural happening full of theatre, music and arts, attracting about 50.000 visitors each year. It's praised for it's programme, but also for the remarkable settings, with stages in the dunes, in barns, on the dikes and right in the village streets. If you happen to be in the area in early summer, this is an event worth catching a ferry for. €20.
- Bird watching. On the eastern side of the island is Natural Reserve De Boschplaat. Some 65 to 70 different bird species roam and breed here, making it a popular destination for bird life enthusiasts. Note however that the area is closed in summer, March 15 - August 15, for the breeding season of the animals. There's no entrance fee.
There's a range of shops available in the island's main towns, providing all daily groceries (also since there are many self-catering apartments) as well as souvenirs. If you want to go shopping for more than basic stuff, West-Terschelling is the best bet, with many small stores in and around the Torenstraat and Boomstraat.
Local specialities from the island include cheeses, cranberry-products and local honey. You'll also find beer and liquors made from wild cherries, which grow in the natural park Boschplaat at the east side of Terschelling.
Two proper supermarkets are found on the island:
- 1 Jumbo Mier, Formerum 16, Formerum, ☏ . The longest-standing supermarket on the island (though this doesn't mean much as Mier was the only supermarket until recently). The supermarket has an in-house bakery which 60% of the island relies upon and a liquor shop (Slijterij) next door.
- 2 Coop Terschelling-Midsland, Oosterburen 2-4, Midsland, ☏ , ✉ email@example.com.
There are plenty of places to eat, in all of the major villages. Most of the food is simple, bistro-style stuff for reasonable prices. In summer, many establishments have pleasant outdoor terraces where you can enjoy your meal.
- 1 Steakhouse Brasserie Brandaris, Boomstraat 3, West-Terschelling, ☏ . 11:00-23:00. Located close to the light house, this places serves bistro style food rather than real steak house meats, but it's a good pick if you're up for some spare-ribs or saté. However, they also serve fried fish and several vegetarian options. Mains from €16.50.
- 2 El Mundo, Boomstraat 31, West-Terschelling, ☏ . Wed-Sun: 17:00-23:00.
- 3 Grand Café Zeezicht, Willem Barentszkade 20, West Terschelling, ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org.
- 4 Grand Café Het Raadhuis, Torenstraat 15, West-Terschelling, ☏ . 10:00-22:00.
- 5 Storm, Torenstraat 27, West-Terschelling, ☏ . 11:30-23:00.
- 6 De Heksenketel, Willem Barentszkade 2, West-Terschelling, ☏ . Fri-Sun: 15:00-22:00.
Midsland and Formerum
- 7 Pannenhoekenhuis Hans & Grietje, Westerburen 4, Midsland, ☏ . €12.50.
- 8 Eetcafé De Dammesaan, Oosterburen 3, Midsland, ☏ , ✉ email@example.com.
- 9 Het Oud Hollandsch, Oosterburen 10, Midsland, ☏ .
- 10 La Grotta, Oosterburen 30, Midsland, ☏ .
- 11 't Golfje, Heereweg 22A, ☏ .
- 12 El Léon Rojo, Heereweg 11, Midsland, ☏ .
- 13 De Drie Grapen, Dorreveldweg 2, Midsland, ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org.
- 14 De Kajuit, Formerum 33, Formerum, ☏ .
- 15 Muziekcafé De Vijfpoort, Formerum 47, Formerum, ☏ , ✉ email@example.com.
- 16 Eet- en Terrascafé De Rustende Jager, Molenweg 2, Formerum, ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. 11:00-23:00, kitchen closes at 21:30. Open the year round.. Restaurant, café and pub which often features live music in the weekends.
Hoorn and Oosterend
- 17 De Reis, Dorpstraat 58, Hoorn, ☏ , ✉ email@example.com.
- 18 De Heeren van der Schelling, Oosterend 43, Oosterend, ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org.
- 19 De Boschplaat - Steak & Pancake, Oosterend 14, Oosterend, ☏ , ✉ email@example.com.
- 1 OKA 18, Molenstraat 17, West, ☏ . 14:00 – 2:00.
- 2 Bar-Dancing De Braskoer, Torenstraat 32, West, ☏ . 10:00 – 2:00. Bar and disco
- 3 Bar-Dancing Wyb, Oosterburen 11, Midsland, ☏ .
There are about 50 hotels, B&Bs and other accommodations on this small island, so finding a place to stay doesn't seem too hard. In high-season, however, places can fill up and prices do rise. Terschelling is not a cheap place to stay, with budget rooms starting around €70 at most places. The tourist office has an easily searchable database of vacation homes, hotels, chalets, campsites and more, which includes practically every place to stay on the island.
- Hotel Buren, Burg. Mentzstraat 20, West Terschelling, ☏ . This simple, family-run hotel is a 5 minute walk from the ferry landing point. It's located in the village centre, in a building formerly used as the local school. The rooms are not too large, but they are clean and well-equipped. Service is also friendly. €80-130, depending on which room.
- Hotel Altijd Wad, Trompstraat 6, West-Terschelling, ☏ . A hotel with a style of its own. The rooms are clean and well-equipped, and decorated almost as if you're in a family home. The staff is very nice, and breakfast is descent. Rooms are on the small side and internet connections are poor, but otherwise this place gets great reviews. From €89, incl. breakfast.
- WestCord Residentie Boschrijck, Sportlaan 5, ☏ . A 4 star chain hotel offering rooms as well as apartments, and a wide range of facilities. There are good wellness arrangements, and a nice indoor pool. The apartments are quite spacious and well-appointed. Note that there's no proper internet reception at times and that cleaning costs can be added to your bill. From €79.
- 1 natural campsite West-Terschelling, ☏ , fax: , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. Open April to October. Some 75 spots at the edge of a forest. In July and August you will have to reserve a spot. A Natuurkampeerkaart is obligatory.
- 2 natural campsite Lies, Duinweg, Formerum, ☏ . Some 24 spaces
- 3 natural campsite Hoorn, Duinweg, Hoorn, ☏ , fax: . 58 spaces south of Hoornse Bos (Hoorn forst). No caravans or pets allowed
There's fast ferry connection to the island of Vlieland. The other West Frisian Islands are great if you're looking for more of the same, but it you'd like to get back to mainland try charming Harlingen (where the ferry goes), or move on from there to lovely historic Franeker, Leeuwarden or bustling Groningen.