(Thank you to my friends and colleagues who took the time to give me advice on what to do in Friesland and making this post-wedding weekend so perfect.)
What you'll find in this article
2. Travel tips for Friesland (Fryslân), one of the most unique Dutch provinces. Perfect for a weekend trip from Amsterdam for those ready to dive into culture, nature, and architecture. There's so many things to do in Friesland, so stay tuned for more tips from my weekend away in Friesland (weekendje weg naar Friesland)
Seal Release in the Netherlands: Tour Information
Although the Pieterburen seal sanctuary offers regular tours from Lauwersoog showing you the wild seals on the sandbanks, this is a special tour (Zeehonden Vrijlaten) that is not offered regularly that you must book ahead costs 40 euros per person. The website for the Pieterburen seal sanctuary is only in Dutch and German although you can use foreign credit cards (I used a Visa). That said, they post fairly last minute about these tours (1-4 weeks ahead), but if you're willing to sponsor a seal (500 euros), you will be allowed to do a private release at a time of your choosing when the seal is ready.. It is a truly memorable experience for those seeking ethical interactions with animals.
Note: getting a ticket is not easy as I (a resident of the Netherlands) spent months checking the website weekly for upcoming seal releases. I do not recommend this as a day trip from Amsterdam as it's a lengthy drive. Lauwersoog is not the easiest place to get to from Amsterdam (or Rotterdam) and we ended up giving a ride to two strangers who were stranded unable to get back home. I highly recommend renting a car if you want to do this.
More about our tour of the Wadden Sea and its unique ecosystem.
(Keep scrolling for travel tips Friesland!)
When I checked the calendar for the Zeehondencentrum Pieterburen for the summer, I saw that they were having a seal release the weekend after our wedding. I decided that I'd surprise my husband (who loves seals). It was very last minute, but we managed to find a reasonable hotel in Leeuwarden (the capital city of Friesland) and a rental car.
The Wadden Sea is a UNESCO protected site as it has the largest unbroken system of intertidal sand and mud flats. It is home to many species, including seals, who live in colonies on its many sandbars. Interestingly enough, seals are the primary predators in this unique ecosystem. They are most often injured due to boating/fishing accidents, however when a mother seal is killed, baby pups are often left helpless as they cannot feed themselves. The Pieterburen seal sanctuary as well as other seal sanctuaries often need to teach young seal pups how to hunt to enable them to be released back into the wild. Without a doubt, the Wadden Sea is one of the best areas of the netherlands to visit for nature lovers.
Consider bringing with you:
- A good waterproof jacket as the Dutch weather is unpredictable and it is colder at sea. (I got soaked as I chose to sit next to the seals in the pouring rain. Worth it.)
- Waterproof boots. If not, you'll need to take your socks/shoes off to wade into the water.
Friesland Travel Tips / Things to Do in Fryslân
Things to Do in Friesland: Stop off in Friesland's Eleven Historic Villages
What to do in Leeuwarden (Friesland's capital) and where to stay in Leeuwarden
There's plenty of restaurants to choose from and Leeuwarden is a nice city to sit outside in while enjoying a good meal/drink. There's quite a few decent places to drink although if you're into craft beer and befriending strangers at bars, be sure to introduce yourself to the owner at De Markies.
Where to stay in Leeuwarden? You can stay in the old royal palace in the centre of the city, which is now a 4* hotel called Hotel Fletcher Stadhouderlijk Hof). However, we stayed at the Stenden Hotel, which is a hotel within a Dutch hotel school. It's service is on par with a 4* hotel, however its prices are around that of a 2* hotel. The food at the restaurant inside the hotel is supposed to be phenomenal although I was charmed by the three chocolate bars that you receive upon check-in.
Explore the scenic Frisian countryside and maybe even ride a Friesian horse
Super Dutch things for your Dutch Bucket List: Wadlopen, Sneekweek, and Speed Skating (Elfstedentocht)
Similarly, wadlopen is the act of walking through the mud. You can go from the shores of the Wadden Sea onto one of the Dutch islands off the coast just by walking during low tide. It is supposed to be very laborious/tiring, but if you go with a tour, your guide will ensure that the tide is the right level. The mud can go quite high up, so be prepared to be dirty by the end of this laborious walk. (I admit: I have not gone wadlopen. I almost went mud walking, however the tour that I booked started at 5am in a small town near Groningen, so I ended up sleeping in after realizing that I'd need to leave Amsterdam around 1am AND take a taxi to arrive in time.)
Lastly, don't miss Sneekweek. This week during the end of August (check ahead for Sneekweek 2017) is the largest sailing event within the European inner waters. During Sneekweek, traditional sail boats are sailed in between the historic cities of Friesland in a week long sailing contest. It was started in the 1930s, however now it's a MAJOR event and if you're into a chill day watching boats sail by while sipping on some beer, this is for you. At night, there's typically more events, including music, however it's just a nice excuse to visit Friesland in summer if you haven't been yet.