Traveling north through Friesland along the Waddenzee coast, you won't actually see much of the sea unless you walk up onto the sea dike from time to time for a better view. The Wadden Sea is an important European staging area on bird migration routes, a stopover zone where waterfowl as well as shore and wading birds rest and feed.
24km (15 miles) W of Leeuwarden
This bustling seaport and former whaling town (pop. 16,000), founded in the 9th century, hunkers down behind a dike on the Wadden Sea. Fishing boats, cargo ships, and ferries to the offshore Wadden Islands shuttle in and out of the busy harbor, and canalboats and recreational craft ply the Van Harinxma Canal that leads east to Leeuwarden.
Getting There -- Trains depart every hour from Leeuwarden to Harlingen; the ride takes 23 minutes. By car from Leeuwarden, take N383 and A31 west.
Visitor Information -- Toeristisch Informatiepunt Harlingen, Sint-Odolphisteeg 10, 8861 CA Harlingen (tel. 0517/430-207; www.harlingen-friesland.nl), is off Voorstraat in the heart of the Old Town.
What to See & Do -- Harlingen is a maze of canals filled with fishing boats and recreational craft, and lined with gabled 16th- to 18th-century houses and warehouses in its carefully preserved old center. Close to the ferry dock is one of several statues around Holland that represent the legend of the boy who saved the community from a calamity by sticking his finger in a leaking dike.
Moderately interesting seafaring and whaling exhibits, ship models, seascape paintings, antiques, porcelain, and silver are all to be seen in the Gemeentemuseum Het Hannemahuis, Voorstraat 56 (tel. 0517/413-658; www.hannemahuis.nl), in the 18th-century Hannemahuis. The municipal museum is open April to June and mid-September to mid-November Tuesday to Friday from 11am to 5pm, and Saturday and Sunday from 1:30 to 5pm. Admission is 3.50€ ($5.60) for adults, 1.50€ ($2.40) for children ages 6 to 16, and free for children 5 and under.
Since 1973, craftspeople have produced and painted by hand traditional-style Frisian pottery and tiles at the Harlinger Aardewerk- en Tegelfabriek, Voorstraat 84 (tel. 0517/415-362; www.fries-aardewerk.nl), open Monday to Friday from 8am to 6pm, and Saturday from 9am to 5pm; admission is free. Should you need to choose between a visit to this workshop or to Tichelaars in Makkum , Tichelaars produces the more prestigious wares, but Harlinger's are perhaps more individual.
19km (12 miles) NE of Leeuwarden; 42km (26 miles) NE of Harlingen
The northernmost terminus of the Eleven Cities Tours, Dokkum is a pleasant small town, constructed on two terpen (earthen mounds). Remnants of its 16th-century walls and moat date from a period when the town was a seaport. St. Boniface, the English monk Wynfryth, was martyred here in 754 while on a mission to convert the pagan Frisians. That's about it history-wise until 1618, when Dokkum was made headquarters of the Friesland Admiralty.
In the restored former Admiralty building from 1618, on the waterfront in the heart of town, the Museum Het Admiraliteitshuis, Diepswal 27 (tel. 0519/293-134; www.museumdokkum.nl), exhibits a mixed bag of antiquities, antiques, and Frisian folk art and traditional costumes. The museum is open July to August Monday to Saturday from 1 to 5pm, and September to June Tuesday to Saturday from 1 to 5pm. Admission is 3€ ($4.80) for adults, 1.75€ ($2.80) for children ages 6 to 16, and free for children 5 and under.
Around Dokkum -- The scenic north Friesland country around Dokkum is speckled with windmills, and with villages and farmhouses constructed atop terpen. Friesland makes a big deal of its hundreds of terpen, but you'd have to be a genuine enthusiast for these small man-made hillocks to want to go out of your way to visit more than a few. Most of them are between 2 and 6m (6 1/2-20 ft.) high. Hoogebeintum (Hegebeintum), 10km (6 miles) west of Dokkum, boasts the highest terp, 9m (30 ft.) above sea level, and a beautiful 17th-century church.
Southeast of Dokkum is the neat little village of Veenklooster, with thatched cottages around a brink (green), and a nearby abbey, the Fogelsanghstate, from 1725, which houses a branch of Leeuwarden's Fries Museum. Bergumermeer and Klein Zwitserland (Little Switzerland) are to the south.
Going northeast from Dokkum brings you to the Lauwersmeer, a man-made freshwater lake that was an inlet of the Waddenzee until it was cut off in 1969 by a barrier dam. Its sheltered waters provide a haven for birds, and for sailing and other watersports. Cross the dam-top road to Lauwersoog in Groningen province, from where ferries sail to Schiermonnikoog . At Expozee, Strandweg 1 (tel. 0519/349-045), a visitor center on the Lauwersmeer shore beside the village, learn about the natural history of both the Waddenzee and the lake. It's open Monday to Saturday from 10am to 5pm, and Sunday from 11am to 5pm.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.