Two and a half hours is probably the outside limit for a day trip, but for a unique Amsterdam excursion, it’s worth the time to drive up to little Pieterburen in one of the Netherlands’ northernmost provinces.
With a population of 378, Pieterburen’s ability to support multiple tourist attractions is surprising. It’s so small, we had to leave town to find an ATM when we visited in 2004. But don’t be deterred by its size. Its attractions are world-class.
About 18 miles north of Gröningen, Pieterburen sits on the Waddensee, a location which defines its character. Its major amenities are tied to its waterside geography.
Wadlopen, or hiking in the mud shallows when the tide goes out, is this village’s principal attraction. Hikers join guided tours and slog through mud to visit unspoiled habitats like Friesian Islands’ bird breeding grounds.
Wadloopen Centrum (Hoofdstraat 118, Tel. 05 95 5283 45) is the starting point for arranging your mud-walking excursion. Wadlopen can be dangerous, so the government requires trained guides. The guides are alert to tides and orientation, so no one is left miles from shore, scrambling to return to land before the sea claims them. But wadlopen does include walking through water at times, allowing for encounters with animals that make the water their home, including ducks and Waddensee seals.
Preparation: wear high-tops, socks, short pants, warm top and windbreaker. Carry dry clothes and shoes in waterproof bag. Bring food and drinks for a 3 to 4 hour strenuous experience. Children under 12 not allowed.
Stichting Zeehondencrèche is a second prime attraction in Pieterburen. This world-renowned seal hospital takes in and rehabilitates wounded seals, releasing them to the wild. Lenie ‘t Hart first opened the seal hospital in 1971, and at 70, she has no immediate plans to retire. Visiting the seal hospital is free, and you can spend as much time as you like watching the recuperating seals. There are also educational exhibits about seal preservation.
Pieterburen has other attractions- riding shires, renting whisper boats, and strolling on a national walking path- but once you try wadlopen, you won’t have energy for anything other than falling into the car for the drive back.
Getting there: Take A1/E231 10.5 km to A6; follow 99.8 km; turn left onto A7 and proceed 53.9 km. Take N983 about 12 km, then N361 for 2.6 km, and N984 to Pieterburen.