The Wadden Sea National Parks
The Wadden Sea National Parks make up the largest system of intertidal sand and mud flats in the world. Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to their protection of numerous plant and animal ecosystems, the parks stretch from The Netherlands, through Germany and up to Denmark. The Wadden Sea National Parks are home to countless birds, shellfish, fish, harbor and grey seals, and porpoise.
The area is a birdwatcher’s paradise as it is a popular destination for birds to breed, nest and moult. The parks are also an important winter home for migrating birds. It has been reported that at times, there are as many as 6.1 million birds in the Wadden Sea sanctuary and approximately 10-12 million migrating birds pass through every year. Without the Wadden Sea sanctuary, many European bird species’ survival would be in danger.
If you like birdwatching, a good time to visit is in the spring and autumn. There are so many starlings on the island of Rømø, that many people make a specific trek to the island to witness the phenomenon called The Black Sun. The Black Sun occurs when thousands of starlings murmurate in such a large number that they actually black out the sun.
The best time for witnessing the Black Sun is early morning and late evening. We were not there at either time but we were able to catch a group of starlings as they prepared for their evening jaunt.
Esbjerg – Things to Do
We started out in Esbjerg. Even though it is the fifth largest city in Denmark, Esbjerg, still feels a bit like a sleepy fishing village. Located north of the island of Rømø, Esbjerg was once Denmark’s biggest fishing harbor. Today it is a popular summer destination for both Danes and Germans. One of the most famous landmarks in Esbjerg is the Svend Wiig Hansen sculpture Mennesket ved Havetor or Men By The Sea.
Men By The Sea
The men are 9 meters tall and constructed of white concrete. Quite imposing, it is said that the men can be seen from 10 kilometers out at sea. Staring out to the sea, rigid with blank eyes they reminded me of modern incarnations of the heads on Easter Island. They did not evoke happy feelings in me, but instead a feeling of numbness and dread.
According to the artist, they are meant to illustrate the meeting between mankind and nature. The men are seated to represent a time before man rose up and “got dirt” on their hands. For Wigg Hansen, once men rose up and started creating, that was when where things started to go wrong. I find this to be an odd perspective coming from an artist.
Wiig Hansen decided to make the sculpture with 4 men because he felt 4 was more harmonious then an odd number. Again, that concept feels rigid and controlled to me. I guess I am not the right audience for this particular piece, although its sheer size was impressive.
In addition to public art, Esbjerg offers many active pursuits.
A popular destination in Esbjerg is the Svømmestadion Danmark. Svømmestadion is Denmark’s largest bathing and swimming facility. It is an indoor pool and waterpark – perfect for Scandinavia’s fickle weather.
If you want to spend your days outside, there are a number of options for cycling along the beautiful Jutland coast.
The North Sea Cycle Route website can help you plan your perfect cycling adventure. The website offers cycle routes for everyone from beginners to experienced cyclists. There are a total of 1133 km/704 miles of cycle routes to peddle and enjoy the gentle Danish countryside. A popular routes for more experienced cyclers is Cycle Route number 1. Running from the German/Danish border, Cycle Route 1 is 560 km/348 miles.
If you are looking for a more relaxed family cycle trip, the Panorama routes are the way to go. There are 16 routes under the Panorama Route umbrella. The routes are circular and designed to accommodate families.
Each route is between 20 and 50 kilometers long. Most will take you along the Wadden Sea coastline. These routes are more suitable for beginner cyclers and families and every routes have restaurants along the way. There are numerous options for bike rentals in Esbjerg, but two that come recommended are PJ Ferie and Fri Bikeshop Fanø.
If you happen to be in Esbjerg in July, head to the beach to watch the The Tall Ship Races. These magnificent ships with their huge white sails look dramatic racing each other on the Wadden Sea. The race starts in Sunderland, England, sails to Esbjerg, Denmark, then on to Stavanger, Norway with the final leg ending in Harlingen, Netherlands.
Sand Castles Of Sorts
If you are in the area from May to August, a friend told me not to miss the Søndervig Sand Sculpture Festival. Alas, we were too early, but these sand sculptures look unbelievable. More sand sculptures, than castles, these three dimensional sand masterpieces look worthy of another trip. This year’s theme is Wizardry and Magic. Here are photos from last year’s festival.
If you want to mix it up after cycling, hiking and site seeing, take a canoe ride.
A canoe trip on the Kongeåen, will put you smack dab in the middle of history as the river historically marked the border between Denmark and Germany until the reunification in 1920.
A recommended route for your canoe trip along the Kongeå river begins at Søengevej, just east of Vejen. This is recommended because there is any easy launch pad into the water and the site has ample picnic tables and parking.
If you launch from Søengevej you will actually begin your trip on the Andst Å river for about 30 minutes cruising past the Knag Mølle (Knag Mill) and then meeting up with the Kongeå river. If you want to take a break and have a picnic, you can stop at Hermansens Høj, just past the Knag Mølle. Hermansens Høj offers picnic tables and fire pits for cooking if you want to grill your lunch.
They say that the fish are so plentiful in and around Esbjerg, that no one returns from a day of fishing empty handed. There are over 15 different type of fish in the Esbjerg area and one can fish for both fresh water and sea fish. Some of the popular fishing spots are Sneum Stream, Varde Å, Ribe Vesterå, If you plan on fishing, you will need a license which can be purchased at www.fiskekort.dk.
Hjerting Beach Park
The most popular beach in Esbjerg is by far Hjerting Beach Park. At Hjerting one can swim, play beach volleyball, nap in a hammock, or stroll along the the 660 meter wooden promenade. If the tide is low, you can sit on the sea platform. If you miss the low tide, you can still enjoy the platform but you will have to swim out to it.
Rømø – Things To Do
The island of Rømø is by far the most desired summer destination of the Wadden Sea area and it is easy to see why upon arrival. The place is tranquil and soft on your senses.
Rømø connects to the mainland by a 10 km causeway (and this is Denmark so of course there is a cycle lane). Traveling along the causeway one senses that you are leaving the hustle and bustle behind. The landscape is flat and consists of mudflats, marshland. The sea wraps itself around you on each side, the sound of birds calling you to their island.
The reason that so many Danes and Germans flock to Rømø each summer is obvious. Like Esbjerg, there are many things to do, however, where Esbjerg feels like a cool city summer escape, Rømø feels remote, removed and relaxed. Esbjerg has restaurants and clubs. Rømø has forests, marshlands and a really big beach.
Like Esbjerg, Rømø is chalk full of activities. There is something for everyone to do and enjoy. Activities include cycling, kite surfing, windsurfing, oyster hunting, horseback riding on the beach, golf and mini-golf, fishing, blokarts, seal excursions.
Want to travel back in time with your family? Head to Hjemsted Oldtidspark an historic theme park covering life in the Iron Age. The park is located on the archeological site of an actual Stone Age village from 2000 years ago.
There, one can explore the underground museum with reconstructed graves, the Roman catapults, and a working iron workshop. You can learn crafts, hunting, fishing, agriculture practices and learn about cloth making, weaving and archery.
If you really want to understand life in the Iron Age, Hjemsted Oldtidspark offers longer stays and in one of the park’s houses onsite. These stays fill up quickly in high season so if you are interested, book well in advance. You can read more about long term stays here.
For a bit of history of the island, visit the beautiful Sea Captain’s House. This national museum was a whaler’s home in the 1700s. Here you will learn about the important whaling industry that dominated the area’s economy in the 18th century.
The house has a breathtaking view of the Wadden Sea and is furnished with typical 18th century furniture and paintings. There is also a gorgeous wall tiled with Dutch tiles from the period. The barn contains an entire whale skeleton and there is a fence built of whale bones up the road from the museum. Interesting, albeit a bit creepy too.
The grounds and the view are quite nice, and weather permitting, it would be a very nice place for a summer picnic. There is also a cafe on site that serves lunch.
Drøhse’s House is one of Rømø’s oldest houses dating back to 1672. The baroque house is a well-preserved depiction of life in the 17th century. The house was a private residence for the upper class of Rømø throughout the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries.
In addition to the whaling industry, lace was a significant contributor to the island’s economic history. Drøhse’s House provides a peek inside a traditional trading house, and houses a number of exhibitions focusing on lace and lace making, textiles, furniture and glass. An added bonus, in the summer months, lacemakers can often be found working in the house.
A second bonus, be sure to visit the Lace Garden whose landscape was designed to resemble a 200-year-old Rømø lace pattern.
The museum is located on a pedestrian street at Storegade 14 in Tønder.
Looking for something to with tweens and teens, the Rømø Labyrinth Park is fun for teens and adults alike.
Puzzles, labyrinths and games, the park is designed to encourage teamwork and cooperation. And you can play their own game krolf – a mix between croquet and golf.
And One of My Favorite Activities: Exploring and Looking For Adorable Cottages
We visited the area off season. The many cafes, galleries and excursion were not open for the season, yet, we still enjoyed our time and I must say that I understand the pull of the area.
I want to return and rent an adorable thatched roofed cottage in the woods. I envision spending my days walking on the beach, going on an oyster safari, vacillating between all the active pursuits and reading a good book. In the evenings I’d watch the starlings murmurate and ponder the wonders of nature. It is said that the Waddden Sea casts a spell on its visitors. I, for one, am spellbound.