Visiting a coastal paradise on Denmark’s doorstep by Richard Davies.

Wadden Sea National Park (known as Nationalpark Vadehavet in Denmark) is, as the English version of the name suggests, a coastal park. It’s by far the easiest of Denmark’s national parks for UK ferry travellers to get to. Esbjerg, the ferry port, sits almost exactly in the centre of the park. So once your ferry arrives, turn left or right and you’ll be on your way to some of the best nature and landscape Denmark has to offer.

The Waddensea coastline actually spreads across three countries – Germany, the Netherlands and Denmark. Each country has its own national park for their own coastline and Nationalpark Vadehavet is Denmark’s. Wadden Sea National Park was inaugurated on October 16th 2010 and is the smallest of the national parks. But that doesn’t mean it has less to offer. Not at all. Wadden Sea has plenty to offer a wide range of interestes – the nature lover, water sport enthusiast, those travelling with children, bird watcher, or anyone wanting a friendly, relaxed holilday away from the crowds.

Wadden Sea National Park Beach

Beach on the Wadden Sea

Vadehavet can be translated literally as “the wading sea”. The area is very flat and there is often very little difference between low and high tide – probably under 2 metres in many areas. And when the tide is out it leaves lots of wide open space of beach or mud flat, up to 10 km wide in some spots.

The landscape is fresh, bracing, big and breath-taking. Looking out to the sea you’ll find views of the wonderful islands – Rømø, Mandø and Fanø – described as pearls on a string, almost floating along the coastline. The islands can be reached by short boat rides. For example, taking a car ferry from Esbjerg to Fanø is just 12 minutes. There is a long road bridge from the mainland at Rømøvej to the island of Rømø, making this easily accessible by car. Note: the ø in Danish names is often translated as oe when used in English, so you might see Rømø, Mandø and Fanø as Romoe, Mandoe and Fanoe.

The beaches and marshlands across much of the Wadden Sea National Park are bordered by dunes, woods, marsh and heathland. If you have visited, for example, Holkham beach in Norfolk, you might get the idea. But big as Holkham beach might be, Wadden Sea National Park covers nearly 150,000 hecatres and includes not only the beaches and marshlands, but also the Waddensea islands, Skallingen, Varde Ådal, the area around Marbæk and part of the marshlands behind the dikes on the mainland.

A Haven for Birds and Animals

Wadden Sea National Park is a must see for bird watchers. It’s believed that there are 10 – 12 million birds that migrate in the spring and in the autumn on their way to their breeding grounds or to their wintering grounds. The coastline and marshlands prove wonderful feeding grounds for a huge range of breeds such as eider, oystercatcher, mallard, wigeon duck, pintail, brent goose and the barnacle goose.

Birds Wadden Sea Denmark

Birds at Wadden Sea Denmark

Also a must see for bird lovers, but also anyone with a love of the wonders of nature, is the sort sol or “black sun” – the name given to a display made by thousands of starlings who gather in flocks by the marsh at dusk. The flocks are so huge they resemble a “black sun”. Tøndermarsk is the area of the national park most associated with starlings, and it is believed the flocks can be as large as 1 million starlings here.

Starlings Black Sun

Black Sun – Thousands of starlings gather after dusk

But the Wadden Sea National Park isn’t just about birds. There is of course plenty of woodland and sea life. In fact it hosts Denmark’s largest seal population which can often be seen resting, playing or looking after their young along the sand banks at low tide.

Seal watching at Wadden Sea, Denmark

Seal watching at Wadden Sea Denmark

Fishing enthusiasts will also find a lot to keep them happy, and there are plenty of boat trips to get to some of the best spots. There is also plenty of seafood – lobsters, oysters and other shell fish. Granted, not the most exciting thing to look at, but with this many oysters around, you can guratee some delicious seafood will be available on the menus of local restaurants.

Below is a video presentaion from Denmark’s National Park organisation:

Wadden Sea National Park offers plenty of options for those who want to make a longer visit than jujst a day trip. There’s plenty of choice of accommodation, from holiday homes, camping and caravan sites, youth hostels and more. You could stay at the Ribe Byferie holiday centre, for example and enjoy various activities and health and beauty treatments. There are also holiday cottages, even close to the coastline, such as the beautiful island of Fanø.

danish cottage

Typical Danish cottage on the island of Farnoe

Getting There
So if you are visiting Denmark by car, motorhome or caravan, make sure you consider stopping over at one of Denmark’s most wonderful national parks on your visit. But even better, if you travel by ferry you will be right in the middle of the park already!

The ferry to Denmark goes from Harwich to Esbjerg, which is very central for the national park. From Esbjerg, the Wadden national Park is an easy drive either north or south, depending on which part of the park you need. The Harwich to Esbjerg ferry runs 4 times a week during summer, and 3 times during winter, and is operated by DFDS Seaways, voted Europe’s best ferry operator for several years running.

Map of the Wadden Sea National Park, Denmark


About the author: Richard Davies is a freelance writer based in Germany. He writes on all aspects of travel, in particular ferry travel, city breaks and camping in Europe.