In the Netherlands, we celebrate not just one day of Christmas, but two. This year, on the second day, I traveled to the isle of Vlieland, one of five beautiful islands in the north. My father was staying there over Christmas, so I had decided to pay him a holiday visit.

My journey started early in the day, with heavy rain and cold temperatures. However, after about half an hour on board the ferry, the sky opened up and the rain stopped, and the light became a rainbow that swept across the sky above the beach.

Open waters during a storm
A rainbow breaks out over the water

View out over open water

Whenever I take a ferry, I can’t resist spending time on the deck. So, after the worst of the rain had passed, I grabbed my camera and headed outside. The light was a photographer’s dream — soft and warm, creating an incredible glow across the scene. Despite the cold and some persistent showers, I was able to put my camera to good use.

As the ferry approached the island, sandbanks and seals came into view under the beautiful skies. It was a true feast for the eyes, as everything was colored by the rising sun, and multiple rainbows became visible overhead. After being on deck in the cold for ages, my hands were nearly frozen, but the views made it all worth it.

A flag hangs out over open water

By the time the ferry arrived at Vlieland, most of the dark clouds and rain were gone, and I saw my father waiting for me in the harbor. Vlieland is a small island — you’re not allowed to bring your car there, and only a few permanent residents own a vehicle. This means that visitors have to explore by bike or on foot. That said, apart from a campsite and one restaurant, everything on Vlieland is perfectly reachable by foot, so we decided not to rent a bike.

A group of traditional dutch stone houses
A beachside sidewalk is lit up by a small lamp

The hotel we were staying in is located just outside the village, which was festively decorated with lights and Christmas trees. Oost-Vlieland is a very old town with traditional Dutch houses. Because it’s an island, a breeze is always present, which can be a nice refreshment in the summer. But come Christmastime, the wind just makes the freezing temperatures feel even harsher. There are restaurants and cafés where, in the summer, you can sit outside and enjoy the weather. In the wintertime, despite the chilly conditions, the island remains a wonderful place to explore. After we dropped off my bags, without any proper time to warm up, we headed straight for the beach.

From the moment I arrived on the island the sky was clear and blue, and the sun was shining brightly. The weather, though cold and windy, was perfect throughout the day, and the light was ideal for taking pictures. Despite the wind and freezing temperatures, we found our walk to be beautiful. The light from the sun made the grass on the dunes glow in a golden hue, perfect for photography.

Open plains by the water

To get a better view of the beach, we climbed on top of the dunes, where we could see the neighboring island of Terschelling across the clear horizon. The wind battered us, but even so, we stayed there for quite some time enjoying the view.

From the top of the dunes, we could also spot the island’s lighthouse. While it’s just a small structure, about 130 feet (40 meters), it’s located at the top of one of the highest dunes of the island, so its reach is significant. After having enjoyed our beach walk and sightseeing, we decided to head back to the village for lunch.

A lighthouse peeks out from across a field

Along the way, we found ourselves hiking through a small forest. It was delightful to be able to truly explore the small island’s varied landscapes, so after lunch, we decided to hike a bit farther. Our goal was to make it at least halfway around the island before sunset.

It turned out, however, that this was not as short a hike as we’d anticipated, but the views along the way made the effort more than worth it. From the tops of the dunes, the sunset was striking. As it dipped toward the horizon, everything turned to gold, the clouds shimmered, and the sky looked as though it was on fire.

The walk back was just as spectacular. The wind made the sea rough, and the colors of the sunset danced across the waves. Approaching the more developed part of the island, we couldn’t resist drinking a cold beer on the beach before heading back to the hotel.

Even though most people travel to Vlieland (or its surrounding islands) during the summer, I strongly recommend a visit during the wintertime. On a clear day, the light is spectacular, and the landscape offers something pure and raw. Of course, this isn’t to say you shouldn’t see Vlieland in the summer as well, but the winter months hold something more and beg for a certain type of exploration.

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Wouter van der Weerd
Wouter (Walter) van der Weerd is a photographer from the Netherlands who is always looking for moments worth capturing. He finds that the "frozen-in-time" nature of a photograph is ideal for capturing the atmosphere of a particular moment. He enjoys working with other photographers to help them capture great moments, and great stories. To see more of his work, you can follow him on Instagram (@wwebbs) or visit his website, www.wwebbs.nl.