When visiting the Netherlands, most people stick to Amsterdam. If you are looking for something different, The Hague is a great choice: a quieter, beachside city.
It’s a sunny morning in Scheveningen, an old fishing village and now part of The Hague. “Would you like a drink?” asks the smiling waiter on the terrace of beach café Copacabana.
A few boys and girls walk by carrying surfboards across the large sandy beach towards the white waves of the North Sea. Our daughter shoots down the slippery slide next to the café and then comes to show us some shells she has found.
We have a one-week holiday and couldn’t make up our minds where to go, so decided to stay in The Hague. Many foreigners who visit the Netherlands only go to the capital city of Amsterdam (confusingly enough, The Hague is the government seat). Den Haag, as the Dutch call it, is much less known and therefore less touristy. It is also only a 30-minute train ride from Schiphol Airport.
We enjoy a tasty breakfast − orange juice, croissant, bread roll, scrambled eggs, salmon, cheese, salad, sweets and a latte macchiato – and then stroll past the other beach cafés, decorated with colourful lamps and cushions, Buddha statues and flowers. Most are taken down in October and rebuilt again in March the following year − keeping them running year round is risky due to possible winter storms.
We walk to the Pier, from where we enjoy a fabulous view of the sea. On one side is the boulevard and on the other side the Oostduinpark dune area, where we plan to take a bike trip later this week. For even better views, ride the 40m-high Ferris wheel.
We meet Maike (25) and Christopher (26), a German couple also walking past the small shops and street food restaurants. Why did they decide to visit The Hague, I ask. “We wanted to go to the beach,” he says, explaining that it’s only a two-hour drive here from where they live. She had visited Amsterdam a few years ago. “There are so many people and bicycles there. It’s much quieter here.”
Art, roses and fish
Later that day, we visit the Municipal Museum, known for its Mondrian collection, including the famous Victory Boogie Woogie painting. This year the museum is exhibiting all 300 of Mondrian’s works, usually out on loan to international museums.
Three Belgian couples in their forties enter the Municipal Museum alongside us. They are on a short holiday here together. “We’re pleasantly surprised by The Hague,” says Erik Beddevoets. “The buildings, the creativity, the tranquillity, the sea…” Kathleen Op De Beeck nods. She likes Amsterdam too, but “The Hague is different. Smaller, of course. A welcome change.”
Yesterday, they visited the Escher in Het Paleis museum, which displays the world-famous optical-illusion art by M.C. Escher. “Do you have any other tips for us?” they ask. I think for a moment. The Westbroekpark crosses my mind. “The best thing about this park is the huge fragrant rose garden, with 300 varieties that bloom from June to October,” I tell them. “It’s always quiet, so I don’t think many foreign visitors know about it.” A bit hidden, next to the canal, is the lovely De Waterkant café, where we rented a rowing boat last week. I also advise them to go to the harbour for delicious fresh fish at the popular Simonis restaurant, or to Oma Toos for traditional, old-fashioned Dutch food.
Peace, justice and security
The next day, we head to the city centre to do some clothes and gift shopping. While The Hague has a good public transport system, with many trams and buses, I – like most Dutch people – prefer to get around by bike. Bike rentals can be found in the centre, or in places such as de Keizerstraat shopping street in Scheveningen.
We bike along the Scheveningseweg, with its separate bike track, road, tram track and pedestrian path, and through the forest-like park. We stop to buy Italian ice cream from a cart in front of the Peace Palace, a Neo-Renaissance-style building from 1913. It’s the most photographed building in town, I read on the tourist information website. Today we see people from India, Turkey and China taking photos. “We should visit once too,” I say. The International Court of Justice is located here, and not without reason – The Hague is known as the international city of peace, justice and security.
Further along, we pass Panorama Mesdag, a museum I visited a few weeks ago. Here you can view a huge 360º panorama painting by H.W. Mesdag from 1881, depicting Scheveningen as it was then. After all those years, it’s still spectacular to observe. We buy a few items from the Zeeheldenkwartier district, and then browse the small shops on the chic Denneweg and the Noordeinde, where the King’s office is located.
Red, blue and yellow
On the Hofvijver, the pond in front of the Prime Minister’s office, I spot some blue, red and yellow artworks. It’s hard not to notice the city’s ‘Mondrianisation’ this year. Herbert Brinkman, city spokesperson, had informed me that no fewer than 850 shops, 20 public buildings and 180 community centres have decorated their façades in the Mondrian style.
“The idea came from the Municipality Museum,” he told me, “and we supported it with €200,000 [US$237,000].” The goal was to make people more familiar with Mondrian, to encourage them to visit the museum and The Hague. “We didn’t expect it to become such a success. The colours seem to make people cheerful.” At the end of the year, the decorations will all be taken down again.
At the tourist information office inside the public library, we look at the souvenirs and gifts, including items with Mondrian prints on them such as mugs, socks and even chocolate. The staff enthusiastically tell me about the festivals later this month, including a food truck festival, a kite festival and the Heritage Days.
By now we are feeling a bit hungry, so we get ourselves herring sandwiches from the stall next to the Parliament building. We also walk through the gate for a quick look at the Binnenhof, the Inner Court, a complex of buildings from the 13th century and the oldest House of Parliament in the world still in use.
A little further on is the Mauritshuis museum, located in a 17th-century palace and apparently also home to the best of Dutch and Flemish Golden Age painting, with masterpieces such as Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring.
Our daughter is not enthusiastic about treading the halls of the gallery, so we suggest the Madurodam miniature city instead. She likes the idea, especially because she knows there are playgrounds there. Even for adults, it is a nice outing, as it gives a small overview of the entire country, and we feel like giants. We get inspired to visit the historic towns of Leiden and Delft later this week, which are nearby and easy to reach by public transport.
At the end of the week, there is still so much of The Hague to see. We now have a better idea of our home, the trips you can take and the sights you can see, and we plan to explore the city more in the months ahead.