Beaches, bicycles and big green spaces: Richard Webber explores the charms of The Hague
Holland is synonymous with bikes.
In fact, the Dutch are so crazy about pedal power that there are an estimated 18 million cycles in the country – that’s more than one for each member of the entire population.
But the way cyclists are looked after in arguably Europe’s flattest country makes jumping on a bike the perfect way to explore, as I discovered on my short break in The Hague, Holland’s only major city by the open sea.
With cycle tracks everywhere along with free, supervised city-centre parking lots that are purely for bikes, hopping on one makes sense when there’s so much to see.
Often overshadowed by Amsterdam’s bright lights, The Hague is probably best known as the seat for Holland’s government and home to its royal family.
But its streets are peppered with famous landmarks, too, such as the Peace Palace, home to international judiciary, or the Binnenhof, where government offices are housed in 13th-century buildings by the Hofvijver lake.
What’s more, its city centre has been crowned the Netherlands’s best and with over 111,000 acres of dunes, parks and estates, it’s also promoted as the ‘greenest city in Europe’ – staggeringly, more than a third of the city is green.
Once little more than a country house alongside a pond, The Hague has grown to become Holland’s third largest city while retaining a small-town feel. A welcoming air flows through the streets of this compact city, and its people are equally friendly.
By the seaside
For my base, I chose Bilderberg Europa Hotel in Scheveningen, a seaside suburb that blends the best of all that The Hague has to offer.
Though situated a stone’s throw from the beach, when I wanted to visit the centre I could jump aboard a No. 1 tram, which stops just up the road, and be in the heart of the city within 20 minutes.
To understand a little about the history of Scheveningen, visit Panorama Mesdag in the city centre. Stepping into the largest painting of Holland is like travelling back in time.
This atmospheric 46ft high panorama, the largest circular canvas in Europe, shows what Scheveningen was like in 1881 when it was just a fishing village. Study the sea, beach and dunes – which are always changing in the natural light – in this marvellous painting by Hendrik Willem Mesdag, his wife and friends.
The Hague is full of intriguing museums, galleries and places of interest edging its cobbled streets and picturesque squares.
Make sure you visit Escher in Het Paleis, a former palace housing an exhibition of work by world-famous Dutch artist, M C Escher. Much of his output was dominated by optical illusions and perspective so look out for his more unusual creations, including two hands drawing each other and water flowing upstream.
One of the unexpected highlights of my visit was Madurodam. This beautifully constructed miniature theme park provides an overview of Holland, including everything from canal houses and tulip fields to windmills and wooden shoe factories.
On the water
A novel way to explore The Hague is by cruising along its waterway network. Several boat owners ply their trade along the canals circling the city. But stay alert because you’ll have to duck to squeeze under some of the low ancient bridges.
It seemed a shame to leave The Hague without enjoying another cycle (bikes can be hired at the hotel). This time, I headed along Scheveningen’s wide seafront where holidaymakers and locals strolled in the sun, enjoying the never-ending beach and riding the waves on surfboards.
Great for independent explorers
It’s an easy city to navigate and most attractions are reachable on foot, bike or a short tram ride. Organised and reliable, trams offer a great way to explore. Buy an HTM Day Pass (€6.50) for unlimited travel on HTM’s trams and buses or a three-day Travel Card (€16.50).
Great for food lovers
Fish and seafood feature heavily on menus but there are restaurants catering for all tastes. Try The Penthouse (0031 70 305 1000), Holland’s highest restaurant. Or head to the coast for fresh fish at Catch (0031 70 338 7609) or Restaurant Waves (0031 70 416 2636).
Great for culture vultures
Make sure the Mauritshuis (003 1 70 302 3456), displaying paintings from the Dutch Golden Age, is on your agenda. On permanent display are works by Rembrandt and Vermeer, including The Girl With A Pearl Earring.
EasyJet Holidays (020 3499 5232) offers three nights’ b&b at the four-star Bilderberg Europa Hotel in Scheveningen, flying to Amsterdam from 10 British airports, from £188pp. Transfers (45 minutes) are available.
For more information on The Hague, visit holland.com
Woman’s Weekly travel offers
This Woman’s Weekly tour follows in the footsteps of two of history’s great painters: Vermeer and Rembrandt, exploring the towns where they were born, as well as visiting world-class art galleries to view their work.
Call 020 7251 0045 and quote code DUTWW or visit traveleditions.co.uk/WW