As the old saying goes, it takes two halves to make a whole and that is certainly the case when it comes to The Hague (Den Haag), a city on the North Sea coast in the western Netherlands. Having visited The Netherlands many times and after exploring a number of its cities and towns, not just the biggies – Amsterdam and Rotterdam, The Hague has been the place that has surprised me the most so far. The reason why? Well, because it certainly wasn’t what I was expecting.
Many people when I told them I was taking a solo trip to The Hague asked why? Their preconceptions and probably mine too were that it is the home of the International Criminal Court and not much else. Well, guys, I can confirm we were all wrong. In fact, there so much to do in the city, it is the third largest in the country, after all, my two-day visit simply was not long enough to cram it all into. Therefore, it has firmly found itself on my ‘must revisit’ list and next time I’m taking Mr ESLT with me.
I flew from Doncaster, England into Amsterdam Airport Schiphol, as a nervous flyer and travelling solo, the fact that the flight was only 50 minutes got a massive thumbs up from me. If you have ever flown into Schiphol before you will know it’s massive, however, it is quite easy to navigate. I simply followed the signs for the train, jumped on the next one heading to The Hague, I only had to wait around 10 minutes and within 30 minutes I was in the centre of The Hague. The trains in The Netherlands are extremely reliable, frequent and relatively cheap, which means you can get to and from almost any part of the country very easily.
The Two Sides of The Hague
The Hague is fondly referred to as the Royal City by the Sea, which should have given me a clue as to what I should expect from my trip. And looking back now at the things I did and saw, there really is no greater name for it. The Hague offers two very different trips in one place, making it a great destination if you want to experience traditional Dutch charm and want to spend time relaxing at the beach.
A short tram ride, approximately 20 minutes, from Den Haag Centraal (the central train station) and I arrived at my home for my two-night stay – Scheveningen. Many people have heard of Scheveningen but don’t realise that it is actually part of The Hague, together with its neighbour Kijkduin, which unfortunately I did not have time to visit on this trip. I grabbed my bag and headed towards the sea and what I found was totally unexpected.
Beach, Pier & Boulevard
As the sun was setting I took the opportunity to take a walk along the beach before finding the perfect spot to just sit and take in my surroundings. I kicked off my shoes, felt the sand slip between my toes and I breathed the sea air in deeply. It reminded me so much of family holidays at the seaside and instantly I felt at home. Having never really considered The Netherlands as a beach holiday destination, it became clear very quickly that it is, in fact, a great option.
Scheveningen beach is also home to a pier which is jam-packed full of fabulous smelling food joints, bars shops and a 50 meter high Ferris wheel which, although I didn’t get the opportunity to ride, I imagine offers amazing views right over the city. The pier is free to wander up and down and even if you do not intend on buying anything, it is still a great place to take a look at and experience.
And finally, what seaside destination is complete without a beautiful boulevard packed with, amongst others, ice cream and fish and chip vendors touting their delicious offerings together with souvenir shops selling everything you could possibly need for a day, or longer, at the beach? It is the perfect place to take a walk and take in the sights and smells of the seaside haven.
The hotel I had the pleasure of staying at was the Strandhotel located in the heart of Scheveningen which is very homely, and what I would consider a very typical seaside hotel. It has been owned by the present owners for over 30 years. Positioned a mere stone’s throw from the beach and a two-minute walk from the tram stop, it offered the perfect base for me to explore from.
Originally two-holiday villas which were merged following World War II, the building has retained a number of its key unique features and offers a range of different rooms depending on need, length of stay and of course budget. With a fresh breakfast served every morning, a table in the front window was a must as it allowed me to drink my morning tea whilst admiring the views of the pier and out over the North Sea.
There are a number of different types of accommodation in Scheveningen if a hotel is not your thing, from apartments and villas to campsites. However, if you are looking for something that extra bit quirky then you should consider the ridiculously cute holiday houses (beach cottages -Haagse Strandhuisjes in Dutch) on the beach in Kijkduin, which as mentioned before, is Scheveningen’s neighbour and also part of The Hague.
Beach Café Bars
I love a café bar, therefore I was in my element in Scheveningen because when I visited in June there were so many lined up along the edge of the beach, deciding which one to grab a drink or something to eat at was a tough decision. With wonderful outside decked areas, they all looked extremely inviting and some quite romantic especially when lit intimately at night. As the weather when I visited was fantastic it was perfect for al fresco dining whilst watching the waves lap at the shore.
One of my favourites was De Waterraus where I indulged in a fantastic Sunday brunch. With every food imaginable on offer, I filled my plate and watched people enjoying the mid-morning sun and taking part in numerous water sports including flyboarding and surfing. De Waterraus was the first permanent beach restaurant in Scheveningen and is still only one of a few that remains in situ the whole year round. It was even voted Best Beach Pavilion in the Netherlands in 2016.
Another of my favourites was The Fat Mermaid, which is taken down and erected every year for the summer months. I had a lovely lunch of bitterballen here, well when in The Netherlands, right? This beach bar made me feel like I was in Venice, LA. It really has a cool, laidback vibe, perfect for grabbing a bite to eat, a full evening meal or simply relaxing in the afternoon sun with a cocktail or two. Also, every Thursday, Friday and Saturday a DJ plays at the Fat Mermaid, making it a great place to kick back even after the sun has set.
Open Air Art & Museums
The Boulevard in Scheveningen is home to a very impressive sculpture park which had a number of fantastic pieces on display and all free to walk around and look at. My favourite ones were definitely the 23 bronze sculptures collectively knowns as ‘SprookjesBeelden aan Zee‘ (Fairytale Sculptures by the Sea) designed and created by American artist Tom Otterness. Each sculpture is inspired by a fairytale or fable including The Queen and the Magic Fish, Hansel and Gretel and The Frog Prince. They have been in place since 2012 when the boulevard was redeveloped and are well worth visiting.
The sculptures actually belong to Museum Beelden aan Zee (Museum by the Sea) which is located right behind them. Open every day, apart from Monday between 10.00am and 5.00pm, the museum is home to nearly 1000 sculptures. It is the only museum in The Netherlands dedicated to displaying sculptures. Therefore, if you are interested in sculptures, especially modern ones, then the €15.00 (per adult) entrance fee is well worth it, especially as you can spend as long as you like in there wandering around the exhibits.
The main reason that I visited The Hague when I did was so I could witness the end of the 13th edition of the Volvo Ocean Race, which if you are not familiar with, is an around the world yacht race that is held every three years. The race had started in October 2017 in Alicante, Spain therefore, the finish was a very emotional one, especially for the sailors and their teams as most, if not all of them had been separated from their families for the duration of the race. Also, the end of the 2017/2018 was the closest in history, after sailing 45,000 nautical miles, there wasn’t a clear winner in the lead, making the atmosphere electric with over 50,000 fans and spectators piling into the Race Village to see who would be the winners, not only of the leg but also of the overall race.
I got the opportunity to ride on one of the press boats which I’ll be honest was one of the most exhilarating yet terrifying things I have ever done in my life. I had visions of a pleasure boat sailing out into the North Sea, maybe we’d be offered a cup of tea? Nope, it was a RIB and I had to cling on for dear life. When we got word that the boats were nearing, we zoomed off to meet them to get photographs of them arriving into The Hague. This was an extremely hard task, due to the speed we were travelling at and the fact that we got hit by a massive wave. Nevertheless, it was a great experience and one that I am glad that I had the opportunity to take part in. Everyone seemed to have a thoroughly enjoyable day not only watching the finish of the race but also wandering around the Race Village which has something for everyone of all ages.
Even though The Hague has been a port on the race circuit before, where one leg has finished and another has begun, this was the first time it has held the finish. Watching the award ceremony at the end of the event was fantastic with a lot of emotion both on the stage and throughout the crowd. Fingers crossed one day The Hague get the start of the Ocean Volvo Race which is apparently quite an honour.
The second part of my trip to The Hague involved a whistle-stop visit to the city side of it. Even though The Hague is the 3rd largest city in The Netherlands, the first thing I noticed was how quiet it was. If you have only ever experienced Amsterdam you may think that every city in the country is as busy, they are not and The Hague is a prime example. There is lots to see and do but you don’t have to battle the crowds at the same time. Perfect.
Events & Festivals
As with any major city, The Hague is home to a number of festivals and events throughout the year including, amongst many others, jazz, kite and fireworks festivals. At the beginning of June, The Hague was the host city of the 2018 Sand Sculpting World Championships. The competition is held every three years and this was the first time The Hague had the pleasure of hosting it. Held on Lange Voorhout, a beautiful tree-lined boulevard in the city centre, the sculptures, of which there are 9 large sand artworks of no less than 4 – 5 meters high, were still available to see when I visited at the end of June and will be until the end of August 2018.
During my very brief visit, I had the opportunity to visit the Hotel des Indes, The Hague’s most grand and famous hotel. Located on Lange Voorhout, the beautiful tree-lined boulevard I mentioned before it boasts a prime location in the city. The hotel was opened in 1858 and is therefore steeped in history and has seen many celebrations, including Mata Hari and Josephine Baker, grace its corridors over the years. I would have loved to spend an evening but simply did not have the time on this trip. I did, however, indulge in lunch here in the beautiful surroundings the hotel offers. With a fantastic restaurant, stunning bedrooms, and even an indoor swimming pool and gym, this is the pinnacle of accommodation available in The Hague.
The last stop on my visit to The Hague was to somewhere I have wanted to visit for so long – Mauritshuis (€ 15,50 per adult). It is an intimate museum which is home to a world-class collection of art in The Hague including a world-famous collection from the Dutch Golden Age. With beautiful pieces of artwork adorning every wall, it was tough deciding where to start. Luckily, I had a guided tour of the museum which meant every key piece was pointed out and explained to me, from “The Goldfinch” by Fabritius to “The Anatomy Lesson” by Rembrandt and not forgetting the pièce de résistance “The Girl with a Pearl Earring” by Vermeer. I had around one hour at the Mauritshuis, however, if I haven’t have had a train to catch, I could have easily spent the whole afternoon there. Art is a secret passion of mine and I am slowing but surely building up my knowledge about it and this was a great place to learn about some of the greats.
Would I recommend The Hague? Definitely, especially during the summer months when Scheveningen becomes a Holland hotspot. As I mentioned before it has been added to my ‘revisit list’ and I cannot wait to plan a return trip with Mr ESLT, particularly to The City side of The Hague as I only got the opportunity to spend a few hours there on this trip. I had a great time in the Hague, it really is a city of two halves and one that is also full of surprises.
- Thank you to The Hague Marketing Bureau and Visit Holland for inviting me to visit this fab city. As always opinions are my own.