Today’s Hague, Netherlands City Guide comes from Carla Baechtle, daycare center teacher and blogger at The Baechtles Abroad. She and her husband made the move from Washington, DC to The Hague in 2009, and she has been discovering the region ever since. Today she shares some of the many historic and exotic sites of this beachside town. Thanks, Carla, for this wonderful glimpse into The Hague! — Stephanie
Read the full guide after the jump . . .
Image via Veer.com
Visitors to The Netherlands might overlook the country’s administrative and governmental capital, The Hague (Den Haag) in favor of its glitzier neighbor to the north. But once travelers have soaked up all that Amsterdam has to offer, it is well worth the short train ride south to discover this somewhat hidden gem of a Dutch city. With a population of around 500,000, flanked by the North Sea and home to Parliament, The Hague offers all the benefits of city life alongside the quaint subtleties of suburbia. Exploring Den Haag yields a wealth of culture, outstanding dining experiences, unique shopping and the chance to soak up European café culture in its city neighborhoods, as well as along its beautiful North Sea shores.
Check out this Google Map with all of the below listings.
City Center/Royal and Parliamentary Den Haag
The heart of The Hague serves up a wealth of shops, museums and restaurants, all within short walking distance of the impressive Parliament building and its buitenhof, or outer grounds — in this case, a lovely pond and walking path. It’s an impressive spot for photos and a good starting point for a day in this neighborhood.
Take a stroll around the lake and make your way to the binnenhof, or inner courtyard of Parliament. Take in the impressive Knight’s Hall and the gold emblazoned fountain. Guided tours are offered for both the Knight’s Hall and either the Eerste or Tweede Kamer, or First or Second Room, beginning with a video offered in English. Tours are conducted in Dutch, but questions in English are welcome, and it is well worth seeing the inside of The Knight’s Hall and its understated but intricate glory. Politics and royalty unite here each year when the Queen addresses the people of the Netherlands from this room.
Thanks in part to Hollywood, many people recognize Johannes Vermeer’s painting, The Girl with the Pearl Earring. It is housed here, in this impressive 17th-century palace turned art museum. Its majestic insides and easy layout make for an enjoyable experience while perusing its impressive collection.
M.C. Escher Museum
Many are familiar with one or two of M.C. Escher’s mind-bending creations, but one cannot truly appreciate the genius of his work until it is explored through this museum. One of the first awe-inspiring facts you’ll learn about Escher is that he created many of his works by carving them onto wood, making them all the more amazing. The museum is set in Het Paleis, a palace that was formerly the winter residence of The Royal Family. As palaces go, it is intimate and cozy, creating the perfect backdrop for Escher’s genius. The chandeliers in each room are worthy of mention — they are large, sparkly creations by the Rotterdam-based artist Hans van Bentem. There are some interactive exhibits on the top floor and a very well-appointed gift shop on the way out.
Before I visited this museum, my vision of a panorama was a thin, elongated photograph, not unlike what one might get with the panorama setting on a camera. I was proven quite wrong as I indulged in a complete sensory treat at the Panorama Mesdag, a 360-degree canvas painting depicting life in the 1800s at the Scheveningen seashore. Visitors ascend a small spiral staircase and, at the top, are completely enveloped in the painting as they view the scenery around them. A narration accompanies the experience, detailing how this utterly impressive work was achieved, so make sure to stay through the English version of the script. This is a wholly unique piece of art that is not to be missed!
The Center is the place to go for all major chain stores; both European and American types can be found here. Here are a few major stores worth checking out:
Most comparable to the USA’s Target, HEMA offers everything from clothing to household goods to food. Their designs are colorful and quirky, and it’s fun to roam the aisles and see what you can find.
The Netherlands’ upscale department store that boasts several floors of high-end apparel, accessories and home goods. Many top name designers can be found here, but their own clothing line is chic and affordable. Check it out on the racks toward the front of the women’s section.
Spuis Shopping Street
Visit this street for lower to upper-middle-cost shopping — there are a myriad of options!
Shops on this street are from high-end to super luxury, including art galleries and antique shops. You’ll walk by the Queen’s working Palace — rumor has it that if the flag is flying, she’s inside.
Denneweg Shopping Street
This street boasts an array of luxury shops that are all worth stopping by. Check out the street’s website and then a few recommendations below.
This store holds a lavish collection of Peter Kent handbags and leather goods. Rich Argentinian leather and a less than traditional design make these bags highly desirable. Stop in and try the bag that Princess Maxima of the Netherlands carries!
A small boutique with a meticulously chosen selection of gorgeous clothing and shoes. Most notable is the large selection of jewelry — mostly beaded bracelets and necklaces made by the shop owner, Kelly. They are classy and delicate and look great worn in small numbers or with a whole bunch on the wrist, making that delightful little jingle when you move.
A charming café open for lunch with delicious sandwiches and a daily pasta. Leave room for dessert, as their selection of cakes is divine.
Bodega de Posthoorn
Have lunch at a typical Dutch eatery that features Dutch staples as well as a rich history. If you’re there in the winter, try the pea soup — they are famous for it. It is hearty, soothing and will keep you going for hours.
Offering a truly delightful dining experience, the chefs at Maxime change their menu bi-weekly and create two four-course menus. They are presented on a menu card as “Left and Right,” and diners can mix and match from either side to create their own four-course meal. An appetizer from the left, a soup from the right, dessert from the left — or maybe all right or all left — diners always walk away satisfied. Reservations required.
With Asian cooking as its base, this restaurant creates small dishes of fusion-type cuisine that intrigue the palate. Perfect for sharing, with a menu that’s small enough to almost try it all. The décor is funky and the vibe decidedly cool.
A traditional Indonesian rijsttafel (rice table) is a must-do while in The Hague. Samples of many different dishes are brought to the table along with rice and/or noodles.
For drinks and a lively social scene, head to The Plein or Grote Markt, two large squares surrounded on all sides by bars and restaurants. Outside seating year round and plenty of places for drinks make these spots lively, and it’s very easy to stick around for hours!
A quick tram ride from the center lies one of The Hague’s most desirable neighborhoods, home to row after row of charming Dutch houses, the posh shopping street dubbed “The Fred” and a welcoming, relaxed attitude.
The Peace Palace or Vredespaleis
Before you disembark the tram in Statenkwartier proper, you might want to jump out at The Peace Palace building. Set back from the road, this majestic structure is home to the International Court of Justice and is worth strolling around the front gates for some photo opportunities. If you plan ahead, you can schedule a guided tour by contacting the staff, and you will be taken through the impressive interior. The halls are covered in gorgeous hand-laid mosaic, and there are impressive gifts from other countries on display throughout. It is well worth the quick 50-minute tour time to see the inside of the palace.
Foto Museum Den Haag
For a mere six Euro, visitors can peruse the thoughtful and interesting exhibits at the photo museum. With rotating exhibitions, there is always something fresh to behold.
The undisputed place to shop in Statenkwartier is The Frederik Hendriklaan, or as the locals call it, “The Fred.” It stretches the length of the neighborhood and has everything from groceries to flowers to shoes.
Kaatje aan de Rein
A shop chock-full of whimsy and wonder, with a seemingly endless collection of unique gifts and special items. A large part of the merchandise is displayed on old and completely authentic apothecary cabinets, complete with original jars and labels, which adds to the warmth and charm of the store. Look for Gertrude, who owns the shop, and her daughter Sophie, who helps her run it. If you’re there in November or December, continue to the back of the shop to the attached Christmas market, full of specialty ornaments and holiday decorations.
A quirky home goods shop with bold colors and accents to spice up any room.
Cook & Co.
Everything you need for the kitchen and beyond.
A shoe lover can find a nice selection of Tod’s and Shabbies of Amsterdam here, as well as a small room with Furla handbags in the back. The staff is friendly and helpful as well!
A clothing shop where you can find the basics as well as some jazzy pieces to liven things up. Check out tank tops and long sleeve basics by VILA — great fabric and a great fit. Also check out their sister shop across the street, L.A. by Luna Azul, which offers slighter fancier fare. Fredrik Hendriklaan 265, 070-350-7069 http://www.lunaazul.nl/ (website under construction)
You can’t miss with Tasty’s delicious menu of sandwiches, soups and salads. Even the American-style hamburger is delicious, and that is hard to find in The Netherlands. Also try the tomato soup — it’s simple but has a certain zing. Sit outside or enjoy the somewhat Zen-inspired interior. Be sure to order a cup of tea or coffee, if only to try the homemade macaroon that will accompany it. They are made in house, and the chefs are always trying new flavor combinations.
Plasman vof Banketbakkerij
This bakery dates back to 1909, and their cakes, pastries and chocolates do not disappoint. Order a to-go treat from the window — a personal favorite is the pain aux raisins — or head inside to sit and enjoy some of their breakfasts or lunches from the kitchen.
A cozy restaurant set just off The Fred. You can find soups, salads and sandwiches and enjoy the eclectic décor.
Bagels & Beans
It’s a chain throughout the Netherlands, but it doesn’t have the impersonal feel that some chains do. Coffees and cappuccinos are delicious, as well as the variety of spreads and sandwiches offered on bagels. This particular location on the Fred is a favorite hangout for local expats, and people are invited and encouraged to stay and relax. There is also a kid-friendly back corner with some toys and games, and the staff will whip up a “kids cappuccino” (some frothy milk minus the espresso).
If you’re staying nearby and are opting for a night in, a delicious take-out option is Pastanini. Their oven-baked pizzas are delicious, and they also offer a selection of homemade pastas and sides. There is a dine-in option, but as this is a fairly new establishment, they are still working out the kinks, so the experience does not go so smoothly. Ordering at the counter and taking away is the best option!
This is the other kind of Indonesian dining — instead of a rijsttafel, it’s dining by individual plate. You chose your base (rice or noodles) and then two meats and two vegetables to accompany it. This place provides full Indonesian flavors and a friendly staff. Fredrik Hendriklaan 250, 070-369-4322
Eetcafe de Parodie
Located just around the corner from The Fred, this is pleasant Dutch dining with a modern flair to the food and a bistro feel to the place. They create a menu for each season with several selections for three courses, and there is also a fixed menu that you can choose from. It’s a quiet place to relax and refresh over dinner.
Hudson Bar & Kitchen
With a bit of a rugged, American cowboy theme, the Hudson is a great place for beers and hanging out, as well as delicious eats. The choices are hearty and filling — there is chili, their famous Hudson burgers, nachos, steak and plenty of other bar snacks and some meal specials. The staff is helpful and friendly, and if you happen to stop in on a night when a sports game is on, you can bet that a lot of locals will be drinking and watching the game here.
Many people are surprised to learn that The Hague is a beachside town, with miles and miles of coastline, wide beaches and plenty of space for towels and lounge chairs. The neighborhood of Scheveningen is a beach town through and through, with locals fiercely loyal to its environs, and its name is one of the hardest words to pronounce in Dutch. Rumor has it that during WWII, anyone suspected of being a spy was asked to say Scheveningen out loud — only a true Dutch tongue can say it 100% correctly.
Take a look at the history of the seaside town.
Hit the Beach!
If you’re visiting anytime between April and October, you’ll find an entire coastline full of bars and restaurants built right on the sand. In the remaining months, they disappear but are faithfully rebuilt when the sun comes out again. It’s easy to spend a whole day at one of these places, either lounging on the many available couches and chaises, or in the warmer months, renting a beach lounge chair and venturing onto the sand, closer to the sea, for a real beach day. Breakfast, lunch, snacks, dinners and drinks are plentiful, and on a nice day, it’s well worth taking the time to relax at the seaside. A list of these beachside restaurants, or strandpaviljoens, can be found here.
The main shopping street in Scheveningen is the Keizerstraat. There is a host of practical shopping, like drug stores and food shops, but also a few independently owned shops that give the street a lot of character.
A fashion boutique with chic, comfortable clothing. Owner Nathalie stocks her shop with everything from wonderfully chunky sweaters to sleek jeans and sequined tops. Take her up on her offer for a cup of coffee while you shop, and take your time going through each section. She also includes a few home items.
Het Hofje van Noman
A cheerfully run bakery with delicious breads, cakes and cookies, as well as a full menu of breakfast and lunch options. If it’s a nice day, sit outside and watch the Scheveningen crowd as they walk by.
ZO Zoet & Zoet
A somewhat casual breakfast and lunch place with mix-and-match tables and chairs and heaps of old magazines and newspapers to leaf through. Free WiFi, too!
A truly delightful restaurant that offers thoughtful selections of meat, fish and vegetable accompaniments. If you’re feeling adventurous, try the Chef’s Surprise Menu, and you’ll get three, four, or five courses of whatever the kitchen was inspired to create that night. The décor is lovely, too — almost like a friend’s fancy, yet cozy, living room.
Translated as “Cool,” this neighborhood place is relaxed, bright and has a great menu of comfort foods. The ribs are always good, as is the chicken sate, and there are always some specials on hand. It’s a family-run place, and you’ll often see the son and daughter working, while dad is across the street at their other, more upscale restaurant, Huyskamer. Tea and coffee at the end of your meal come with a big tin of biscuits, and the check comes with a good selection of lollipops.
If you’re up for splurging, treat yourself to this Starwood Hotel that just drips with luxury. It’s centrally located and plush, and the building is rich in history. The staff is delightful, as well; meet the doorman a few times, and he won’t forget your face.
Hilton Den Haag
Brand new in 2011, The Hilton is expensive but provides signature Hilton accommodations and a great location.
For a more budget-friendly option, the Belair is a good choice. The rooms are sparse and could probably use an update, but they are clean and serviceable. It’s located outside the center but within walking distance of two tram lines that run there.