If you've got a hankering for a little time travel, consider visiting The Hague. Technically a village, it still functions as a major city albeit in a quiet manner. Or should I say, a Dutch manner? There are a few tall buildings, but the heart of the village is in its residential streets, its orderly transportation systems and its bustling shopping center--located conveniently across the street from the heart of the country's government housed in a former castle, The Binnenhof.
The Hague includes a seaside resort, Scheveningen, a name so difficult to pronounce--even some Dutch people have trouble with it--that Holland's intelligence service used it as a password to confound enemy spies. It is also home to the International Court of Justice, now busily trying the former president of Yugoslavia for war crimes.
Looking both to the future as the heart and soul of international law and to the past as the home of monarchs long gone, The Hague is all that is good in the Netherlands, and in the people who are lucky enough to inhabit that country.
Wander Alleys on your Way to Castles in Full, Holland in Miniature, Museums Galore and More
Get yourself a Den Haag Chequeboek, available from the Tourist Information Offices (VVV), free of charge. There are 33 vouchers in this year's edition that give you more than 60€ worth of savings. They are good from as little as a 1€ discount at the Omniversum (a multi-media entertainment complex) to free entry to the Holland Casino (normally 3.50€).
The most impressive site in The Hague is the Binnenhof, a medieval castle, with its imposing Ridderzaal (Knights' Hall) and the Rolgebouw (Roll Building), both dating from the 13th century. It started housing local government in the 15th century, and in 1585 the Binnenhof became the seat of government for all the Netherlands, and remains so today. Note: On September 17 this year, Queen Beatrix will drive in a state procession to open parliament in the Binnenhof. Try to see this if you possibly can do so (contact information found below). It's closed on Sundays and holidays. Admission will be charged if a program is being offered, but the square and the exhibition area under the Knights' Hall and parliament buildings are otherwise free.
Nearby, check out the Buitenhof complex, with narrow alleys and plazas, and then look at the St. Jacob's Church (Grote Kerk) en route to the palace--the Noordeinde Palace, that is, where Queen Beatrix works and receives guests, but does not live.
Try to make time to see the Maurithuis art exhibits, including some of the world's most famous paintings, such as Vermeer's Girl with a Pearl Earring, Rembrandt's Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicholaes Tulp, and Gerard ter Borch's Woman Writing a Letter. There are two rooms full of Rembrandts, one of Vermeers, one of Steens, and so on. Admission is 7€ (seniors half price, children under 18 free) 8 Korte Vijveberg, behind the Binnenhof, phone 302-3435, Web site www.mauritshuis.nl.
Don't be surprised about the number of good museums here. Holland has the highest concentration of museums in the world, with 42 alone in Amsterdam, and about a dozen in The Hague.
Modern art is the theme of the Gemeente Museum, where an important exhibit of Degas works from the Musee d'Orsay in Paris ended just last month. That is typical of the moving exhibits here, but permanent works include works by Francis Bacon, Mondrian and Picasso. Admission 6.80€, less for children and seniors. 41 Stadhouderslaan, phone 338-1111, Web site www.gemeentemuseum.nl.
The Museum Mesdag is most famous for its panorama, a five-minute stroll away, in which you walk up into the center of a 360-degree painting of Scheveningen as it was in 1881. At the museum you'll find works by Dutch artists and the French painters Corot and Millet of the Barbizon School. 7f Laan van Meerdervoort, 362-1434. (Managed by the Van Gogh Museum, www.vangoghmuseum.nl.) Admission 2€.
Madurodam, Holland in miniature, is still going strong, and well worth a visit for first time visitors. Everything is on a 1 to 25 scale, with the world's largest miniature railway zipping trains about, the Amsterdam Rijksmueum, the Alkmaar cheese market, windmills, ships and canal houses, all of which you can walk through and beside. Admission 10€, less for children and seniors, free under 4. 1 George Maduroplein, phone 416-2400, Web site www.madurodam.nl.
At Sealife, right on the boardwalk, you can get a good glimpse of what kind of conservation work is being done in the Netherlands, and the usual display of sharks and other finny creatures. 13 Standweg, phone 354-2100.
Until September 9, there is an open-air sculpture exhibition at the Lange Vorhout, this year on the theme of "Europe." There is also an antique and book market, held from mid May through early October on Thursdays from 10 until 7 and Sundays from 11 to 5. Try to take in a performance by the world-famous Netherlands Dance Theater, which is based in The Hague.
The Tourist Office has several self-guided walking tour booklets available, including The Royal Hague, Historic Scheveningen, an Architectural Walk, an Art & Antiques Walk, and a Sculpture Walk. There are also guided tours on some of the same subjects at 20€ to 25€.
Where to Sleep and Where to Eat
The Bad Hotel Scheveningen, where the "Bad" means "Bath", not the opposite of "Good," is just a city block from the boardwalk. It's a cozy place, with a decent restaurant, and 90 small but comfortable rooms costing about 110€ for a double, private bath and most amenities included. 15 Gevers Deynootweg, phone 351-2221, online at www.badhotelscheveningen.nl.
If you want to splurge, stay at the Hotel Des Indes, 56 Lange Voorhout, parts of which date back to 1858. Formerly a private mansion, the hotel is where anybody who was anybody stayed in the first three quarters of the 20th century. You can sample the luxurious lifestyle without staying here just by enjoying dinner at the hotel's restaurant. If you have a group of several people, try the rijstaffel, the Indonesian "rice table" of 20 or more small dishes. Double rooms from about 175€. Their phone is 361-2345, fax 345-1721, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
In Scheveningen, one of the nicest (and also moderately priced) places to eat is La Galleria, with two locations, the best of which is on Kurhaus Square, 105 Gevers Deynootplein, phone 352-1156, Web site www.entrada-restaurants.nl. Typical main course is 18€ for pasta, bread and salad.
For a splendid rijstaffel, go to Bali, an Indonesian restaurant in a restored old house. You can expect copious amounts of food and with elegant service throughout. Cost about 40€ and up. 1 Badhuisweg, phone 350-2434.
For additional lodging and dining options, please be sure to check out our online listings starting here.
At the time of writing, the exchange rate between the Euro and the US dollar was approximately equal.
For more information on the region, contact the Visitors Bureau in either of two locations: 25 Nassaulaan (The Hague) or 1134 Gevers Deynootweg (Scheveningen). You can also call 361-8888, fax at 361-7915, e-mail at email@example.com, or go online to www.denhaag.com or www.visitholland.com.
The country code for the Netherlands is 31, the city code for The Hague 70. To access an international line from the USA, dial 011.