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City Sightseeing

A Day Trip to The Hague

The Hague is generally not high up on the bucket list for visitors to the Netherlands, but it’s a city well worth a visit, and less touristy than, say, Amsterdam. The Hague is the seat of the government, it houses a number of outstanding museums, and its coastal dunes are lovely. The government buildings at the Binnenhof, including the Hall of Knights, are currently under renovation and therefore closed until 2026, but fortunately the Royal Picture Gallery at the Mauritshuis is open for business as usual, so there is no reason not to go see Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring. The other major art museum in town is the Kunstmuseum, which is noted for its collection of paintings by Piet Mondrian as well as for its excellent temporary exhibitions. Smaller art museums you should not miss are Panorama Mesdag, a 114½-m-long wrap-around panorama of the Scheveningen seaside by the painter Hendrik Willem Mesdag, and The Mesdag Collection, once his private picture gallery.

The Hall of Knights at the Binnenhof in The Hague
The Hall of Knights at the Binnenhof

Probably the coolest place in The Hague to take your children is Madurodam, a miniature park that shows the Netherlands on a 1:25 scale, featuring hundreds of well-known buildings from all around the country, and a 4-km-long model railway. Equally as fun is the Louwman Museum, which holds a splendid collection of historical cars, including an 1887 De Dion-Bouton & Trepardoux steam quadricycle, one of the oldest surviving cars in the world. The Prison Gate Museum, in use as a prison from the 15th to the 19th centuries, shows how prisoners were kept, how confessions were extracted & how sentences were carried out. (Better to not bring your under-8s for it’s all rather horrific.) A great way to escape the city is to take a hike in the dunes north of The Hague, in Meijendel Valley, an 1875-ha nature reserve consisting of dunes, forests & lakes. The Meijendel beach can be reached only on foot or by bicycle, and therefore it’s a very tranquil place to enjoy the North Sea.

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Swimming in the North Sea can be dangerous because of rip currents, and there are no lifeguards at Meijendel. A rip current is a narrow, powerful current running perpendicular to the beach, out into the sea. These currents occur in all sorts of weather, and you probably won’t notice a rip current until you’re right in the middle of it. They may extend 100 m lengthwise & can move at 8 kph or more — faster than an Olympic swimmer. Swimmers often try to counter a rip by swimming straight back to shore, putting themselves at risk of drowning because of fatigue. If caught in a rip, don’t fight it, but stay calm. Rip currents are typically 15 to 30 m wide, and the way to escape them is to swim parallel to the shore, as this will get you out of the rip, and then use the momentum of the waves to get back to the beach. If you are not a strong & confident swimmer, best stick to lifeguarded beaches.


Of special interest to bibliophiles is Museum Meermanno, known today as ‘House of the Book’, a museum devoted to the book as an object, i.e. books with good looks. Its focus is on the development of the book from 1850 to the present, and there are temporary exhibitions on themes related to both the old & the modern book.


Another Hague highlight is Museum Voorlinden in Wassenaar, a private museum reminiscent of the Fondation Beyeler, which houses a collection of modern & contemporary art. Children will love Leandro Erlich’s swimming pool, which creates the illusion that visitors are walking under water, the 1:7½ scale miniature elevator by Maurizio Cattelan, and the 2:1 scale couple under an umbrella by Ron Mueck.


Vermeer’s painting View of Delft at the Mauritshuis was Marcel Proust’s favourite painting and he refers to it more than once in his novel In Search of Lost Time. One of Proust’s characters, the writer Bergotte, has been ordered by his doctor to rest, but an art critic’s reference to a small yellow wall in the painting, which he compared to a precious work of Chinese art, of a beauty sufficient unto itself, moves Bergotte to go out to see it, and he dies looking at the precious bit of wall. So better be careful when visiting the museum.


When I went to the Louwman Museum to see my favourite car (a Steyr Typ 55), I was surprised to learn that the museum also holds a large collection of historical telescopes, open to the public every first Friday of the month from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. One of the main objects on exhibit is an early Italian binocular telescope by the Milanese optician Pietro Patroni, dating from 1719.


The authentic Hague place to go for lunch is Bodega de Posthoorn, a fifties-style café on the elegant tree‐lined Lange Voorhout, where you can order typical Dutch food such as pea soup or uitsmijter, an open ham & egg sandwich. If you’re in for afternoon drinks, ask for beer & bitterballen, ping-pong-ball-sized croquettes.

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