When you think of The Netherlands, you think of Amsterdam. Its grand canals, its cute houses, its thousands of bikes and probably its direct yet friendly-in-their-own-way locals.
But what if I told you that there’s far more to the Netherlands than simply Amsterdam? Sure, it’s a small country and most other, major cities are easily accessible for a daytrip. But spending a few hours in them won’t do them anything even close to justice.
As a Dutchie living in a city that is not Amsterdam, I am calling for all travelers to explore the beauty other cities have to offer. Or well, lets be honest: I want you to explore The Hague.
Explore The Hague: The Second Capital
Just an hour south of Amsterdam lies our political capital: The Hague. The Dutch call it Den Haag, or more formally ‘s-Gravenhage, but I won’t hold it against you if you can’t pronounce that. It translates to the “Duke’s Forest”, after the 13th century Duke of Holland who loved the area so much he built a castle to hunt in the forests around it. He invited his fellow dukes of Europe to come to The Hague to discuss the governance of their lands, and as time went by The Hague grew to be the political capital of the Netherlands. Even though Amsterdam is the official capital and the one dealing with the most tourists, the Dutch houses of Parliament are in The Hague, centered around the medieval Binnenhof square (tours depart several times per day across the street at ProDemos, Hofweg 1).
Besides national politics, The Hague is also home to many international institutions. Though most of them are closed to the public, the famous Peace Palace can be admired from outside. It was built in 1913, and houses (amongst others) the International Court of Justice (ICJ). The annual International Open Day in September allows you to take a tour of these otherwise restricted institutions.
Explore The Hague: For Foodies & Club Hoppers
Over recent years, the city has worked hard to make itself more attractive to young people. And, successfully so: just last year, the University of nearby city Leiden moved one of their faculties to The Hague, so their Governance and Global Affairs students can be closer to where it all actually happens. With the influx of young students comes a boost for The Hague’s nightlife and restaurant/bar scene.
One of the latest additions is Bleyenberg, opened June 2017, located just off the bustling Grote Markt. Bleyenberg is a restaurant/bar on the ground floor and a trendy rooftop bar on the 3rd floor. Wait – rooftop? Third floor? Yes – Dutch soil isn’t very suitable for high rise buildings, so enjoying the view over the city is even possible for people with a fear of heights. For those of you who’d like to go higher, you can climb the 288 steps to the top of the Haagse Toren (“Hague Tower”). But, it doesn’t end there: Bleyenberg also has a 24-hour techno club in the basement, called Het Magazijn (“the warehouse”). Be aware, nightlife in the Netherlands is notoriously casual – no need for painful feet as you can just rock the dancefloor in jeans and sneakers.
The local nightlife stretches far beyond the main hubs (which are Grote Markt and the less informal Plein). The Zeehelden quarter is famous for cute little bars and restaurants, hidden away on unexpected lively squares in the middle of residential areas. The quarter is active on social media and has its own blog – giving you enough inspiration to never see the rest of the city and get lost in its little boutiques and charming cafes.
The Hague has been strongly developing to draw more and younger people to the city. Both Hofhouse and Minglemush are collections of mini restaurants in an informal setting – perfect if you’re not sure yet what to eat. Think food court, but better. The previously boring business area of Binkhorst has undergone a transformation, and now is a youthful integral part of The Hague, housing Bink36, an office building but with an epic rooftop bar which hosts regular parties; Mama Kelly, a classic restaurant in trendy industrial setting; and last but not least, The Hague’s own craft beer brewery ‘Kompaan’.
Explore The Hague: Relax by Scheveningen
The Hague does not need to work too hard to make itself more attractive than it already is. With close proximity to the beach, it has an all-round attraction. Even though there are plenty of European cities by the sea, none can quite compare to ours. The Hague’s beach area is called Scheveningen – again, I won’t hold it against you if you can’t pronounce it. On January 1st, the Dutch have a peculiar tradition that originates in Scheveningen. On this new year’s day, we battle through our hangovers and make our way to the beach for the traditional New Year’s Plunge. Sausage and soup manufacturer Unox traditionally sponsors the event, handing out bright orange hats and gloves and warm pea soup.
Throughout the rest of the year, Scheveningen offers a seaside boulevard with a newly restored pier with restaurants, shops, a Ferris wheel and even a bungee platform 60 meters above the North Sea waters.
Explore The Hague: Thriving Art Scene
However, The Hague has much more in store than entertaining yet slightly weird traditions and an active nightlife. The city has known a lively art scene throughout the 20th century and now offers a wide variety of museums to enjoy, such as the Mauritshuis (home to the famous Girl with a Pearl Earring), Escher in het Paleis (“Escher in the Palace”, dedicated to the genius drawings of M.C. Escher), the unique Panorama Mesdag (a gorgeous, 360 painting that takes you to the beach even on a rainy day), the Gemeente Museum (changing collections of modern and post-modern art, in a typical Art Deco building) or the Gevangenpoort (“Prison Gate”, if you’re more into history) – to name a few.
As a Dutchie who spent her early 20s in Amsterdam but recently moved cities, The Hague gives me enough room to breathe, yet still enough incentives to keep exploring. After having fallen in love myself, I would love nothing more than for fellow travelers to experience the same beauty – but ssshhh… we’ll keep it our secret, and just leave all those ignorant tourists on the crowded streets of Amsterdam.
This is a guest post by Emma Bakels.
Emma is a 25 year old student who recently moved to The Hague (Netherlands) after having spent 6 years in wild wild Amsterdam. She is an avid traveler, currently able to tick 43 countries across 4 continents off her list (but who’s counting?). Her all time favorites are Vietnam, South Africa and the Faroe Islands – and the latter definitely being the most special place she has visited so far. Follow her adventures on Instagram @emma.charlotteb!