Not a lot of people know that this International City by the sea is actually part of Holland. You see, The Hague is a mystery. It is a city with many faces to it and a reputation to live up to. The Hague is well-known as the ‘International City of Peace and Justice’ with all the international tribunals as well as Eurojust and Europol claiming residence there. However, the often ‘smaller’ NGOs are just as important for the city’s image. Nevertheless, I had learned through the grapevine that if shopping was invented anywhere, it would be in The Hague; so I set out to have a close encounter with this mysterious city.
First and foremost, it is the city where Queen Beatrix lives – you guessed right, I had to look for royalty. The Netherlands was ruled by successive Kings until the death of King William III in 1890. His wife, Queen Emma, who acted as regent until their daughter Wilhelmina came of age, succeeded him. Wilhelmina (1880-1962) was crowned Queen in 1898. Her daughter, Juliana, succeeded her in 1948, and she was in turn succeeded in 1980 by her daughter, Beatrix. Until this day, the Netherlands is ruled by a Queen. Queen Beatrix has three sons, so succession to the throne is guaranteed. Queen Beatrix’s eldest child, Prince Willem-Alexander, is the first in the line of succession to the throne. He is followed by his three daughters, Princess Catharina-Amalia, Princess Alexia and Princess Ariane.
I could have rested my case here and simply say that when a woman rules a kingdom, shopping prevails but I needed to explore The Hague further, especially as when my guide turns up, I look up and see the best-dressed guide ever! He is wearing a suit and that reminded me immediately that The Hague is also the city where the government has its seat. Nevertheless, it has been voted the greenest city in Europe yet it has two seaside resorts: Scheveningen and Kijkduin. To crown it all, it is also a city where people actually live and tourists visit. Have I stirred your curiosity?
After all that, I am not quite sure which city I can liken The Hague to; but because of its French influence some times you are led to think that you are in one of the many exclusive places in Paris even though Paris is more than 470 kilometres away. World peace and justice aside, this city of diplomacy has been the centre of Dutch history for centuries dating as far back as 1248 when Count Willem II resided there. Nevertheless, the Hague has more to its sleeve than simple ‘poshness’ – lifestyle, shopping, markets, museums, beach life, tea rooms and food and adventure. It also has beautiful canals, though a boat tour on the canals will mean a series of ‘ducking’ and ‘diving’ to avoid the likelihood of a head injury. The upside though is that you get to see the World’s famous Art Nouveau letterbox! This beautiful letterbox belongs to the house on Smidswater 26, former home to architect J.P.J. Lorrie. Many buildings in The Hague are built in the 1880s and 1890s, right at the time of the Art Nouveau movement,also often called “Jugendstil” in Holland (named after the German paper “Die Jugend”) or Liberty Style in England.
When I visited The Hague, it was celebrating shopping. This is when I discover that shopping in The Hague has a whole new meaning to the class war. Many people come from far and wide to shop downtown in The Hague and quite right too since during the shopping festival the shops stay open until very late – about 11pm! The city has a large collection shops in all shapes and sizes. Shopping starts from a visit to the Queen Beatrix’s “work and reception” Palace’ which is known as the historic Noordeinde Palace.The Palace dates back to the 16th century. This is one of the most elegant shopping streets in The Hague. A Scapa boutique prominently greets you in the square, strategically situated in front of the Equestrian statue of William I and the shopping adventure continues all along the street to Palace Promenade where the game plan changes altogether. This is because, the Palace Promenade is a completely covered shopping mall that assures total shopping comfort all year round. Its wide range of shopping facilities allows customers to do their daily grocery shopping as well as make many other kinds of purchases such as bathroom furnishings, clothing, home furnishings, designer shops, delicatessens and gift shops all of which are open here seven days a week. Starting in late March, the shops even stay open from 10am-10pm.
Antiques and Haute Couture
Change tactics and steer yourself towards De Passage, Hoogstraat, Molenstraat and De Plaats and you will find yourself in the centre of Haute Couture. Here, you will discover anything from trendy to haute couture, antiques, and tea rooms to take the weight of your shopping legs to enable you to shop for hours on end. Art and Antique lovers will particularly love The Hague as it is home to quite a unique collection. If it is really antiques that you are after, do not miss a visit to the stylish promenade Lange Voorhout where an array of collectibles are on display. The promenade plays host to an antiques market of both variety and quality every Thursday and Sunday (May to October). The Hague’s busy centre is also known for its many antique shops and art galleries.
You can find exquisite antique shops on or near Denneweg and Noordeinde with best offers neatly tucked away within the shadows of the royal palaces while within the reach of the antique lover. You will also find exclusive shoe shops and jewellery establishments. These shops are all so beautifully set up that even if you cannot afford to buy, you can afford to window shop and still get some attention.It so much fun to shop in The Hague and it is good to know that the Royals join in the fun of shopping too.
Maybe, as you’re gazing into one of these beautiful shop windows, you’ll be joined by Princess Máxima looking for a bargain for herself or her daugther Amalia. When there is no festival, most shops are open seven days a week. On Mondays, shops open at 1pm (department stores at 11am). From Tuesdays to Fridays, opening hours are 9am to 6pm and until 9pm on Thursday evenings. On Saturdays, hours are 9am to 5pm and Sundays, noon to 5 or 6pm.
Monuments and Museums
After I had shopped till I could carry no more, I had sought solace elsewhere – at the museum. The Hague has many museums some more interesting that others but I found my visit to the Mauritshuis very enlightening. The Mauritshuis, which is home to master pieces from Rembrandt, van Rijn, Johannes Vermeer, whose works includes the painting Girl with a Pearl Earring; it also has works of Jan Steen, Frans Hals and Paulus Potter. The Hague has approximately thirty museums, some of which are internationally renowned. Others are less familiar, but no less interesting. Museums like the Gemeentemuseum The Hague, Museum Beelden aan Zee, Panorama Mesdag, the Mauritshuis,
Escher Museum, the Fotomuseum (Museum of Photography) and the GEM (Museum of Contemporary Art) add cultural spice to the city.The Seaside resort
When you mention The Hague, a seaside resort is not the first thing that comes in mind but trust me it has two, both with very Dutch name. Scheveningen and Kijduin. I visited– Scheveningen. The weather aside, Scheveningen is beautiful. I particularly liked the stroll along the boulevard, the beautiful cafés, and bars and discos all sitting alongside each other facing the sea but giving her the deserved space and dignity she needs to stand out on its own. Scheveningen is also home to the historic Kurhaus hotel and the ultramodern Holland Casino. Water sports fans and fishermen can all enjoy Scheveningen. The harbour is still home to fishermen.
Getting around in The Hague
If you really want to be Dutch, you will cycle; but I discovered that the easiest way to explore The Hague’s city centre is on foot, particularly as most of the shopping area is a pedestrian zone. It is a short walk from the Central Railway Station along the Korte Poten and Lange Poten to Spui. If you like walking, the city centre, the royal kilometres and other pleasurable sites are quite close but you can also buy a walking booklet from the Tourist information office at 2 euros.
Another wise move will be to get the City Card The Hague Delft so that you can discover or explore as much of the Hague as you can. The city card is valid on all trams, buses and the Randstadt Rail lines which are run by the local transport system HTM. When you buy a City Card you are also given a handy booklet containing tourist information about attractions and museums as well as 65 euros worth of discount vouchers and promotional offers. A City Card costs 12.95 euros per person or 23 euros for two persons.
How to get there
From London, fly KLM to Amsterdam Schiphol Airport then catch a train from Schiphol Airport to Den Haag CS (Centraal /Central Station). The journey takes 30 minutes if you take the quick intercity trains. Dutch trains are great and they even have double decker trains! Check out the Dutch train website
It’ll cost you € 7.30 each way (enkele reis) or €13.40 return (2008).
The train station (it’s underneath Schipol) is easy to find and
there’s a ticket office there.
Hoek van Holland/ The Hook of Holland is closest (only 45
mins by car, there’s a train too).
Rotterdam Europoort is about an hour away by car.
Click here for more information on The Hague or visit www.denhaag.com