Going Dutch: 30 Days in The Hague, Netherlands

A month-long stay in The Hague, Netherlands, turned out to be the trip of a lifetime.

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Trams in The Hague, Netherlands
Photo: Russ Hayes
Trams in front of the old train station in The Hague, Netherlands.

A taste of life in The Hague, Netherlands

My wife Christine lived in England for a few years, and has visited many countries in Europe. I on the other hand had never been to Europe, and neither of us had ever been to the Netherlands. Our long-time friends who live in Europe and return to Canada every six months offered us a condo to stay at in The Hague, Netherlands. We couldn’t say no, and since this may be the last opportunity for us to visit Europe, we opted to stay for a month.

We went in March 2019 and it was more enjoyable than we had anticipated. While Dutch is the official and most-spoken language of the Netherlands, more than 90 per cent of the population also speaks English, so we did not encounter any language difficulties. The Dutch people tend to be very tall, dress well, and are aesthetically pleasing. That may seem like a strange thing to mention but it was quite noticeable, especially with respect to the 20- to 30-year-old age bracket. I am six feet, two inches tall, which seemed to me to be the average height over there, and there were numerous people taller than me.

The Hague is a beautiful old city with a metropolitan population of more than one million people, a figure that rises to 2.7 million in the Rotterdam—The Hague greater metropolitan area. It is the seat of government in the Netherlands and the locale of most foreign embassies. The Hague is also home to the Noordeinde Palace of King Willem-Alexander and Queen Maxima, as well as the International Court of Justice, located in the Peace Palace.

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Cyclists in Gouda, Netherlands
Photo: Russ Hayes
Cyclists in the famous cheese town of Gouda.

The Hague is a cyclist’s dream

The first thing that stood out to us were the hundreds of bicycles on the roads of The Hague. Holland is below sea level and very flat. If you were to live there, you would definitely own and use a bicycle! The infrastructure has been designed to accommodate cyclists, with designated lanes everywhere in Holland, including between towns. It was still early spring when we visited, and yet whether it was raining, or a bit on the cold side, the cyclists were out every morning. Mothers, fathers, students on their way to school, everyday workers—everyone rides bicycles. Some had carriers on the front or back for holding young children to be dropped off at daycare. It was an incredible sight and such a healthy lifestyle! We were really impressed and it gave us a good feeling about the people and the place. Lessons on how to cross the street might have come in handy, however; more than once I was saved from a sure collision by our local friend. When crossing a street, you first crossed the designated bicycle lane, then the tram rail tracks and after that the car lanes, reversing the order as you approached the sidewalk on the other side. Our heads were going back and forth continuously!

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Domed ceiling in The Passage, The Hague, Netherlands
Photo: Russ Hayes
A domed ceiling in The Passage at the downtown mall in The Hague, Netherlands.

The best things to do in the Hague, Netherlands

We walked almost everywhere we went, but it is also easy to get around using the tram system. The incredible North Sea beachfront, numerous government buildings that are also architectural marvels, the captivating Madurodam Miniature Park, which houses scale-model replicas of famous castles, public buildings, industrial projects, and downtown shopping at The Passage (above) are readily accessible by tram.

We set aside a couple of days to explore the beach area, which was an easy walk from our condo, and has a huge pier, a casino and a boardwalk extending almost the full length of the beach. Two large jetties, made of huge cubic rocks, jut out into the North Sea to protect the entrance to The Hague marina. The jetties are a great place for a walk out to see the lighthouses, and an ideal spot for area fisherman to try their luck. There are miles of sand-dune trails near the beach also. You can actually see the shipyards of Rotterdam from The Hague beach. Many statues line the boardwalk, and many restaurants and lounges as well.

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Oude Kerk Protestant Church in Delft
Photo: Russ Hayes
The Oude Kerk Protestant Church in Delft, Netherlands.

A day trip to Delft

Our hosts took us on many outings by train, which are as easy to use as the tram and have the same pass system for payment. We travelled to Delft, part of the metropolitan area of The Hague, and home of Blue Delftware pottery. It has a stunning town square and architecture along the canal, plus the tower of the Oude Kerk Protestant Church is something to behold. We visited the famous cheese town of Gouda, with its wonderful farmers’ market in the town square. Another cheese town we toured was Edam, where we again marvelled at the historic architecture alongside the canal.

Explore more underrated cities in Europe.

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Modern architecture in Utrecht, Netherlands
Photo: Russ Hayes
Modern architecture at the train station and mall in Utrecht.

Exploring Utrecht

Our visit to Utrecht was another great experience; the train station and its interior mall provided incredible photo ops. It was overcast that day, but walking by all the shops and watching the tour boats go by along the canal was great fun nevertheless. The cloudy skies just made the photographs that much more dramatic.

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Windmill in Kinderdijk
Photo: Russ Hayes
One of the 19 windmills at the UNESCO World Heritage site in Kinderdijk, Netherlands.

The charms of Kinderdijk

Many of the sights to see are accessible by car also. We visited Kinderdijk, a UNESCO World Heritage Site with 19 windmills and walking paths to view them all, as well as Dordrecht, the oldest city in Holland, which has a rich history and culture. There are many larger boats in Dordrecht’s marina and great views along its canal, including a medieval Protestant church.

Venturing off the beaten path? Consider exploring these underrated gems of Europe.

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Canal boat in Amsterdam
Photo: Russ Hayes
A sight-seeing cruise along the canals in Amsterdam.

Memories of Amsterdam

Of course, a trip to Holland must include a visit to its capital, Amsterdam. A quick train ride away, we spent an entire day walking around this incredible city. If you plan on visiting, you should set aside time to tour the many museums. One of my memories of Amsterdam will always include the aroma of marijuana wafting along the streets, as well as the many tourist shops selling marijuana-themed T-shirts, pipes, edibles and joints. It’s a beautiful old city, full of history, and very busy with tourists. We found The Hague felt a bit more refined, and less touristic, but you have to experience Amsterdam for yourself.

Near the end of our visit, we went to the Keukenhof Gardens, home of thousands of tulips. There were still plenty of hyacinths and tulips to photograph, but I can only imagine this beautiful garden setting when everything is in full bloom.

All in all, our trip to Holland was magical: the incredible history, architecture and canal sights will be in our memories forever. Above all, we will remember the hospitality of the people of Holland and the warm feelings we experienced while watching them on their bicycles! We will always be happy about “Going Dutch” for a while.

Next, check out the best things to do in Amsterdam on a two-day layover.

Originally Published in Our Canada

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