You’ve probably heard of Amsterdam before… but maybe you haven’t heard of The Hague. It is a big city. In fact, it is the third largest city in the Netherlands (behind Amsterdam and Rotterdam). Over one million people live in the greater city area.
Our host in The Hague was a young woman named Cristina who works as a software developer. The apartment complex we stayed in was part of a series of about 200 narrow, three story apartments that were all smashed together and spanned the length of the street. We had the second story to ourselves, which was nice, with a bedroom and our own bathroom/shower. We spent four nights here.
Upon our arrival, Cristina had sent us a link to a website that had a series of “walking tours” throughout the Hague (self-guided, follow the written directions kind of thing). Some of the tours went along the beach, some went through the museums in the city, etc. I was tasked with picking the best one.
I settled on one called “Through forest and dunes to the sea”, which I picked purely based on the title, and because I thought we could get a taste of the city, and the forests, and the beach, all in one. Perfect right?!
I’ll be honest, I was not paying attention to the distance of the walk when I chose the walk, but it ended up being the longest walking tour on this website by far (it was 14km, or about 8.7 miles). This was in addition to about 4 miles of walking that we did walking downtown from our house, finding breakfast before the tour, walking to get groceries at the end of the day, etc. It was a long day of walking (almost 14 miles in total).
Here are a few highlights of the downtown area before we started our tour:
The city center felt a lot more “American modern” than Amsterdam in some ways. I think that a lot of this has to do with building height: in The Hague, you’ll see tall buildings mixed in with older structures and it resembles an American city quite a bit more. In Amsterdam, the historic downtown is limited to a building height of something like 100-meters, and it really (to me at least) makes the city feel like an old village that happens to be the size of a metropolis.
We started the tour of the Hague at a pancake restaurant, at the edge of a park. We started off down a trail made of seashells and walked past a big animal pasture on our right. There was a LOT of deer in the park, it was like a little mini-zoo in the middle of the park.
We eventually crossed over into “Haagse Bos”, which is literally Dutch for “The Hague’s Forest”. The forest is about 250 acres, located right in the middle of The Hague; it’s likened to Central Park in that respect. There were little carved animals to mark the path (and mushrooms!).
Continuing through the forest, we wandered past old remnants of the Atlantic Wall during WW2, the future home of the King and his family, and the US Embassy in the Netherlands.
After leaving the forest, we crossed over the highway and started northwest towards the coast. This was a point of much excitement for Alesha and I; we had yet to see the ocean from mainland Europe, and The Hague is famous for being the biggest city on the coast in South Holland. The coast promised a pier, beautiful views of the ocean, food and beer!
About halfway to the ocean, we encountered some sobering history regarding the Dutch Resistance in the Netherlands during World War Two. The site below was used by the Germans during the war for executing members of the Dutch Resistance via firing squad. To this day, on May 4th (Remembrance Day), there’s a silent march past the monument and the Bourbon Bell is sounded.
The terrain was starting to get sandy and hilly at this point. The forest was beautiful!
Finally, we entered the region called Meijendel. It’s a big area known for its dunes, and also bird life, walking/cycling paths, etc. The dunes were HUGE here! An interesting note, when we were going through the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, there were a lot of royal portraits painted with a backdrop of dunes and sand. It was seen as the quintessential Dutch landscape back in the day, so a lot of kings and queens wanted their portrait painted with dunes.
The trail went along the coast for a while through more dunes, until we hit a big staircase down to the main beach.
On our walk along the beach to the Pier, there were a bunch of restaurants set up right on the beach. We arrived at the end of beach season so it was pretty dead, but it seems like this would have been awesome at the height of the summer.
On our second staying in The Hague, we decided to take a day trip to Delft. Delft is a smaller city between The Hague and Rotterdam with a population of about 100,000. It has a lot of character; there are canals to explore, lively markets, old churches, and a lot of history. It’s most famous for Delftware, hand-painted pottery (usually blue and white), and has a few notable alumni: Johannes Vermeer (Dutch Golden Age painter), Hugo Grotius (laid the foundation for peaceful international law) and Antonie van Leeuwenhoek (the Father of Microbiology).
Microbiology, you say? We talkin’ bacteria, fungi, viruses, parasites, motha fuckin’ YEASTS. Very important shit. He invented his own microscope that was a lot more powerful than anything before it, and could see things that no one had ever seen before. It was a pleasure sharing the same streets as these peeps, and secretly I thanked Antonie for my delicious beer due to his research of the mythical yeast.
We started off our day by climbing to the top of the Nieuwe Kerk and soaked in a great view!
After our climb (it was 367 steps up several narrow, winding staircases where I bumped my head no less than two times), we were feeling pretty parched. We started looking around for a brewpub and found Locus Publicus, where we grabbed a couple of pints of strong Belgian ale. After hydrating, we looked around the Saturday Market nearby and picked up some fried kiibbeling (white fish bits) which was SO good. It seemed like a favorite of all the locals so we had to try it. We also got a slice of the “Kaas (cheese) of the week”.
For our last adventure of the day, we took a long walk to discover the only craft brewery based in Delft: Koperen Kat. It was a bit off the beaten path from the market square, and the bartender commented that he doesn’t often see tourists travel out to the brewery. We started off with a round, and then a second round, and eventually decided we were going to try all 12 beers they had on tap between the two of us. To be fair, the pours weren’t that big.
With our mission accomplished, we said our goodbyes to the nice bartender, and found the bus station back home.
Having had such a good time in Delft, we decided to spend another day there. Our plan was to visit a few museums, maybe do the boat tour, and get some good food.
We took the train back (its only about 20 minutes), and used our Museumkaarts to get free admission into the Prisonhof Museum. It was pretty interesting: we got to see the bullet holes where the famous prince William of Orange was assassinated, there was some neat history about the area and some of the key figures from Delft, and some interactive exhibits.
After that, we wandered around for about an hour trying to find the perfect restaurant to eat lunch. We ended up at a nice quiet pub, got some really good food and beer, and decided there that we were both pretty tired from the previous day and didn’t feel like doing the boat tour. We started off back to the bus station and found an ice cream parlor, where I realized that they were giving out free ice cream since it was their last day being open before the winter… and it was delicious 🙂
We headed back to relax, and got to bed pretty early. Alesha woke up at 3:30AM the next morning to watch the Seahawks game (are we even surprised by this?). Luckily the Hawks won and she went back to sleep happily. We woke up a few hours later to pack our bags and board the train to Brussels!
To see all of the photos from The Hague and Delft, click here.