A child's view of the Hague
Published: August 2006
When it comes to child friendly city break destinations, The Hague in Holland doesn't instantly spring to mind. In fact I think it would be pretty far down the list. After all, it's Holland's seat of government, and that's it, isn't it?
Being half Dutch myself, I've visited The Hague many times. It was where my mother was born, and earlier this year, the time had come for her to show her three eldest granddaughters her hometown. Auntie Petra went along to keep her feral nieces (Imogen aged 11, Isabella also 11, and Olivia 10) under control. Although not teenagers, the nieces already display a lively sophistication and are well used to exotic holidays. How would they take to the "charms" of The Hague? Well, as with most children, it was the little things that made the difference. The highlight of our visit was eating pofferjes (pancakes) at the beach at Schevenigen, and the biggest thrill was riding on the trams and taking the double-decker train.
This train took us swiftly from Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport to The Hague's Central Station, a five-minute walk from the city centre and our hotel. When you're visiting a city with children, it makes sense to base yourself as centrally as possible. The Novotel Den Haag Centrum is a 4 star hotel and although aimed primarily at businessmen, the staff could not have been more welcoming or friendly to three lively little girls. The hotel is located in the oldest shopping arcade in The Hague, The Passage of Holland, just opposite the Dutch Parliament building.
The Hague's main attraction is The Mauritshuis, the Royal picture gallery with its Flemish, Dutch and German collections of Old Masters, including 16 Rembrandts and 30 Vermeers. It's here that you'll see The Girl with the Pearl Earring. Overlooking our hotel and next door to The Mauritshuis is The Binnenhof or Inner Court, an impressive complex of buildings that houses the Dutch Parliament. However, we decided The Hague's cultural highlight could wait a few years, until the children were a little older and more appreciative. Instead, we opted for the tram ride to the beach resort of Scheveningen. Getting around The Hague with children by the way is very straightforward, you can either walk everywhere or take a cheap tram; they're frequent and will take you pretty much anywhere.
Situated on the coast about 4 km north of The Hague, just 15 minutes away, the old fishing port of Scheveningen is by far the most popular seaside resort in The Netherlands, with at least 10 million tourists visiting every year. Its main attraction is undoubtedly the beach with its cosy beach pavilions and wide boulevard. There are almost 100 different beach cafes and restaurants on the beaches of Schevenigen and nearby Kijkduin. Many of these cafes advertise 'pofferjes', mini pancakes with lashings of butter and caster sugar. They are definitely not to be missed and what had been a highlight of my childhood was without doubt one of the highlights of my nieces' visit.
In addition to buttery pancakes, Schevenigen has other attractions. There's a sealife centre www.sealifeeurope.com. It's not on the scale of some other aquariums but for children, it offers a welcome diversion for an hour or so. On the 4th and 11th of this month, there's a firework display on the boulevard in Scheveningen, and between 16th and 19th August, the resort hosts The International Fireworks Festival. In September you can catch The Nationale-Nederlanden Kite Festival www.vliegerfeestscheveningen.nl on the 2nd and 3rd
Back at The Hague, the most popular attraction for children is probably Madurodam www.madurodam.nl. The miniature city of Madurodam replicates everything Holland is famous for on a miniature scale of 1:25 eg. the Alkmaar Cheese Market, the canal houses of Amsterdam. It's very similar to Miniland at Legoland Billund, Denmark, or Legoland Windsor, UK, minus of course the Lego. I was worried that it would have little appeal or bore the girls who had already visited Legoland, and are well past this stage. But that’s where we went as children, and surprisingly it captivated the girls as much as it had my sisters and I thirty years ago (Madurodam opened in 1952). Madurodam is full of movement; the miniature models aren’t static. You drop a coin in the slot and windmills turn, tour boats travel up and down canals, and trains chug along the world's largest miniature railway. The famous bulb fields are in bloom all year long and you can even smell the blooms! All the money collected is donated to charity.
No visit to The Hague is complete without an Indonesian Rice Table (in Dutch, rijsttafel) and although we felt the children were a little too young to sample the cultural highlights, we thought a new type of cuisine would go down a treat. An Indonesian rice table consists of rice accompanied by several, often spicy, side dishes. Popular dishes include egg rolls, sambals, satay, fish, fruit, vegetables, pickles and nuts. It's a Dutch colonial adaptation of the Indonesian makan besar and very popular in both Indonesia and the Netherlands. We chose to eat our rijsttafel at Garoeda Indonesian Restaurant www.garoeda.nl. The restaurant celebrated its 50th anniversary in 1999 and is one of the most famous in The Hague. I lost track of number of side dishes we were given, at least twelve. It's an enormous amount of food but a fun way of eating. The girls loved it. For the rice table "Garoeda" for 3 people, you can expect to pay €33,50 per person.
Unlike Amsterdam The Hague isn't known for its canals or canal tours. However, it is possible to take a boat trip, and the canals of The Hague offer a perfect way to see the city from different perspective. A boat trip on the Oievaart takes you through areas of the city you wouldn't normally see such as Chinatown and the two former Jewish districts. This trip got a thumbs up from the girls, not that they paid any attention to the commentary (all in Dutch). What thrilled them was all the ducking under the almost impossibly low bridges.
The one thing we didn’t have time to do was Duinrell www.duinrell.nl. It’s Europe's largest indoor aquatic park and will definitely be on our list for next time. We might also take in The Omniversum, Europe's first 360-degree IMAX cinema, or even think about renting bikes. With the exception of China, the Netherlands has more cyclists than any other country. There are cycle paths all over The Hague and bicycles can be rented from the Central Station and Station Hollands spoor.
The Hague is also a useful base for visiting nearby Dutch towns such as Leiden and Delft but on a short visit you'll find there's plenty to do with children. The city known as "the largest village in Europe" makes a perfect and very easy short break.
If you've visited THE HAGUE, I'd like to HEAR FROM YOU
A child's view of the Hague
Petra joined Travel Channel for its launch back in 1994. She looks after our research and works on all original productions. Petra’s one of the most recognisable faces in the travel industry and when she’s not on the canapé circuit promoting the channel, she spends every free moment travelling. She’s visited over 70 countries and prefers back packing to 5 * luxury, unless of course it’s in the name of research!