Painting A Picture Of Life In The Hague
My impressions and photos of The Hague from visiting in June for MustLoveFestivals.
The Hague, a place of idiosyncracies
After Amsterdam and Rotterdam, the Dutch city of The Hague, also known as Den Haag, is the 3rd largest in the Netherlands. They call it ‘the city that grew up around a palace’, but technically it’s not even a city. It did hold city-status once, during an overnight stay from Napoleon – but he promptly retracted it on his departure. So with half a million inhabitants, The Hague is still classed as a village. A fact I can entirely believe after my tour gave me a taste of ‘village’ life, our guide Remco being greeted by friends and acquaintances throughout the morning.
All the architecture in the Dutch world
However this is still an important Dutch city for several reasons, architecture being one. It has the most inner city Art Nouveau buildings in the country, and in the busy square of Plaats you can see all the architectural styles that were ever built in the Netherlands. There is the Medieval castle, Art Nouveau, Neo-Gothic, Wiener Secession, 1960’s, Art Deco, 18th Century, Dutch Neo-Renaissance, 19th and 20th Century buildings all visible in one place.
I can probably spot Baroque and Art Deco buildings in a quiz, but beyond that I’m only good for witty team names. If you are like me in that respect, the tremendous variety of building styles in The Hague won’t be entirely lost on you, as they give the place such a regal, fairytale air. And until her abdication in 2013, it was royal home to Queen Beatrix.
Bikes and coffee
Like Amsterdam, people are fond of cycling here. There’s a decent music and festival scene, nice restaurants and great coffee at places like Lola’s. All the bikes and the trams and the trendy shopping streets just kept mentally placing me back in the capital time and again, despite the absent canals. The food was great and not too expensive, although I didn’t manage to sample the best (Dutch) french fries or Kroket places in town.
The Hague does have a different vibe though – it seems less hedonistic, without round-the-clock parties. (Maybe I just wasn’t invited though.) There isn’t a touristic red light district, practically the defining characteristic of Amsterdam. They do have ‘coffee shops’ of course (meaning places that sell marijuana), but I got the feeling it’s not what the city wants to attract tourism for. And they are already the second city of the Netherlands for tourism as it is.
How the city identifies itself
Nations often have a charming way of referring to their own cities. In The Hague they say ‘Amsterdam has everything going on’, referring to the arts and theatre, ‘and Rotterdam is where you go to work, but The Hague is where you come to live’. Sounds great, to a lifestyle junkie like me, especially with the beach at Scheveningen nearby.
But they aren’t lazy in Den Haag. It houses the Dutch government, Parliament, the Supreme Court and the International Criminal Court, which is probably what puts it most firmly on the map. Part of Parliament lives in the palace that once kick-started this settlement, while more of it lives in a newer symbolic building. Some of it sitting protectively above a marketplace, it has glass walls without curtains, supposedly so the people of The Hague can see the decisions being made on their behalf.
Enough arts for a week
It may not have ‘everything going on’ in one sense, but it’s the opposite of an art-free zone. A couple of the popular museums have gone straight on my list of favourites – the Escher museum (Escher in het Palais) and the absorbing Panorama Mesdag, with so many others I missed. Things to go back for include Mondrian and the newly re-opened Mauritshuis, not to mention spending more time with Escher or visiting several of the smaller galleries that sounded intriguing. Along with visiting the Tong Tong Fair, I needed much more than my four days in town, and I’d recommend you spend at least two full days to explore properly. Don’t just take my word for it though, read how much the Telegraph also loved soaking up culture in The Hague too.
Luckily I might catch some Mondrian at Tate Modern in Liverpool sooner than I can make it back to The Hague. I did see a great 3D illusion in the style of Mondrian along with others, also at the Panorama Mesdag;
Return on overseas investments
From village beginnings, The Hague became rich thanks to people returning from the colonies in Indonesia and elsewhere. Money made from sugar, tobacco and spice plantations gave rise to shops that catered for expensive tastes. Places like the covered shopping at Passage were built, and give little glimpses of attitudes within the city. Like the street that leads to the upmarket part of town, which is much wider and grander than the narrow street heading to less desirable areas.
This is part of Den Haag’s personality. The Lange Voorhout is a long stately road that was once busy with citizens in their finest clothes and carriages, parading up and down the two-sided street, showing off to others. Indeed, we get the English word ‘bluff’ from them.
The verb ‘to bluff’ means the same as it does in Dutch (bluf); making something seem bigger and more impressive than it is. There’s even a local dessert that embodies the meaning, the Haagse Bluf; a single egg yolk whipped with sugar and a little cranberry juice until it takes on a much more impressive form.
The city’s past differences are still characterised by two of it’s bigger squares. While Grote Markt is known simply for being alternative, Plein is where the more fashion conscious go (and pay higher prices) to eat and drink in their free time.
Location, location, location, and spies.
It was so important to some Den Haag residents that they live in the fashionable part of town, a house built in the 1.5metre gap between two others on Lange Voorhout was preferred to a bigger house in the ‘wrong’ area. I can just imagine the flamboyance of people living here at the turn of the last century and earlier, with interesting characters like Mata Hari, exotic dancer and (by way of notable promiscuity) war-time spy, inhabiting the expensive hotels and residences.
There’s lots more to explore
Overall I found people in The Hague welcoming, charming, and the city is cool in an easy-going sort of way. I’d like to go back, maybe in August – it was a little chilly for swimming at the beach in early June, and who doesn’t love the sound of swallowing fresh fish whole, a local tradition at the start of the herring season. But with all the indoor sights on my list, I might be tempted for a quick winter break long before then.
Have you been to the Hague and what did you do? Would you visit for the arts and culture? Donate your opinion in the comments, and subscribe to my Youtube channel if you want to watch my next video of the Tong Tong Fair from this same trip.
This post is part of the MustLoveFestivals project from the Budget Traveller along with myself and 14 other travel bloggers. We’ve been investigating across Europe all summer to unmask the quirkiest festivals in cool destinations. You can see more from all of us on MustLoveFestivals.com, through the official social media accounts (Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook) or by searching for the #mustlovefestivals hashtag on your favourite social network.
Thanks to Den Haag Marketing for their support on this trip, and as usual I only give my honest opinion. All photos of The Hague here are copyright © Peter Parkorr 2014 and shouldn’t be used without express permission.