Until last Sunday, I had never been to The Hague. Even though I had visited the Netherlands seven times before I moved here permanently last year, I did not have the chance to see many other places besides Amsterdam and Utrecht. Because there was so much to see and do already!
Now that it’s the summer of Covid-19, visiting other cities and towns in the Netherlands is part of my staycation experience. The Hague was the first place on my list. All I can say is, it’s about time!
After 37 minutes on the train from Utrecht, Sara (my Dutch girlfriend) and I arrived in Den Haag (The Hague, in Dutch). Yes, even Sara was surprised at how close the two cities are to each other!
Den Haag station isn’t anything out of the ordinary, and when you step outside, you’re surrounded by several new buildings. It reminded me a little of the Amsterdam Zuid station.
The first thing that Sara and I decided to do was walk through the Haagse Bos, a large park in the city. The name itself tells you that it’s pretty big; “bos” means “forest” in Dutch. The park is near the station so it made sense for us to stroll through there first.
To me, the Haagse Bos had a Central Park-esque feel to it. It was large, but the small bit we walked through and could see wasn’t particularly cute and pretty. It was a wonderfully green space, we could see that, but the station combined with the not-so-cute look of the park meant that Den Haag hadn’t made too much of an impression in the first few minutes that I was there.
And then, that changed. Because Den Haag is freaking awesome!
After walking through the Haagse Bos, we made our way to the center. And I was immediately blown away by how quaint it was! It makes me want to use the word “quaint,” so obviously, I thought it was absolutely charming.
There are little cafes, stores, and restaurants everywhere, surrounded by old, beautiful architecture. And these are all literally my favorite things!
From the cafes that we passed by, and the one place where we got a coffee to-go, I got to really appreciate how hip and funky some of these places were. I immediately thought to myself, “I could see myself living here!”
The other thing that stood out to me was how even though there were many people out and about, they seemed relatively calmer than the crowd I’m used to in Utrecht or Amsterdam. The cafes were full but not crowded, and the people were lively but not loud. Interesting.
After getting our delicious oat lattes from a hipster cafe, we went for a walk through Paleistuin (palace garden), the gardens outside the Noordeinde Palace. The previously private royal gardens are now just a park open to the public. I would absolutely recommend that anyone passing through Den Haag go there. It is GORGEOUS!
Next on the agenda was a brunch. Because of course, as an American, I cannot go to a different city on a weekend without this ambiguous breakfast–lunch–coffee meal situation.
We went to Pistache Café that’s actually located right outside Paleistuin. We were in love with the food and location. I for one am a huge sucker for anything by a canal, so this cafe got bonus points for that. Plus, they’re vegetarian friendly! As the Dutch would say, this place is an “aanrader” (one to recommend).
One thing that Sara and I like to do when we travel to different cities is to sign up for a free walking tour. Now, if you haven’t done a free walking tour before, I highly recommend doing one in a city you’re not familiar with. The tours are “free”, which actually just means that you pay what you want as a tip at the end. But because they’re a tip-based model, they’re usually quite entertaining.
Anyway, I actually learned quite a few new things about the Netherlands from this walking tour! It was my first one in the Netherlands.
The first thing that I learned was that there is a HUGE difference between the Prime Minister’s office in the “torentje” and the King’s office. The prime minister’s office is a small room in this iconic tower.
While quaint, this tower is apparently not suited for the King. His office—which is used less frequently than that of the Prime Minister’s—is slightly bigger than what the torentje can offer.
This is the King’s work office.
It’s the entire freaking building. The. Entire. Building. WTF!
I mean, I know he’s the King, but seriously does the Prime Minister get the short end of the stick or what?
The second surprising thing that I learned also has to do with the Dutch royals. In the tour, we were told that they are the most expensive royal family in Europe. And I looked this up, and apparently that has been true for several years in the past. In 2012, the Dutch royal family cost tax payers 39.4 million euros a year, while the British royal family cost 38.2 million euros annually.
Now isn’t that something?
But the Dutch don’t need to feel too bad about that now. Apparently the UK royal family’s expense has gone up to 67 million pounds.
And finally, I got to hear about the infamous history behind how the Dutch like to “doe normaal” (do normal) and not have curtains in their homes.
Apparently, the lovely Dutch never liked showing off. Not even in their architecture! Buildings in the past were typically required to have simple facades with plain colors. If you were rich you didn’t show it by building fancy buildings! You just…
I had never thought about how the outside plain colors of the buildings could have stemmed from actively not wanting people to be flashy about their wealth. I just thought that it was an aesthetic that carried over from the past. And how interesting that that’s what the Dutch are like today!
Now, apparently, because there were so many rules stopping people from showing their wealth on the outside, the rich decided that indeed, it must be the insides that really count. And by that I mean the insides of their fancy homes!
The rich and clever Dutch then just decided to build large windows in their homes. For some light in the dark winters? Sure! But also so that people could look inside their homes. Which they had decided to stage perfectly for the outside world to see! So you could figure out how much money someone had after all.
And of course, you wouldn’t be able to look in if you had those curtains drawn now, would you?