Why these two Dutch cities are masterpieces
Amsterdam may be the most popular destination for visitors to Holland, but Lauren Taylor discovers art, royal history and pottery in country’s third largest city
When most people think of a mini-break in the Netherlands, they think of Amsterdam. But a 25-minute train ride from Rotterdam, now serviced by a new, direct outbound Eurostar route from London, is the home of the Dutch parliament, royal family and the International Court of Justice. The Hague is in many ways The Netherlands’ most important city, and hosts some of the most significant Dutch art masterpieces.
Here’s how to explore the Hague and it’s smaller neighbour, Delft. See the masterpieces at the Mauritshuis Many come for one painting only — the Girl with a Pearl Earring by Delft artist Johannes Vermeer, which inspired a novel in 1999 and a film with Scarlett Johansson in 2003. It’s held at the world-renowned Mauritshuis, home to some of the most famous paintings from the Golden Age of Dutch art. There are three Vermeers, several Jan Steens and more Rembrandts than Amsterdam.
The 17 th-century building is a masterpiece itself, hailed as one of the world’s greatest small museums, and sits next to parliament buildings on the Hofvijver pond. Tickets: €15,50 (under 19s are free) mauritshuis.nl Marvel at The Hague’s astonishing architecture It’s pretty unusual to be able to stroll between parliament buildings and royal residences in a city centre, but in the Hague, there’s a very real possibility of bumping into the prime minister outside the Gothic Binnenhof castle or (perhaps) catching a glimpse of royalty exiting Nooredeinde Palace.
Know where to look, and through several alleyways lie beautiful courtyards of hidden houses, originally almshouses built for maids who worked for aristocracy when they retired.
Today, the 115 homes in the Hague are still strictly women-only communities. Stroll around the pretty canals of Delft If it’s quintessentially Dutch canals you want, then Delft, a short tram ride from the Hague, is made up of 11 ‘islands’, 88 bridges and a canal system that’s over 750 years old.
Delft’s most famous resident was Vermeer, who was born in the city and buried at the Oude Kerk (old church). The Oude En Nieuw (new church) on Delft’s main square, mean- while, is where every member of the Dutch Royal family is buried. Discover Dutch history at the Museum Prinsenhof It began as a convent, then became the court of William of Orange, known as the founder and ‘father’ of Holland, and it’s now an excellent museum. It was also the location of his murder in 1701 (the first political one in history) and visitors can still see the bullet holes in the wall. There’s a portrait of each King or Queen since William I (aka Prince of Orange), right up to the current head of state, King Willem-Alexander. Tickets: €12, audio tours €1 extra. Book at prinsenhof-delft.nl. Make your own Royal Delft Aside from Vermeer, Delft’s most famous export is pottery — the exclusive Royal Delft. The last remaining earthenware factory is now also a museum. The real highlight, though, is an opportunity to make your own piece of pottery. Tickets: €13.50, or tour plus vase workshop: €49.50. Book at royaldelft.com
DOUBLE DUTCH: Hofvijver in the Hague, with Binnenhof (Dutch parliament buildings) and Mauritshuis; the restaurant at Hotel Des Inges in the Hague; and the canals of Delft. Below right: the coastline at Scheveningen and the Grand Hotel Amrâth Kurhaus