THE HAGUE, Netherlands — Amsterdam is an amusement park for adults. The Hague is for adults who have grown weary of amusement parks. It is quiet, dignified and elegant compared with its sexy sibling.
Two things define The Hague. It is Holland's seat of government, though Amsterdam is its nominal capital, and it has a beautiful seashore. At its center are its Parliament building, palaces, ministries, courts and embassies, its guarded entrances and glimpsed interior courtyards where well-dressed people step from black limousines.
There are the World Court of Justice and the Peace Palace, with its antique grandeur and manicured grounds, a relic of another time and dream. There is the heavily fortifiedU.S. Embassy, looking like a small-town bank building in a war zone.
But there is no honky-tonk, no smell of stale beer, no early morning patrols washing down the streets. Instead there are quiet restaurants in lovely, leafy, elegant shopping arcades and tree-lined boulevards, parks and canals. There also is the best modern architecture in Holland and the small jewel of an art museum called Mauritshuis, in which resides Johannes Vermeer's wonderful "Girl With a Pearl Earring," among other Flemish treasures.
Not far from the center is Madurodam, a charming museum park where you'll find models of many famous Dutch buildings with church steeples about your height.
A little farther are the beaches. Scheveningen is the glitziest of these, with a grand hotel, a boardwalk and fancy beach clubs, but there are others that are very local and accessed from residential neighborhoods by foot or bike paths through the wooded dunes. Be warned that on all Dutch beaches, tops are optional, and on some bottoms are too.
So bring your camera, your bathing suit (or not), buy a map and rent a bike at the central station, and set off for a day or two to explore one of Europe's prettiest, most pleasant cities.