Exploring The Hague by bike

The Plein town square. Picture: Mogens Johansen

It is a beautiful European summer's day and I'm doing what millions of Dutch people do every day: I'm riding a bike.

I have been admiring the way the Dutch people elegantly and effortlessly roll along with perfect posture in the sit-up-and-beg position on their classic Dutch- style bikes. Bike riding in the Netherlands is a way of life, and a safe and efficient way to get around thanks to the excellent network of bike paths that separate the cyclists from the traffic.

I'm at the end of an assignment in the Netherlands with colleague Gabrielle Knowles, and we've found ourselves in The Hague with a free morning before our afternoon flight back to Australia. It's a perfect opportunity to head out and explore.

We hire a couple of classic Dutch bikes from one of the many cycle- hire places near our city hotel and head in a north-westerly direction towards the beachside suburb of Scheveningen. We follow other riders along the bike paths past the Peace Palace, home to the International Court of Justice. Continuing through lush green parklands and suburbs, we spot a sign on a tall building proudly advertising "Bad Hotel" - it translates as "Bath Hotel", so it's not necessarily an indication of the state of the accommodation. But we take it as a sign that we are getting close to the seaside, although we haven't yet seen any sign of water. Sure enough, a little further along we pass more "Bad Hotels" and seaside apartments, and arrive at the pier on the main beach in Scheveningen. A wide esplanade is dominated by the beautiful hotel Kurhaus, which dates back to 1885. A popular hangout for royalty, heads of state and famous artists in its heyday, the hotel fell into disrepair and closed in 1969, but thankfully it was heritage-listed and completely renovated before reopening in 1979.

This is a popular place to hang out on a nice summer's day, with restaurants and retail outlets along the esplanade and on the beach. Most people seem happy to stroll along the esplanade, eat at one of the many restaurants or sunbathe on the beach. I see only a few hardy souls brave enough to swim in the frigid waters of the North Sea.

We pass through the mall by the Old Fisherman's Village in Scheveningen before heading back towards the city centre. The mall is very close to the beachfront and also a popular spot with the usual mix of retail and cafes.

Back in the city, we drop off our bikes and embark on a short walking tour marked on our city map.

We're directed along Lange Voorhout, home to some of the city's finest old residences. In the parklands we come across an interesting exhibition featuring contemporary French sculptures ranging from a depiction of French soccer star Zinedine Zidane head-butting Italian Marco Materazzi during the 2006 World Cup final to a giant cake on an elegant dish.

Pausing to browse at a second-hand market with stalls selling anything from old books to clogs, we continue towards the Binnenhof buildings next to the Hofvijver lake. The Binnenhof buildings date back to the 13th century and were originally built for the counts of Holland but now function as the meeting place of the Dutch parliament and as the office of the Prime Minister. The Ridderzaal dominates the centre of the Binnenhof. It's from here that the king delivers his annual speech from the throne that outlines the government's agenda for the year. All immaculately maintained, the buildings are popular with tourists.

Just behind the Binnenhof, we pass through the Plein, a large town square surrounded by cafes and restaurants, and framed by contrasting views of old and new buildings. The rest of the city centre is an attractive mix of retail, art galleries and restaurants where you could happily spend many hours and many euros, but unfortunately we have a train to catch.

Although not as popular a tourist destination as its big sibling Amsterdam, The Hague really is a stunning city with plenty to offer. I, for one, will visit again to properly explore its treasures. Half a day just isn't enough.

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