Who knew the Dutch did beach-life? Johanna Payton drives from London to The Hague on a spellbinding road trip to Holland via Belgium for fun and (bonus!) sunshine
Random holidays are often the best holidays. After leaving it waaaay too late to book any kind of “package” holiday for half-term, we turned our attention to a road trip and brainstormed ideas of where to go. Germany? Bit too far in the time we had available. France? Always nice, but we’ve been so many times. Holland? Now there’s a thought.
We were last in Amsterdam two years ago, without our 13-year-old son, Eliott, and it struck us how much he’d enjoy the laidback pace and eccentricity of the Netherlands.
A hip Dutch city with a beach….interesting
A bit of light Googling later and we’d worked out that we could drive to Amsterdam via Bruges.
I considered a stop in Rotterdam too, but it looked a bit too industrial…
…and that’s when the Hague popped onto my radar: a hip Dutch city with a beach….interesting.
When further research revealed it was only a hop-and-a-skip on the train from The Hague to Amsterdam – and we found the funkiest apartment between the town centre and the beach – we decided to book one night in Bruges followed by three nights in the Hague and threw our suitcases in the boot.
The weather was steamy when we set off on our road trip to Holland via Belgium on a Bank Holiday morning.
In typical fashion, we ended up doing a mad dash to the Eurotunnel, but the remaining journey was simple and – in spite of the heat – we had a chilled-out drive to beautiful Bruges from the French side of the crossing.
As soon as we arrived at the 4-star Flanders Hotel, inside the walls of the city, I dashed to the petite swimming pool for a cooling plunge. With a cute courtyard garden, smart bar and easy access to the city, this was the ideal overnight stop, with plenty of scope for exploring Bruges.
Once we’d cooled off and settled into our smart triple room, it was an easy stroll into town.
We toured the main squares, admiring the canal over beers from Cafe ’t Klein Venetië before feasting on fresh mussels from restaurant ‘T Voutje in Eiermarkt. Bruges is a calm yet tourist-centric location and there was enough people-watching and chocolate-window-shopping to keep us amused until the sun went down.
Plenished and exhausted, we collapsed into comfy beds back at the hotel.
One blissful sleep later and we were packed up and ready to head back into town. At the Flanders, you can park until 1pm, so we had ample time to graze on brunch and see more of the city.
Our appetites were satiated (and then some) by Books and Brunch at Garenmarkt 30. This hip hang out serves fantastic coffee, traditional breakfast and sells books – so there are at least three good reasons to check it out.
As well as a friendly welcome and perfect English, we were served delicious omelette with bacon alongside a bread basket with butter, jam and chocolate spread.
My son plumped for the more indulgent waffle breakfast…well, you can imagine: we’re talking chocolate-tastic (all over his face).
After filling our faces, there was time for one more Bruges experience: we went to the gorgeous Minnewaterpark, a romantic location that’s often referred to as the Lake of Love.
A lovely spot for a walk, they say you’ll experience eternal love if you walk over the lake’s bridge with your partner. We missed this opportunity. (The boys were too busy playing Postman’s Knock on the pretty little castle door. Tsk.)
Heading away from Bruges was a wrench – but more wonder was on the agenda.
In under three hours we arrived at our final destination: the B-Aparthotel Kennedy in The Hague (or Den Haag, as they say in Holland).
With a fashionable mid-century communal area (we were in Holland, I would expect no less) and bright, spacious apartments with kitchenettes and living areas, we’d hit our uber-base.
Bang between the city centre and the beach, Kennedy is in the Statenkwartier neighbourhood, within walking distance of the Gemeente Museum, Peace Palace and the World Forum. Bike hire is available and, if the weather isn’t great, you can hit the gym.
There’s a nice view across a waterway out front, a Nespresso machine in the kitchen and classic Dutch vending in the communal space: what’s not to love?
Plus, there’s an Albert Heijn supermarket a few minutes away: if you’re a continental supermarket nut like me, that will mean something.
Just watch out for extra charges on departure: we were hit with an unexpected tariff for using the sofa bed, which wasn’t in the literature when we booked.
Although we were dying to explore Den Haag, the next day was earmarked for Old Amsterdam. We were itching to introduce Eliott to its delights (not all of them, obviously) and the swift, 50-minute train journey (at €12.80 each, each way) was too convenient to miss.
We did get our Den Haag bearings, though – and a peep at the stunning Peace Palace – on our ramble across town to the train station.
Our day in the ‘Dam could be a post in itself, so here’s the abridged version: canals, boats, blooms, burgers, queues, “earthy cologne”, fake space cakes, real chocolate pancakes, huge ice creams, rope swings, sex dice and winkels.
Make of that what you will.
Heading back to our temporary home on the train, we met the friendliest conductor ever (a Teddy Boy who went from telling us we hadn’t activated our day tickets properly – make sure you touch in and out, a la Oyster – to explaining how hard it is to buy drainpipe trousers in The Netherlands). Then we stopped off at De Tijd Bar & Grill back in Den Haag for drinks and supper.
Driving back in the direction Brexity Britain, we wondered if relocating to the Dutch beach might be the plan to pursue
One more day of our break left and we were ready for the beach.
The sun was still shining and we couldn’t wait to check out the Scheveningen district with its golden sandy beaches, plethora of beach bars and funky-ass pier.
We were not disappointed.
There’s something distinctly “British seaside” about Scheveningen. Maybe it’s the promenade, the toy shops or the cool fish and chip stall on the pier?
But unlike Brighton or Blackpool, the crowd is mega-cool; there’s an underlying helping of hipster wherever you look, from the retro arcade machines to the colour-pop columns holding up the pier.
The iconic Kurhaus Hotel adds a majestic touch of grandeur and the observation wheel ticks the “observation wheel” box; but the vibe is typically Dutch with huge loungers on the sand at every beach bar and snacking opportunities in every direction.
In high season, we’re willing to bet that Scheveningen Pier is one of Holland’s most vibrant destinations.
Ahead of our reluctant departure, we managed to cram in two great swims at the Zwembad het Zuiderpark, which has an indoor pool for lane swimming, a fun pool with lazy river and hot tub, and a heated outdoor pool, and one trip to the Pathé cinema back at Scheveningen.
Wall-to-wall fun. That’s what we had. And as we drove off in the direction of the Tunnel, back to Brexity Britain and all that goes with it, we found ourselves wondering if relocating to the beach in the land of the hash, the cheese and the hipster might be the plan to pursue…
We’ll keep you posted.
How to take a road trip to Holland via Belgium without flying:
Johanna drove to the Eurotunnel at Folkstone from London via the M20. From the Calais terminal, the drive to Bruges took 1hr 30min on the A16 and E40. Parking is available at the Flanders Hotel (charges apply).
From Bruges, the journey to The Hague takes approx. 2hrs 30min using the E34, N49 and A4. One toll is paid on this route. Street parking outside the B-Aparthotel Kennedy is free.
From Den Haag Centraal station, trains leave regularly to Amsterdam. More information is available from The Trainline.
Words: Johanna Payton for Feet on the Ground
Images: Johanna Payton