The Hague (Den Haag in Dutch) is the administrative capital of the Netherlands, a compact city spreading out from its political powerbase around the Hofvijver Lake. This is the place to start a tour if you only have one day in The Hague.
As the seat of Dutch government and the third largest city in The Netherlands, The Hague has many major attractions including the UN Peace Palace, the fabulous Mauritshuis art gallery (due to re-open in May 2014) and of course the Binnenhof parliament buildings around Hofvijver lake. Not least among these is the chic Statenkwartier area of The Hague, which is one of the oldest and smartest districts of the city.
Just 30 miles (50 km) north-east of Amsterdam, the Zuiderzee Museum makes a great day out for families; it is located in Enkhuizen, one of the many villages along the coast whose livelihoods were cut off when access to the North Sea was cut off by construction of the Afsluidijk dam in 1932. A day at the Zuiderzee Museum presents the chance to learn how Dutch fishing communities lived in times gone by.
Christmas in Haarlem for 2013 has already started; the streets are adorned with laces of Christmas lights and store windows decorated with festive Nativity scenes. On Sunday November 17, Sinterklaas and his black-faced helpers – the Zwarte Pieten – sailed by barge down the River Spaarne into Haarlem with much fanfare and celebration before parading on a white horse through the streets to check on the behavior of the city’s youngsters.
The Netherlands springs to life in December, holding traditional Christmas markets in many towns against a backdrop of prettily illuminated gabled houses, canals, lavishly decorated Christmas trees and rousing carol concerts.
Cycling is big business in the Netherlands – there are 16 million bikes in the country and they have to go somewhere. The flat terrain provides a cyclist’s paradise with its flat horizons and hundreds of routes through arable farmland and tulip fields. Hundreds of way-marked cycling routes in the Netherlands cut across dykes, polders and canals, pass historic castles, seaside resorts, abbeys and windmills; they can be short, easy rides suitable for novices and families or they can constitute long-distance challenges for experienced cyclists.