to do in The Hague and Delft
The Netherlands is Fun to Visit
by Janice Rossen
I am on a mission.
A certain well-known travel writer, who shall remain nameless (while
I grind my teeth in fury) recommends all the wrong things to Americans who
How do I
know this? I have lived in
Delft for the past three years, and have visited it every year (before
moving here) for the previous fifteen years before that.
I have combed every published guide book for suggestions of places to
visit, and have seen many wonderful sights.
That is, I love it here.
More to the point, the last few visitors whom we have encountered from the
USA who arrive in Delft with their own lists of ‘Things to Do and See’
(culled from the website of [see above]) miss out entirely on the best
things in this corner of the country.
saying is, I would like to make a few more suggestions.
are staying in Amsterdam, you can easily take a train to The Hague (it is
forty-five minutes or less). It
is, of course, possible to go to the Peace Palace, which is a sort of
ginger-bready building where international law courts convene.
Recent visitors of ours from Los Angeles turned up (well, granted,
they are both lawyers!—no wonder they wanted to visit there!) only to find
that you must book in advance for tour tickets.
Might I suggest instead . .
. . The Mauritshuis is one of the finest museums in all of Europe.
And it has the added advantage of being small!
You can see the whole thing in well under an hour (and there is a
coffee shop downstairs, if you want to sit and wait while your more
energetic traveling companions roam around for a longer period of time).
It has a wealth of famous and wonderful art works, including (yes!)
that Vermeer painting of the ‘Girl with the Pearl Earring’.
also visit the Museum Bredius just across the lake from the Mauritshuis,
which is an enchanting townhouse which formerly belonged to one of the
finest art collectors of the early 20th Century.
The house is not only filled with wonderful paintings, but you can
get some sort of sense of what art works in the Dutch Golden Age of the 17th
C. were designed for: to
ornament a house, and to be an integral part of the family’s life.
Museums are all very well;
but the oil paintings turned out by a legion of artisans in 17th C.
workshops were designed to hang in sitting-rooms and dining-rooms.
tourist destination which is simply a hoot is the tiny built-to-scale model
of highlights of Holland, Madurodam.
I’m including a photo of the reproduction of the Mauritshuis, to give
you an idea of the scale of the whole thing.
Best of all, you can dine
at Le Bistrot de la Place: Chez
Norbert, which is on the other side of the small lake next to the
Mauritshuis. Pure magic.
Norbert himself is always in the kitchen for weekday lunches, and
Marc (who runs the front of the house—with absolute panache!) has created a
warm atmosphere that is reminiscent of a 1950s French bistro.
(Yes, they are both French!
French, French, French!
Oh, culinary joy!) Marc is from
Lyons (he married a beautiful Dutch woman, many years ago, and the rest is
history), and Norbert is originally from Corsica, though his family is now
in the Dordogne. He is the most
intuitive chef I know, and I would rather dine there than anyplace in
Holland. (Oh . . . . and in
fact I do! There is a very
convenient tram—the Number 1 tram—which runs between The Hague and Delft,
and this will also be useful for anyone who wants to combine a visit to both
spots in one day.)
Bistrot itself combines the pinnacle of all dining experiences:
the freshest, most beautiful food, the loveliest possible ambiance .
. . . and brilliant music. Marc
himself sings café chansons on weekend evenings, accompanied by a rotating
list of three very fine jazz pianists.
This in itself is worth staying over, for a Friday or Saturday
If you stand outside the
restaurant looking at the menu, it will probably seem too expensive, at
first glance. I tell you this,
in order to lay out the entire scene for you in advance.
Chez Norbert is not for everyone; if you would prefer to grab a quick
sandwich and have a really sublime cappuccino, then walk straight next door
to ‘Bagels and Beans’ (which is the favorite Saturday morning haunt of
Norbert himself). None the
less, for lunch at Chez Norbert, it is quite possible to order just one
course (rather than a lengthy menu), because lunch is lighter anyway, and
because Marc wishes above all to give all of his customers exactly what they
would like to have. Moreover,
as a ‘splurge,’ it is absolutely worth it.
The artistry, inspiration and care which go into everything that the
bistro does is something that I always find to be extraordinary.
You will always walk away from Chez Norbert feeling very happy.
Actually, in this corner of The Hague, you are in fact spoiled for choice:
only a few doors down from Chez Norbert is Wox, which is entirely
different in style.
Ultra-modern in decor, it is also utterly spare in its presentation.
I would think that ‘Asian fusion’ probably best describes their
cuisine, and their sashimi with noodles is sublime.
combination of museum-going and lunch makes a perfect afternoon.
will only add the marvel of the Panorama Mesdag, which is a short walk from
the Mauritshuis, and is a circular painting which represents a view of late
19th C. Holland on the beach at Scheveningen.
It is a miraculous illusion.
You can easily take the Number 1 tram all the way to Scheveningen
itself, and walk along the beach.
visiting Delft, the fuming on my part is going to start up again . . . .
everyone’s itinerary (which they have culled from this [insert name of
famous travel expert here] website) includes something on the order of
‘visit Delft pottery factory.’
shall I start?
For one thing, the Delft
blue pottery which has been (justly) so world-famous for the past three
centuries is terribly expensive.
I say this with respect:
I would not wish anybody not to buy some, if they had set their hearts on
acquiring it, and I am thrilled with the few pieces that I have collected,
myself, over the years. But
does every tourist wish to see how it is produced?
The relevant point here is that the factory itself is not in the
center of town, and is a bit difficult to find.
important point is that there are a few really fabulous things that you can
see in Delft, and all of them are within five or ten minutes’ walking
distance of each other. (To say
nothing of charming cafes along the way.) It
is hugely efficient, and an afternoon spent in sight-seeing in Delft will
give you an extraordinary insight into Dutch history and culture.
Tetar van Elven Museum is marvelous—the elegant town house of a 19th C.
painter, with original furnishings, and the artist’s labored copies of Great
Dutch Army Museum contains a staggering amount of paraphernalia from the
past several centuries (starting, literally, with weapons used by the Romans
when they were in Holland), and has a massive array of uniforms, flags and
banners, firearms, tanks, even small airplanes.
This does not even count the musical instruments displayed on the
wall in the coffee shop.
are lucky enough to be in Delft on the first Saturday of the month, you will
be able to visit one of the most extraordinary collections I’ve ever seen,
at the Mensert Museum. It is a collection of building tools, assembled by
the Mensert family, who have had a highly respected construction business in
Delft since the 19th Century.
Due to the highly practical nature of Dutch people—who are fearless, in
tossing out what no longer works for them—the craftsmen who have renewed
Delft buildings for the past several decades rescued countless superannuated
building materials. Rather than
sending things off to the dump which residents no longer wanted, they
preserved them as a historical record:
thus, you can see endless variations of light switches, or hand-saws
and other tools, or plumbing fittings, or roof tiles.
Fascinating. They will
also give you detailed information, if you ask them, and they present
everyone who visits with a cup of tea.
hall is not often open to visitors, but is fun to look at, and never more so
than on Thursdays, which is market day.
(Another, smaller market is set up on Saturdays, which offers mostly
flowers and fresh vegetables.)
Delft is very much a tourist town, and there is often some special display,
or occasion, or celebration, or even something involving marching brass
The Old Church (on the Oude
Delft canal) is also a wonderful space, and has a plaque dedicated to
Vermeer. (By the way, the
Vermeer ‘center’ on the Voldersgracht is very good if you are an art
enthusiast, and want to learn about painting techniques;
but it contains not a single Vermeer painting.
Just be warned.) The
Oude Kerk dates officially from 1246, and part of its history reflects yet
another disaster in the history of Delft:
the explosion of a powder magazine in 1654, which destroyed all of
the stained glass windows, which have now been replaced.
The Prinsenhof Museum (only a few steps away from the Oude Kerk) has
on display a very moving painting of this event, along with a courtyard with
a statue of William of Orange (William the Silent), and an exhibition on his
murder in 1584, in this very building (the bullet holes in the wall by the
staircase have been scrupulously preserved).
Delft is full of history.
The New Church (right on
the central square) is very chaste and spare and elegant.
It was built in response to a visionary’s conviction, or, as the
church guidebook puts it, ‘In January 1351 a beggar, an eccentric by repute,
fell to his knees on the market square in Delft.
His name was Brother Simon.’
His vision was shared by Jan Col, who was ‘addressed by Simon with
the words, ‘”My dearly beloved friend, dost thou not see the Heavens open?”
Both looked towards the sky and, according to tradition, saw a golden
church, dedicated to the Virgin Mary.
The beggar died soon after, but for the next thirty years on the same
day of January, Jan Col continued to see a brilliant light shining on the
spot indicated by Brother Simon.
He was convinced that a church should be built in that place.’
I think this is an amazing story, certainly one from another era, and
is only matched in drama by the terrible disaster which befell the town of
Delft when lightning struck the tower in 1536, and the resulting fire
destroyed nearly all of the buildings west of the church.
The Nieuwe Kerk is important in Dutch history, in its link with the
Royal Family, and the mausoleum of Prince William of Orange is housed there.
The most stylish café in
Delft is just a few steps down the Oude Delft canal from the Old Church,
Koffiehuis Uit de Kunst. You
will nearly always see local residents huddling outside, at the café tables
set on the sidewalk (all Dutch people are wild to be outside, even in the
coldest weather), and inside there is an enchanting enclosed courtyard which
contains two magnificent parrots (one is green and the other is gray).
Attached to the café is a dress shop, with very chic clothes.
steps away from the Old Church is the Lambert van Meerten Museum, another
old and very elegant furnished town house which contains several collections
of antique Dutch tiles. That
is, if you really are interested in Dutch pottery and its origins, you can
see endless examples here.
Moreover, you can buy simply lyrical bits of it (either tiles or small
plates or vases) at a few antique stores in town.
A real, hand-painted 17th C. Delft blue antique tile can be had for a
jaw-droppingly low price. The
contemporary, recently-made versions of Delft pottery are also available, of
course, and are for sale in a couple of the shops on the main square.
The only thing to keep in mind (so that you know what you are
getting) is that there is only one ‘Royal’ factory, which has a distinctive
mark on the bottom of each piece.
like antiques, Holland abounds in amazing bargains. It is possible to buy a
small pot made in the 15th Century, for example.
Delft has a dazzling array of antique shops (not to mention the
endless delights of the weekly Saturday flea market which takes place during
the summer months), and you can buy a real 17th C. Dutch tile, hand-painted
in Delft by a 17th C. artisan for anything from roughly 25 euros to 100 and
something, depending on the skill of the artist and the theme of the tile.
I once bought a lovely tile with a unicorn on it, which was priced at
100 euros due to its rarity;
however, the shop owner informed me that he had recently sold a tile
featuring a cat for 200 euros!
In sum, unless you feel
that you really want to have a big-city, Amsterdam experience, you might
consider basing yourself in Delft on a visit, which has a wonderful and
picturesque atmosphere (including canals!) and several very nice hotels.
Our favorite remains Hotel De Ark, where we still book rooms for my
mother and for other guests, when they come to visit us.
(Our utterly enchanting 16th century house is of such tiny
proportions that even Dutch friends refer to it as a ‘poppenhuis’ or doll’s
house.) There is also a bed and
breakfast near the Oostpoort, or east gate, which is very central.
My friend Janey recently came for a visit, and stayed at the Hotel
Leeuwenbrug, which is not only very picturesque, but which offers its guests
canapés every afternoon at 5 p.m., and a lyrical breakfast, with smoked
salmon, charcuterie, fresh fruit and all kinds of cakes and croissants.
dining in Delft, there are naturally endless possibilities . . . however,
Dutch cuisine remains Dutch cuisine:
plain, simple, and largely dreary.
It is always a possibility to have a drink on the Beestenmarkt, which
is the not the main square (where all of the tourists go) but a couple of
blocks behind it (where the locals hang out).
It is shaded with enormous, towering trees, and buzzing and humming
with laughter and merriment;
Delft is, among other things, a student town, with its world-famous
favorite restaurants in Delft are Greek, Italian, and French!
(I must add, we often dine for Saturday lunches at Vlaanderen, on the
Beestenmarkt. And the Belgian
Beer Café Belvedere, also on the Beestenmarkt, does a very fine croque
monsieur sandwich, if you are very hungry.)
Olympia Grieks Restaurant is ebulliently cheerful and has wonderful food.
The small Italian deli just across from the New Church, Il Tartufo,
serves sublime sandwiches at lunchtime and sells all sorts of take-away
things which Fabio (the owner) has made himself.
pinnacle is Le Vieux Jean, which serves both lunch and dinner from Tuesdays
to Fridays (and dinner also on Saturdays, of course), and which is that
treasured Dutch phenomenon, a familiezaak.
It was started many years ago by Robert and Kokki Polman, who have
now handed it over to their son and his wife to run, and thus is a Delft
tradition. As a ‘family’
business, it has that cheerful resonance of people who really care about
what they are doing, and the elegance of the food is fully matched by the
warmth and courtesy of the staff.
It is altogether delightful:
elegant without being fussy, refined without being stilted.
It has that rare ambiance which is always astonishing when you meet
with it: all of the diners in
the restaurant seem really happy!
What a gift.
you can well see, there are real possibilities for a delightful sojourn in
both of these spots. And I’ve even forgotten to mention the boat trips!
In tourist season, it is possible to join one of several tours every
day, and it gives a wonderful canal perspective view on the whole town.
to the Vredespaleis (the Peace Palace) is definitely possible, and the
building stands right on the Number 1 tram line.
You must, however, have a booking in order to go on a tour.
See www.vredespaleis.nl for
further information. <
between the Hague and Delft is possible with the tram (the #1 tram, for
instance, goes from Delft Central Rail station past the Prinsenhof and all
the way to Kneuterdijk stop (a few steps from Chez Norbert and the
Mauritshuis). It is possible to
find discounts at
Mauritshuis is right next to the Binnenhof (state buildings), at Korte
Vijverberg 8, about a ten minute walk from the Den Haag Central station.
Tel. +31 (0)70 302 3435,
www.mauritshuis.nl They are
closed on Mondays, except at certain times in the summer, so it is best to
check beforehand for opening times.
Also, the museum staff are brilliant at assembling exhibitions, often
borrowing art works from other museums or private collections;
the current offering is ‘On Horseback!:
The World of Philips Wouwerman’, which displays works of a prolific
17th C. Dutch artist who specialized in outdoors scenes, and had a special
gift for painting horses. <
Bredius is a mansion built in 1757, and has a pleasant domestic feel to it,
as though someone might still be living there.
Tel. +31 (0)70 362 0729,
Madurodam is indeed very touristy, and also a bit more expensive than
entrance to the Mauritshuis.
But it is a Dutch tradition, first opened in 1952, and it is carefully
updated with current references to contemporary culture.
A large part of the display is devoted to Schiphol airport, for
instance. You can get there
easily from the Central Station by taking the #9 tram.
See www.madurodam.nl for
Bistrot de la Place: Chez
Norbert is located on the large square just across from the lake beside the
Mauritshuis, at Plaats 27, 2513AD Den Haag.
Tel. +31 (0)70 364 3327,
bistrot is open for lunch at 12 noon on Monday through Friday, and at 6 p.m.
for dinner Monday through Saturday.
It is essential to book, if you wish to hear Marc Cruellas perform on
weekend evenings during the summer (and really, a highlight of any visit!—I
always take visitors to dine there).
be found at Buitenhof 26, Den Haag, Tel. +31 (0)70 365 3754,
The restaurant offers sophisticated cuisine with an Asian flavour to
it (their tuna sashimi with accompanying noodles is not to be missed!), and
they are open for lunch on Wednesday to Fridays, and for dinner on Tuesdays
through Saturday. <
Mesdag is located at Zeestraat 65, 2518AA Den Haag, and is open daily.
Tel. +31 (0)70 3 644 544.
Tourist Information in Delft has all kinds of brochures, and there is a
great deal of information available on the following websites:
It is, of course, possible to visit the Delfts blue factory, and see
pottery being hand-painted:
there is a Royal Delftware Museum, factory and showroom at Rotterdamseweg
196, 2628AR Delft (thus, it is a bit out of the center of town), Tel. +31
(0)15 251 2030, firstname.lastname@example.org,
See also Delft Pottery de Delftse Pauw, Delftweb 133, 2289BD Delft,
Tel. +31 (0)15 212 4920,
one venue that I myself would not recommend—unless you like this particular
sort of thing—is the Vermeer Centre Delft, located on the Voldersgracht (see
The displays do try to give one information about painting in the
17th C., and they offer copies of all of Vermeer’s works . . . but . . . .
they do not possess a single original Vermeer painting (which are, in any
case, extremely rare), and to see his work you must go to the Mauritshuis in
the Hague or the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.
het Prinsenhof, Sint Agathaplein 1, is closed on Mondays.
for current exhibitions.
van Elven Museum is open from the middle of April until the end of October,
Tuesdays to Sundays, from 1 p.m. until 5 p.m.
They are located at Koornmarkt 67, 2611EC Delft, Tel. +31 (0)15 212
Army Museum, or Legermuseum, is located at Korte Geer 1, 2611CA Delft, Tel.
+31 (0)15 215 0500, email@example.com,
They are closed on Mondays.
Gereedschap Museum Mensert (Building Tools Museum) is located at Drie
Akersstraat 9, 2611JR Delft, Tel. +31 (0)15 219 0092,
Since this is very much a family-run museum, they are indeed only
open from 11 a.m.-5 p.m. on the first Saturday of every month, though it is
also possible to arrange for a group tour by appointment.
to the New Church and the Old Church are both included in the same ticket,
which comes with an excellent brochure which explains the history of both
buildings. Since both buildings
are in use by local congregations for weekly services, they are closed to
visitors on Sundays, although you may certainly attend a service, either the
English Christian fellowship, IREF (which meets at 12 noon in the Old
Church) or a regular service at the New Church with a translator who will
give an English translation.
See www.nieuwekerk-delft.nl and
www.oudekerk-delft.nl for current
information. For information
about the English-speaking services, see
www.iref.nl The Oude Kerk
can be reached at Tel. +31 (0)15 212 3015 or
firstname.lastname@example.org and the
Nieuwe Kerk at Tel. +31 (0)15 212 3025 or
The New Church stands right on the market square, and cannot be
missed, while the Old Church is between the two main canals of Delft, the
Oude Delft and the Koornmarkt.
Lambert van Meerten is just around the corner from the Prinsenhof, at Oude
Delft 199, 2611HD, Delft. Tel.
+31 (0)15 260 2358,
Koffiehuis Uit de Kunst is located at Oude Delft 140, 2611CG Delft, and is
closed on Monday and Tuesday.
Tel. +31 (0)15 212 1319,
Other picturesque and ‘typical Dutch’ cafes are Kleyweg’s Stads-Koffyhuis,
Oude Delft 133 (see
www.stads-koffyhuis.nl) and Kobus Kuch, Beestenmarkt 1 (see
Ark, Koornmarkt 65, can be reached at Tel. +31 (0)15 215 7999, or
and their website is www.deark.nl <
Leeuwenbrug, Koornmarkt 16, is at Tel. +31 (0)15 214 7741, or
local bed and breakfast options are B&B Oosteinde, at
www.bb-oosteinde.nl and B&B Soul
Inn, at www.soul-inn.nl
Restaurant Olympia is very much beloved by local Delftenaars, so it is
advisable to arrive early or else to book a table in advance.
They are located on the Koornmarkt canal, at Hippolytusbuurt 43,
2611HM Delft, Tel. +31 (0)15 213 6579. See
There is a delightful outside terrace in the summer months, where you
can sit and look at the Old Church.
They are open for dinner at 5 p.m. every evening except for Mondays.
Tartufo is located on the Voorstraat (the continuation of the Koornmarkt
canal), though the actual address is Minderbroerstraat 2, 2611MV Delft, Tel.
+31 (0)15 214 3577. See
www.iltartufo.nl for further
Jean is located at Heilige Geestkerkhof 3, 2611HP Delft, just across from
the entrance to the Old Church.
Their telephone is +31 (0)15 213 0433.
They are closed on Sundays and Mondays.
It is always advisable to book for dinner, though a table is nearly
always available at lunch-time.
See www.levieuxjean.nl and you can
write to them at
tours can be found on the Koornmarkt canal, Tel. +31 (0)15 212 6385,
There is also often an omnibus (horse-drawn carriage) which begins
next to the town hall in the main square.
One final word about the unnamed travel ‘expert’ whom everyone seems
to consult, and who appears to have never, himself, come to Holland actually
to visit. Do not trust his
advice on the Netherlands. I
say this in all earnestness, and on a particular point, because at least two
visitors from the USA who have turned up on our doorstep recently have said,
blithely, ‘oh, yes, and of course we are going to see the Red Light District
in Amsterdam.’ Apparently, this
is recommended by the travel writer in question.
I myself have never been, as the thought appalls me so much:
and it seemed to me that the travelers who had put this on their
itineraries had done so almost in the same spirit of visiting the Peace
Palace and the Delft pottery factory.
It was on the ‘website’ list.
of course you can go, if you are truly curious and want to see it!
But think about the reality of such a sight, and what it will
actually show you. That is, I
base my further thoughts about this on the advice of a friend who has lived
in Holland for many years longer than I have done, and who (in trying to
talk another person [my visitor/friend] out of willingly going there) said
that she had run across it while going to other things in Amsterdam (in a
certain section of the city, it is hard to avoid), and had felt all the
oppression of it. Just be
certain that you really want to choose this, if you do so.
Don’t believe everything you read!
Photographs by Janice Rossen