Having stayed in Amsterdam and dedicated a whole day to Utrecht’s incredible Miffy Museum on our 2018 visit to Holland, we decided to mix it up for 2020, turning our attention to Den Haag and a powerful play cafe/museum/gallery trio – all three of which I’d been vigorously Insta-stalking for a while. My long, drawn-out Den Haag campaign was largely met with resistance by Bab Dad, who – unconvinced by the glamour of a place whose name literally translates as The Hedge – suggested that the Italian Lakes or the east coast of Spain might make a more suitable Euro-break with a one- and nearly four year old in tow. Luckily for me he’s the world’s worst planner and has neither the time or the inclination to do anything about it. I, on the other hand, live to plan, and already had some pretty awesome family-friendly treats up my sleeve courtesy of an over-pruned Pinterest account and my Instagram saved folder. And so, after some careful itinerary building (trickier than it sounds when you’re heading to a country where practically everything’s inexplicably closed on Mondays and Tuesdays) and a world of saving (the Netherlands are nice but boy howdy they’re expensive), our holiday to The Hedge was happening.
PLAY CAFES: De Boomhuttenclub
From the hedge to the treehouse, De Boomhuttenclub – or The Treehouse Club – is probably the best play cafe we’ve ever been to, and if there’s one thing we know about it’s play cafes. Unfortunate timings meant squashing our visit into an hour on the morning we flew back home, and we could have so easily spent the best part of a day here, brunching, lunching and just generally chilling while Babu did her worst with the eponymous treehouses, but it was a beautiful hour nonetheless. To be honest calling this cinema-turned-sustainably-built-parent/child-joy-centre a play cafe does it a bit of a disservice, given that it’s more in line with the sort of disgustingly beautiful design sorcery you’d find at one of those costs-more-than-your-rent, plywood-everything, progressive swanky-pants London nurseries. Except all it will cost for your kid to play here is the price of a really good cup of coffee, and you’ll get to sit and drink it ringside on a big squishy sofa while they play on the plywood everything (okay so I’ve just been informed entry was actually a fiver per child but still). Anyway sod the coffee, I had a special 85% cocoa adult hot chocolate and it was life-giving. The only bad thing about this place was they didn’t accept any card that wasn’t a Maestro, (which became an annoying theme of the holiday – and one we’d forgotten was the exact same theme of our previous holiday in the Netherlands), so Adam was forced out on a 20-minute crosstown jog in search of Euros. Annoying? Sure. But to be fair this was less the fault of De Boomhuttenclub and more the fault of the country as a whole. Anyway, card-acceptance snags aside it really was a Kevin McCloud monologue-worthy total bloody delight.
Boekhorststraat 47, 2512CM Den Haag
Dutch museums are some of the best I’ve been to in my life and the Dutch absolutely do not big them up enough. I can’t remember where I first found out about the Kinderboekenmuseum so I’ll assume it was an Instagram find, but whoever it was who posted about it absolutely did not big it up enough either. Weirdly hidden behind a building site and without its own entrance (it’s inside the Koninklijke Bibliotheek, or KB Royal Library), it all feels pretty low key as you move through the gift shop and into the big school-hallway-like landing with its hundreds of paintings. It’s not until you climb another set of stairs to be immediately hit in the face with what basically amounts to Eric Carle’s ‘The Very Hungry Caterpillar’ in play-area form (and we’re talking every page) – but are kind of impatient for your kids to get to the bit where he becomes a beautiful butterfly, flap their wings and then move on to the dozen other story rooms that you can see stretching out behind it – that you start to think that, actually, you might be somewhere pretty special. To be honest, aside from said caterpillar, Elmer and Dutch children’s literature linchpin Miffy, none of the characters in the museum looked particularly familiar, but it’s all so well executed it doesn’t matter. For example, you don’t have to be acquainted with Spuit Elf the Dutch fire-fighting elephant to enjoy pretending to ride a fire engine; and playing hide and seek in the maize maze doesn’t require you to have read all the books in the Dikkie Dik series. In fact, one of the coolest bits of the museum’s 0-6 zone is the area at the end of these interconnected story worlds – which can be accessed both from the front or, if you’re 0-6, via a tunnel that runs through them all – where dozens of characters we’ve never so much as glimpsed in our lives sit in the form of chairs around a huge, snaking dinner table. We’d never heard of Ik ben Kikker – the subject of this floor’s temporary immersive exhibition – either, but that didn’t stop us from spending a good 45 minutes exploring his world and hanging out with him and his mates. Actually that bit was particularly great – and this is all before we’ve even come to the 7+ area downstairs and its incredible interactive Annie M G Schmidt (of Jip and Janneke) exhibition, which is great for little ones too. Basically never ever go to the Netherlands without going here, because that would be wrong. Tickets cost €9 for adults, €7.50 for 7-17s, €6.50 for 2-6s, and under-2s go free.
Prins Willem-Alexanderhof 5, 2595 BE Den Haag
Not a children’s museum per se, but since the Dutch – unlike the British – seem to not hate children, most of their museums cater brilliantly to little ones. Voorlinden is particularly mini-friendly and was swarming with disturbingly well-behaved children when we visited, and I was gutted we didn’t time to take part in the Louise Bourgeois kids’ spider-making workshop we saw happening in its rainbow-floored art studio. Thankfully Babu had a brilliant time regardless, with big hits including Leandro Erlich’s bonkers Swimming Pool, which we found the surface of straight away but didn’t figure out how to actually get into until about an hour later (incidentally it’s the only part of the museum that’s a complete arse with a buggy, since it’s only accessible via a very narrow set of stairs); Ron Mueck’s Couple under an Umbrella, which she thought were actual giants; and a hyper-realistic and very outspoken mouse that appeared from a hole in the wall to remind us that we could all be anything we wanted if we put our minds to it. I should also mention the Yayoi Kusama Infinity Room, which I was surprised to find was just sort of there, in the middle of the gallery with little to no fanfare. You had to take a ticket for a 45-second time slot on arrival but ours was for 10 minutes later and I assumed you could have just kept picking up more slots and queuing as many times as you wanted, which was a far cry from the Victoria Miro Wharf Road fiasco of 2018. In sum there is a lot of really good art here, and in true Dutch style everyone is incredibly low key about it. Sure, the entrance fee is steep at €17.50 per adult (under-13s go free) but you get a lot of Banksy for your buck… okay so there’s no actual Banksy but you get it. Actually one of our favourite things about coming here was the 20-minute walk through Wassenaar, an affluent, leafy Den Haag suburb that’s full of beautiful Dutch mansions and well worth getting the bus for. And speaking of Kevin McCloud monologues, he could write an epic novel about Voorlinden.
Buurtweg 90, 2244 AG Wassenaar
OTHER STUFF We’d also planned to visit Stokstaart, a delicious-looking little kids’ shop in Koningsplein; Littleyou, an even more delicious-looking kids’ shop and cafe in the Geuzenkwartier; and Koffie en Kind, a play cafe between Duindorp and Bomenbuurt, but had time for none of these thanks to the Pannekoekenboot disaster (see Amsterdam). We’re already planning a return trip for the end of the summer and a day at the Madurodam model village (which, just saying, has a Miffy-themed playground), and the Duinrell amusement park actually looks amazing for slighter older kids, even though I hate amusement parks. The Museon science and culture museum, Planet Jump church-based trampolining centre and Escher in Het Paleis museum of um… Escher all also come highly recommended for kids.
TIPS We stayed at the Novotel Suites Den Haag City Centre, which suited us pretty well and was handy for the train station and our various day trips to other cities. Suites makes it sound fancy – it wasn’t, but it had everything we needed: 1. A (tiny) kitchenette for making bottles and storing all the bars of Tony’s Chocolonely we bought on the first night there (yes I know they sell it in the UK now but the Dutch are still totally keeping the best flavours for themselves); 2. A cot. Because baby. Actually there was also a giant plastic sex (presumably) curtain I could draw around our bed, which did feel sort of weird and dirty but at the same time if the little one can see us she will literally never go to sleep and will just stand in her cot staring at our heads and screaming, so the sex curtain became our friend in the end, even if we definitely didn’t use it for sex; 3. Buffet breakfasts. They cost extra, obviously, but paying ahead for hotel breakfast is almost always worth it – especially with kids in tow. These ones were nice too. Travel-wise we walked everywhere in Den Haag, with the exception of Voorlinden, which requires a bus journey. We didn’t actually get the tram at all (although we did almost get run over by them a lot), but we did do a lot of tramming in Amsterdam and Rotterdam, and found the OV Chipkaart (Dutch Oyster) the cheapest and easiest way of paying.
Babu meets Ron Mueck’s Couple under an Umbrella, AKA real-life giants, at Museum Voorlinden, Wassenaar.