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The Hague, or Den Haag as it is called in Dutch, is a famous city internationally as a diplomatic crossroads, and is also a world-class tourist destination. It is the self-proclaimed “city of peace and justice,” and home to international courts where many important trials have been conducted. It also features a very rich cultural scene, great shopping opportunities, and has both old-world Dutch charm and a modern appearance, depending which neighbourhood you are in. In addition to all the urban environment has to offer, there is great natural beauty to be found at the beaches of The Hague, which is located on the North Sea.
The oldest buildings in the city were built in the 13th century, but it wasn’t until the 16th century that The Hague became politically powerful. The city remains the “political capital” of The Netherlands today, which means that it is the seat of government, though Amsterdam is the country’s official capital. The Dutch parliament, ministries, all foreign embassies, and most of the royal buildings are located in The Hague, and the Queen of Holland, Beatrix, lives and works there.
The Hague is smaller than Amsterdam and Rotterdam, with a population of about 500,000. It is a very international city, however, and for centuries has had a cosmopolitan atmopshere due to the mix of many different cultures coming together in one place.
Holland has a mild and wet climate. Summer temperatures almost never get really hot, and on average stay between 17 - 26˚C (63 - 79˚F). Temperatures also rarely drop below freezing in the winter, and generally stay between 2 - 13˚C (35.5 - 55˚ F). It still manages to feel quite cold, however, partly due to it being frequently damp and windy. Rain is common and should be expected at any time of year. The best stretches of weather often occur in the fall, when there tends to be more sun, and the days are warm with a crisp breeze.
The language spoken in The Hague is Dutch. The vast majority of people in Holland can speak English, however, and in the major cities and touristy places they are generally quite fluent.
The Netherlands is known as a country where religion is not very popular, and it has the highest percentage of athiests of any country. Only about 39% of the population defines themselves as religious. Catholics make up the largest religious group, followed by Protestants, and there is now also a sizeable Muslim population. There are also small numbers of Jews, Hindus, and Buddhists making up collectively less than 3% of the population.
Service charges are almost always included in restaurant bills and taxi fares, but additional tipping is customary. For small bills in restaurants, it is normal to just round up the bill, or add a euro or two if the service was excellent. For larger bills, you can tip between 5-10%, but should not feel obligated to tip if the service was not satisfactory. In general, the Dutch are stingy about tipping, and just give whatever they feel like, not worrying about the percentage. When taking taxis, however, a tip of around 10% is customary. Hotel room service will also expect a small tip, as well as porters and restroom attendants.
Sales tax in The Netherlands is 19%, and is included in the shop prices. This tax can be refunded to tourists from outside of the EU whenever €50 or more is spent in the same shop on the same day. This only works in shops participating in Global Refund Tax Free Shopping, most of which display a sign in the window. Along with your receipt, the shop will present you with a form to fill out, to give to officials at the airport. All you have to do to get your refund is go to the Global Cash Refund Office before check in (in departure hall 3). Note that whatever you buy has to leave The Netherlands within three months for you to get a refund.
There are public telephones all over The Hague, which can be found on the street, in train stations, post offices, and some other establishments. Some of them take cash, but most take only phone cards or credit cards. You can buy phone cards in values of € 5, 10, or 20 at tobacco shops, telecom shops, newsstands, and post offices.
The country code of The Netherlands is +31 and the area code for The Hague is 070. To dial a number in The Hague from abroad, dial 00 31 70 followed by the local number.
There are many internet cafés throughout The Hague, easy recognizable on the commercial streets in the centre of the city. Most of them also feature long distance phone calls, photocopying, fax, printing, and other services. Many regular cafés also offer free wifi.
In general, shops are open Mon - Fri 10 am - 6 pm and Sat 10 am - 4 pm. Some shops open at 9 am, and supermarkets and other big stores often stay open until 8 or 9 pm. It is also not uncommon for stores to open later on Monday. On Thursday night many shops stay open late, until 8 or 9 pm. Most stores are closed on Sunday, but night shops or “avondwinkels” stay open. These shops are also open nightly until about 1 or 2 am.
Banks are open Mon- Fri from 9 am- 4 or 5 pm. Post offices also open at 9 am and close at 5 or 6 pm.
The Hague is generally a very safe city, and crime rates are very low. However, as in any city, pickpockets can be a problem, especially as they tend to prey on tourists. Be particularly wary in crowded places such as train stations, trams, squares like Grote Markt, and popular tourist attractions, and make sure that you keep a close watch on your belongings. Following basic common sense and being aware of your surroundings should make your stay in the Hague completely trouble-free.
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