Q. We're looking for a last-minute family holiday in the Netherlands, but we don't want to go to Amsterdam, because we've been there before. We live in Cambridge and would prefer to travel by car and ferry, and we are happy to do some driving once we get there. We would like information about outdoor activities, such as swimming and cycling, which we can enjoy with our teenage children, as well as good places to eat and drink. J Mullins, via email
A. One of the great – and less exploited – attractions in the Netherlands are the wide, sandy beaches that run the length of the country. Also, it's a reasonably small place – only a fraction bigger than Switzerland – but the difference is that it's flat, so driving from top to bottom is entirely possible in a day. And since you are travelling by car you will have your pick of coastal towns. The Dutch have made allowances for the cold North Sea water by putting a lot of the action on land – beach bars and cafés abound. The beaches are broad and windswept and lead inland to rolling dunes, which are perfect for walking and cycling.
Harwich to the Hook of Holland is the quickest ferry route from the UK and the drive from Cambridge to Harwich takes about an hour and a half. Stena Line (08705 707 070; www.stenaline.co.uk) operates 16 ferry crossings weekly, with a sailing time of just over six hours. While most outbound morning sailings are now sold out, there are overnight crossings still available in August. The price for a family of four plus car and a four-berth cabin on the outbound journey (there are still daytime returns available) costs from £404 in the second week of August.
Once you arrive it's a 30-minute drive from the ferry port to The Hague, the third-largest city in the Netherlands and a vibrant cultural and political hub. As well as being home to foreign embassies and the Dutch government, The Hague boasts two beach resorts. To the north-west is Scheveningen, the most famous of Holland's beaches. This four kilometre-long sandy strip has been drawing crowds for almost two centuries, including artists such as Adriaen van de Velde who came to paint the scenery. The focal point is the 19th-century Kurhaus, which has hosted kings and heads of state and is now a luxurious hotel (00 31 70 41 62 636; www.kurhaus.nl).
There is also a pier, lighthouse and casino. Don't let the latter put you off; the beach is spectacular and is the resort's main draw.
It is split in to the zuiderstrand (the southern beach) which is quite relaxed, good for sunbathing and surfing, and the noorderstrand (the northern beach) which is popular with adrenalin junkie kite-surfers and home to the lively beach pavilions. These outdoor restaurants and cafés each have their own character and are popular with a younger crowd so your teenagers should appreciate the atmosphere. Five minutes' walk from the beach and you find yourself in a maze of paths which weave through the sand dunes – these are very accessible on foot or by bike.
You can stay a few streets away from the beach at Hotel Mimosa (00 31 70 35 48 137; www.hotelmimosa.nl), which has basic but comfortable quad rooms available, costing €178 (£127) per night including breakfast and street parking. If you and your teenagers would prefer some privacy then doubles are also available for €112 (£80).
You should also consider heading south-west to the smaller resort of Kijkduin, which also has a splendid beach. While your teenagers may prefer trendier Scheveningen, Kijkduin is quieter, more family oriented and you might also find the pace a little less hectic. The two resorts are also easily accessible from one another.
Away from the beach you have easy access to the centre of The Hague where you can visit the Mauritshuis Museum (00 31 70 30 23 456; www.mau ritshuis.nl; open Tues-Sat 10am-5pm, Sun from 11am; €9.50/£6.80) to see its collection of Rembrandts and Vermeers. The historic town of Delft, famous for its blue pottery, is only 16km south.
If you are looking for something a little more sophisticated, perhaps more suited to you, the parents, but still very Dutch and with plenty to amuse teenagers, you could drive 90km north (about one hour) to the lovely town of Bergen. Located on the edge of forest and sand dunes, Bergen has a lively holiday feel in summer, and boasts lots of good bars and restaurants around the 15th-century Ruinekerk church. Plus it is only 4km from the beach, which you can easily get to by bicycle through the dunes.
The town has many long-term resident artists and writers and hosts regular art fairs. Lots of Dutch and German families come here during the summer months, so your teenagers wouldn't be stuck for other teenage company.
There is a good range of accommodation, and while you could stay directly by the beach in the very small village of Bergen aan Zee (by the sea), there is more happening in the town. For example, the traditional Hotel 1900 (00 31 72 58 97 746; www.hotel1900.com) is in the centre of town and offers double rooms from €74 (£53) per night including breakfast.
North of Bergen in the small village of Schoorl you can enjoy the Schoorl Dunes National Park (www.visitbergen.nl). These are the highest and the widest dunes in Holland, and here you'll find the famous climbing dune that people run and tumble down all the way into the village. The walk or cycling options on the paths around the park are also excellent. What's more the delightful market town of Alkmaar is only 8km away, with shops and canal-side cafés.
For more information about the Netherlands and its coastal resorts, visit www.holland.com the website www.vvvnoordzeekust.nl, or contact the Netherlands Board of Tourism (020-7539 7950).
Send your family travel queries to The Independent Parent, Travel Desk, The Independent, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.orgReuse content