The Hague is a grand and elegant city yet understated and laid-back. You could say that it offers the best of both worlds: a certain refinement reflected by the many embassies aligning the elegant boulevards and the cool, urban chic vibe of a seaside resort. So, I’ve decided to write this article in a similar way, by grouping the classic and cool things to do in The Hague. It’s up to you to mix and match, depending on how much time you’ll spend in this wonderful city.
Lively The Hague – Den Haag in Dutch – was once the capital of The Netherlands before thriving Amsterdam, the country’s economic and trading center, took over that honour. Yet The Hague kept its political power and, to this day, is the seat of the Dutch government, home to the royal family and to numerous international governmental organisations.
Map of The Hague
For your convenience, I’ve created this map with all things do do in The Hague mentioned in this article. So, whether you’re looking for the classic or cool The Hague attractions, you’ll find them here.
If this is a day trip from Amsterdam, then check out our article on 2 days in Amsterdam for the perfect weekend in the Dutch capital. The Hague is also an excellent day trip from Brussels.
Classic things to do in The Hague
Admire the Binnenhof
The Hague’s postcard view is often the one from the Binnenhof, reflected in the Hofvijver lake. The complex of buildings houses the Senate and the House of Representatives as well as the office of the Dutch Prime Minister. The gothic palace was constructed in the 13th century, making it the oldest House of Parliament currently in use.
Some important highlights of the complex include the chapel, the Knight’s House – Ridderzaal in Dutch – where visiting knights could take shelter and the neo-gothic fountain that dates from the 19th century. The Binnenhof – which literally means Inner Court is one of the main The Hague attractions. Visitors are free to enter through one of the impressive gates.
Try a herring
At the square next to the west entrance of the Binnenhof, which is conveniently called Buitenhof or Outer Court, you’ll find the Haringkraam. This fish stall is The Hague’s finest. Eat your herring like the Dutch do: hold it by its tail and lower it slowly in your mouth. Watch out for the seagulls!
Book a tour a the Peace Palace
In the early 20th century, this neo-renaissance palace was built on the grounds of former royal estate Zorgvliet. The Peace Palace – Vredespaleis in Dutch – was the symbol of a judicial institution, inspired by the peace movement of the late 19the century and the first peace conference that was held in The Hague in 1899. To this day, it serves as the headquarters of the International Court of Justice.
Guided garden tours are organized during the summer months, guided palace tours on some weekends and for a limited time during summer. Tickets are sold only on the official website.
Admire the Palace Noordeinde
The Noordeinde Palace is one of the three official palaces of the Dutch royal family and currently the king’s work p(a)lace. It is not open to the public except for a few days during the summers months when visitors are given access to some historical rooms. Also part of the Noordeinde Palace are the Royal Stables which house the royal carriages and the horses that draw them. Just like it is the case for the palace, visitors are welcome to visit the Royal Stables during a limited number of days every summer. If that doesn’t match with your travel plans then check out Noordeinde Palace and Royal Stables on Google Streetview.
And of course you’re always welcome to enjoy the Palace Garden – Paleistuin in Dutch. It’s a city park that’s open from sunrise to sunset (except when the king receives high-profile guests).
Visit the museums in The Hague
Prison Gate Museum
Located at the Buitenhof, there’s this quaint little building. It’s a former prison that is now the Prison Gate Museum and shows how the criminal justice system worked in the middle ages. The Prison Gate Museum is closed on Mondays. English guided tours are only available during weekends.
Located right next to the Binnenhof’s east entrance, you’ll find the renowned Mauritshuis museum which houses an art collection of paintings by Dutch and Flemish masters of the 17th and 18th century (the Golden Age). You’ll find pieces of Jan Steen, Vermeer, Rubens, Paulus Potter and Frans Hals. The masterpiece on display is Vermeer’s “Girl with the Pearl Earring”. The Mauritshuis Museum is closed on Monday morning.
Escher in het Paleis
The Escher museum, or rather the Escher permanent exhibition, is the one The Hague experience I really regret missing out on. Escher was a Dutch graphic artist who played with perspective, geometry and symmetry creating the most surreal looking artworks. The retrospective has been on display in this former palace at the elegant Lange Voorhout boulevard since 2002.
Klaas Mesdag was a 19th century banker who, after inheriting a fortune from his in-laws and encouraged by his father, gave up his corporate career to pursue his passion for painting. His masterpiece is called Panorama Mesdag, a view over the fishing district of Scheveningen. Klaas finished it in 4 months, assisted by his spouse Sina. This painting is over 14 meters (46 feet) high and measures 40 meters (130 feet) in diameter) and the room it is displayed in was purpose-built and actually not in the Mesdag Museum but just a 5 minute walk away. The Mesdag Collection inside the museum features paintings from the The Hague School and the Barbizon School and Colenbrander ceramics.
(Window) shop at the galeries and boutiques at the Denneweg
The Denneweg used to be the epicentre for antique shopping in The Hague but nowadays it offers an attractive mix of design shops, fancy designer boutiques, lifestyle brands and quaint eateries. A great place for a break when you visit The Hague.
Enjoy an iconic high tea at Hotel des Indes
Hotel des Indes is The Hague most luxurious hotel, housed in a former city palace, and has welcomed many famous guests. The hotel’s high tea is renowned and so, if your schedule allows it, it’s one of the most iconic things to do in The Hague. But even if it doesn’t, I would strongly suggest to have a drink at the bar so you can a grasp of the Hotel des Indes’ spectacular interior.
Cool things to do in The Hague
Hang out at the Zeeheldenkwartier
One of my favorite hang-outs in The Hague is the Anna Paulownaplein, the heart of the Zeeheldenkwartier or Seaheroes district. This lively square is located in between the city center and the Peace Palace and you’ll find plenty of quaint little cafes casual terraces on every corner.
Make a wish at the wish tree
At the entrance of the Peace Palace’s visitors center you’ll find this wish tree. People from all over the world hang their wish for peace in this tree. How inspiring! Will you hang yours too?
Takin in the city views
I admit, I’m a sucker for city views and panoramas. There’s just something so peaceful about observing a city from a distance. In The Hague, you have different options to do so too:
- Haagse Toren: This is the 92.5 (303 feet) tower of the Grote Kerk or St Jacobs Church. Climbing the 288 steps is only possible as part of an organized tour on Thursday to Sunday from 13:00-15:00.
- The Hague Tower: The Sky Bar or The Penthouse (Veranda) restaurant at this 132m (433 feet) skyscraper next to HS railway station.
- Marriott The Hague Executive Lounge: I settled for the views over the beaches in The Hague from this hotel’s Executive Lounge. Pretty amazing, right?
Have dinner at Catch by Simonis
Looking for the best fish restaurant in town? You’ve found it! Simonis is not just a name when it comes to fish in The Hague, it’s an institution. They have several restaurants, the coolest one being Catch by Simonis. It’s located right at the harbour of Scheveningen. From sea to plate, almost literally.
Go to the market in The Hague
Did you know that you can find the Holland’s biggest open market in The Hague? It takes place all day every Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday at the Painters district – Schilderswijk in Dutch. Locals love it because of the multicultural vibe and the worldwide assortment. After all, because of its international character, The Hague is also home to a large expat community so for many of them this is the place where they find some specialties that remind them of their home country.
Head to the beaches in The Hague
The beaches in The Hague are locates a few kilometres from the center. So, your best bet to get there is to do like the Dutch do: rent a bike. Most hotels will offer this service. The most known beaches in The Hague are located opposite from Scheveningen harbour:
Dominated by the luxurious Kurhaus, a former bathhouse and to this day one of Holland’s most famous beach resorts, and the pier with its iconic ferris wheel, this beach is the busier of the two. It is dotted with beach pavilions and offers plenty of activities: kiting, surfing and even zip-lining over the pier.
If you’re more into peace and quiet, then Kijkduin Beach will be your favorite, where it’s all about the sea, the sand and the dunes.
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