Original letters from Oscar Wilde, the world’s oldest book museum, a trippy M.C. Escher optical illusion museum and a date with “The Girl with The Pearl Earring”. These are just some of the unique experiences only on offer in The Hague.
The Netherlands’ third city is an unsung gem quietly courting adoration beside Amsterdam’s revelry and Rotterdam’s bustle. The quietest of the three, The Hague is serene, spacious and has an 11-kilometre white sand beach called Scheveningen (Sh-keh-veh-nin-ghen).
This delightful Dutch coastal city can best be described as gezellig (a Dutch concept akin to the Danes’ Hygge). It’s “the judicial capital of the world”, the seat of the Dutch government and parliament, and the residence of the current king Willem-Alexander and his much-adored Argentinian-born wife Maxima.
Whether you wish to savour art from the Dutch Golden Age, sip on fine Malbec at a sky-high restaurant or bungee jump over the North Sea, this city will deliver.
Here’s The Hague travel guide for every type of traveller!
For Beach Lovers
The Hague has much to offer water lovers. There’s a wave for surfers of all levels in Scheveningen and beginners can grab a bite, do a spot of shopping and get lessons at Hart Beach surf shop and school.
There are endless rolling dunes for beach walks and the stunning Panorama Mesdag Museum, a 360-degree painting of the dunes and Scheveningen village as it was in 1881.
Scheveningen also hosts an annual European fireworks festival and in previous years, you’d find thousands (around ten) diving into the ice-cold North Sea for the annual Unox-sponsored New Year’s Day dive.
The Unox brand provides brave divers with warm orange hats before the dive, and hot soup afterwards. Lekker!
Scheveningen has been referred to as “the Santa Monica of Europe” and The Hague is the only big city with a beach directly on the North Sea coast.
Come here for a spattering of beachside restaurants and bars or take a walk on the pier (De Pier). There’s an open-air deck, too, and you can also bungee jump over the sea if that tickles your fancy.
For Art Lovers
No trip to The Hague is complete without a visit to the Mauritshuis museum, which is a stone’s throw from Binnenhof, the world’s oldest parliament building that’s still in use (yet another unique feat in The Hague). You can actually see into the Prime Minister’s office right from one of Mauritshuis’ rooms.
The Mauritshuis building itself is a masterpiece and was owned by Count Johan Maurits of Nassau-Siegen, who was the governor-general of the then-Dutch colony of Brazil.
Visit Mauritshuis to see works from Dutch masters like Jan Steen, Rembrandt and Carel Fabritius’ The Goldfinch, star of a 2019 Hollywood movie of the same name.
The jewel in the museum’s crown is undoubtedly Vermeer’s “The Girl With The Pearl Earring”, which has been at the Mauritshuis for over 100 years. It was bought for two Guilders (less than $1) at a market and was only discovered to be a Vermeer after it was cleaned.
“The girl” is one of the world’s most famous paintings. Much like the Mona Lisa, she invites intrigue due to the ambiguity of her gaze.
Lighting and the way she’s painted means some see her eyes as green, others see brown, her emotions aren’t immediately discernible and her pearl earring probably isn’t a pearl at all.
Tickets need to be reserved in advance via the Mauritshuis website. It is also possible to make an impromptu visit and reserve any last-minute slots that are available.
The M.C. Escher Museum
The Hague is also home to the M.C. Escher museum, Escher in the Palace, which fans of the artist’s mathematically inspired optical illusions will find particularly pleasing.
Escher is one of the most famous graphic artists in the world and a visit to this permanent exhibition is a thoroughly regal experience being set in the former winter palace of Queen Mother Emma of the Netherlands.
Prepare to be amazed by his mind-bending works including House of Stairs, Convex and Concave, and Drawing Hands.
For History And Culture Lovers
The Hague is a city of palaces. The Dutch royal family have three official residences, two of which are in The Hague: Paleis Huis ten Bosch in the Haagse Bos forest, and Noordeinde.
The Koninklijke Schouwburg (the Royal Theatre) was originally built as a palace for Prince Karel van Christiaan van Nassau-Weilburg.
Feel free to catch a play there in the most regal of settings. There is a small selection of shows in English and some that aren’t spoken at all so don’t let a lack of Dutch skills hold you back.
The Peace Palace
The Peace Palace (Vredespaleis), is the home of two of the most important courts in the world: the International Court of Justice (ICJ) and the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA), though deceptively, it is not actually a palace.
The statuesque building is the global home of world peace and was financed by philanthropist Andrew Carnegie.
The first stone was laid in 1907 shortly before World War One and world leaders were requested to donate decorations and building materials for this temple of peace – and they did.
Today, the Peace Palace is an astounding collection of artefacts and adornments from all corners of the globe: marble from Italy, wood from El Salvador, vases from China, a fountain from Denmark and a Faberge egg from Tsar Nicholas II in Russia that was so large that a special train track needed to be built to bring it in.
In the Japanese Room, where members of the Permanent Court of Arbitration hold their meetings, the walls are covered with refined silk and golden tapestries made by over 48,000 Japanese weavers over several years and they are a stunning sight to behold.
Guided tours are available and must be booked in advance. Tours are led in and around the palace (including the lovely gardens) and the Great Hall of justice.
Museum Meermanno (Huis Van Het Boek)
A bibliophile’s dream, Huis Van Het Boek is the oldest book museum in the world. It’s located in the former residence of Baron Van Westreenen van Tiellandt, an avid book collector.
The house became the property of the state after the Baron passed away and it opened to the public as a museum in 1852.
The museum showcases Western book history from all periods including handwritten medieval manuscripts and fragments of a Latin Bible.
The museum also has one of the world’s most impressive miniature book collections and proudly owns one of the first printed copies of Oscar Wilde’s final work, “The Ballad of Reading Gaol”, where coincidentally; half of an original letter signed by Oscar Wilde himself was found.
This and many other priceless pieces of history may be enjoyed at this impressive 18th-century Herenhuis building. To secure your spot, timed entry tickets must be purchased online on the museum’s website.
For Food Lovers
While in The Hague, indulge in some of the edible splendours that the Netherlands is recognised for including raw herring, traditionally served with raw onions. The dish is traditionally eaten by picking up the herring by the tail and gradually sliding it into the mouth.
You can sample raw herring at any of the many iconic street-side fish stalls or stalletjes, which are typically awash with patriotic red, white and blue colours alongside Dutch flags.
You can also have yours cut into pieces or with bread but don’t ask to have your herring with mayonnaise on top – it’s not a burger. Also, watch out for the birds (meeuwen); they’re cunning, fast and they want your meal just as much as you do.
Spoil yourself and go up to the tallest restaurant in the Netherlands, The Penthouse. This spot sits pretty on the 42nd floor of The Hague Tower in the Holland Spoor neighbourhood.
As you take in the scenery while going up in the lift, there’s also sign that tells you “you’re pretty”. Once you arrive, there are fabulous views wherever you’re seated and you can also step out onto the deck to feel the wind in your hair and further inspect your surroundings.
The North Sea can be spotted as well as the city of Delft, which is about 11 kilometres away. Sunset is a popular time to dine here so if that’s when you’d like to visit, be sure to reserve well in advance.
Seasonal local products influence the menu and you can take your pick of three, four or five courses. Each course is paired with a decadent wine from a different region. The menu itself is in English and Dutch and includes a witty back-story about each of the wine pairings.
Fries With A Twist
The Dutch are known for their love of French fries (“patat” or “frites”) and you can expect to find a vendor selling these soft-in-the-middle, crispy-on-the-outside wonder sticks on almost any corner you turn. You’re also spoilt for choice toppings-wise.
The mainstay combination is patat met (fries with mayonnaise) or patatje oorlog (fries with mayonnaise, sate sauce and onions), which translates as “war chips”.
Sate sauce, a spicy mixture of peanuts, kecap manis, ginger, chilli and turmeric, is widespread in the Netherlands due to the sizeable Indonesian population in the country. Look past the curious name and try this oddly harmonious marriage.
For a gourmet helping of patat, look no further than the posh friterie known as Frites Atelier where things are turned up a notch.
The potatoes are sourced from the province of Zeeland and embellished with fancy toppings like pulled pork and piccalilli, braised beef in old brown beer and grated Comté cheese with homemade truffle mayonnaise, all topped with samphire salt.
Van Kleef Museum, Jenevers And Liqueurs
One of the absolute highlights of my most recent trip to The Hague was a jenever tasting at Van Kleef, the Hague’s last standing distillery and museum.
The experience was elevated from culinary outing to history lesson with the presentation of The Hague’s very first telephone book.
Van Kleef used to produce medicines, perfumes and liqueurs including jenever, and it was once one of the most important businesses in the city.
In The Hague’s first phone book which was published in 1893, there were only 126 local telephone numbers and Van Kleef’s was number 1 – before the king’s.
One of Van Kleef’s most famous customers was the painter Vincent van Gogh, who lived on the very same street (Lange Beestenmarkt) for a few years while working at his uncle’s international art trade company.
The tasting sessions take place in the ever so quaint back garden and include thorough explanations of jenever and it’s illustrious history. Many are none the wiser of gin’s roots, which lie in Dutch distilleries like Van Kleef.
When Dutch Stadtholder William of Orange married into the English throne by wedding Mary Stuart, he brought along his national drink, jenever, which was far from painless to pronounce in his new surroundings. It was shortened to “jen” which is the “gin” we know today.
You can also pick up a bottle in the shop and sample some local liqueur flavours like “Kruìde Baggâh” and “Tears of the bride”, named to denote the bittersweet sobs of women about to leave their families after finally finding freedom.
My absolute favourite liqueur, however, is the purple-hued Volmaakt Geluk, which has a saucy back-story that I’ll let you discover when you visit The Hague yourself.
Where To Stay In The Hague
Hotel Des Indes
Hotel Des Indes is a grand property in the former city palace of Baron van Brienen, a counsellor of King William III who needed entertainment quarters in the centre of the city.
Des Indes feels like stepping into the Old World with high ceilings and a fabulous bar to boot (which is also stocked with Van Kleef goodies). Try the gin-soaked Mayflower cocktail or order a surprise drink and the mixology masters will whip up something that’s not on the menu.
The Old World feeling continues in the rooms where black and white photos of old greats adorn the walls and vintage wooden chests make up the cupboards while kingly drapes hover over the bedding.
There are nifty little touches all around like the Delfts Blauw (Delft’s Pottery) vases which display the room numbers and all four floors tell a rich story.
Des Indes’ wall of fame shows a who’s who of important dignitaries and famous faces that have lodged here including European royalty, Theodore and Eleanor Roosevelt, Audrey Hepburn and the spy Mata Hari.
It’s a temporary residence for many new ambassadors in the Netherlands who are often picked up by horse and golden carriage and taken to the nearby palace for the traditional ceremony to present their credentials to the king.
It is also the place where Anna Pavlova, one of the most famous ballet dancers of all time, took her last breath.
Hotel ‘t Sonnehuys
If you’ve got tickets for a dazzling show at Scheveningen’s AFAS Circustheatre, you couldn’t lodge any closer than ‘t Sonnehuys.
The townhouse hotel is ideally located 5 minutes walk from the beach, the pier and the boulevard to fulfil all your seaside shopping and dining needs. It’s also close to the Tram 9 route to get into the centre of The Hague in no time.
‘t Sonnehuys has sea view rooms, it’s consistently high-rated and the lovely proprietor is always on hand to ensure it truly feels like your home away from home.
The Hague is great to explore on foot, by bike, by mouth; in winter, in summer, for leisure, for history seeking or for beaching. Do it!
To plan the perfect Netherlands trip, be sure to read our Ultimate Guide to Amsterdam!
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