Den Haag, also known as The Hague in England, was a huge surprise. In more than one way, as I didn’t know about the trip until a couple of days before! I also didn’t know much about The Hague, so wasn’t sure what to expect. What I found was a beautiful, laid back city with a real village feel, every corner adorned with a piece of art, a stunning North Sea coastline, friendly, eco-conscious people and chocolate sprinkles on toast.
Circa 1 million people live in this wonderful place, making Den Haag the 3rd largest city in the Netherlands. Only 40 minutes from the capital Amsterdam, Den Haag is the political centre of Holland. The Dutch Parliament as well as the Royal Family reside here. The Hague is also the home of the International Court of Justice as well as several other international institutions of law and order.
Things to do in Den Haag
A long weekend in The Hague just flies by and you could easily spend a week here, enjoying the unique variety of fine arts, sandy beaches, diplomacy, Dutch history, cafe culture and shopping.
The list of sights in this city is endless, but here are a few recommendations for the best things to do in The Hague:
The so called Peacepalace is the seat of the International Court of Arbitration as well as the International Court of Justice. But besides its official institutional role, the impressive brick-built Peacepalace is also considered a temple for justice and a symbol for peace. Many visitors relax on the grass ground outside its gates or stroll around the various memorials dedicated to a peaceful United Nations. Access to the adjoining permanent exhibition is free of charge and guided tours are available.
The seat of Dutch Parliament since the 15th century, the Binnenhof is a complex of historic buildings situated along the Hofvijver, and the centre of Dutch politics. Visitors can wander around the Inner Court or take a guided tour of the parts of the Binnenhof open to the public including the Ridderzaal (Hall of Knights), House of Representatives and King Willem’s throne.
Art is omnipresent in Den Haag, modern sculptures lining the streets and art galleries of all sizes found on every corner. Mauritshuis is undoubtedly the one with the highest profile, housing several pieces of Dutch masters of the Golden Age, among them Vermeer’s ‘Girl with Pearl Earring’. Special exhibitions throughout 2019 celebrate the genius of Rembrandt, in honour of the 350th anniversary of his death.
Royal Palace Gardens
Paleis Noordeinde is the residential home of the Royal Family and therefore not open to the public. Visitors can however take a glimpse at the Palace from Noordeinde Street and take a stroll around the Royal Palace gardens on the western side of the residence.
This beautiful 240ha nature reserve north of the residential area of Vogelwijk is a wonderful place for a stroll. Settled into the dunes this is the most hilly landscape in Den Haag, criss-crossed by paved cycle and sandy footpaths.The fact that it is roamed by Highland Cattle just adds to the uniqueness of Westduin Park. The cycle-paths are pushchair friendly (the steep hiking path crissing through several inch deep sand nit so much). There are several beach bars along Westduin Park. Kick off your shoes, nestle onto one of the wooden lounge benches on the beach and enjoy a beer and some bitterballen while the kids frolic in the sand – seems to be what everyone else does.
De Pier, Promenade and Scheveningen’s prided fine, wide sandy beach. Den Haag’s city escape is popular with locals and tourists alike. Instead of cheap arcades and greasy chips, the pier in Scheveningen houses quirky shops, trendy bars and food stalls. A large ferris wheel provides views over the beach and there’s a zip line for the adventurous. The shore is lined with beach bars and restaurants, many of which offer ‘grill it yourself’ platters, which are served with a mini-BBQ grill on your table.
Introduced as the ‘most enjoyable war memorial’, the history of miniature Holland at Madurodam is somewhat surprising, built in honour of a fallen soldier from Curacao by his parents. And what a great job they did! It’s a fantastic place to spend a few hours, experiencing the story of the Netherlands through the attraction, infrastructure and industries that make the Netherlands so popular – in miniature at a scale 1:25. The parks is interspersed with playful activities for kids, my daughter’s favourites the clog factory and tulip greenhouse where for as little as one Euro the miniature workers make and deliver your very own souvenir. Two playgrounds ensure toddlers and older kids can spend extra energy while mom and dad enjoy some Dutch waffles. Check the free Den Haag tourist map for a discount voucher.
At 14 high and over 120 in circumference Hendrik Willem Mesdag’s 1880s 360-panorama painting of the Scheveningen dunes and outskirts of Den Haag is one of the most famous panorama paintings in the world. The clever set-up with a raised, canopied platform on top of a faux dune 14 metres distance from the painting creates a gallery experience like no other, a dizzying illusion of being surrounded by a real, yet unreal, 1880s landscape.
De Haagse Antiek en Boekenmarkt
Pitched up under the leafy pedestrianised part of Lange Voorhout, this market has a very Haagse feel about it. Search for treasures at the hundreds of antiques stalls, the join the locals for coffee and poffertjes (tiny pancakes) and enjoy some people watching.
I’d also recommend venturing a little further afield, there’s a couple of lovely, quintessentially Dutch places to visit not far from The Hague.
A mid-sized town 20 minutes south east of Den Haag, Delft has risen to world fame for its intricate white and blue ceramics. But perhaps most importantly, it’s been the final resting place for Dutch royalty for many centuries. The Oude and Nieuwe Kerkes are must-sees, each providing a highly informative and enjoyable tour through Dutch and Delft history. And if that wasn’t enough, Delft is simply beautiful, with the charm of a mini Amsterdam, without the drugs and brothels. In terms of catering for tourists, Delft deserves a gold star, where else does your entry ticket come with a free cappuccino in one of Delft’s cosy cafes? I can thoroughly recommend the Stads-Koffyhuis, it’s beautiful and the apple cake is divine.
A UNESCO world heritage site, Kinderdijk is picture book Holland. 19 historic 18th century windmills line the canals slicing the flatlands, each prettier than the next. Two of the windmills are open to the public and a visitor centre at the start of the path explains the history of these iconic Dutch symbols. The windmills at Kinderdijk played an instrumental role in Hollands flood protection, but are now supported by modern groundwater pumps. You can spend a very pleasant hour or two strolling along the canal, or join a river cruise.
Where to stay in Den Haag
I can only recommend the Gartenhaus in Westduin. Mirjam and her husband Gerald have turned their garden outbuilding into a sweet little studio cottage with wonderful attention to detail. They have created a beautiful and smart little space, which is lovingly decorated in a Dutch coastal theme. The studio is immaculately clean and comes with a spacious bathroom, kitchenette and terrace. With a double bed and sofa bed, we had plenty of room as a family of three. Mirjam and Gerald are super friendly and approachable, and happy to provide any advice and recommendations. Located just off Westduin Park, the studio is within walking distance of the beach, bars and dunes. There’s a direct bus into the centre of Den Haag, which stops less than 5 minutes walk from the Gartenhaus.