Step back in time at Binnenhof, explore the Peace Palace, bungee over the North Sea, stroll around Hofvijver, dine at 135 metres. These are the top things to do in The Hague.
The Hague is easily one of the most beautiful and culturally rich cities I’ve ever visited. Full of monuments, historic districts and located just fifteen minutes from the beautiful North Sea coastline, The Hague deserves a spot on every traveller’s bucket list.
As the Netherland’s government city, The Hague is home to numerous embassies and mansions, boasts wonderfully green boulevards and parks, a refined culinary scene, and a great cafe culture. The Hague is known by its residents as ‘the Royal City by the Sea’.
Whilst there is SO much to do and see throughout the whole country of the Netherlands, I would recommend spending a solid few days experiencing the diverse city of The Hague for yourself.
The Hague is Den Haag, but it’s also ’s-Gravenhage
If you’re going to The Hague, then you should know that in Dutch it’s, called Den Haag, pronounced dehn hah with an aspirated final ‘h’. However, this is not its official name.
It’s a bit of a tongue twister, but The Hague is officially called ’s-Gravenhage (meaning ‘the Count’s Hedge/Terrain/Court’) or Den Haag literally “In The Hedge”.
A Brief History
The Hague originated around 1230, when Count Floris IV of Holland purchased land alongside a pond, the present-day Hofvijver, in order to build a hunting residence.
In 1248, his son and successor William II, King of the Romans, decided to extend the residence to a palace, which would later be called the Binnenhof meaning ‘Inner Court’.
Den Haag is home to the royal family as well as the Dutch seat of government. Before Louis Bonaparte had his way in 1806, Den Haag was actually the capital. It wasn’t until eight years later, when the French had been ousted, that the government returned to Den Haag, but the title of capital remained with Amsterdam.
Den Haag is usually in the headlines because ever since the 20th century Den Haag has been home to several international legal entities, including the UN’s International Court of Justice, which regularly holds trials. This is also where foreign embassies in the Netherlands are based, giving the city a significant international community of expats.
Ready to learn more about what makes The Hague so special?
From where to eat, drink, shop and what historical sites, monuments and museums to visit, here is my complete guide to the top things to do in The Hague!
EAT THE HAGUE
Grand Cafe Walter Benedict
On the quaint shopping strip of Denneweg, is Grand Cafe Walter Benedict. Even though the restaurant is situated in the exclusive area of The Hague, it is a spot that offers something for everyone. There is a cosy vibe and the employees are really friendly.
Even though it was 2pm, I made the most of their all-day breakfast. Which I highly recommend. This places really captures the French atmosphere without being stuffy. Bon appétit!
Want a view with that luxury five-course dinner? Or maybe watch the sunset over the North Sea? Head to up to The Penthouse, the highest restaurant in the Netherlands at 135 metres.
It’s even at a higher altitude than the restaurant of the Eiffel tower. In addition to a luxury five-course dinner, there is always room for lunch, ‘highest’ tea or drinks. Don’t forget to go out onto the spectacular city balcony and enjoy the view.
Encore by Simonis
Located in the harbour of Scheveningen, I ate one of my favourite meals at Encore by Simonis. With an Asian cuisine influence, their speciality is serving daily fresh fish and meat.
As a vegetarian, I opted for their crispy vegetable tempura as a starter then the vegetable stir-fry as a main. Then came dessert, I mean just look at that mango-shaped ice-cream?! It tasted as good as it looked.
Dine al fresco or cosy up inside on their Chesterfield sofa, Jamey Bennett is perfect anytime of day. Inspired by the British spy Mr. Bennett, this restaurant is cosy, modern, and boasts a great atmosphere.
Everything here is prepared to perfection. They even make their own granola! No detail is left untouched.
MUSEUMS IN THE HAGUE
Escher in the Palace (Escher in het Paleis)
A personal favourite, the Escher Museum must be seen. Maurits Cornelis Escher was a Dutch artist, known for his genius at drawing impossible situations. Located in the beautiful former winter palace of Queen Emma of the Netherlands, this permanent collection has some of the M.C. Escher’s most famous illustrations.
The exhibition combines unique works of art with biographical material including photographs, letters, and preliminary sketches. Escher mainly worked with printing techniques such as woodcut, lithography, mezzotint and tessellation.
All over The Hague are dedications to the Dutch artist Piet Mondrian. Most famous for his blue, red, and yellow motifs with vertical and horizontal line, the Gemeentemuseum is well-known for it’s collection of Mondrian’s work
One of the most famous is his last and unfinished piece de resistance named “Victory Boogie Woogie” which was purchased for a cool 35 million euros.
The permanent collection contains modern art, fashion, music, decorative arts, a print room with about 50,000 drawings, and prints and posters.
Head to the top the museum where each of the five large rooms each represents a different art period.
You can’t visit The Hague without seeing Vermeer’s ‘Girl with a Pearl Earring’. But she isn’t the only draw card to this impressive museum.
Mauritshuis showcases Dutch and Flemish paintings from 1400 to 1800, with works by painters such as Vermeer, Rembrandt, Rubens, Jan Steen, Frans Hals, Van Dyck and Adriaen Coorte.
Located in an elegant 17th-century residence other notable works include Rembrandt’s ‘Anatomy Lesson’, Vermeer’s ‘View of Delft’, Jacob van Ruisdael’s ‘View of Haarlem’ and Rogier van der Weyden’s ‘Lamentation’.
If you love your art and seek a truly unique experience, head to Panorama Mesdag for the largest circular painting in the world.
I’ve never seen anything like it and no photo can do this place justice, you just have to see it for yourself. It’s incredible!
Housed in a specially made rotunda, Panorama Mesdag is a gigantic painting measuring 120 meters in length and 14 meters in height. HW Mesdag, and other artists of the Hague School painted this epic scene depicting the coastal town of Scheveningen as it was around 1880.
To bring the painting to life are real sand dunes, the sound of the waves lapping, and the smell of sea air wafting throughout the space. Don’t ask me how. It feels like you’ve stepped back in time.
The kid in me wanted so desperately to visit Madurodam, but alas I ran out of time. On display here is an 1:25 scale miniature of a fictional Dutch city and replicas of the Netherlands’ most famous buildings.
By visiting Madurodam you’ll also be doing a service to the community as the entirety of net proceeds from the park go towards various charities in the Netherlands.
RELAX & ADVENTURE IN THE HAGUE
Hop on a tram and just fifteen minutes later you’ll arrive in the buzzing Scheveningen, the Netherlands only coastal down. No matter what mood you’re in, Scheveningen has something for everyone. Fancy zip lining the length of the Pier, bungee jumping over the water or take in the coastal views from the Ferris wheel, you can do it all. Or, if you want something slow pace, do a spot of shopping in the enclosed shopping hall, visit the aquarium, then chill out in any one of the hundred restaurants and bars which line the beach.
Perhaps the main tourist attraction in Scheveningen is the Kurhaus. This Art Nouveau style structure (now protected as a national monument) was built in 1885 and houses a first-rate hotel, an art gallery, elegant promenades, and the impressive Kurzaal, a huge glass domed.
EXPLORE THE HAGUE’S HiSTORICAL CENTRE
The centrepiece of The Hague is Binnenhof, meaning ‘Inner Court’. This beautiful complex of buildings in sits opposite the picturesque Hofvijver lake, meaning ‘Court Pond’. This is a wonderful place to sit back and watch the world go by.
Originally this 13th-century Gothic castle functioned as a residence for the counts of Holland, then in 1584 became the political centre of the Dutch Republic. Today, it houses both chambers of Parliament and is the oldest House of Parliament in the world still in use.
Located in the centre of Binnenhof in its large central courtyard is the exquisite Ridderzaal, or Knights’ Hall. This large Gothic hall is still used for state receptions and the opening of parliament each September. In the North Wing is the chamber and official residence of the Prime Minister.
As one of the three official palaces of the Dutch royal family, Noordeinde Palace is modest in size and location. Situated near a popular shopping mall, it has been a “working palace” for King Willem-Alexander since 2013.
For a quiet oasis, visit its romantic gardens with flower beds, fountains, hedgerows and ponds lies. It’s from the Palace Gardens that the Palace is best enjoyed as it offers a great view of the Royal Stables.
On warm days, this is a great picnic spot.
The Peace Palace
The Hague is the ‘International City of Peace and Justice’ and the cornerstone of this is the famous Peace Palace or Vredespaleis. This imposing brick building is an international law administrative building which houses the International Court of Justice, the Permanent Court of Arbitration, the Hague Academy of International Law and the Peace Palace Library. Bit of a mouthful, hey?
Not only that but it has an equally impressive interior. This was another place I missed out on seeing properly. Doh! Going inside the Peace Palace is only available on weekends and as part of a guided tour which must be booked in advance. Alternatively, you can head to the Visitors Centre near the entrance. Just let me say that the rich interior décor of this Gothic and Neoclassical style building brings together the crème de la crème. Its marble comes from Italy, wood panelling from Brazil and the USA, and its ornamental iron railings from Germany.
Guided tours must be booked via their website.
Opposite Escher in Het Paleis are the lush tree-lined roads of Lange Voorhout. In the Middle Ages, the Lange Voorhout was bordered by several farms but by the 14th and 15th centuries houses were built in this area when the Counts of Holland modernised the governance of the county with new administrative divisions. This area soon became the neighborhood where courtiers and later statesmen came to live.
The Prison Gate Museum
On the north side of the Binnenhof stands the Prison Gate or Gevangenpoort. This well-preserved structure was built in 1296 as a gatehouse then was converted into a prison in the 15th century.
It was here that brothers Cornelis and Johan de Witt, accused of an attempt on the life of Prince William III, were murdered in 1672 (a monument to them stands in the nearby courtyard).
The old prison and torture chambers have been open to the public since the 1880s and include a large collection of paintings, prints, and relics – as well as some rather gruesome torture devices.
SHOP THE HAGUE
The Hague Market
The Hague Market or ‘De Haagse Markt’, is one of the largest multicultural markets in Europe. Looking for something? You’ll probably find it here amongst its extensive range of exotic products.
Open four days a week, the market is visited by approximately 35,000 people. While The Hague Market is primarily known for its large range of exotic products it also has some of the best from fresh produce including vegetables, fruit, fish and meat to herbs plus women’s, men’s and children’s clothing and electronics.
De Haagse Passage
Fancy something more elegant? Step inside The Hague’s famous shopping arcade De Passage. Beneath the glass atria and chiselled façades are classy boutique stores, bustling food and drink establishments, and even a hotel. This place is stunningly beautiful.
This arcade was built by local dignitaries between 1882 and 1885 for the express purpose of ‘high-class shopping’ in imitation of Paris. Today, it is the Netherlands’ oldest shopping arcade and has official UNESCO monument status.
Where to Stay: Best Accommodation in The Hague for Sightseeing
In The Hague, most of the main attractions and architectural landmarks lie between the city centre and the sea so it makes sense to base yourself here if you’re visiting for the first time.
Hotels tend to cluster around the Binnenhof, where you’ll also find the Ridderzaal (Knights’ Hall) and Prison Gate Museum. Other attractions, such as the Mauritshuis and the Escher Museum, are within walking distance from here, and the beach resort of Scheveningen is just a 10-15 minute tram ride away.
Hotel Boutique Hotel Corona
During my three days in The Hague, I stayed at the 4-star boutique establishment, Hotel Boutique Hotel Corona.
The hotel itself is just across the road from De Passage and Binnenhof. From my room, I had a wonderful view overlooking the lively Buitenhof square.
It was the size of my room and bathroom that made this hotel memorable. Can you get beds larger than king size? Because my bed could easily fit four people! The bathroom had two sinks, a huge shower not to mention the epic six-seater spa tub. The breakfast buffet was included and the lovely chef even made my pancakes with local ingredients.
Check rates and availability of Hotel Boutique Hotel Corona here.
For an alternative accommodation option, I would recommend renting out an apartment or room through Airbnb. In The Hague, you’ll find some really beautiful places in the city at very affordable prices.
Airbnb has numerous options from as low as US$30 per night. Get it even cheaper by getting $34 off your first stay using my referral link.
Getting to The Hague
I flew with KLM who offer direct flights to Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport from both Heathrow and City Airport; conveniently covering those in both the west and east of London. For the first time ever I flew out from London City Airport. The best thing about small airports is that you don’t have to arrive too early to get through all the checkpoints. From the time I arrived at the airport to getting to my gate, it took a whole fifteen minutes! I’ve never had a less stressful airport experience.
From Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport it was a quick 30-minute taxi ride to the hotel. Alternatively, book your transfer here. Easy!
Still not convinced? Watch my vlog and I’ll show you around the city myself!
Got more time? Take a day trip from The Hague
- Visit the famous tulips at Keukenhof Garden and Flowerfields
- Duivenvoorde Castle – Just 15 kilometers northeast of The Hague is the small town of Voorschoten with it’s delightful Duivenvoorde Castle (Kasteel Duivenvoorde), a medieval fortress restored in 1631. The original decoration and furnishings have been preserved, including family portraits, Delftware, a large collection of Chinese and European porcelain, and numerous items of silver.
- Old Town Gouda and the Grote Kerk of Sint Janskerk – Visit Gouda for its cheese but stay for this gorgeous historic town, 33 kilometres east of The Hague. Visit one of the most attractive town halls in the country, build in the 15th century, it’s famous for looking more like a place of worship than of government.
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