Visiting The Hague: worth it or not?
The Hague, or Den Haag in Dutch, is the city in which I recently bought my home but a city I never really explored before…
I travel, I live abroad and I love exploring the world. But for years I overlooked my own country.
I am born and raised in The Netherlands and somehow always saw this as a boring country. It’s so ‘normal’ and ‘standard’. But traveling made me realize that the only reason why I find The Netherlands ‘normal’ is because it is my country… No matter how much I travel and how many years I’ll live abroad, this is my country, this is where I’m from.
So, now that I’m back in this ‘normal’ country of mine for a while I decided to look at it a bit closer. Read about it, explore it like a tourist and enjoy the good and beautiful things it has to offer.
Visiting The Hague
Tourists traveling to the Netherlands visit Amsterdam and often nothing else.
Is that justified? Is the Netherlands not much more than that cool city where, if you have to believe foreigners, everyone is constantly stoned riding around on their bicycles?
Of course the Netherlands is more than that! Its countryside is beautiful (once you manage to find it, outside of the many densely populated areas), its infrastructure is good, its people generally friendly and the country as a whole is quite well organized… And, the Netherlands has more cities than just Amsterdam!
Also Read: Is it Holland or The Netherlands?
The Hague is the country’s third-largest city (after Amsterdam and Rotterdam) and with only 49% of its population being of Dutch ethnicity it is the most international city in the Netherlands.
As the seat of the Dutch national government as well as the residence of the Dutch royal family, The Hague has an international appeal.
It is internationally renowned as the City of Peace and Justice due to its role as the official seat of the International Criminal Court of Justice.
But The Hague is more than that. It is a city with two faces. The old, historic center with its international focus, many embassies, and multicultural population contrasts sharply with the lively and in summer very touristy seaside resorts of Scheveningen and Kijkduin.
History of The Hague
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.
Only in 1806 the settlement was granted city rights.
After the Napoleonic Wars, modern-day Belgium and the Netherlands were combined in the United Kingdom of the Netherlands to form a buffer against France. As a compromise, Brussels and Amsterdam alternated as capital every two years, with the government remaining in The Hague.
After the separation of Belgium in 1830, Amsterdam remained the capital of the Netherlands, while the government was situated in The Hague.
The city sustained heavy damage during World War II and many Jews were killed during the German occupation.
Additionally, the Atlantic Wall was built through the city, causing a large quarter to be torn down by the Nazi occupiers. On the 3rd of March 1945, the Royal Air Force mistakenly bombed the Bezuidenhout quarter. The target was an installation of V-2 rockets in the nearby Haagse Bos park, but because of navigational errors, the bombs fell on a heavily populated and historic part of the city. The bombardment caused widespread destruction in the area.
After the war, The Hague was, at one point, the largest building site in Europe. The city expanded massively to the southwest and the destroyed areas were quickly rebuilt.
Both the rapid expansion in the late 19th century and the large-scale rebuilding efforts after World War II have left clear marks on the city. You now see a combination of beautiful historic buildings with more modern, wider roads that were created in the late 19th and early 20th century to allow for more traffic.
You can also find a large number of post-war buildings in The Hague; affordable but rather dull housing blocks for the middle class and simple office buildings. And then there are the modern buildings showing that The Hague constantly changes, evolves and modernizes.
Some of the most prosperous and some of the poorest neighborhoods of the Netherlands can be found in The Hague, giving it a weirdly unique mix.
With only just over half a million inhabitants The Hague is not a big city. You quickly walk from one of the most expensive and luxurious areas to one of the poorest.
People from more than 100 nationalities live in The Hague. That is what gives this city its unique vibe. Every nationality brings its own culture, food, and traditions and visiting The Hague means seeing a bit of all of them.
City life in The Hague concentrates around the Hofvijver and the Binnenhof, where the Parliament is located.
There are only a few canals in The Hague, as most of these were drained in the late 19th century.
Instead, it has cute small streets in the city center dating back to the late Middle Ages and several spacious streets boasting large and luxurious 18th-century residences built for diplomats and affluent Dutch families.
The Hague has a large church (the ‘Grote Kerk‘ or ‘Sint-Jacobskerk‘) dating back to the 15th century, an impressive former City Hall from the 16th century, several large 17th-century palaces, and many important 18th-century buildings.
Best Beach in The Netherlands
The Hague has an impressive 11 kilometers of coastline and two beach resorts: Scheveningen and Kijkduin.
Some will say the Hague has the best beaches in the Netherlands but this is very debatable because there are so many beaches in the Netherlands, appealing to different types of people.
I would say though that Scheveningen beach is one of the most lively beaches in the Netherlands and especially in summer, when the beach is lined with beach bars, it’s one of my favorite places to visit.
Scheveningen is located in the northwestern part of the city. It is a popular destination for both tourists visiting The Hague and for locals.
Scheveningen forms a second cultural center of The Hague, having its own cinema as well as the well known musical theater Circustheater. But, especially in summer, most entertainment and nightlife is concentrated around the sea-front boulevard with its bars, restaurants and gambling halls.
Kijkduin, in the southwest, is significantly smaller and attracts mainly local residents. The beach here is quieter and much more unspoiled.
Things to Do in The Hague
The first thing I’d recommend is: just walk.
Walk, get lost in the old city center, enjoy its small streets and admire all the different building styles… Only after you have done that you should start focusing on visiting sites and ticking off boxes.
But, some boxes worth ticking and main things to do in The Hague:
1. Check Out the Binnenhof
The Binnenhof (Inner Court) is a square in The Hague city center. This is where the city started and it’s now the center of politics in the Netherlands.
2. Visit the Mauritshuis and Gevangenpoort Museum
The Hague has its share of museums, most notably the Mauritshuis, located next to the Binnenhof, which exhibits many paintings by Dutch masters, such as Johannes Vermeer, Rembrandt van Rijn, and Paulus Potter.
Other museums include the science museum Museon, the modern art museum Gemeentemuseum, the historic museum Haags Historisch Museum, the national postal museum Museum voor Communicatie, the Museum Bredius, the Louis Couperus Museum, the museum Beelden aan Zee in Scheveningen, and the former prison, housed inside a 15th-century gatehouse, the Gevangenpoort.
If I would have to pick two museums when visiting The Hague I would choose Mauritshuis and Gevangenpoort.
3. Check Out the Grote Kerk or Sint-Jacobskerk
This church is a landmark in The Hague and beautiful building. It’s worth a visit and it’s located right in the center so it would be hard to miss anyway when visiting The Hague!
4. Walk Around the Passage
The Hague’s Arcade (Passage in Dutch) was built by local dignitaries between 1882 and 1885 for the express purpose of ‘high-class shopping’ in imitation of Paris.
It is the oldest shopping arcade in the Netherlands and an official UNESCO monument. IT offers some nice shops in a beautiful surrounding.
5. Admire Palace Noordeinde
Palace Noordeinde is King Willem-Alexander’s working palace. It is not open to the public but the building is worth having a look at. Plus it is surrounded by the loveliest boutiques and most beautiful galleries.
6. Take a Break at the Paleistuin (Palace Garden)
On the other side of Paleis Noordeinde you can enjoy some peace and quiet in the Palace Garden.
It’s a small park and admission is free. Just next to the park you’ll see the Royal Stables where the horses and coaches of the Royal House are kept.
7. Visit the World Famous Peace Palace
The International Court of Justice and the Permanent Court of Arbitration are based here in this beautiful building.
The Eternal Peace Flame burns next to the entrance. A monument bearing the inscription “May all beings find peace” is surrounded by the ‘World Peace Path’, a border of stones with a history from 196 countries.
The Peace Palace is on most people’s list of things to do in The Hague and it’s well worth it. The Visitors Centre has a nice interactive exhibition on war and peace.
8. Go to Scheveningen
Especially if you are visiting The Hague in summer you will enjoy Scheveningen.
Visit one of the many bars and restaurants on the beach (only there in summer), stroll along the boulevard and enjoy The Hague’s long, sandy coastline.
Although the Netherlands might not be the first country that comes to mind when thinking of surfing, The Hague is a popular playground among Dutch surfers, windsurfers and kiteboarders alike.
9. Visit Madurodam
This miniature park in Scheveningen allows you to see holland in a day: canal houses, tulip fields, cheese market, a wooden shoes factory, windmills, the Peace Palace, the Delta Works: you will find them all in Madurodam.
Of course I recommend traveling through the country for real but if you don’t have enough time and do want to see what Holland has to offer… spend a few hours in Madurodam.
And especially if you are visiting The Hague with kids this is a great way to spend a morning or afternoon.
The Hague Tours & Activities
From walking tours to beer tours or surfing lessons. There is a lot to do in and around The Hague.
Check out some of these well knows The Hague tours if you are looking to do something special while visiting The Hague:
How to Get to The Hague?
That’s easy: by train. If you are traveling between cities in the Netherlands you will want to use trains. They run on time and, to all major cities, run frequently.
Buses in the Netherlands are used more to get around cities and to get to neighboring towns. Not to get from one city to the next. Dutch people will also not drive from one city center to another a lot because you are likely to get stuck in traffic and parking in city centers is expensive.
So, if you are planning a day trip to the Hague or are visiting different cities in the Netherlands, take the train.
From Amsterdam to The Hague
There is a direct train from Amsterdam to The Hague every 30 minutes. It takes you from Amsterdam central station to Den Haag central station in about 50 minutes.
And if you don’t want to wait 30 minutes for the next train there are trains from Amsterdam central station to The Hague central station with one or two transfers about every five to 10 minutes.
But, do as the locals do and download the 9292 public transport app or use their website 9292.nl to check train times, platforms, delays, etc. Both the app and website are available in English and can give you door to door directions and combine all forms of public transport.
Of course Google maps can also do that for you.
From Amsterdam Airport to The Hague
There is a direct train from Amsterdam Airport to The Hague several times an hour. It takes you from Schiphol airport to Den Haag central station in about 30 minutes.
But again, just check the 9292 app for exact times and routes.
Again, public transport in the Netherlands is quite well organized and generally clean and efficient.
Note: trains to Den Haag central station do not run all night. They do run all night to Den Haag Hollands Spoor, which is another centrally located train station in The Hague. Unfortunately, this one isn’t located in the best of neighborhoods so especially if you are traveling alone I would recommend getting into a taxi outside of Den Haag Hollands Spoor instead of walking here at night.
Getting Around The Hague
Although it’s the third-largest city in Holland, The Hague is not a massive city and the center can easily be explored on foot.
The Hague’s points of interest are well-signposted and for those who don’t have google maps… quite a few street maps can be found around the city.
But, if you do have to go further than your feet can carry you, do as the locals do: cycle! There are many places where you can rent a bicycle, just ask your hotel or Airbnb host for the nearest one.
Or use the bus or tram and let 9292.nl tell you which bus or tram to take.
Restaurants in The Hague
The Hague offers more than 800 restaurants and bars.
Whether you are looking for a good Vietnamese restaurant, a Moroccan snack or an Argentinian Steakhouse, it’s all easy to find in The Hague.
So, decide what type of food you are craving, type it into Google or search through Tripadvisor and I’m sure you’ll find what you fancy!
Nightlife in The Hague
Although Scheveningen offers reasonable nightlife in summer, The Hague is not known for its great nightlife. For that, locals tend to go to Amsterdam or Rotterdam.
Hotels in The Hague
The Hague currently has more than 60 hotels. Whether you are looking for a basic hostel or a fancy five-star hotel, The Hague offers it all.
I recommend using Booking.com to find the best deals on hotels.
But, if you are planning on going all out, the two most impressive hotels in The Hague would be Hotel des Indes and Kurhaus:
- Hotel des Indes: A historical hotel in the center of The Hague, built in 1858 as a city palace and a hotel since 1881. Completely renovated by interior designer Jacques Garcia in 2006, the 92 guest rooms and suites blend contemporary amenities with traditional architectural statements.
- Kurhaus: A beautiful, iconic hotel right on the boardwalk of Scheveningen. the Kurhaus was built in 1885 by German architects Johann Friedrich Henkenhaf and Friedrich Ebert from the Krasnapolsky Hotel in Amsterdam. Kurhaus is the place to be for a classical Grand Hotel experience in a historical ambiance, with a sea view.
And, even if you don’t stay in either of these hotels, visit them anyway because they are definitely worth a look!
So is The Hague Worth Visiting?
I would say it is! It has plenty to offer any type of traveler and, with more than 20 million people visiting The Hague each year I guess I’m not the only one who thinks so!
Thinking About Moving to The Hague?
Not a bad choice! Its international vibe and large expat community will make it easier to start a new life here as an expat.
If You Are Planning to Visit The Netherlands, Also Read:
- 10 Dutch Towns Worth Visiting Besides Amsterdam
- Amsterdam: 10 of The Best Annual Events
- Amsterdam Travel Tips From a Local
- Things to Do in Utrecht
- What to See & Do in Eindhoven
- Zeeland in Pictures
- Leiden in Pictures
- Holland or The Netherlands?
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