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 somehow I have overlooked my own country. Born and raised in The Netherlands I always saw this as a boring country, 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 few weeks I’m going 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.
Tourists visiting Holland visit Amsterdam and often nothing else.
Is that justified? Is Holland 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 Holland is more that 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 quite well organized… And, Holland has more cities than just Amsterdam!
The Hague is Holland’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 Holland.
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.
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. 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 3 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 wreaked 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 south west 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 also see a large number of post-war buildings; 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 it’s not a massive 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 living in The Hague means seeing a bit of all of them. The good and the bad…
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 some small streets in the town 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. It has a large church dating from the 15th century, an impressive former City Hall from the 16th century, several large 17th-century palaces, and many important 18th-century buildings.
The Hague also has 11 kilometers of coastline and two beach resorts.
The main beach resort Scheveningen, in the northwestern part of the city is a popular destination for tourists as well as for locals. Scheveningen forms a second cultural center of The Hague, having its own cinema as well as the musical theater Circustheater although, especially in the summer, most night life concentrates around the sea-front boulevard with its bars, restaurants and gambling halls. Kijkduin, in the south west, is The Hague’s other beach resort. It is significantly smaller and attracts mainly local residents.
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:
- Binnenhof: The Binnenhof (Inner Court) is a square in The Hague city center. This is where the city started and now the center of politics in the Netherlands.
- Mauritshuis and Gevangenpoort: 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 in a 15th-century gatehouse, the Gevangenpoort. If I would have to pick two museums I would choose Mauritshuis and Gevangenpoort.
- Grote kerk or Sint-Jacobskerk: a landmark in The Hague and beautiful building, worth a visit.
- 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. The Netherlands’ oldest shopping arcade, now an official UNESCO monument, offers some nice shops in a beautiful surrounding.
- Palace Noordeinde: King Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands’s working palace, Palace Noordeinde, 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.
- 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.
- The 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 Visitors Centre has an interactive exhibition on war and peace.
- Scheveningen: if you happen to be in 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.
- 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.
How to get to The Hague?
That’s easy. From Schiphol airport you simply take the train to The Hague Central train station which takes around 30 minutes. Trains in Holland work quite well: they run on time and, to all major cities, run frequently. Make sure you buy a ticket before you get on the train.
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. 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, take a bus or tram. And again, do as the locals do: use our well-organized transport system through www.9292.nl/en. Simply type in where you are now, type in where you want to go and this website will tell you exactly what bus and/or tram to take where and at what time. 9292 is also available and used by most of us Dutchies as an app for your smartphone.
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! 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 a visit?
I would say it is! It has plenty to offer any type of traveler and, with more than 20 million visitors 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. Would you like to know more about living in The Hague? Feel free to send me an email: [email protected]
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