DUBAI: While it’s not the official capital of the Netherlands, The Hague has been the seat of power in the country for centuries — home to the royal family and to the Dutch parliament. That means it has some of Holland’s finest buildings, museums and art galleries, but doesn’t have Amsterdam’s full-time, full-on energy. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
There’s certainly plenty to keep visitors occupied on the culture front. For grand architecture, we’d recommend a visit to the parliament building Het Binnenhof, the beams of which are decorated with the famous ‘luistervinken’ (eavesdroppers) — wooden faces with a single huge ear on the side, meant to represent the higher power listening in when the hall was used as a courtroom in centuries past.
Equally impressive is the Peace Palace, home to the International Court of Justice. Opened in 1913, the Palace is the result of international cooperation and houses doors from Belgium, marble from Italy, wall carpets from Japan, rugs from Iran and so on.
Many of the city’s finest buildings are also museums and galleries. The excellent Mauritshuis is dedicated to 17th and 18th century art, particularly that of the Dutch masters including Vermeer, Rembrandt and Rubens. The gorgeous art-deco Gemeentemuseum, meanwhile, has a wide range of modern art classics as well as older pieces. A trip to those two venues alone could eat up an entire day.
Another big draw for art fans is the permanent exhibition “Escher in the Palace,” an exhaustive, mind-bending collection of works from the celebrated Dutch graphic artist at Lange Voorhout Palace.
If you need a break from the highbrow, and some retail therapy, The Hague has plenty to offer there too. If it’s raining (always a strong possibility in Holland), head to The Passage — the country’s oldest shopping center. It opened in 1885 and has since been expanded considerably, but still remains covered.
For those seeking more unusual trinkets, there’s a large, and very popular, art, antiques and book market that runs on Thursday and Sundays in Korte Voorhout in the summer, and at the Plein on Thursdays in the winter.
And if you want to shop like a local, get down to The Hague Market, which sits between the city two most multi-cultural districts: Transvaal and the Schilderswijk. It’s Europe’s biggest outdoor market and welcomes an estimated 25,000 visitors a day, in all weathers, to its 500-plus stalls.
Foodies won’t be disappointed by the range of options The Hague provides. Italian restaurant The Court; Tommy’s & Zuurveen, which offers international cuisine; and French eaterie Cottontree City by Dimitri are all highly recommended.
If you want to take in a great view while you eat, head for The Penthouse on the top floors of The Hague Tower, which promises views of “up to 45 kilometers” from its windows, 135 meters above street level.
To get a taste of the regal life, you could book a stay at the luxurious — and ideally situated — Hotel des Indes in the heart of the city. The hotel used to be a city palace and that royal grandeur is still apparent in its 92 rooms. If extravagant splendor isn’t your thing, then the romantic sophistication of the boutique Paleis Hotel might be a better bet. This central, 20-room gem is just a short walk from the Mauritshuis, and is a work of art in itself.
We opted for one of the numerous Airbnb properties on offer throughout the Netherlands, and stayed in the city’s seaside district of Scheveningen, well worth a visit if you’re on a summer trip. Just 15 minutes by tram from the city center, Scheveningen has something of a timeless ambience, like a postcard brought to life, particularly the old-school pier. It’s a charming and peaceful neighborhood, and its long, sandy beach is the most popular in Holland. It’s easy to see why. Be warned, though. This is the North Sea, and that water gets cold.
Possibly the Hague’s most-famous tourist attraction, though, isn’t its market, museums or seaside, but the peculiar miniature city of Madurodam — a combination of amusement park, scenic beauty (including more than 5,000 miniature trees) and ‘edutainment.’ Scale models of typically Dutch canal houses, cheese markets, windmills, flower-bulb fields and more combine with multimedia presentations to give a short history of this fascinating and beautiful country.
If you’re planning a trip to the Netherlands, but don’t want to be based in the hustle of Amsterdam (which is less than an hour away by train, so you can still visit easily), we’d highly recommend The Hague.