When planning a visit to the Netherlands you will probably think of going to Amsterdam, our capital, first. But it is the city of The Hague that houses the Dutch government. The history of The Hague is strongly connected to the history of Dutch government, and the city is an interesting place to visit for that reason alone. But there is much more to be seen and done here: museums, the beach and a city life that differs from Amsterdam make it into a great day trip destination.
Dutch people don’t agree on The Hague, or in Dutch ‘Den Haag’. Its inhabitants say it is simply the most amazing city of Holland and point out that it is perfectly located, right next to the beach. People who don’t live there couldn’t agree less, thinking of the ugly shopping streets and the high rise government buildings in the city center.
I guess that both groups have a point. When you visit The Hague and enter town from central station you may be put off by the traffic chaos, the lack of coherence of its architecture, and the not so attractive shopping district. However, there are plenty of interesting things to see and do, and if you care to look, you will discover the beauty that is hidden beyond.
8 cool things to do during your visit to The Hague
1. Go to the Binnenhof
The Hague is home to the Dutch government. This has been the case since 1584, when the country that is now the Netherlands came into existence, then as a confederacy. The Binnenhof is the oldest surviving House of Parliament in the world! Parts of the building even date back to the late medieval period. You can join a guided tour if you are interested to see the interior or hear more about it.
Even if you don’t join a tour you can enter the courtyard of Binnenhof and see the old buildings for yourself. Don’t forget to circle the Hofvijver, the artificial lake next to Binnenhof for some very pretty views of Binnenhof, and the tower that houses the offices of the Prime Minister. Binnenhof is located right in the center of The Hague.
2. Visit one (or more) of the museums in The Hague
The Hague houses some of the most interesting museums of the Netherlands. It may be difficult to choose one. (Of course, you can stay longer and see more!) Some suggestions:
- For lovers of 17th century art: go to Mauritshuis to see masterpieces such as Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring. The museum has recently been renovated and is absolutely worth your time if you like old school Dutch paintings.
- If you have less time visit Panorma Mesdag, and be mesmerized by the panoramic view of Scheveningen as it was in 1881.
- Do you prefer your art to be more modern? Go to the Kunstmuseum (formerly called the Gemeentemuseum) instead, which houses the biggest Mondriaan collection in the world. Besides, they always have temporary exhibitions going on, usually with early 20th century art. The museum is an interesting building by itself, built in Art Deco style and designed by the famous Dutch architect Berlage.
- More into photography? Go to the excellent Fotomuseum. Check their website to see what’s on.
- Or into sculpture? Then head to Scheveningen and see sculptures in Museum Beelden aan Zee with the North Sea as a background.
- And my personal favorite: the Escher museum that shows the work of graphic artist MC Escher, famous for his prints that look realistic but often have a strange and twisted perspective. The museum is located in an old city palace, that is interesting to see just by itself.
3. Explore the old town and visit the hidden courtyards of The Hague
It isn’t that easy to find the cool bits of The Hague. At first sight you will be overwhelmed by the huge and modern government buildings next to central station, and the crowded shopping streets further on. But things get a lot better when you move on. Just make sure you move in the right direction!
- Try one of the walking routes of the The Hague City information point to discover nicer shopping areas with independent shops.
- Or discover the secret courtyards of The Hague with a guide. There are about 115 courtyards hidden all over The Hague. These places offered free accommodations to poor and old people until about 150 years ago.
4. Take a canal cruise with The Ooievaart
Canal cruises are a fun way to discover a city. Whereas in Amsterdam canal cruises are very touristic and not very personal, your experience will be completely different if you take a boat tour during your visit to The Hague. The boats they use are much smaller than in Amsterdam and they are roofless. The bridges are a lot lower too in The Hague, so this is a true adventure! They only sail in summer though. Check it out at the Ooievaart website.
5. Visit The Hague beach and watch the sun set
One of the obvious unique selling points of The Hague is that this is the only big Dutch city that is situated right on the coast. So their city beach is actually a beach, and not just a pile of sand dumped next to a canal as in most other Dutch cities. And even better, The Hague beach faces west, so you may see the sun set in the evening.
The question is where to go though. Most guides will direct you straight to Scheveningen beach, which is the easiest to get to. They have a pier with restaurants, a boulevard and the magnificent Kurhaus hotel (magnificent from the outside, that is). On the other hand, Scheveningen is very crowded and a bit vulgar with its touristic restaurants.
If you prefer a quiet place go to Duindorp beach instead. This is the stretch of beach just south of Scheveningen harbor. They have some nice beach restaurants there, and you can go for a hike in the dunes. For those into hiking, read my blog about a hike from The Hague Central Station to the dunes and the beach north of The Hague.
6. Try local beer from The Hague breweries
Though by far not as many as in Amsterdam, the Hague has a couple of craft breweries too. And though they may not have the quantity, they do have the quality. So try a couple of local brews during your visit to The Hague.
If you are into experimental brewing and alternative slightly industrial locations, don’t miss Kompaan brewing. Go there, despite their location outside of the center. In my opinion this is one of the top 10 brewers of the Netherlands. If you don’t have the time to go there you can find their beers in many The Hague pubs.
Abbey brewery Haagsche broeder
In the former church of St. James parish you can find an abbey brewery called Haagsche Broeder. Their website is not very informative, but I can tell you that they have a small shop at Oude Molstraat 35 that is opened Friday and Saturday afternoon. And that their (Belgian style) beer is available in some The Hague bars. They have recently announced that they will expand their brewing capacity, so we may see their beer at more places in the future.
7) Eat fresh fish
Since The Hague is so close to the sea, this is a good place to eat fresh fish. The best place to to this is in the harbor of Scheveningen. There are several fish restaurants out there, but it’s even better to go to one of the huge fish shops and grab some fresh raw herring or order a portion of kibbeling (battered and fried cod). Very nice!
If you don’t have time to go to Scheveningen, there is a VERY good fish stall just outside of Binnenhof (see tip 1) called Haringkraam Buitenhof. They have the best kibbeling I have ever had in the Netherlands. That’s why at times there are long rows of customers waiting for their order. Just mind the seagulls. They like this fish stall too, and can behave aggressively.
8) Have dinner in the Chinese quarter or in an Indonesian restaurant
The Hague is an international city, due to the many international organizations that are housed here. It is also home to many migrant communities. This explains the large number of exotic restaurants in The Hague. Think of a cuisine and I am sure you will find a restaurant serving just that. For me 2 cuisines stand out:
- Chinese food, and I am talking about true Chinese food, not the dishes adapted to Dutch taste that you will often find in Chinese restaurants outside of the big cities in the Netherlands. There is a concentration of Chinese restaurants in Chinatown.
- Indonesian food. After the independence of Indonesia, many people “returned” from Indonesia to The Netherlands. And for some reason many of them settled in The Hague. Most Dutch cities have an Indonesian restaurant, but The Hague has many and most of them serve top quality food. Go especially for the small and seemingly insignificant ones.
How about Madurodam?
Madurodam is a theme park located on the fringes of The Hague. It is a fun place, especially for children. It contains miniature versions of famous Dutch buildings. Still, I wouldn’t put this on my bucket list for a day in The Hague. It is crowded, pretty expensive, and it is so much more fun to see all these buildings for real instead of just the miniature version. If you go, count on at least half a day to get there and see it.
How to get to The Hague by public transport
The Hague is easily accessible by train from all major cities in the Netherlands. Pay attention to the fact that The Hague has more than one railway station, and that some trains don’t stop at Den Haag Central Station. Though Central Station is the closest to the city center, Den Haag Hollands Spoor station (also called Den Haag HS) is a good alternative.
Why is The Hague not the capital of the Netherlands?
Normally, the city that houses the government is the capital of a country, but there are some exceptions and The Hague is one of them. Actually, The Hague has housed the Dutch government since 1584, in the period that you could see as the starting point of The Netherlands as an independent country.
When Napoleon occupied the country, he made the Netherlands into a kingdom, made the Amsterdam city hall into the king’s palace and thus Amsterdam became the capital. That happened in 1808. When Napoleon was beaten and the Netherlands regained their independence, somehow The Netherlands remained a kingdom and Amsterdam remained the capital. This is just a formal thing though, as the government and most of the ministries are located in The Hague.