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The Hague

The Hague is the second most-visited city in the Netherlands after Amsterdam, because it’s the nation’s political capital, a city with many attractions and a large pedestrian zone where you can wander about in picturesque historic lanes.

The Hague one-minute Video Introduction

Although Amsterdam is the nation’s capital, almost all of the government is headquartered here with the parliament and prime minister, but perhaps it is most famous as home of the International Court of Justice, a branch of the United Nations.

You might think of the Hague (Den Haag in Dutch) as a government center and therefore perhaps not very interesting to visit, but you’ll find that it is fascinating. Yes, there is a modern side to the city, with sleek shopping malls and futuristic skyscrapers, but along with that it has a wonderful old-fashioned pedestrian zone. Altogether you’ll find The Hague has got a fascinating variety of kinds of neighborhoods and attractions, historic sites, shopping areas, museums, friendly people, and everywhere, bicycles.

The Hague has got a rich collection of historic buildings, some dating back to the 13th century, which have been restored, renovated and kept up to date. The government is located in the Binnenhof complex of very old buildings we’ll soon explore, in the heart of town, but the main attraction is the pedestrian zone with its many shopping lanes.

The three closest main cities are Delft, Rotterdam and Leiden, all of which make a good home base for visiting The Hague on a day trip, only 15-25 minutes away by train. Or, vice versa, stay in The Hague as a home base. I arrived by train from Leiden visiting The Hague as a day trip, but had so much fun the first day and found there was more to see, so came back again the next day from Delft, via street-level tram, a slower option but more scenic, passing through small communities along the way. 

Visit our other pages about The Hague:

Mauritshuis Museum -- History and Parade -- Gallery

There are two train stations in The Hague, Hollands Spoor and Centraal, and both of them about the same distance from the crossroads of downtown, about a kilometer or a 15-minute walk. The train stops at both stations, so our plan is get off at Spoors, walk through the center in a big loop then walk back to Centraal at the end, experiencing both stations while seeing all main sights. You could catch a tram at either station that would bring you directly downtown, or even rent a bicycle and go the Dutch way, easily available here in the station area, but walking is quick and easy.

It’s possible to see the highlights in one big day (or two half-days as I did) on foot with a meandering zigzag route that will take you through most of the pedestrian lanes, starting out walking from the Spoors station through Chinatown, then along some pedestrian lanes in the historic Centrum district with many shops and restaurants, the royal palace, and returning back to Centraal Station via other pedestrian lanes.

While parts of the city are super-modern, futuristic even as we shall see at the end, the center is delightfully old-fashioned with historic buildings made of brick in classic style dating back centuries.  The economy must be doing well because there seems to be no vacant or run-down shops in the heart of town.

Video of complete city tour of The Hague:

The suggested walking route looks like a complicated path, but the center of town is quite small and easy to do, as you will see. Of course this route is merely a suggestion that brings you along the most interesting streets for walking, but the pedestrian lanes in the historic center form a kind of regular grid which you can meander at will. However, following the directions we lay out will assure you don’t miss anything, or waste time going over the same streets again by mistake.

This historic zone is the heart of the shopping and pedestrian center of town. To summarize the day, we follow a route walking north through shopping lanes a few blocks to the royal gardens and a lovely canal, then heading over to a popular tree-lined park, and yet another upscale shopping street, Denneweg. We’ll have a look at the beautiful Hofvijver pond, the famous Binnenhof inner court with some Gothic structures and the parliament, similar shopping streets, the modern City Hall and Tourist Information Office, passing ultramodern skyscrapers and then back to the train station to depart.

Shortly after leaving the station we cross a beautiful canal, Zuid Singelsgracht, which you would not see if you had gotten off the train at Centraal Station.  Those ubiquitous Dutch canals are few and far between in The Hague, so it’s nice to get a glimpse here. Getting off at Spoors station is not always recommended, but it has the advantages of seeing that canal and entering into a different part of town, Chinatown, a surprising touch of the East, by walking along Wagenstraat, a busy commercial street.

After walking a mere 600 meters from Spoors you arrive at a traditional Chinese gateway. leading into Chinatown. This an exotic part of The Hague and a great place to get some Indonesian and Chinese food. But the day has just begun so save the appetite for those many restaurants waiting ahead.

It would be smart to veer over two blocks and visit the Tourist Information Office where you can pick up free brochures and get some sightseeing advice.

At the Tourist Information Office you’ll find a lot of helpful information: maps, hotel reservations and suggestions for restaurants and destinations to visit in the city. They also have a public toilet upstairs, a café and a store where you can purchase guidebooks and maps. Called VVV, the information shop is in a building adjacent to the spectacular new City Hall, which we will explore at the end of our visit.

In front of the VVV office you’ll be at the widest of all pedestrian streets, Grote Markstraat, where the big-store, famous  brand shopping action takes place. We will see a lot more of it later, but for now let’s plunge further north into the pedestrian zone.

We’re walking on a block called Venestraat which is part of a much longer pedestrian lane that changes names several times and continues through the center of town. It’s the most extensive pedestrian lane in The Hague, and we shall easily walk its entire length, just under 2 kilometers from Spoors train station to the north edge of the historic center.

As usual with these old European cities, the best way to see the central area is by walking. It’s full of people, including some colorful characters, shops, buildings, places to eat and drink. It’s a never-ending spectacle of entertainment as you stroll along, and it’s healthy to be out there walking, although with all of these tempting shop windows, it could be a little damaging to your budget. Sometimes you get lucky and are given some free stuff, like French fries, one of the great finger foods of the Netherlands, complete with a choice of sauces.

These frites have an artistic flourish and you can see that the giveaway is a good plan. The Frites Atelier shop at 7 Venestraat was quite busy thanks to the freebies. It was the first of this French fry chain to open in 2016, and since then they’ve opened up in five other cities.

Our lane arrives at the old Greenmarket Square (Groenmarkt), a popular plaza that many consider to be the center of town. In the old days this is where everybody came to buy their vegetables and fish, and it’s the location of the old City Hall that was first built in 1565. This Greenmarket Plaza is quite the busy crossroads with eight different streets coming together here.

Around the corner you’ll reach the Great Church (de Grote Kerk ) with its steeple 93 meters high, one of the oldest buildings in town, constructed in stages between the 14th and 16th centuries. Protestant, it’s also called St. James’s church (Sint-Jacobskerk), with a lively plaza around it and more shopping streets. You can see what a popular gathering place this is, and always with the bicycles going by.

Continue walking north along that same basic lane now called Hoogstraat, also known as the Paleispromenade because it leads up to the royal palace, which we shall soon reach. The shops get a little bit more upscale the further north we go into this “royal quartier.”

The triangular-shaped Plaats is one of the oldest and most popular plazas in town, loaded with eateries. There are lots of bars, cafés and restaurants all around this triangular “square” in a big range of prices from the most expensive right down to Subway sandwiches.

A prominent statue here commemorates Johan DeWitt, who was a great leader of the Netherlands during the Golden Era of the late 17th century, but was unfairly blamed for the French conquest of Holland and tragically murdered by an angry mob.

Across the busy Buitenhof street you’ll see the Hofvijver pond and Binnenhof Palace on the right side, location of the national government, with abundant scenic beauty here in the middle of the city: the palace, museums, parliament, beautiful pond and the flowers.

We’ll enjoy more views of the fishpond and walk inside the palace courtyard in a little while, but for now we are continuing our stroll north along that same lovely pedestrian shopping lane. You might come upon a horse drawn carriage containing a calliope, an old-fashioned musical instrument performing automatically somehow, with the owners out front looking for a little charity.

We are immersed in the neighborhood known as the Hofkwartier, neighborhood of the royal court with the palace just ahead and beautiful streets lined with elegant fashion boutiques, art galleries, antique shops, and many more cafés. The street changes names once again, now called Noordeinde. A statue of William of Orange, legendary founder of the nation, stands in front of the royal palace (Noordeinde Palace), which is not a royal residence but used as offices for the king. Nearby Huis ten Bosch palace is the actual royal home.

Looking further north along that same elegant shopping lane of Noordeinde, noted for the town’s largest art gallery concentration, which we will have a quick peek at, walking a few blocks north and then turning around. Those with time and interest in the arts could spend a lovely few hours up here, but we are continuing the march in this zigzag journey through the heart of town.

Walking south now along Oude Mostraat. You’ll notice there are three of these parallel pedestrian lanes and you want to catch them all, which is why we are zigzagging up and down. And for a bonus there are little side lanes you’ll want to explore.

If you have lots of time here you might want to just stroll around in that aimless wander, but if you’re a little bit limited and want to see everything, stick with the zigzag itinerary to cover all the streets without forgetting something.

Ask a local a question and you might be brought into an interesting conversation that will tell you something about the place, as I learned from my new friend, Wim de Bruijn. 

“This is the oldest street of The Hague, because it started here on the highest level of the city. And we have here the Hofkwartier. It’s means the palace neighborhood, so it’s the surroundings of the palace. The Hague also has the name of the City of Peace, because the International Court is here.”

“That means people love it because they come from Paris and from America from Asia they come for the Mauritshuis, for the art, for the Rembrandt, so there’s a lot of history. The king is living here, the prime minister, the embassies are here in The Hague, a lot of hotel, lots of conferences here in The Hague.” It turns out he is sitting in front of a tea shop that’s operated by his two daughters with a special kind of green tea called matcha. Look for their shop, Hug the Tea on Facebook and the web.

You’re going to find the Dutch are the friendliest people you’ve ever met. They are so warm and open and ready to talk. When you strike up a conversation, you’ll realize how enjoyable and educational it can be. All you have to do is break the ice and say hello.

Walk another couple of blocks down Oude Mostraat and then turn around and head north again going up Prinsestraat. It’s the third one of these lanes we’ve been focusing on in the central part of the city, and there are some cars but wide sidewalks, a friendly pedestrian atmosphere, more elegant shops and it leads up to the Palace Garden. This is one of The Hague’s most enjoyable shopping streets with a variety of excellent restaurants, unique boutiques and specialty shops.

We arrive at Palace Garden (Paleistuin) behind the royal palace, an example of The Hague being quite different than most other Dutch cities. Here there are some large green parks in the central part of the city, unlike typical Dutch towns that were surrounded by moats and medieval walls with a rather dense interior population, The Hague has got more park lands than any other main city in the Netherlands. It’s called the Palace Garden but it’s free and open to the public.

Curiously, because The Hague never had a medieval wall protecting it, this town earned a nickname as the “biggest village in Europe.” Unfortunately this defenseless situation led to them being invaded by the Spanish in 1574. After the Spanish were pushed out The Hague became the political center of the country, but owing to the fear that the people living in the capital would have too much influence if represented in the national congress, the other cities did not allow The Hague a vote; and so for centuries it remained unrepresented in the States-General governing body.

Facing the gardens is the canal called Noord West Singelsgracht, one of the only canals in The Hague -- another difference from many canal-lined cities of the Netherlands. Here they do not have canals in the historic center of town, but there is this peripheral canal around the town. This section appears to be the nicest of their canal scenes, and yet until recent years it had  been covered over by a road, thankfully removed. They’ve now got popular restaurants on barges floating on the water.

Some benches along the canal give a nice viewpoint to relax and enjoy the scene. Now we are going to heading to the east side of downtown through a park and up to yet another beautiful street, Denneweg.

It’s a delightful stroll back through the town into this lovely garden area with tall trees in the park of Lange Voorhout. Sometimes you get lucky and stumble into a food event with many lunch wagons, which happens here on a regular basis. In my case I was a little early; they were just setting up and not ready to sell any food yet, so maybe I’ll come back later -- another reason for having a couple of days to visit. Various websites about the city list when food festivals and other big events are happening. You’ll probably find street food from these kinds of trucks parked somewhere in town every day.

We are taking a stroll along Denneweg, one of the nicest streets of town with a fine collection of clothing stores, art galleries, cafés, restaurants, places to hang out, appealing window displays -- a good place to spend some quality time. Savor the leisurely atmosphere of Denneweg, strolling along this street with limited automobile access, mostly for pedestrians and bicycles, with several terrace restaurants.

Denneweg is one of the oldest streets in town where you can experience the rich history of the past. Yet, now it’s a classic, busy shopping street with a number of impressive storefronts, especially noted for clothing and accessories. Antique shops display exceptional pieces of furniture, paintings and decorative objects, and several side lanes lead off for a block or two with more galleries and bookshops and things to discover. If budget is no problem you might enjoy Hotel des Indes, a five-star deluxe property around the corner.

Back on Lange Voorhout, we find a row of patrician mansions that includes the Escher Museum in a former royal palace. M.C. Escher was a Dutch artist who was a genius at drawing impossible situations, masterpieces of optical illusion. He lived from 1898 to 1972. His work features convoluted twisted subjects with infinities, reflections, symmetries, perspectives, levels of reality that are beyond belief, creating visual puzzles that cannot be solved.

The Escher Museum fronts on the Hofvijver fishpond, an artificial lake bordered with trees and an island planted with the rhododendrons. Swans and other water birds swim on that glassy surface. There is a lovely lakefront promenade that goes all the way around this pond, worth looking at. The smallest house in The Hague, a tiny place wide as a door and window, is on the same block.

Hague Historical Museum

The nearby Hague Historical Museum presents the history of The Hague, but is not a history lesson. The goal is to tell a complete story. This means that all sides are highlighted and all parties are allowed to speak. In the museum, for example, you learn about the Golden Age from a Dutch perspective, but also from the people for whom this century was not made of gold.

In the Haags Historisch Museum you will find treasures from the history of The Hague. In works of great masters. But you can also admire the small work in the Hague Historical Museum. Fantasize about the doll houses and dream away in this miniature world. Get an impression of our collection and prepare yourself for a journey through The Hague's history

Cityscapes, portraits, silverware, glass collections, memorabilia of the Dutch Royal House and dolls houses bring the stories of the city to life and shed light on local history and culture. The temporary exhibitions, events and activities always have a The Hague twist.

The collection is highly diverse: a painted view of the city by Jan van Goyen, nearly five metres across, the superbly furnished doll’s houses by Lita de Ranitz, but also the tongue and finger of the De Witt brothers, curiously preserved. Paintings by artists both familiar and obscure like Jan van Ravesteyn, P.C. La Fargue and Jan Steen show what life was like in The Hague in days gone by.

A series of townscapes from different periods show how life was lived in olden times, revealing the city’s long history as the political and administrative center of the Netherlands. After a visit to the Historical Museum of The Hague you’ll know all there is to know about the long and rich history of  Royal Residence The Hague.

That leads us to a plaza called the Plein, one of the main gathering spots of town, and then into the most important site in the entire city, Binnenhof, the old court palace, which is now the location of the parliament, prime minister and various important government offices.

There are several impressive gateways that lead into the Binnenhof courtyard. In the old days, back in the medieval era, it would have been surrounded by a moat to protect it from any outside attack.

The Netherlands has a bicameral legislature that meets here, which consists of the Senate and the House of Representatives, very similar to the United States. In fact, this goes back to the 15th century and it had been a model for the founding fathers in America in creating the US government.

The Hall of the Knights is the oldest structure, dating back to the Middle Ages. While it looks like a church, it is actually a government building containing the Great Hall used for major speeches. This is an impressive brick building with lofty gables and two towers, first built in 1249. The name Binnenhof is given to the group of buildings that form the palace and to the courtyards in which they stand. Courts of justice are here as well as archives of the kingdom. In the midst of the main plaza you’ll see a large, gold neo-Gothic fountain created in the late 19th-century.

Remembering the role of The Hague as the International Court of Justice, this location is one of the places where demonstrations often happen, looking for justice. Fair warning, the Binnenhof is scheduled for major reconstruction until 2026, costing half-billion euros, so access will be restricted.

Exiting the courtyard through an arch on the west end brings you to another one of the main plazas of town, the Buitenhof, with more restaurants and lovely buildings around it.

Next we return to the world of shopping by entering the Passage, which opened in 1885, making it the Netherlands’ oldest shopping center. It is the only one in the country with this original style of enclosed mall with glass roof, pioneered in Paris back in the mid-19th century.

The Passage was built so that retailers could stock the luxury goods that previously had only been ordered privately from Paris and sent in by mail to the Netherlands, something like Amazon Prime versus our modern shopping malls.

They have extended the original Passage another couple of blocks in a modern style in a lovely homage to the concept of this covered shopping mall. It just keeps going and going, of course, mostly for clothing shops, mostly for ladies and a little variety of this and that for everybody else.

Apple has a prime spot in this Victorian era shopping Passage, along with dozens more shops offering a great variety of everything you would possibly need. The usual goods are mostly clothing of course, but also coffee and tea, high-quality cookware, hand-made chocolates, delicacies, designer gift items, shoes, art, smoothies, and special pens.

Then we get back to the biggest of all shopping streets, the Grote Marktstraat, which we briefly saw earlier in the visit upon arriving through Chinatown. This promenade is another great place for strolling with large department stores and many major chain stores, and a modern Novotel offering a choice central accommodation. At the west end of the pedestrian mall you reach another of the main plazas of town, Grote Markt.

There is a convenient entrance to the underground tram that travels by subway back to the Centraal train station for getting out of town, which is one option to end your visit, or better yet, you can walk back to the Centraal station as we’re going to show you next.

Instead of taking that tram, just walk on the city streets to the train station, only 800 meters distant. It takes 10 minutes, but along the way take time to visit the spectacular new City Hall at the other end of that wide pedestrian mall.

You will see that City Hall is one remarkable structure, quite different than the old brick historic buildings that you’ve been enjoying so far, started in 1986 and completed in 1995. The City Hall is astonishing, designed by American architect Richard Meier, most famous for creating the Getty Museum in LA.

They say it has the largest indoor atrium in all of Europe, 12 stories high with a completely enclosed space. It is also a very functional space because the large building houses most of the city government offices, and they provide a lot of client services on the ground floor, taking care of their public.

Nicknamed the Ice Palace because of its white color, this amazing building is open to the public, so please take a look inside. It is located in the new city center and incorporates the Council chamber, the main public library as well as cafés and exhibition spaces. There is also a public toilet inside. It’s quite a contrast to the old brick buildings of The Hague and suggests that this city is already living in the future. It is just behind the Tourist Information Office.

Exit the back door, then it’s only 400 meters walk to the Centraal train station on a route that will take you along the Turfmarkt pedestrian mall, passing fascinating ultra-modern skyscrapers along the way. Or you could take a tram in front of City Hall but it makes an interesting easy walk, beginning along Kalvermarkt.

You have entered the new skyscraper city of The Hague. Most of these buildings are government ministry offices for various departments. Some of them are apartments. Fortunately it’s set apart from the historic center, which remains nicely preserved. It is amazing to walk past them at ground-level looking up, a shocking contrast with the Old Town.

Crossing a relatively hidden canal at the end of Turfmarkt, we enter into the impressive modern structure of Centraal Station. It has undergone reconstruction, adding the new glass roof, transforming the older structure into a high-tech wonderland with high ceiling and tall glass walls illuminating the vast interior.

The train station has become a major shopping mall with restaurants, clothing stores and all kinds of conveniences, and yes, many trains come through in this highly functional arrangement.

That completes the walking tour of town, but there are several more activities you must consider while here: a tram ride to the bech, and the world-famous Mauritshuis art museum. Then we’ll conclude the visit with a royal parade.

The Hague Tourist Tram

This is a unique Hop-on Hop-off tram ride in The Hague between city and beach with original, historic trams. During the tour along the many tourist attractions and sights you will learn everything about The Hague via an audio tour. With a ticket you can get on and off unlimited during the route.

The Tourist Tram runs between the city center of The Hague and the beach of Scheveningen. The tram starts right in the center of The Hague at the Centrum stop and after a tour through the city center, it runs past Madurodam to Kurhaus and Scheveningen. On the way back, the tram takes the route via the Statenkwartier, Scheveningseweg and the Peace Palace back to the center. During the route, the tram passes many tourist attractions and sights, such as Museum Escher in Het Paleis, Binnenhof, Mauritskade, the Peace Palace, Kunstmuseum The Hague and Scheveningen Harbor and the Kurhaus. From the Kurhaus stop you can walk to the beach and highlights such as De Pier, Museum Beelden aan Zee and De Pier in a few minutes. In total, the route has sixteen stops where you can get on and off.

You can buy the tickets when boarding the tram (only debit and credit card), or in advance online. Tickets are also for sale at The Hague Info Store in The Hague Central Station. With a ticket you can ride the Hop-on Hop-off tram unlimited from the moment of boarding until the last Tourist Tram goes to the depot again. The heritage streetcars offer a unique and relaxed way of exploring the city.

Visit our other pages about The Hague:

Mauritshuis Museum -- History and Parade -- Gallery