When most people think about tourist places in the Netherlands, they think Amsterdam and the canals and the famous Red-Light district and legalized drugs. Yes, of course some think of windmills, delicious cheese, famous artists/museums, tulip fields, bicycles, and the Keukenhof, but Den Haag or “The Hague” is not one of the top cities tourist think about when they plan their trips to the Netherlands. It is often thought of just a place where the boring Government is located. Admittedly, I never gave the city much of a chance. Even though we have friends who live in Den Haag and Voorburg for the past twenty years! I even have a sister-in-law who has lived in Den Haag for, I think, the past eight years. We just go there to visit the beach at Scheveningen and an occasional stop at one of their houses for dinner or birthday gathering, but I’ve never been around the city exploring in a tourist manner. So when it was discussed to actually visit the city and walk around taking in the many sites and then head over to the beach for some oysters later, I was sold!! I always welcome the chance to visit a new place here in the Netherlands – especially with a “local’s insight”. Well, “local” might be stretching it, but someone who when to college there and lived there for 11 years is surely local enough in my mind and was a perfect guide!
While Den Haag, has a pretty walkable city center, it is easier to take public transport between the center and Scheveningen if you are heading to the beach. There are trams which go right out there – but we went by bike – OV-fiets!
As the OV-fiets is the easiest and cheapest option, that is the first thing we did when we arrived at the Den Haag Hollands Spoor station before heading off to explore the city – which we did by a combination of walking and bike riding.
HOLLANDS SPOOR STATION
We didn’t come to Centraal Station but rather the second station in the city and it’s quite nice. With regard to the history of Hollands Spoor Station, I found some interesting snippets on Wikipedia, written in italics below.
Den Haag Hollands Spoor railway station, also known as Den Haag HS, is the oldest railway station in The Hague, Netherlands. It was opened in 1843, when the Amsterdam–Haarlem railway, the oldest railway line in the country, was extended to The Hague. This line was further extended to Rotterdam in 1847. The railway station was named after the Hollandsche IJzeren Spoorweg-Maatschappij, the company which operated the railway station.
Also, this station has something unque in that it has a Royal Waiting Room which you can see photos here. Outside of Corana time, guided tours to the waiting rooms can be booked through the Culturele Agenda agency. The former waiting room at Den Haag CS station and royal saloon cars can be seen in the Spoorwegmuseum, the railway museum, in Utrecht.
BOMBING OF THE BEZUIDENHOUT
The Bombing of the Bezuidenhout was a MAJOR catastrophe which took place on March 3, 1945. Just before the liberation, the neighborhood was accidentally bombed by the British air force. The plan was to bomb the V2 installations in the Haagse Bos (The Hague city forest). But the very heart of Bezuidenhout was hit instead of the installations. Much of the neighborhood lay in ruins – over 500 people lost their lives or were wounded as a result, and thousands lost their homes.
A strong north wind ‘blew’ the bombs to the wrong places and a navigation error involving the use of incorrect co-ordinates meant that they landed on Louise de Colignyplein, right in the middle of the residential Bezuidenhout area. Due to low-hanging fog, the pilots were unable to see where they were and 67,000 kilos of anti-personnel bombs were dropped on the neighborhood.
For those really interested in this topic, you can find a walking route and more information for both adults & children on this website. I discussed this today with my 12-year-old as he has a huge appetite for and knowledge about WW2, especially the various planes and he found it interesting.
As we were riding our bikes from the station to the city centre, we drove by the Dunne Bierkade is one of the most beautiful canals in city centre. When Den Haag was not yet a city and beer making was not permitted, the beer was brought in from Delft via de Bierkade in Den Haag. Here, it was possible for the beer to be sold by the beer blenders who lived in the Bierkade, the so-called ‘bierstekers’. Dunne Bierkade was given its name because thin (dun) or light (licht) beer was sold here. Today the historical buildings, cozy terraces, and yummy food make Dunne Bierkade a favorite part of Den Haag for many. Clearly, it was too early to stop and have a beer, but this street was so cute and very much reminded me of Delft and after some research, it was for good reason. Next trip to Den Haag, I’d love to stop here and have some lunch or at least a beer.
ADMIRE THE KING’S WORKING PALACE (NOORDEINDE PALEIS)
The King of the Netherlands, Willem-Alexander, goes to work most days in the city center of Den Haag within the Noordeinde Palace. Anyone walking down the street can admire the palace although you’ll know if the King is in if the flag is raised. While the Palace is closed to the public (with the exception of four weekends in the summer), you can visit the Palace Gardens.
I think it would be pretty cool to see the royal ceremony on Wednesday mornings.
On Wednesday mornings, HM King Willem-Alexander regularly welcomes new ambassadors who come to present their letters of credence at Noordeinde Palace in The Hague. The new ambassador arrives by state coach early in the morning, escorted by horsemen from the Royal Netherlands Mounted Police. After an honorary salute of four drumrolls, the national anthem of the ambassador’s country is played, followed by an inspection of the guard. Inside, the King awaits the new ambassador. Outside the palace, you can watch the arrival of the coach, listen to the national anthem being played and follow the inspection of the guard – always a special moment in the royal city of The Hague.
Nearby is the Royal Stables, but we only briefly went by on our bikes and there wasn’t much to see. Not sure the situation if you could tour it, etc. I doubt it, but it was of course, grand looking.
There are museums in Den Haag, with are well-worth visiting. This time we didn’t bother as the weather was amazing and we had too much to see, but I’ve highlighted a few – but check here for more in the region.
Art lovers often are surprised to learn that the Girl with the Pearl Earring and the Goldfinch are housed in the Hague rather than Amsterdam. The Mauritshuis is a museum with over 800 works from the Dutch masters with many Rembrandt and Vermeer paintings. Be prepared to spend at least a few hours here. When I checked a few days before, the only time slot we could get was in the late afternoon – so we’re waiting for a return trip back during not so great weather to take in the paintings.
Both famous paintings sometimes go on tour around the world, so check to see if both paintings will be in Den Haag before you’re disappointed if you really want see the Goldfinch or the Girl with the Pearl Earring.
ESCHER’S ART AT ESCHER HET PALEIS
The Escher Museum is housed within the former winter palace of Queen Emma along the beautiful Lange Voorhout. The museum is a mix of royal history as well as personal history related to M.C. Escher, making it a great educational experience for those visiting the Netherlands for the first time. I’d love to come back here with the kids to see all the crazy optical illusions. The Museumkaart is not accepted but the prices are not outrageously high – €10 for adults and kids vary depending on age. A family ticket for 2 adults & 2 kids under 15 is €26.50.
UPDATED: August 22, 2020 – While we didn’t visit on the day of the original post, today we visited the 360-degree cylindrical vista painting of the sea, the dunes, and the fishing village of Scheveningen in 1881 known as Panorama Mesdag. It is housed in a purpose-built museum with the same name. Panorama Mesdag is the largest painting in the Netherlands measuring 14.5 meters high and 114.5 meters long, installed in its original location. To view this painting, museum visitors are first led past the (short) permanent exhibition and then up to the observation gallery.
To keep the kids entertained there is a 12-question speurtocht [treasure hunt] available for the kids in both Dutch & English. The prize is a section of the Panorama Mesdag painting on a postcard – so they can take home something to remember.
They have a temporary exhibition called Candid, which featured four photographers at the beach – some photo were great. If you have ever been to this beach, you really understand.
The museum is free for Museumkaart holders and €15 for adults. During CV-19 times, you need to book online to ensure not too many people are inside at one time.
This is one of the most iconic buildings of Den Haag and opposite the Hofvijver. Originally, the Prison Gate was an entrance gate to the castle of the Counts of Holland. For many years after, this building served as a prison to the mighty Court of Holland. Today, the museum showcases the utterly “creative” ways of torture, life in cells – differences between rich and poor, and the stories of political conspiracies. But it’s not all about cruelty, a significant part of the museum is dedicated to the history of criminal justice in the Netherlands. You can even have your child’s birthday party here! Personally, I’m not really sure how I feel about that and I don’t think either of my kids would agree to have a party here.
Binnenhof, which translated to “Inner Court” is one of the most visited sites in the center of Den Haag and is now a complex of parliament and government buildings and located next to the Hofvijver. The houses the meeting place of both houses of the States-General of the Netherlands, as well as, the Ministry of General Affairs and the office of the Prime Minister of the Netherlands.
Along the Hofvijver there is a statue dedicated to Johan Van Oldenbarnevelt – read the full story of his why his death has always been viewed as a black page in Dutch history here.
There are lovely views from across the pond on the exterior too. The small island in the middle of the Hofvijver was used for executions to ensure that people could watch.
The buildings date back to the 13th century although various parts have been built at various points in history. It was pretty to walk through and we even found a window with this Feyernood scarf so I took a photo for Soren.
It is the oldest House of Parliament in the world still in use. The courtyard is open to the public to walk around and is well worth a quick stroll through the historic courtyard admiring the architecture.
There is also a fountain that attracts a lot of attention for photos. According to wiki:
Fountain at the Binnenhof, in honor of count William II of Holland. The fountain was donated in 1885 by the citizens of The Hague, on the occasion of a major overhaul of the Binnenhof complex
Every third Tuesday of September, the King of the Netherlands delivers his annual speech from the royal throne inside the Ridderzaal. It is called Prinsjesdag, also known as “Budget Day” because the King’s speech describes the government’s policy plans for the coming year.
The Prime Minister’s office has since 1982 been located in the small tower in the northern corner, simply called the Torentje (English: “Little Tower”).
Speaking of the Prime Minister, Mark Rutte. He arrives at work on a bicycle and often seen walking freely around the city. In fact, we actually saw him walking down the street, alone and in a t-shirt and baseball hat. Completely different than what you’d expect from a leader of a major country.
The Grote Markt (literally ‘Main Market’) is a former market square surrounded by bars and clubs. From early in the morning, until late at night you’ll find people having a good time here. Now that it was CV-19 time, it was less crowded due to spacing restrictions, but you can still feel the buzz.
Another main square of Den Haag is the Plein. The Plein is one of the more picturesque and tasteful spots for dining and drinking in Den Haag. Situated next to the Binnenhof, the political heart of the Netherlands, the historic Plein (literally ‘square’) offers grand buildings and many cafes and restaurants during the daytime.
Initially served as the fruit and vegetable gardens belonging to the Binnenhof castle has the feeling of an old town square in the middle of an active metropolis. It’s impossible to miss the contrast between the historical, quaint buildings located on the Plein and the modern skyscrapers towering behind.
In the middle is a statue of William of Orange.
After work, the vibe changes and it is a very after-work drinks crowd. It isn’t unusual to see Ministers and Secretaries of State walking round. It has a different vibe to the Grote Markt.
Located just around the corner from the Prison Gate Museum, you’ll find the historic Plaats square, it is the place to be for the expat community and hipsters. We had a beer in the sunshine of Jamey Bennet. Their dinner menu looks amazing, so will add this to a place to return to for sure. I didn’t take any photos here.
HAAGSE HARRY STATUE
A statue of the comic book figure Haagse Harry overlooks the Grote Markt. Haagse Harry is the popular Dutch comic book series created by Marnix Rueb in which the main character speaks a phonetic Hague dialect. With his local Hague dialect and a particular sense of humour, Haagse Harry became the most famous ‘Haganees’ in the Netherlands.
Just opposite the statue to the right was a Bleyenberg Den Haag which has an awesome rooftop bar which I’d love to check out.
Oh yeah, keeping with our traditions, we ate a salad from AH on a bench next to this statue 🙂
TAKE A BOAT TOUR OF THE CANALS
Taking a boat tour on the canals of The Hague is always an original way to get to know more about a place and its intriguing background stories. You get a totally different perspective on the city and of course, great photos. This particular one offers a 75-minute tour in English so that is great. Also, unlike the Friendship in Amsterdam, they do not serve drinks onboard, but you are welcome to bring your own. Tickets are available to buy on board. Cash only. Unfortunately, this company doesn’t make reservations by telephone or email for the regular boat tour. Adults are €12 and kids under 12 are €8. There are other boat tour companies too like De Ooiievaart. We didn’t take one this time, but during a future trip to Den Haag – I’d love to do it. While we were sitting on a bench, we did watch a tour boat come by so I took these photos.
Not sure the rules about private boats but it is not packed like in Amsterdam but we did see many kayakers.
The Passage is the UNESCO-recognized monument in Den Haag. This grand shopping arcade dating from 1885 is lined with upscale stores & cafes and has some distinct architectural features, specifically a domed glass roof. Truthfully while very pretty to walk through, especially during the holidays, there are really no stores there for me, except the AMAZING shop, DOK Home of Cooking. It’s there where I bought my vanilla for my cookies – but sadly that is all gone now.
HOTEL DES INDES
Along the Lange Voorhout and just next to the Escher Museum is the iconic grand Hotel Des Indes. This hotel welcomes royalty and celebrities when they come to Den Haag. I read that the legendary Russian ballet dancer Anna Pavlova stayed in the hotel and died just after midnight in her room of pneumonia in 1931, where the reception area is today. While we were walking by, there were some cameras set up taking photos of a couple standing in the doorway. Of course, I don’t know all the famous Dutch actors or even sports stars, so luckily I overheard a person saying it was The Bachelor of the Netherlands. So here you have it, a photo of their photoshoot.
Also known as the “Museum Quarter”, the Lange Voorhout was historically the street where noble families built their town castles in the middle ages. Today the embassies of the United Kingdom, Spain and Switzerland can be found on this street along with other things some amazing homes. The former US Embassy was located on the corner before moving to Wassenaar. It is now home to the West Den Haag – a contemporary art museum.
Seeing the Peace Palace and was pretty cool. It is an impressive building and on the way to Scheveningen Beach During Covid crisis – it is closed for visitors, but during normal times – some weekends throughout the year and for a couple of weeks in summer, the doors of the Palace open to the public. A guide will tell you about the building and about the institutions housed in it. A tour through the Great and Small Hall of Justice, the corridors and the Japanese Room will give you an impression of the most beautiful rooms of the Palace. Visitors won’t be able to take a tour when the court is in session. In the summer, they even offer special Garden Tours. I also read that “clever visitors” can go observe the hearings in the Internation Court of Justice (in French or English) as observers if you get there early on a court day. Read here all the details if interested. Keep in mind that the sessions here are arbitrating country-level court cases, rather than criminal cases. The criminal cases are held elsewhere in the Hague.
UDPATE: August 2020 – We visited the Peace Palace on Saturday – read about it here: Tour of the Peace Palace.
Across from the Peace Palace which is all about peace, you will find The Hague War Monument 1940-1945. It reminds the residents of Den Haag that almost 20,000 fellow citizens perished due to war violence during the years of occupation.
Scheveningen – say what? Yes, I know it’s a mouth full. Quickly before I go into the details of the beach – I’ll talk about how on earth that word is pronounced. I still mess it up and cannot say it… This video you hear a native Dutch person and a whole bunch of non-native Dutch speakers try to pronounce tricky words – one is this one.
Anyway, anecdotal evidence exists of the name Scheveningen being used as a shibboleth during WW2 to identify German spies: they would pronounce the initial “Sch” differently from Dutch native speakers.
Okay back to the beach – as planned, we ended the day by taking a bike ride to Scheveningen the lively, somewhat tacky beachside resort only 20 minutes or so from the city centre. It was a very nice day so of course, it was quite busy with parking and traffic, so it was a great idea to take the train from Rotterdam and ride bikes after our day of sightseeing.
When we arrived, we started off in the fishing harbor area and then rode our bikes along the boulevard a bit until you had to park your bike and walk. Which was perfect actually. We walked by several cool looking beach bars, Sculpture Museum – Beelden Aan Zee, the SEA LIFE Centre, and the grand Kurhaus.
Which from the beachside looks amazing and has a Crazy Pianos in the lobby. I LOVED those piano bars back home so I’ll need to add that to my list of places to visit on a return trip back.
While I’ve been to the Zwarte Pad area many times for drinks & food, I’ve never once been on or in the pier, so that was exciting. We first walked inside the lower level of the pier where you can look out both sides and view the extensive beach, visit a few shops and have a drink or snack.
There is even a kid’s indoor playspace – perfect for the wintertime. Outside they have trampolines set up for the kids to jump (for about €5) and of course, many of the beach bars at have their own play areas so the kids are still within view of the parents.
Facing towards the sea, on the left you see the harbor, lighthouse & the famous Kurhaus.
Also is a large meeting room area and hotel suites – how romantic!
To the right is the Zwarte Pad where you’ll find even more restaurants/bars – this is the only area we’ve been.
When we got to the end of the pier, we came to where the adventure area is including bungy jumping, a zipline, and giant ferris wheel. Nice to watch but nothing for me to try. We then went to the upper deck, where we sat and had a beer in the sunshine for a bit before heading along towards the Zwarte Pad for a walk and find a place to have beer and oysters.
Afterward, we had a fish dinner at Simonis Aan Zee and went down to the water to watch the sunset. I am a HUGE beach and sea lover, I could have breakfast, lunch & dinner and stay here forever! Well, maybe not Scheveningen but the beach – one day I will live by the seaside again. For now, I’ll just visit as often as I can.
Here are a few more photos I took during our walk/bike ride around the city.
Next time we come back to this area, maybe we visit Meijendel.
Do you have a tip or suggestion of a great place to see, restaurant to try, or something off the beaten path to do in Den Haag? I KNOW there are tons of things to do in the city that I have not touched upon here. Send me a message and let me know.