I highly recommend going to The Hague (Den Haag) in the Netherlands for a day or more. Not only is it chock full of history and politics, hosting the International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Court, but it is also one of two capitals of the Netherlands. The Hague is the administrative center while Amsterdam is the “official” capital. In addition, The Hague offers awe-inspiring art from the Dutch Golden Age (Rembrandt, Vermeer and Jan Steen, just to name three) and a museum dedicated to M.C. Escher, the 20th century mind-bending Dutch graphic artist.
The Hague has an entirely different feel from Amsterdam: different architecture, smaller crowds, fewer bikes, and several palaces. I stayed there with a friend for several days between visiting my sister and brother-in-law who lived in Amsterdam. It was also where I first tasted some really delicious Indonesian food.
Four things to see, both old and new
My four recommendations are all in the City Center (Centrum), near the Central Train Station (Centraal), making them perfect for a quick trip. Just be sure to check opening hours so you can see everything on your list since some places have limited hours.
International Court of Justics: Vredespaleis
To learn more about the International Court of Justice and the Permanent Court of Arbitration, stop by the Visitor Centre at the Peace Palace. The Visitor Centre is open Wednesday to Sunday from noon to 4 p.m. and houses a contemporary exhibition and shows an impressive film. Audio tours are in 10 languages. If you are fortunate, you might be able to take a guided tour of the gardens and buildings.
Dutch seat of government: Binnenof and Ridderzaal
The Dutch Government resides in a 13th century former hunting lodge, which was constructed for the counts of Holland. If it is not undergoing renovations, gape at the Inner Courtyard and The Hall of Knights (the Binnenhof and Ridderzaal), which are quite remarkable. For a tour around the complex, sign up for a guided walk here. For a guided tour of the Dutch House of Representatives, try your luck here.
Mauritshuis: Rembrant, Vermeer and the Golden Age of Dutch masters
To see art from the Dutch Golden Age, visit Mauritshuis, a beautiful 17th century building surrounded by a lake with swans. This museum is lovely to look at from both inside and outside. There are so many masterpieces from the 15th and 16th centuries hanging on the walls, it can be a bit overwhelming! I suggest doing the audio tour which is very informative and helps to give you some focus. Here, we were lucky to see Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring as well as many paintings by Rembrandt, Peter Paul Rubens and Jan Steen. For food or drink, stop by their brasserie.
Escher in the Palace
During the 20th century, M.C. Escher, “Netherlands’ most famous printmaker,” produced more than 2,000 drawings and sketches as well as 448 lithographs, woodcuts, and engravings. If his name doesn’t sound familiar, you will probably recognize his work, staircases that go nowhere, hands that are drawing themselves, etc. In honor of his 125th birthday, the museum, a former palace, is showing 125 of his creations as well as 70 prints and drawings by his teacher and close friend Samuel Jessurun de Mesquita. Be sure to check out the second floor where interactive displays show you a distorted view of reality so you can really “experience the world of Escher.”
To save money, we ate a lot of ham and cheese sandwiches (broodjes ham en kaas) for lunch, but we also indulged in some excellent international cuisine. The best food we had was without a doubt Indonesian. We had a sampler plate, a Rijsttafel (literally a “rice table”), consisting of 12 little dishes including various types of rice. I loved the rich, complex Indonesian flavors, savory, spicy, and sweet. With 40 Indonesian restaurants to choose from in The Hague alone – Indonesia was a former Dutch colony – why not try one for dinner, such as Keraton Damai.
Where to stay
• Delta Hotel: We stayed at the Delta Hotel, a no-fuss, two-star hotel. It fit our budget, had a cool look to it and breakfast was included.
• Hotel Indes: More centrally located and at a higher price-point, the Hotel Indes is a popular choice.
More eating drinking and shopping
In the City Centre, check out Old Mole Street (Oude Molstraat) and the Old Mole Café (De Oude Mol Café) or Denneweg’s open-air shopping mall for eats, drinks, music, and authentic wares.
The Hague is 63 kilometers (43 miles) southwest of Amsterdam. If going by train, just be aware that there are two long-distance train stations – the Centraal, which I think is more convenient, and Hollands Spoor.
Of course, there are other things to see and do in The Hague including the beach at Scheveningen, but, if your time is limited, these four will really give you a sense of the centuries and the historical importance of the city.
Have a good trip! (Goede reis!)
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Read more about Den Haag here in Dispatches’ archives.
Mary Porcella is a Europhile who has lived in Germany, Norway, Italy, and the U.S. She is a writer, editor, and photographer. She loves seeing new places, returning to old haunts, and meeting up with family and friends. As of today, her travels have taken her to 20 European countries, and she hopes to visit the rest.