Lifestyle & Culture

Manhattan Masters at Mauritshuis, Royal Christmas Market make Den Haag a posh holiday get-away

Den Haag, Netherlands – Sure, you’ve been there for summer beach fun at Scheveningen. But, for multiple reasons, Christmas is the season to visit Den Haag (The Hague), especially if you’re an expat in the Netherlands or Belgium.

The Passage shopping center (Photo by Cheryl Boyd for Dispatches)

First, Manhattan Masters is at the Mauritshuis, arguably the best boutique museum in Europe, right there with the Marmottan in Paris.

Second, the Den Haag Christmas Market starts on 8 December and goes through 23 December.

Third, this underrated European capital city is just sublime at Christmas. Cozy restaurants, tasteful decorations and all the Old World charm of a wealthy, sophisticated European capital.

Okay, full disclosure – while the Dutch king and royal family live at the Palace Huis ten Bosch in Den Haag, it weirdly is not the capital of the Netherlands (that’s Amsterdam). It is the administrative seat of the government. Don’t ask us. It’s a matter of semantics, so we’re calling Den Haag the de facto capital.

(Another fun fact: Noordeinde Palace, close to the Binnenhof, is a working palace. The offices of King Willem Alexander and Queen Máxima are located there.)

Whatever, Den Haag has an elegant vibe that tourists don’t usually experience. So, there will be no dope-smoking hobos, YouTube influencers or mass tours when you visit, especially now in the dead of winter.

Just great experiences and lots of them.

The Rembrandt self-portrait, part of “Manhattan Masters”

Manhattan Masters at Mauritshuis

The Manhattan Masters exhibition consists of only 10 paintings on loan from the Frick Collection in Manhattan, which is undergoing a renovation. They had to do something with the paintings, so they sent some to the Mauritshuis. But these aren’t just a bunch of rejects from the Frick’s dusty attic. These are some of the defining works of the Dutch Golden Age. Which is fitting because all 10 are by Old Masters, including Rembrandt, and started out here in the Netherlands before American coal baron Henry Clay Frick bought them all up in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

But they haven’t been seen in Europe in more than 100 years.

The star of the show is “Officer and Laughing Girl” by Johannes Vermeer, a native of nearby Delft. The painting gets its own little display niche in a dedicated gallery, which includes a video explaining Frick’s connection to the Mauritshuis.

What’s really interesting – though not all that surprising – is how rapacious Frick and other American Robber Barons of the 19th century were when it came to acquiring Dutch and Flemish masters such as Rembrandt. This made them vulnerable to getting burned despite art experts telling them the pieces weren’t what they thought they were. That includes two paintings in the Manhattan Masters show that Frick was sure were Rembrandts but aren’t.

You can write this off to hubris: “I’m rich, so I must be smart.” (Shades of our current crop of Silicon Valley billionaires.) On the other, it’s clear Frick just liked the paintings and was going to acquire anyway them because why not?

He had more money than God.

And that’s how we got the Frick Collection.

Along with “Officer and Laughing Girl,” a Rembrandt self-portrait is worth the price of admission. Now, with that 17.50 euros per person admission, you get the rest of the Mauritshuis, which includes many of the most famous paintings on earth, including Vermeer’s sublime “Girl with a Pearl Earring” and “View of Delft,” Rembrandt’s “Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicholaes Tulp.” And don’t forget “The Goldfinch” by Carel Fabritius.

It’s nuts that one small museum has so many magnificent works. To seal the deal, all this is housed in a fantastic old mansion. Life doesn’t get any more glamorous than this.

We were there on an early December Saturday evening and pretty much had the place to ourselves.

Just. Go.

You can get tickets here.

Christmas market

Royal Christmas Fair the Hague starts 8 December and runs through 23 December. This posh Christmas market modestly bill itself as “the Netherlands’ most beautiful Christmas market.” As with most Dutch markets, this is likely to be on a more intimate scale than, say, the mega-markets of Germany and France and with more of an emphasis on high-end food and refreshments, music and arts.

The Christmas market is at the Lange Voorhout in the center of Den Haag. The market is open every day from noon to 9 p.m.

We haven’t been, so we’ll have an update.

Where to stay

We love the B-Apart Hotel, as you can read here. But it’s difficult to book sometimes.

For this one-night adventure, we ended up staying at the Moxy at Muzentoren. This funky hotel shares a huge pickle-shaped building with parent company Marriott’s extended stay hotel. It is a seven-minute walk from the fabulous Binnenhof complex, which includes the Mauritshuis.

We’d stayed in 2021 at the Schiphol Airport Moxy and have to say we liked it better. But we were staying for one night, so it was no big deal. And the Moxy really is the ultimate transient hotel – fun, but there literally is no place to really even unpack. Which is just so us.

We paid 105 euros for one night, and – bargain of the century – €18.50 to park for 24 hours at QPark Muzenplein! We spent another 13 euros each for two breakfasts, which were good, with all sorts of stuff including pastries, eggs and bacon.

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Co-CEO of Dispatches Europe. A former military reporter, I'm a serial expat who has lived in France, Turkey, Germany and the Netherlands.

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