Ok, so we have exciting news, people! As we already told you, before, we were in a long distance relationship for almost 3 years. But the time has come for us to live together at last! As Thomas got a good long-term working opportunity and I finished my Master's degree in Porto, we were finally able to give a shot at having a normal relationship and say farewell to the constants farewells which defined our loving life so far. So, since early September we have a new hometown: The Hague, Netherlands. That's the part where you say: where?! Yep, The Hague. There is indeed more about the Netherlands than only the weedy cool channel-puzzled Amsterdam (but you can of course expect a post about it later).
The Hague (or Den Haag) is a city in the South of the Netherlands (Zuid-Holland) located near the shore of the North Sea and also known as the City of Peace since it hosted the first Hague Peace Conference in 1899 bringing 26 States together to discuss disarmament and strategies to avoid conflicts and wars. And, as it is our brand new address, we decided to write a post about this cute little big town to help our readers to get out of the obvious when visiting the Netherlands and to discover more about this beautiful country. So, check out this thrilling tour we brought up for spending one day in the enchanting city of The Hague.
INTRODUCTION TO THE NETHERLANDS
The Netherlands' history has always been greatly shaped and affected by water. Its first inhabitants (Celtic and German tribes) profited from the safety that its rivers, lakes and wetlands provided against the invasion of their enemies. However, it was not enough to stop the Roman Empire which conquered the southern part and was later on vanquished by the Frank Empire.
During the medieval times, water continued to impact the region in two forms:
- The first one is the beginning of the water management process to reclaim land from the sea, lakes and rivers and avoid the common flooding threats. Starting with man and horse power, it advanced later on to the famous windmills and since the XX century there has been a modern national pumps and flooding protection system.
- The second one being the naval commerce developed in the region making it the biggest maritime power of Europe in the XVII century and currently hosting the biggest European port: the port of Rotterdam.
Presenting a vast flat green area, the landscape of the country has changed drastically during its existence due to the land reclamation process. As a matter of fact, Netherlands literally means "lower countries" due to the geography of the country and the fact that about 30% of the country actually lies below sea level. The water canals present in the landscape of almost every Dutch town, beyond serving as waterways for the half million boats, also provide the charming and typical image present in the imagination of every visitor coming to the country.
BRIEF HISTORY OF THE HAGUE
The city of The Hague dates back to the XIII century when Count Floris IV of Holland purchased the lands to be his hunting grounds. After his death, his son expanded the hunting property into a royal palace helping a city to grow around it. This property eventually became the Binnenhof (Parliament), a fundamental political center in the Netherlands, and was followed by the construction of mansions and palaces on the order of the Princes of Orange, the noble class and diplomatic corps. However, the city did not have walls and was vulnerable to attacks during the Eighty Years' War (Dutch independence from Spain), the Napoleonic Wars and WWII.
However, the city developed a great importance in diplomatic and judicial matters, being often referred to as the "City of Peace" or the "Judicial Capital of the World". As of today, it is still an important political center, not only within the Netherlands (hosting the country's Parliament and the King's residential and working palaces) but also internationally. Indeed, The Hague is home to important organisations such as the International Court of Justice (the only main UN branch not based in New York), the International Criminal Court and The Hague Conference on Private International Law. It hosts more than 150 international organisations as well as embassies.
BEST THINGS TO DO IN THE HAGUE
1. CENTRAAL STATION
The best way to travel around in the Netherlands is undoubtedly by train and there are multiple trips to The Hague from the main cities of the country throughout the day making it the best spot to start the sightseeing tour since it is located in the heart of the city. Being the largest station in town (there is a second train station called Holland Spoor), it was first built in 1870 but looks incredibly modern today after being rebuilt in the 1970's and renovated between 2014-2015.
2. STADTHUIS (CITY HALL)
When leaving Centraal Station, you can already notice the modern building that hosts the City Hall of The Hague. Nicknamed the Ice Palace due to its strikingly white facade, it was designed by the American architect Richard Meier and depicts a very modern style with nice lines and perspectives. If you are visiting the city from Monday to Saturday, you definitely have to go inside to check the impressive atrium which seems to come from a futuristic movie's scenario.
3. DE PASSAGE
A visit in The Hague is not a complete visit without a stroll along the luxurious Passage. Dating back to the XIX century, it is the Netherlands' oldest shopping mall and the only remaining example of an arcade shopping street, a popular style in major European cities at that time. Rumor has it that this monumental construction was created in order for the Royal Family to be able to shop during the frequent rainy days.
Exiting the Passage towards Spuistraat, you can check one of the busiest and oldest shopping street of the city. Currently a pedestrian street, its buildings, including some historical ones, host different stores and restaurants.
5. GROTE MARKT
At the end of Spuistraat, you will find yourself at the Grote Markt (Main Market) square. Located where once stood a convent destroyed after the Protestant Reform, it became the perfect spot for a larger market since the market had outgrown the former venue and this new square was located near the Prinsegracht, a canal opened in 1642 connecting The Hague with the Westland, a greatly agricultural region of the country. Nowadays, its many bars and restaurants make this lively square the perfect spot to have a drink when the sun goes down.
6. GROTE KERK
Along with the Binnenhof (Parliament), the Grote Kerke (Big Church) is one of the oldest building still standing in The Hague. Formally known as Saint James' Church, it is said that a wooden church stood in this spot during the XIII century but archaeologists can only confirm the existence of a brick temple dating back to the XIV century. Nevertheless, the importance of this landmark Protestant church is undeniable: various members of the House of Orange-Nassau family (nobles and royals) were baptized in this church. Its 93-meter hexagonal tower finished in the 1420's is still one of the tallest in the Netherlands and offers a stunning view of the city, but be prepared for a 288-step climb!
Opening hours - Saturday & Sunday 1 p.m. - 3 p.m. | Admission - 6 EUR
Hidden in the historical and peculiar neighborhood of Hofkwartier, the Prinsestraat (Prince Street) is the most hipster shopping street in town. Connecting the Grote Kerk to the Palace Gardens, you can witness (and why not enter and enjoy?) trendy fashion boutiques, art galleries and unique restaurants in this fancy street.
Often missed by the regular visitor, the Paleistuin (Palace Garden) is a romantic garden built at the beginning of the XVII century by the order of Frederik Hendrik, the son of William of Orange, as a present to his mother. Originally portraying romantic flowerbeds, ponds, fountains and marble statues, nowadays it is a much simple garden park. However, it is still a great spot for a nice walk or a picnic in a sunny day.
9. NOORDEINDE PALACE
Currently one of the three official royal palaces in the Netherlands, the Noordeinde Palace may seem very modest when comparing with other European palaces.
Originated as a medieval farmhouse converted into a spacious residence, the palace was bought for hosting the widow of William of Orange and their son: prince Frederik Hendrik in 1609. Later on, Frederik converted the house into a grand palace built in the Dutch classical style. After the invasion of the Netherlands by Napoleon that forced the prince Willem to flee the country, he was proclaimed Sovereign Prince and Noordeinde Palace became the Royal winter palace.
Nowadays, it serves as King Williem-Alexander's office, and for the records, the Royal Family has just moved to the Palace in January 2019. Although the inside can not be visited, on Wednesday mornings there is a ceremony in which new ambassadors come in the state coach escorted by horsemen from the Royal Mounted Police to present their letters of credence to the King.
10. DE PLAATS
Although we consider this square one of the cutest places in town, it has a very somber history. In the Middle Ages, this square was the forecourt of the castle of the Counts of Holland (you can still see the prison gate with the coat of arms of Hollandia at one corner of the square) and, due to its proximity of the prison, it was the place of the execution of criminals and outlaws. The most famous one was the execution of the former political leader of the Dutch Republic Johan de Witt and his brother Cornelis in 1672 (known as the 'Year of Disaster'). With the Republic suffering with the Franco-Dutch war and being ferociously opposed by the monarchist defenders (Orangists), the brothers were savagely murdered by a furious mob with rumors of even cannibalism involved. Nowadays, a statue of Johan de Witts stands in the square to homage this Dutch republican defender.
This square dates back to the XIII century when it used to be the outer courtyard of the ancient castle of the Counts of Holland. Nowadays, after demolishing works in the 1920's to accommodate the growing traffic, it concentrates many trendy restaurants and bars. From the square you can have the iconic picture of the city: the outer part of the Binnenhof building with the Hofvijver's water mirror in front (or the Court Pond).
The most famous postcard of The Hague, the Binnenhof (Inner Court) has hold a great political importance for the Netherlands since the XIII century. Originated from a mansion built by the Count Floris IV of Holland in a terrain bought in 1229, this property, which used to be a castle surrounded by moats on all sides, developed to be the seat of the Dutch Republic and of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. Nowadays, it still houses the two chambers of the Dutch parliament, being the oldest House of Parliament in the world still in use.
Entering though the Buitenhof gate, you will find yourself in a medieval enclosed courtyard surrounded by buildings with architecture styles from the XIII up to the XIX century. The most striking one is definitely the Ridderzaal or the Hall of Knights: built as a reception and party hall in the XIII century, this hunting lodge styled building was the main one of the complex. Currently, it is used for the state opening of the Parliament on the third Tuesday of September when the King addresses the assembly members from the throne in the building.
Getting out of Binnenhof through the gate in Plein (exact opposite of the one used to enter), you will find yourself in front of a world-famous collection of painting masterpieces of the Dutch Golden Age: the Mauritshuis. Housed in a XVII century palace built by Johan Maurits, cousin of Prince Frederik Hendrik, while he was the Governor of the Dutch colony in Brazil, this museum displays works of art from the XIV to the XVIII centuries, some belonging to the former collection of Prince Willem V.
The museum is not quite big and hosts some illustrious paintings such as: "Girl with a Pear Earring" by Johannes Vermeer; some works of Rembrandt like "The Anatomy Lesson of Nicolaes Tulp" and "The Goldfinch" by Carel Fabritius. There is an app called Mauritshuis Tour which works as an audio guide for the museum with information about the paintings.
Opening hours - daily from 10 a.m. - 6 p.m. | Admission - 15.50 EUR
14. HET PLEIN
Originally a garden used to grow vegetable for the Binnenhof, Het Plein (literally, "The Square") is a pleasant square in The Hague surrounded by historic government buildings and popular restaurant and bars. Often the scenario of popular demonstrations against government policies, there is a statue in the middle of the square depicting William of Orange, considered the founding father of the Dutch nation.
15. KORTE VIJVERBERG & LANGE VOORHOUT
Going up Korte Vijverber, you can witness a different view of the facade of Binnenhof and Mauritshuis while getting to Lange Voorhout. This region was a former extension of The Hague Forest, the oldest forest in the Netherlands, but now stands a iconic L-shaped street bordered on all sides by beautiful townhouses from the XVIII century. The square with its majestic rows of linden trees, first planted by Emperor Charles V, nowadays hosts an antique and book market on Thursdays and Sundays.
16. HÔTEL DES INDES
At one of the corners of Lange Voorhout, it lays the über-chic Hôtel des Indes. Hosted in a aristocratic residence of a baron from the XVII century, this 5-star hotel has been receiving famous guests since 1881. Its impressive luxurious facade invites you to imagine all the glamour of the artists, heads of state and other celebrities staying over, from Winston Churchill to Michael Jackson.
Unlike other cities in the Netherlands, The Hague does not have many of those traditional canals in its center. So, if you want to have the Dutch experience, you should definitely head to Houtweg. This neighborhood, once a green area used by farmers, presents a charming set of canals, bridges and buildings which provide the perfect scenario for your Dutch themed picture!
This is one of our favorite places in town. Formerly know for its antiques shop (which can still be found in case you are a fan of relics), Denneweg is maybe the trendiest street in town. Its charming buildings from the XVIII century combined with modern restaurant, shops and pubs give it a cosmopolitan vibe unparalleled with any other street in The Hague.
Following Denneweg until the end, you will arrive to Mauritskade. This canal street previously called Noordsingel (something like North Boulevard) was renamed after the sudden death of Prince Maurits, the second son of King Willem III. The site would present windmills, meadows and dunes but nowadays it depicts beautiful mansions, embassies and cute little bridges.
20. PEACE PALACE
The most photographed building in The Hague is definitely the most charming one: the Peace Palace. Built to be the home of the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA), it was officially inaugurated in 1913 in an effort to avoid the violent conflicts raging Europe for centuries known as Peace Movement. The first Peace Conference was held in 1899, reuniting representatives from 26 countries in The Hague to discuss disarmament and the possibility of defining an international jurisdiction to mediate conflicts among nations. The second conference, in 1907, brought together 44 countries and witnessed the beginning of the construction of the palace which would not only be the home of the PCA but also an embodiment of the dream of world peace envisioned by many pacifists throughout history.
Opening hours - from Tuesdays to Sundays - 10 a.m. - 5 p.m. | Admission - 11 EUR
STAYING EXTRA DAYS IN THE CITY?
If you are spending more than one day in The Hague (or if you are the fast type of tourists), there are two other treasures located at the seaside waiting to be explored:
The most famous seaside resort of the Netherlands is a district of The Hague. Scheveningen started as a small village of fishermen who settled there due to the increase demand for seafood by the rich and noble class established in The Hague. However, it was not before the XIX century that it began to attract people for the baths, when Jacob Pronk built a wooden chalet on a dune where people could bath in four different rooms with sea view.
Nowadays, the beautiful Scheveningen Pier and the majestic five-star Kurhaus hotel define the skyline of the beach. And there is a an abundance of activities to choose from: a stroll along the sand shore, a bike ride, a dive into the ever-chill North Sea and even a zip-line or a Ferris wheel ride in the Pier for those feeling more adventurous or seeking a different angle to behold this wonderful sea resort. From the city center, you can catch trams 1, 9 or 11 or bus 22 to reach this seaside resort.
WESTDUIN PARK (DUNES PARK)
Another good alternative for those looking for a bit of nature is the enchanting Westduinpark. Located between Scheveningen and Kijkduin, this natural park presents stunning dunes formed in the XII century and was part of the hunting domains belonging to the royal House of Orange. In 1930, it was officially turned into a park with the reinforcement of the dunes, planting of trees and the creation of hiking paths. More recently, a major nature restoration brought Scottish Highland cows to help in the process and this cute herd can be spotted wandering around the park (but no need to be scared just respectful of their space). Another curiosity about this park is that it has a bunker and underground passageway system built by the Germans during WWII which are still visible at some spots in the dune landscape.
There are numerous bike and walking paths throughout the dunes that provide beautiful perspectives in this idyllic scenery, including some viewpoints from where you can see the Scheveningen Pier and the city center from afar. If the weather is nice you can sunbath at the beach, risk yourself to a dive in the North Sea or maybe just watch beautiful sunsets. You can reach the Westduinpark with tram 12.
DETAILS OF THE TRIP
- By plane: The Hague is located close to two international airports:
- From Schiphol Airport: located 45 km away, it takes 30 minutes by train to reach The Hague (9 EUR).
- From Rotterdam / The Hague Airport: located 20 km away, it takes 25 minutes with the subway (line E in Meijersplein) to reach The Hague Centraal Station.
- By train: the national Dutch train company easily connects The Hague with other major cities.
- From Amsterdam: 50 min; 12 EUR.
- From Schiphol: 30 min; 9 EUR.
- From Rotterdam: 25 min; 5 EUR.
- By bus: Flixbus offers routes to The Hague from the main cities in the Netherlands, from Brussels and Paris. It is worth checking if you are travelling on the budget.
- When it comes to food, The Hague has a great international variety. However, here are our favorite restaurants in town:
- Happy Tosti: typical Dutch sandwiches, nice spot for a break for lunch (5-10 EUR).
- De Sushimeisjes: not your average sushi! This is one of the best sushi we've eaten! Original combinations and delicious bites (15-16 EUR).
- Pinsart Italian: pinsas are like pizzas, except that they are made out of soybean flour dough. Nice food! (5-6 EUR).
- Little V: awesome Vietnamese food and great staff! You CAN'T MISS IT! They have a lunchbox for 13,50 EUR. For dinner, don't forget to book a table before you go, nice spot for dinner (15-20 EUR).
- Impero Romano: a very good Italian address, try the Truffle Pasta, they're delicious, we highly recommend (15-20 EUR).
*All prices are referred to February 2019
And now it's your turn to let us know your impressions, thoughts and also tips to visit this almost-unknown Dutch city. Have you already been to The Hague? We look forward reading your comments in the section below.