12 Top Tourist Attractions & Things to Do in The Hague
The Hague (Den Haag) - the third largest city in the Netherlands - is the seat of the country's government, and home to the Royal Family. It's also a city full of history, many splendid museums and art galleries, and countless entertainment opportunities. Close to the North Sea (it's where you'll find the seaside resort of Scheveningen), The Hague is also home to numerous government ministries and embassies, along with the headquarters of several international organizations, including the International Court of Justice. The Hague is also a city of the arts, and was home to many prominent Dutch artists, no doubt attracted by the city's pleasant wide streets, elegant and spacious squares and promenades, and attractive residential suburbs.
See also: Where to Stay in The Hague
1 The Binnenhof
In the center of the oldest section of The Hague is the Binnenhof - the Inner Court - an irregular group of buildings constructed around a large central courtyard. With its origins dating back to 1250 and tied to the building of a castle, it soon became the residence of the ruling aristocracy and today houses both chambers of Parliament. The most important buildings of the complex are the exquisite Ridderzaal, or Knights' Hall (see below for more details), still used for functions and receptions, and in the North Wing, the chamber is the official residence of the Prime Minister. Also important are the Rolzaal court house dating from 1511 and the Lairessezaal with its 17th-century paintings by Gerard de Lairesse. Other highlights include the First Chamber, notable for its painted medallions depicting statesmen and the portrait of King William II under the country's coat of arms. The Second Chamber - the legislative authority that watches over the government - sat in the former ballroom from 1815 until 1992.
Address: Hofweg 1-H, 2511 AA Den Haag
2 Editor's Pick Ridderzaal: The Knights' Hall
At the east end of the Binnenhof's central courtyard, the 13th-century Knights' Hall (Ridderzaal) is a spectacular historic building still used for state receptions and the opening of parliament each September. This large Gothic hall - it measures 40 meters by 20 meters - boasts many magnificent stained glass windows depicting the coats of arms of Dutch towns, as well as the spectacular Rose Window with the arms of the principal noble families of the Netherlands. The heavy timber roof structure with its 18-meter-long beams has the appearance of an upturned ship, and carved wooden heads symbolizing eavesdroppers from the "higher powers" are supposed to deter members of the assembly from lying. Originally built as a banqueting hall, it later served as a market, a promenade, a drill hall, a playground, and even a hospital before being restored in 1904.
Address: Hofweg 1-H, 2511 AA Den Haag
3 The Grote of Sint-Jacobskerk
The oldest part of the Gothic Grote of Sint-Jacobskerk (Great St. James Church) dates from the 14th century, while newer sections, including the 100-meter-high tower, were added around 1420. Unique in the Netherlands for its hexagonal form, the tower originally served as a lookout (the bell was too big for the tower and can be seen inside the church). A new carillon, one of the largest in the Netherlands with 51 bells, was installed in 1959, and can be visited as part of a tower tour (the views over the city are incredible). Highlights of the beautifully vaulted interior include numerous monuments and grave-slabs, including those of the poet and statesman Constantijn Huygens who died in 1687, and physicist and astronomer Christiaan Huygens, buried here in 1695. Other notable features are the carved wooden pulpit from 1550, the coats of arms of the Knights of the Golden Fleece, a large 19th-century organ, and the stained glass in the choir and north transept.
Address: Rond de Grote Kerk 12, 2513 AM Den Haag
4 The Peace Palace
The famous Peace Palace (Vredespaleis), an imposing brick building constructed between 1907-13, was largely paid for by philanthropist Andrew Carnegie. Built in a mix of Gothic and Neoclassical styles, it's flanked on its long arcaded façade with its steeply pitched roof and 80-meter-high tower. Home to the International Court of Justice, the Permanent Court of Arbitration, the Academy of International Law and a library of international law, it boasts a rich interior décor contributed by numerous countries, including marble from Italy, wood paneling from Brazil and the USA, and ornamental iron railings from Germany. Weekend guided tours are conducted through the palace and around the superb gardens (bookings can be made through the visitor center).
Address: Carnegieplein 2, 2517 KJ Den Haag
5 Panorama Mesdag
Housed in a specially made rotunda, Panorama Mesdag is a gigantic painting measuring 120 meters in length and 14 meters in height that was painted by HW Mesdag and his wife, Sientje Mesdag-Van Houten, along with other artists of the Hague School. This stunning scene depicts coastal Scheveningen as it was around 1880, with charming views of the sea, the beach, and dunes. Designed to create the illusion of 3D, this spectacular circular painting - the largest in the world - is indirectly lit from above, and thanks to its large sand dune with a number of real objects, creates the illusion that you're standing in the middle of this beautiful landscape. The building also contains a collection of paintings by Mesdag and his wife (further examples of Mesdag's work, along with other Hague School artists, is on display at the Mesdag Museum).
Address: Zeestraat 65, 2518 AA Den Haag
6 The Mauritshuis
The handsome Mauritshuis, a monumental yet elegant residence built in classical style in 1641, serves as one of The Hague's most important museums. Highlights include a small room, or "cabinet," containing valuable objects and curios, along with numerous paintings, including Rembrandt's Anatomy Lesson, Vermeer's View of Delft, Jacob van Ruisdael's View of Haarlem and Rogier van der Weyden's Lamentation, a masterpiece of medieval painting. English language guided tours are available, and a superb app showing the museum's many masterpieces can be downloaded for free in advance of your visit.
Address: Plein 29, 2511 CS Den Haag
7 Gemeentemuseum Den Haag
In the modern residential district of Duinoord, a garden suburb with houses built in a style influenced by traditional Dutch almshouses (hofjes), the architecturally pleasing Municipal Museum - Gemeentemuseum Den Haag - is a must-see. Designed by HP Berlage in 1935, the museum displays a wide range of material relating to the history of the town, along with 19th- and 20th-century art, applied and decorative art (including ceramics, silver, and furniture), and an outstanding collection of traditional and electronic musical instruments. Of particular note is a section dedicated to modern art with numerous works by Piet Mondriaan and Paul Klee.
Address: Stadhouderslaan 41, 2517 HV Den Haag
8 Scheveningen Resort and Kurhaus
With its broad sandy beach and seafront promenade, Scheveningen is ideal for holidaymakers seeking sun, sea, and sand. Here you can sunbathe, walk among the dunes, ride a horse or a bike along the beach, play a little golf, or take a fishing trip, all within a few minutes of The Hague's city center. A prime tourist attraction here is the imposing Kurhaus, an Art Nouveau style structure (now protected as a national monument) built in 1885 that houses a first-rate hotel, an art gallery, superb promenades, and the sumptuous Kurzaal, the huge glass domed centerpiece of the resort that now serves as a restaurant. Also worth a visit is the Scheveningen Pier with its four island-like extensions and aquarium, a 45-meter-high lookout tower, and a theater. Be sure to visit the Madurodam, an excellent miniature park opened in 1952 that boasts 1:25 scale replicas of the Netherlands' most famous buildings.
Address: Gevers Deynootplein 30, 2586 CK Den Haag-Scheveningen
9 Haagse Bos and Huis ten Bosch
One of The Hague's prettiest open spaces, Haagse Bos is a two-kilometer-long expanse of parkland noted for its beautiful winding avenues. Extending all the way from the old city center to the boundary of the suburb of Wassenaar, it's a pleasant way to spend time as you explore one of the country's oldest forests, protected from deforestation since the Middle Ages. The park's most notable feature is Huis ten Bosch, a moat-surrounded palace built in 1646 as a royal country residence. Famous as the location of the world's first international peace conference in 1899, the palace is now home to King Willem-Alexander. While not open to the public, there are fine views of the building from various points around the park. Another palace worth walking around for its fine exterior views is Noordeinde Palace. The best views are from the Noordeinde Palace Gardens (admission is free), which also provides a great view of the Royal Stables, home to the horses used to pull the Royal Coaches.
Address: Haagse Bos, Den Haag
10 The Prison Gate Museum
On the north side of the Binnenhof stands the Prison Gate (Gevangenpoort), a well-preserved structure built in 1296 as a gatehouse. Converted to a prison in the 15th century, it was here that brothers Cornelis and Johan de Witt, accused of an attempt on the life of Prince William III, were murdered in 1672 (a monument to them stands in the nearby courtyard). The old prison and torture chambers have been open to the public since the 1880s and include a large collection of paintings, prints, and relics - as well as torture devices - illustrating the administration of justice in the 17th century. English language tours are available Sundays at 2:15pm.
Address: Buitenhof 33, 2513 AH Den Haag
In a wing of Gemeentemuseum Den Haagm, the city's Municipal Museum, Museon illustrates the origins of the earth, the development of human life and culture, and the achievements of science and technology using accurate reproductions, models, and displays of technological apparatus (kids will enjoy the hands-on workshops and educational programs). Two other museums worthy of a visit are the Escher Museum with its large collection of works by graphic artist MC Escher, and the Louwman Museum, a slice of heaven for car-lovers with its superb collection of vintage vehicles and motorbikes.
Address: Stadhouderslaan 37, 2517 HV The Hague
12 The Netherlands Dance Theater
Facing the Nieuwe Kerk and next to the City Hall is a modern yet rather plain looking building that hides a couple of The Hague's best-kept secrets: the Netherlands Dance Theater (Nederlands Dans Theater) and the Residence Orchestra (Residentie Orkest). Built in the 1980s, its attractive interior consists of large curving ramps and galleries suspended on three levels against the dark red and golden coloring of the hall itself. The dance company's reputation makes seeing a performance a must (check their website for performance details). The Residentie Orkest, too, is well worth seeing. Founded in 1904, it has played host to composers such as Igor Stravinsky, Richard Strauss, and Maurice Ravel.
Address: Schedeldoekshaven 60, 2511 EN Den Haag
Where to Stay in The Hague for Sightseeing
In The Hague, most of the main attractions and architectural landmarks lie between the city center and the sea, so this area makes the best base if you're visiting for the first time. Hotels tend to cluster around the Binnenhof, where you'll also find the Ridderzaal (Knights' Hall) and Prison Gate Museum. Other attractions, such as the Mauritshuis and the Escher Museum, are within walking distance from here, and the beach resort of Scheveningen is less than ten minutes' drive away. Here are some highly-rated hotels in this convenient location:
- Luxury Hotels: In the embassy quarter, steps from the swankiest shopping areas, Hilton The Hague has a 24-hour fitness center and lies within walking distance of most of the city's top sites. Hotel Des Indes, a former palace near some of The Hague's best museums, drips with historical elegance, while the pet-friendly Paleis Hotel, about 10 minutes on foot from the Binnenhof, is a popular boutique option, with friendly service and stylish rooms.
- Mid-Range Hotels: In a fabulous location, across the street from the Binnenhof, the boutique Hotel Corona sits at the top end of the mid-range hotels, with large rooms clad in rich, cozy hues. If you're seeking the modern comforts of a chain hotel, Mercure Hotel Den Haag Central delivers, just a short stroll from the Binnenhof, as does the Holiday Inn Express The Hague - Parliament, with clean, contemporary rooms and breakfast included. It lies minutes away from the Mauritshuis and the Escher Museum.
- Budget Hotels: The Ibis Den Haag City Centre, near the old City Hall and a short walk from the Binnenhof, sports a sleek, contemporary aesthetic. Breakfast is also included in the rates. A five-minute walk to the Escher Museum, the great-value easyHotel Den Haag City Centre has clean rooms and friendly staff, while the homey, family-run Staten Hotel is a ten-minute walk from the Gemeentemuseum.
Day Trips from The Hague
Just 15 kilometers northeast of The Hague is the small town of Voorschoten and delightful Duivenvoorde Castle (Kasteel Duivenvoorde), a medieval fortress restored in 1631. The original decoration and furnishings have been preserved, including family portraits, Delftware, a large collection of Chinese and European porcelain, and numerous items of silver. Also of note is the English-style park.
Address: Laan van Duivenvoorde 4, Voorschoten
Old Town Gouda and the Grote Kerk of Sint Janskerk
There's a lot more to the Dutch town of Gouda than its cheese. This historic town, 33 kilometers east of The Hague, has one of the most attractive town halls in the country, famous for looking more like a place of worship than of government. In the spacious triangular Markt, this imposing Late Gothic building (by Jan Keldermans, 1449-59) was originally surrounded by a moat. The handsome external staircase in Renaissance style was added in 1603. On the east wall is a carillon, which rings every half hour with moving figures representing the granting of the town's charter by Count Floris V in 1272. In the Trouwzaal (Marriage Hall), look for the 17th-century tapestry by David Rufelaer made in Gouda.
Gouda's most important church is the Grote Kerk of Sint Janskerk, dating from the 15th century and one of the largest in the Netherlands. In addition to its size, its other best-known feature is its vividly colored stained glass windows, the Goudse Glazen, which include both Biblical and historical themes. The finest of the glass was the work of Wouter and Dirck Crabeth between 1555 and 1577, while the most recent window, War and Liberation, was designed by Charles Eyck in 1947.