The Hague, the Dutch royal city by the sea, offers the chance to visit magnificent palaces and spectacular beach resorts – but the best way to take in all of the city’s delights is to head off the beaten path to explore the city’s diverse and charming neighbourhoods.
Just a 45-minute train journey from Amsterdam city centre, a day trip (or longer) gives you plenty of time to discover each neighbourhood’s hidden gems, and just why The Hague is one of Europe’s most popular destinations.
Once you step off the train at The Hague Central Station, you may become overwhelmed by the abundance of things to see and do just in the city centre alone. A historical area, the centre contains the entirety of The Hague’s Royal Route, including Noordeinde Palace and its lovely gardens; St James Church (also known as the ‘Big Church’), whose tower provides an excellent view of the city; the renowned Mauritshuis museum, where you can view the famous Vermeer painting ‘The Girl with a Pearl Earring’; Escher in Het Paleis, the palace-turned-museum that displays a collection of M.C. Escher works; and the Binnenhof, a complex of buildings that houses the Dutch parliament and the medieval Ridderzaal.
Beyond the royal sights, the city centre is packed with shopping streets and arts and entertainment venues: stroll down the Boekhorststraat for unique items; the Prinsestraat for trendy high-end fashion; and the Frederikstraat for antiques and vintage shops. When the weather is warm, seek out Moes, an ice cream stand that’s so good even the Dutch Queen Maxima gets her sweet treats there.
Just slightly north of the city centre, the Zeeheldenkwartier – translated literally as the ‘Sea Heroes Quarter’ – is one of The Hague’s oldest neighbourhoods. Its perfectly parallel streets are home to grand Art Nouveau-style mansions and smaller homes. It’s a popular shopping area, with small shops, designer stores and boutiques offering both high-end and affordable fashion, furniture, jewellery, antiques and trinkets. Visit during July to take part in the Zeeheldenfestival, an annual event that offers five days of family-friendly fun.
To the very east of the neighbourhood is the Panorama Mesdag, the oldest 19th century panorama in the world that is still housed at its original site. The panorama was painted by Hendrik Willem Mesdag, who sought to capture the beauty of The Hague’s beaches; now, the panorama is an immersive experience with faux terrain surrounding the cylindrical painting, transporting you right to the The Hague’s beguiling coastline.
Part of the city centre, the Hofkwartier (Court Quarter) is an upscale area situated around Noordeinde Palace that boasts some of the most high-end shopping streets and a royal atmosphere. The shopping streets offer grand views of awe-inspiring architecture as well as department stores, boutiques and markets. Be sure to walk down the Molenstraat, one of the oldest streets in The Hague, where you can take in some history while you shop by visiting the Willibrordushuis, where the brothers of St Jan brew trappist beer that can be purchased in the monastery shop. Keep a lookout for members of the royal family as you shop – you just might be rubbing elbows with the elite!
A relatively new neighbourhood in The Hague – developed in the late 19th century – the Statenkwartier, located northwest of the city centre, boasts a wealth of architectural sights. One is the Gemeentemuseum Den Haag, designed by famous Dutch architect Hendrik Petrus Berlage, that features a beautiful yellow brickwork exterior and a light, airy interior – as well as masterpieces by Piet Mondrian, Pablo Picasso, Gerrit Rietveld and more. Two other Statenkwartier museums include the Fotomuseum Den Haag (The Hague Museum of Photography), which was established in 2002 to provide a better home for photography exhibitions, and the Museon, which offers interactive science exhibits that are perfect for a day out with the kids.
Walk down the Frederik Hendriklaan, which runs down the centre of the neighbourhood, to shop, eat and drink at the stores, restaurants and cafes that line the street.
In the south of the city centre is the culturally rich Schilderswijk (Painters’ Neigbourhood). The most distinctive part of this neighbourhood is the names of the streets: many are named after famous Dutch painters – Jan Steenstraat, Rubenstraat and Frans Halsstraat, to name just a few – and feature replicas of their most famous works on the street name signs against the buildings.
One of the biggest draws of this little neighbourhood is the Haagse Markt, one of the largest markets in Europe. The market, which is open four days a week from 9am to 5pm, features hundreds of stalls offering fashion, flowers, delicious foods and other goods that you won’t be able to resist taking home with you.
Located along The Hague’s coastline, Belgisch Park (Belgian Park) is predominately a chic shopping centre and affluent residential area brimming with grand mansions and villas. Belgisch Park was created in the late 19th century after the completion of Scheveningen’s Kurhaus hotel, and its original design of treelined streets and parks remains to this day.
Close to the shore are plenty of entertainment offerings, many of which are located inside the large Palace Promenade shopping centre: besides the myriad shops and restaurants are the Hommerson Casino, Funland amusement centre, a bowling alley, mini-golf course and much more. Head a little further inland for even more shopping opportunities along the Stevinstraat and Gentsestraat. In addition to chain stores, these streets boast independent fashion boutiques that offer one-of-a-kind items.
With its wide, sandy beaches, beachfront bars, museums and aquariums and tons of outdoor and indoor activities, visitors can spend weeks in the beach resort of Scheveningen. It’s the perfect place to soak up sun, fun and culture. The neighbourhood’s laidback atmosphere is very different to The Hague’s royal city centre, though both are rich with history: Scheveningen, in fact, dates back to the 13th century, and has its own distinct characteristics (including a dialect, which is slowly falling out of use).
The Pier at Scheveningen offers excitement, entertainment and relaxation, with bungee jumping and zip-lining as well as a ‘float centre,’ where you can let your worries float away in a saltwater bath. Madurodam, a miniature theme park, gives you a bird’s eye view of the Netherlands from the ground, while the beach at Scheveningen offers the chance to surf, kayak, kitesurf and much more. Head to SEA LIFE Scheveningen to learn about the creatures of the deep or Museum Beelden aan Zee to admire contemporary sculptures.
Next door to Scheveningen is Kijkduin, a smaller, family-friendly beach resort that offers sandy dunes, lively restaurants with terraces and plenty of nature to enjoy. Take a seat at one of the beach pavilions at the seaside – Habana Beach or Beachclub People, just to name a couple – for food, drinks and a cosy place to chat.
Add a little history to your trip to Kijkduin by visiting the Abbey Church, the oldest building in The Hague – yes, even older than the Ridderzaal in the city centre – and then head back to the modern age at the Celestial Vault. Designed by American artist James Turrell, after entering this huge artificial crater through a tunnel visitors are encouraged to lie back on a stone bench and gaze up at the sky.
An unusual name for a neighbourhood, Buurtschap 2005 (named after its postcode) is home to the famous Lange Voorhout, one of The Hague’s most beautiful streets. With majestic linden trees and grand 18th- and 19th-century buildings, it’s the perfect place to take a stroll – especially when the market is being held along the L-shaped street. On Prince’s Day, the Golden Coach travels down this famous boulevard as part of its procession.
One of the best ways to enjoy Buurtschap 2005 is to simply walk around: the Kazernestraat features many coach houses that once belonged to the grand homes on the Lange Voorhout, while the Denneweg offers a variety of alluring antiques shops.
This small neighbourhood lies just outside The Hague’s city centre and borders Scheveningen Woods, a large park area filled with many trees that were planted in the late 19th century to prevent the sand from the beach blowing inland. The neighbourhood itself was developed around the same time, resulting in a large amount of neo-Renaissance-style buildings. Archipelbuurt is also known as the Indies; it was once a popular place for East Indian expats to settle down, and it now features lots of authentic Indonesian restaurants where you can fill up on some delicious dishes straight from Asia.
The Peace Palace is a newer addition to the neighbourhood, but it’s already one of its most important sights as a centre of international law and justice. Archipelbuurt’s most famous resident, Dutch poet and novelist Louis Couperus, lived on the Surinamestraat, sometimes called the most beautiful street in The Hague thanks to its chestnut trees, old lampposts and intricate building facades.