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The Hague for First Time Visitors: Unmissable Experiences to Enjoy Here

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The Hague is the third-largest city in the Netherlands and it is considered the country’s political capital. Here it’s the seat of the government, it’s home to the Royal Family and there are the offices of important international organisations such as the International Court of Justice or the Permanent Court of Arbitration. Located close to the North Sea, the seaside resort of Scheveningen can also be found here. 

Although the city can be perceived as distant and formal, it offers plenty of entertainment opportunities, a tasty food scene, charming suburbs and many interesting museums and palaces that you can visit.

The Hague is usually overshadowed by the famous Amsterdam. However, if you’re lucky to be spending some time in the Netherlands, you shouldn’t miss the chance of touring this city. It’s magnificent and definitely worth your attention. In fact, at Bonzah we’re convinced that one of the best ways of discovering the many attractions of The Hague is to make it part of a road trip through the SE of the country that includes Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Delft and Leiden.

If you’d like to explore The Hague and it will be your first time here, we’ve compiled a complete list of attractions that you can’t miss.

 

The Binnenhof

The Binnenhof is a former hunting lodge that was extended into a castle by William II of Holland in 1250. Today this beautiful courtyard houses the Parliament and Senate of the Netherlands and it’s open to visits. The complex of buildings also included several museums and historical monuments. From the front, the Binnenhof is a picturesque building with the enchanting Hofvijver pond in the forefront. The pond is home to ducks and swans and a very bizarre water fountain.

It’s one of the must-see attractions in The Hague and you should definitely take your time to explore these Gothic buildings. Binnenhof means “Inner Court”; it’s studded with monumental old buildings testifying the 800 years of governing in the Low Countries but it also has several ample open spaces that are all freely open to the public. It’s also the world’s oldest house of parliament that is still in use.

 

The Ridderzaal

The Ridderzaal, which translates as Knight’s Hall, is located at the centre court of Binnenhof and it’s the place where the King makes his public speech from the throne. It’s the most interesting and historic building in the complex.

On its vaulted ceiling, made to resemble the inverted hull of a ship, are the carved heads of eavesdroppers, little men with big ears who heard everything thus preventing secrecy and conspiracy and ensuring that justice was served. Today, it’s a ceremonial venue that is especially important on Prince’s Day, when the reigning monarch makes a speech to begin the new parliamentary year. 

The Ridderzaar is a small Gothic mansion that is also used for royal receptions, inter-parliamentary meetings and other state needs. It 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 Ridderzaal is built in a Gothic style with two large symmetrical towers standing on either side of the arched entrance. The courtyard inside the hall is also quite beautiful and it’s surrounded by three sides of arches. In the centre, there’s a Neogothic fountain that dates back to the 1600s.

 

Visit the Paleis Noordeinde

Noordeinde Paleis is one of the three official residences of the Dutch royal family. It’s where King Willem Alexander works and whenever he is present, the Dutch flag can be seen flying up high.

It was originally a medieval farmhouse but it was turned into a residence by the steward of the States of Holland in 1533. Since 2016, the stately building can be visited by the public for a few days every year and its charming garden with flower beds, fountains, hedgerows and ponds are open all year round. It’s located in a gracefully landscaped garden at the Noordeinde near a popular shopping mall.

Behind the Noordeinde Palace there’s the aforementioned garden and the Royal stable where the horses and coaches are kept.

 

Don’t Miss the Peace Palace

The Peace Palace or Vredespaleis in Dutch was built between 1907 and 1913 at the expense of E. Carnegie, an American industrialist, and philanthropist. It was built in the neo-Renaissance style and it’s now home to a museum and a library mostly dedicated to international law. It is at the Peace Palace where legal proceedings and arbitration court hearings take place and it was created as a monumental housing for the Permanent Court of Arbitration. This monumental structure now also houses the International Court of Justice, which is a UN institution. 

Guided tours are available when the Court is not in session and they are definitely worth it. The Peace Palace is exquisitely decorated with giant stained-glass windows, beautiful sculptures in the hallway, and ornately decorated ceilings soaring above you.  The tallest tower clock is absolutely impressive. It was donated by Switzerland in 2013. There’s a stunning carillon with 47 clocks that is owned by the Carnegie Foundation.

One of the coolest places is the Japanese Room, the secondary room of the Permanent Court of Arbitration, which takes its name from the stunning silk tapestries gifted by the Japanese government. It’s an absolute must-visit while you are in The Hague and it’s a favourite highlight for many tourists.

 

Say Hello to the Girl With a Pearl Earring at Mauritshuis

The Mauritshuis Royal Picture Gallery is home to Vermeer’s “Girl With a Pearl Earring” and more than 840 objects from the Dutch Golden Age including works from Vermeer, Rembrandt, Jan Steen, Hals, Ruisdael and Potter amongst others. Housed in a XVII century waterfront building, the exhibits feature a form of art widely appreciated for its precise and realistic representation of the world. The Mauritshuis borders the Binnenhof and the adjacent Hofvijver pond and it’s one of the top 100 Dutch heritage sites. 

It’s the top museum to visit in The Hague because of its impressive collection of Dutch Golden Age paintings that are organised into different sections such as “At Home in Holland”, “A generous gesture” amongst others. The halls of the gallery are upholstered in silk and the ceilings are decorated with antique chandeliers and candlesticks.

Here, art lovers can appreciate some of Rembrandt’s most famous works including “The Anatomy Lesson” and Vermeer’s “Girl with a Pearl Earring”, which are hung in small, personal rooms. You can get up close and personal with both paintings, an interesting experience for art buffs.

 

Feel Like a Giant at Madurodam

Located within the Scheveningen resort area, Madurodam is one of the must-see attractions in The Hague especially if you’re travelling with kids. Madurodam is an invitation to take a tour all around the Netherlands to see its major highlights without having to travel that far. 

This interactive miniature theme park focused on Dutch cultural traditions and historical sites, it features small-scale replicas of the most famous landmarks, cities and landscapes in the Netherlands. From the Rijksmuseum and the Binnenhof to tulip fields and windmills or miniature planes stationed at the replica of Schiphol airport, you can have a birds-eye view of the whole country. 

Madurodam is highly informative and interactive. You can learn all about the sites on display and the way that things work. You can taxi a plane on a Schiphol runway, put your finger in a hole in the dike or close a dam right before a flood.

Madurodam displays all of the Netherlands’ most famous icons built to a scale of 1:25. The attention to detail is mind-blowing and even the miniature residents of Madurodam change clothes according to the season. 

Named after George Maduro, a law student from Curacao who fought the Nazi occupation forces as a member of the Dutch resistance and died in Dachau concentration camp, it was his parents who donated the money to start this project. In 1952, princess Beatrix was appointed mayor of Madurodam and when she became queen in 1980 she relinquished her function as mayor of Madurodam. Today, the mayor is elected by a youth municipal council consisting of 25 pupils from schools in the region.

 

Don’t Miss Panorama Mesdag

Panorama Mesdag is a large cylindrical painting of a seaside town that gives the viewer the impression of being inside the landscape. You can stand atop a sand dune and observe villagers at work, fishing boats docked on the seashore and houses in the distance. The realistic painting style is enhanced by the sand and beach objects placed below the painting on hilly terrain.

Panorama Mesdag was completed in 1881 by Hendrik Willem Mesdag (one of the most important painters of The Hague School), his wife and his student painters. It’s more than 14m high and 120m in circumference and it’s a must-see in your Hague itinerary, especially for art lovers. It’s quite a unique tourist attraction as it portrays a panorama of Scheveningen in the XIX century.

 

Relax in Scheveningen

If you need sand and beach time for real after admiring the Panorama Mesdag, head to Scheveningen to see it for real. Scheveningen is the resort area of The Hague and it’s famous for its long sandy beaches and nice conditions for windsurfing or kitesurfing. There are also quite a few interesting attractions that you can enjoy as well such as museums, Madurodam, an oceanarium, a theatre and a pier.

The pier is quite popular because of its unusual design and because it extends 400m over the North Sea: it has two levels. The lower level is a covered glass gallery and the upper one is an open observation deck. The end of the structure that faces the sea is divided into 4 parts or islands where you can find shops and restaurants. There’s also a 60-m observation tower on the pier where there is a bungee jumping area that is great for adrenaline seekers.

 

Enjoy Escher’s Optical Illusions at Het Paleis

If you are into optical illusions or you’re interested in admiring non-traditional artworks then you can’t miss enjoying Escher’s drawings in The Hague. The museum is devoted to the country’s most famous graphic artist and it features permanent exhibits of mind-blowing pieces. From endless staircases to twisted spaces, giant children, and tiny adults, the displays will definitely catch your attention. The highlights include a 7m long woodcut intended to depict eternity and infinity by deceiving perception, chandeliers shaped like sharks, spiders and skulls, and lots of mirrors. 

The museum is set in a palace originally built in 1760 as the Winter Palace of Queen Mother Emma of the Netherlands and it is full of interactive exhibits. There you can play with perspective, take weird photos and even watch the floor disappear beneath your feet. The palace is located on The Hague’s elegant boulevard of Lange Voorhout and it is exquisitely decorated with an ornate Art Nouveau staircase and glimmering stained-glass windows.

 

Admire Modern Art at the Kunstmuseum Den Haag

Kunstmuseum Den Haag houses an extensive collection of modern works and the world’s largest conglomeration of those by the Dutch artist Piet Mondriaan. There you can admire works by Picasso, Monet, Schiee, Kandinsky, Van Gogh, Degas or Frank Stella amongst other renowned modern artists. The museum also holds a collection of 50 thousand prints and drawings from the XIX and XX centuries, vintage fashion items, and even a selection of historical musical instruments. The “Victory Boogie Woogie” is one of Mondrian’s most well-known paintings and it’s one of the most prized exhibits in the museum as it was left unfinished with bits of masking tape still in place on the surface of the canvas when Mondrian died in 1944.

Not only the museum is stunning but the building itself is also a sight to behold: a fabulous brick building from 1935 and the last work of Hendrik Petrus Berlage, a famous Dutch architect. It is housed in a series of modern cube-shaped buildings of yellow brick connected by a sky bridge over a reflecting pool. Located in the modern residential district of Duinoord, the Kunstmuseum Den Haag is an absolute must-see. 

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