Things to Do in The Hague
Mauritshuis is home to one of the best collections of Dutch and Flemish paintings in the world. Often referred to as "the jewel box," the ornately elegant 17th-century mansion is a textbook example of Dutch classical architecture, built as the private residence of John Maurice, Prince of Nassau-Siegen.
Built using funds donated by American philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, Peace Palace (Vredespaleis) is one of The Hague’s best-known landmarks. The grand neo-Renaissance building is home to the UN’s International Court of Justice, which hears legal disputes between states.
The building that houses Den Haag’s premier fine-art museum is almost as important as its collections. Built the 1930s by HP Berlage, Holland’s leading exponent of Art Deco, the structure is of honey-colored brick, while the inside is all yellow-and-white tiles and straight, harmonious lines. Nowadays, the building forms part of a complex that includes the science-themed Museon, the Den Haag Museum of Photography, the Omniversum 3D movie theater and the Museum of Contemporary Art. However, there is so much to see in the world-class Gemeentemuseum Den Haag alone that several hours are required to do the vast displays justice. There are even two onsite restaurants to choose from so you don’t have to leave once you get hungry.
Top billing has to go to the world’s largest collection of abstract paintings by Piet Mondriaan; 50 of his works hang in the tranquil white galleries of Gemeentemuseum Den Haag, including his last, the unfinished Victory Boogie Woogie of 1944. Other permanent exhibitions are equally strong: “Discover the Modern” covers the very best of 20th-century art with artists ranging from Kandinsky and Schiele to Kirchner, Monet and Picasso.
There is also a sublime collection of decorative arts that showcases tulip vases from Delft, intricate doll houses, an enormous display of antique musical instruments and a horde of some 50,000 prints by illustrious artists of the last two centuries. A new innovation is the wonderfully child-friendly interactive exhibition called Wonderkamers, in which kids effectively become part of a space-age computer game as they explore the gallery.
SEA LIFE® Scheveningen is an indoor/outdoor aquarium with a wide variety of underwater creatures, from fish, sharks, and sea turtles to otters and penguins. Here, visitors of all ages can learn about life under the sea, watch feedings, or even interact with sea life through a variety of educational experiences.
Secreted away in a quiet Den Haag side street, Panorama Mesdag is the largest painting in the Netherlands, at more than 45 feet by 400 feet (14 meters by 120 meters). The sea, sand dunes, buildings, churches, lighthouses, and fishing boats of 19th-century Scheveningen are all represented in minute, accurate detail.
Transformed from a farmhouse into a stately home in 1533, Noordeinde Palace (Paleis Noordeinde) in The Hague was presented to William of Orange’s widow in recognition of her husband’s service to the Netherlands. Noordeinde Palace is one of four palaces across the country owned by the Dutch royal family and serves as the office of King Willem-Alexander.
The Hague’s present redbrick Gothic-style Great Church (Sint-Jacobskerk) replaced a 13th-century wooden church that was destroyed by fire in 1539. Located on Torenstraat, which is named after the church’s six-sided bell tower, it is one of the oldest buildings in Den Haag and had become increasingly run down before extensive renovation work in the 1980s restored it to its former magnificence. It was in this church that many Dutch Royal baptisms took place; King Willem-Alexander was christened here, as was his daughter Catharina-Amalia.
The ornate bell tower is one of the tallest in Holland at 330 feet (100 m), and although it had a famous peal of bells that rang out across Den Haag from 1686 onwards, they disappeared during WWII and were replaced by a new carillon of 51 bells in 1951. The Grote Kerk has an airy vaulted interior, several important memorials and tombs, a decorative carved wooden pulpit and a massive organ dating from 1881. However its finest feature is the glittering stained-glass window sponsored by the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, who visited Den Haag after the original church burned down in 1539. He is depicted kneeling in prayer before the Virgin Mary.
The Grote Kerk is now deconsecrated and is used for a year-round succession of rock, pop, choral and classical concerts, trade fairs and exhibitions.
The Hague’s seaside suburb of Scheveningen is also the most popular holiday resort in The Netherlands. Just a tram ride from the center of the city, Scheveningen has a 2.5-mile (four km) long promenade backing a sandy beach and the pristine waters of the North Sea. It had its heyday in the 19th century but recent injections of cash have spruced the town up to its former gentility.
The pier is the focus of Scheveningen beach and there’s plenty for families to enjoy around here, from bungy jumping to banana boating and wind surfing. Jet skis, surfboards and sailing dinghies can be hired and there are various schools teaching all manner of watersports. Kids will also love the sharks, delicate seahorses and rare otters at Sea Life Scheveningen and the fun but educational 3-D films at Omniversum. Quirky sculptures by US artist Tom Otterness line the promenade and there are more magical artworks to be found in the Museum Beelden aan Zee among Scheveningen’s sand dunes.
It’s worth taking a quick peek at the Panorama Mesdag, a vast 360° cyclorama of Scheveningen and its seashore as it appeared in 1881. At more than 45 ft (14 m) high and 400 ft (120 m) in length, the landscape was painted by Hendrik Willem Mesdag and is a masterly exercise in perspective. Nearby Madurodam is another firm favorite with children, for the models of Holland’s most famous buildings and windmills in miniature.
Scheveningen comes alive at night, offering a casino, plenty of quality seafood restaurants and bistros, cinemas, Kooman’s Puppet Theatre, musical theaters and a throbbing late-night party scene. The summer months see a healthy nightlife take off on the beach, with pop-up clubs and parties most nights. Between mid-November and January the Cool Event takes place in front of the splendid Kurhaus Hotel, featuring an ice rink, skating discos and parties for kids.
Dating back to 1653, Royal Delft (Koninklijke Porceleyne Fles) is the world’s best-known manufacturer of the Netherlands’ iconic blue-and-white porcelain goods. The factory—the only such manufactory that remains from the 17th century—is open to travelers looking to learn about this one-of-a-kind hand-painted stoneware.
Behind the 17th-century façade of this palace – formerly the winter home of Queen Emma of the Netherlands – lies a startlingly eccentric collection of works of Dutch graphic artist M. C. Escher. The palace is located on The Hague’s elegant boulevard of Lange Voorhout and as befits its royal residence, has a series of lavishly appointed rooms plus an ornate Art Nouveau staircase that was installed in 1901 along with glimmering stained-glass windows in the skylights of the main hall.
Maurits Cornelis Escher lived between 1898-1972 and became famous for his slightly demented lithographs, woodcuts and engravings as well as drawings and prints playing with perspective. He travelled right across Europe, living in Italy and Switzerland and drawing on influences as far apart as the Alhambra in Granada and the bucolic landscape of Tuscany.
The museum opened in 2002 and has the world’s largest collection of Escher’s highly eccentric work, which somehow fits perfectly into the opulence of Queen Emma’s palace. Highlights include the vast woodcut Metamorphosis III as well as the ‘In the Eye of Escher’ exhibition on the second story, where games are played with perspective. The permanent displays include his early Italian landscapes, family portraits and many of his ingenious ‘impossible’ optical illusion prints and woodcuts.
There are scavenger hunts and workshops for kids in the school holidays in a ‘lab’ completely decorated with Escher’s confusing perspective patterns, a museum store selling Escher-centric books and prints plus a café.
More Things to Do in The Hague
Dating back to the 17th century, Delft Pottery de Delftse Pauw is a factory and showroom dedicated to creating and selling Delft's internationally celebrated blue-and-white pottery. Come here to learn about the history of the iconic products and see how they are produced through free educational tours; it’s also a great place to pick up some Delftware of your own.
The Prison Gate Museum (Gevangenpoort) is the former prison of the Court of Holland. Beginning in 1428, and continuing throughout its 400 year history, it housed famous and not so famous criminals. It had a reputation as a place of misery, where prisoners were regularly punished in the torture chamber and locked up in dreary dark and frigid cells, awaiting questioning and trial.
Visitors to the medieval building can see the Museum’s collection of punishment and torture devices. Some rooms can be visited independently when visiting the Prison Gate Museum, but others, such as the cell complex, can only be seen when on a guided tour. During the tour, visitors learn about life in prison, escapes, more famous residents and the brutal punishments. Because of the gruesome nature of the history, the Prison Gate Museum is not recommended for children under the age of 9.
Sculptures by the Sea (Museum Beelden aan Zee) Every trip to The Hague should include time for a trip to the beach. There’s the obvious reasons, the surf, sand and boardwalk, but a trip to the beach also means you’ll get to see the Sculptures by the Sea.
Located on Scheveningen Boulevard, with an enviable view of the beach, the bronze Sculptures were put in place by the nearby Beelden aan Zee Museum. Designed by American sculptor Tom Otterness, legends of the sea served as their inspiration.
You can’t miss them as you walk or bike along the boulevard. You’ll stop without hesitation to snap a picture. It’s next to impossible not to smile when you lay eyes on the Herring eater, the largest of the collection. The sculptures are on display out in the open, along the beach, not behind doors or gates, which means you can see them any time of day.
If you can drag yourself from the beach, the Beelden aan Zee Museum is a good place to take a break from the sand and sun. The museum is home to nearly 1,000 sculptures, most from the second half of the 20th century.
The Hague City Hall (Stadhuis) is a white building with a large glass atrium. Due to its white appearance, locals nicknamed it the Ice Palace. In comparison to the numerous historical buildings in The Hague, finished in the mid-90s, it’s a fairly new addition to the landscape. It was designed by American Richard Meier.
The large Atrium (4,500 square meters or more than 48,000 square feet) hosts events and exhibitions throughout the year. It’s also where you’ll find some basic services for local residents including municipal counters and public service desks. The Town Hall is also home to the public library and the municipal archives. All in all, approximately 8,000 people visit the Ice Palace every day.
It may sound funny, but Square 1813 (Plein 1813) is actually a circle or what some might call a roundabout. In the center is a large monument to independence – the largest 19th-century statue in the Netherlands. It was erected to commemorate the victory over Napoleon and the end of French occupation in The Netherlands, which took place, of course, in 1813.
The Hague Museum of Photography is part of the Gemeentemuseum Den Haag and since it is located right next door, a trip to both is especially easy for visitors.
Half a dozen exhibitions are organized every year at The Hague Museum of Photography, so what you’ll see depends on when you go. Exhibitions vary from well-known to unknown photographers and cover a wide range of time, categories and history.
The Hague Museum of Photography is located in what was originally an annex to the Gemeentemuseum. (The museum for contemporary art, GEM, is also located in the building.)
It’s all about cars at the Louwman Museum in The Hague. Made possible by two generations of the Louwman family, the collection of more than two hundred antique and classic vehicles has been called one of the finest collections in the world.
Covering the evolution of the automobile, car lovers and history buffs will both find something to love. From horse and wagon to luxury cars, the collection shows how cars have changed with time, including everything from antiques to hybrids to Formula 1 racing cars.
If you’re the star struck type,James Bond's Aston Martin from the film Goldfingerand Elvis Presley’s customized Cadillac Fleetwood will make your heart race.
Den Haag’s hypermodern science museum, one of the Dutch city’s top family-friendly attractions, succeeds at its mission of being both educational and fun. A very hands-on affair, Museon has plenty of buttons to press, smells to sniff, and movies to watch in the permanent exhibition, which deals with the development of life on Earth.