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The governmental heart of the Netherlands, the Binnenhof (or Inner Court) complex is in the very center of town yet tranquilly set apart, thanks to the charming Hofvijver (court lake). The setting creates a poetic contrast to the endlessly dull debates that go on within its walls—the basis of everyday Dutch politics. Pomp and decorum are in full fig every third Tuesday of September, when Queen Beatrix arrives at the 13th-century Ridderzaal, or Knights' Hall, in a golden coach to open the new session of Parliament.
For many centuries the Binnenhof was the court for the Counts of Holland; it is now a complex of buildings from several eras. As you enter, the twin-turreted former castle of the Earls of Holland dominates the scene. The castle was originally built by Count Floris V and became a meeting hall for the Knights of the Order of the Golden Fleece (one of the most regal societies of the Middle Ages). Their Great Hall simply drips with history: there are vast wooden beams,
flags of the Dutch provinces, and a massive rose window bearing coats of arms. In 1900 the hall was restored to its original 13th-century glory; it is still called Knights' Hall, and you can almost feel the feasts and revelries that took place there. The room still plays a key role in Dutch legislative life.
The Binnenhof also incorporates the halls used by the First and Second Chambers of Parliament (equivalent to the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives). You can wander freely around the open outer courtyard, but entrance to the Knights' Hall and other interior rooms is by guided tour only. The vaulted reception area below the Knights' Hall contains a free exhibition detailing the political history of the Low Countries.
Buy tickets for guided visits at the Pro Demos visitor center at Hofweg 1, across the road from the west entrance to the Binnenhof.