Everyone and their cousins have visited Amsterdam, so be the first to discover The Hague’s many superlative adventures.
Sure, you know all about Amsterdam, but what of The Hague, the unsung hero of the North Sea and one-time home of a thirsty genever-drinking Vincent van Gogh? The Netherlands’ third city is the only place in the world where you may visit the Girl With a Pearl Earring to decode her sly looks, tackle vertigo at the country’s tallest restaurant, or drop onion-coved “Dutch sushi” down your throat at Europe’s largest outdoor market.
The Hague is a city that goes by many names: Den Haag to the Dutch, La Haya in Spanish, or ‘s-Gravenhage if you adhere to its official name. Others know it as “the judicial capital of the world” due to the 150 international organizations, foreign embassies, and international courts that take residence there. There’s so much more to the city than law, order, and onion-rich seafood, however. Read on for 14 lekker (“delicious” in Dutch) experiences you can only bite into in The Hague.
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See an Original Letter From Oscar Wilde at the Oldest Book Museum in the World
Museum Meermanno (Huis van het Boek) is the ultimate book-lover attraction. Dating back to 1852, it’s the oldest book museum in the world set in a stunning 18th-century Herenhuis building. It belonged to the avid book collector, Baron Van Westreenen van Tiellandt. After his passing, the house became the property of the state and opened as a museum so The Hague and the world could indulge their bibliophilia.
Bookmark this museum to see Western book history from all periods, a massively impressive miniature book collection, as well as one of the first printed copies of Oscar Wilde’s final work, “The Ballad of Reading Gaol.” By pure coincidence, the museum discovered a signed letter written by Oscar Wilde himself inside the copy, a priceless piece of history.
Have a Genever Tasting Where Vincent Van Gogh Used to Imbibe at the Sole Surviving Liqueur Distillery in the City
Van Kleef, The Hague’s last standing distillery, is the stuff of legends. Rumor has it that the influential Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh regularly popped in for a tipple (or two) when he lived on the same street (Lange Beestenmarkt). A bonafide fact about Van Kleef is that it was once one of the most important businesses in the city.
Founded in 1842, it produced perfumes, medicines, and liqueurs including genever. In The Hague’s first phone book published in 1893, 300 local telephone numbers were available but only 126 were purchased due to the high cost. Van Kleef was allocated the number 1—before that of the king.
Genever began as a medicine for stomach pain; today a visit to this museum shop is a recipe for a dandy afternoon. Opt for nibbles and a genever tasting in the delightful garden where the menu is awash with zany new flavors alongside revived Dutch staples like Kruìde Baggâh (“shitty herbs” in Haagse Dutch) and “Tears of the Bride,” a 24-karat gold-infused liqueur representing the bittersweet freedom and farewells of matrimony for women.
Bungee Jump Over the North Sea
The Hague is the only big city with a beach directly on the North Sea coast. That seven-mile white sand beach is called Scheveningen, a marvelous mouthful. It has serene swimming spots and swathes of beach with little human presence but also a bustling boulevard and pier where bungee jumping is on the menu. Walk all the way to the end of the pier (De Pier) to find Bungy Jump Holland where you can let out a full-throated scream as you descend over the North Sea. Other whales of a time you can have in Scheveningen include breaking bread at the beachside restaurants, one-of-a-kind museums, an international fireworks festival, and the annual sub-zero new year’s dive.
Visit the Trippy M.C. Escher Optical Illusion Museum
Escher in the Palace is a bonkers museum you won’t easily forget. Many may not know the graphic artist Maurits Cornelis Escher by name, but the Dutchman’s mathematically-precise visual statements are in a category of their own, incomparable to any other artist from his era or now. Escher in the Palace is the only museum in the world dedicated to this master of illusion and his explorations of spaces and patterns. Visit this opulent palace-turned-museum in the center of the city which is a stone’s throw from the Royal Theater and the alfresco cafes of Plein.
Visit the Oldest Parliament Building in the World That’s Still in Use
Binnenhof is the seat of the Dutch parliament in the center of the city, flanked by the Hofvijver (Court Pond) and a picturesque leafy park where anyone would be fortunate to snag a seat on a sunny day. Binnenhof and its famous Hall of Knights (Ridderzaal) date back to the 13th century and it’s the oldest parliament building in the world that’s still in use. In fact, it is where The Hague derived its name. Back in 1242 when Count Floris V built a castle in the dunes as his own upscale hunting lodge, the surrounding area was called Die Haghe, which means “the enclosed hunting ground.” A village grew around the castle and that village is the city we know today.
Admire Vermeer’s "Girl With a Pearl Earring"
Scarlett Johansson may have played her in the 2003 Hollywood movie, but the real Girl With a Pearl Earring by Dutch Golden Age painter Johannes Vermeer has been getting rave reviews since the 17th century.
Like the Mona Lisa, this world-famous painting invites adoration and arguments due to her enigmatic gaze. Vermeer’s plays on light, his use of color and the fact that her earring might not be a pearl at all contribute to the fascination and discussion.
The painting was bought for less than $1 at a market and was only discovered to be an original Vermeer after cleaning. It’s been on display at the Mauritshuis for over a century, and the building itself is a museum masterpiece.
Drop Onion-Covered Raw Herring Into Your Mouth at the Largest Outdoor Market in Europe
You might need your passport to venture through the flavors of the world available at The Hague Market, Europe’s largest outdoor market. Sift through an encyclopedia of bric-à-brac, clothing, electronics, flowers, and of course, food. One homegrown favorite is raw herring.
Some call it “the Dutch sushi,” but there are no chopsticks here. Raw herring is an acquired taste that once acquired is gleefully consumed with a particular head-tilting ritual. Traditionally, one would first slather the whole fish in a healthy helping of chopped onions and then use the tail as a handle as you lower the entire haring into your mouth. You may also have yours with bread, cut into pieces or zonder uien (without onions). Most importantly, you’ll want to gobble it up quickly before the birds beat you to it.
Walk the Halls of the Only Palace in the World Dedicated to World Peace
The Hague’s reputation as “the judicial capital of the world” is largely due to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) and the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA), which are situated there. Both are within the Peace Palace, which is the only palace in the world dedicated to maintaining peace.
It was presented to the PCA by philanthropist Andrew Carnegie during World War One and it actually isn’t a palace at all. Decorations and building materials were requested from each member and today it’s an awe-inspiring collection of international artifacts and adornments–Salvadorian wood, Italian marble, refined silk and golden tapestries made by over 48,000 Japanese weavers, and a three-ton Faberge egg from Tsar Nicholas II in Russia that required a special train track to transport.
Spot the Site of the World’s First Telescope Demonstration
A little-known fact is that the first patent application for the humble telescope was by a Dutch eyeglass maker called Hans Lippershey back in 1608. The inspiration apparently came to him after seeing two children in his shop holding up two lenses that made objects appear closer in distance. Yet another The Hague exclusive, Lippershey first demonstrated his farseeing device at the top of the Mauritstower (Mauritstoren), which today forms part of the parliament building.
Stay at the Hotel Where Anna Pavlova, One of The World’s Most Famous Ballerinas, Took Her Last Breath
Jump into Audrey Hepburn’s bed at the Hotel Des Indes, the city’s grande dame. It’s a place of timeless sophistication and it’s littered with high society secrets. Emperors, sheiks, and notable names have given it their seal of approval over the years including the Roosevelts, the Dalai Lama, and the Dutch “spy” Mata Hari who is known for blowing her executioners a kiss before she was shot by firing squad for espionage.
Part of the hotel’s illustrious past is that it was where the legendary Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova died of pneumonia. This pioneering property was also the first Dutch hotel with bathrooms on each floor. With towering ceilings, an old-world feel, and its proximity to the sleek boutiques and cafes of Denneweg, it’s easy to see why people like it here.
See the Home of Dutch Painter Paulus Potter, a Pioneer in the Painting of Landscapes With Animals
Paulus Potter died of tuberculosis before he was 30 years old but was one of the pioneers of painting farm scenes and animals. His most celebrated painting is the life-sized Bull, which stands tall at the Mauritshuis museum.
The Dutch master from the Golden Age rented a house from fellow painter Jan van Goyen in The Hague on a quiet street called Dunne Bierkade, which you can visit to step into the mind of this precocious artist.
Work up a Sweat at a Trampoline Church
Once a place of worship, Planet Jump is The Hague’s first and only trampoline church. It’s mighty popular with children but big kids can enjoy the bouncy somersaults, too.
Planet Jump was started by Scheveningen resident Robbert Jol who was on the hunt for a destination to have a fun workout with his son. When the Roman Catholic Church, Martyrs of Gorkum closed as a house of God, Jol quite literally jumped at the opportunity to create an indoor trampoline park there. Leave any clothing with zips at home as well as your inhibitions because this is one spirited experience.
Wait for a Train at the Royal Waiting Room, the Same One Used by the Dutch Royal Family Today
Feel like royalty for a day with a visit to the Royal Waiting Rooms (Koninklijke Wachtkamer) at Holland Spoor station. Many visitors to The Hague are none the wiser that these rooms exist so you can earn bragging rights by being one of the lucky witnesses of their grandeur.
Once upon a time before the first Dutch railways opened, farmers feared that the speedy trains would affect the quality of their cow’s milk. Train travel eventually became a society staple (and did not affect the livestock) and waiting rooms were partitioned according to class. These rooms offer unique insight into the history of train travel and the royal family, which still uses them today.
INSIDER TIPAnother original experience, enjoy Haagse Hopjes where they were created. The coffee-drizzled hard candy was the result of a happy accident involving coffee, a fireplace, and a baron with a sweet tooth.
Dine at the Tallest Restaurant in the Netherlands
You’d be right to expect terrific views from the tallest restaurant in the Netherlands. The Penthouse is a distractingly good-looking restaurant on the 42nd floor of The Hague Tower. When the sun puts on its breathtaking show, you won’t want to be anywhere else but here. Enjoy the sparkling skyline over three, four, or five courses prepared with seasonal ingredients, and each course is paired with a delicious wine from around the world. If that isn’t lekker, what is?
INSIDER TIPGo for retail therapy at De Passage, which is The Netherlands’ oldest covered shopping center.