The Hague

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  • 1. Binnenhof and the Ridderzaal

    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 here. 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 ProDemos visitor center at Hofweg 1, across the road from the west entrance to the Binnenhof.

    Binnenhof 8a, The Hague, South Holland, 2513 AA, Netherlands
    070-757–0200

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: €9.50 Ridderzaal plus Dutch House of Representatives, Closed Sun. Some areas may be closed when government meetings are taking place., Mon.–Sat. 10–4; some areas may be closed when government meetings are taking place
  • 2. Escher in Het Paleis Museum

    First known as the Lange Voorhout Palace, this lovely building was originally the residence of Caroline of Nassau, daughter of Prince Willem IV; in 1765 Mozart performed for her here. In 2001 the palace was transformed into a museum devoted to Dutch graphic artist M. C. Escher (1892–1972), whose prints and engravings of unforgettable imagery—roofs becoming floors, water flowing upward, fish transforming into birds—became world famous in the 1960s and '70s. Replete with ever-repeating Baroque pillars, Palladian portals, and parallel horizons, Maurits Cornelis Escher's visual trickery presages the "virtual reality" worlds of today. Fittingly, the museum features an Escher Experience where you don a helmet and take a 360-degree digital trip through his unique world. Concave and convex, radical metamorphoses, and dazzling optical illusions are on view in the impressive selection of his prints (including the famed Day and Night and Ascending and Descending); distorted rooms and video cameras make children big and adults small; and there are rooms that are Escher prints blown up to the nth degree. Don't forget to look up as you walk around—dangling glitteringly from the ceiling is a series of custom-designed chandeliers by Dutch sculptor Hans van Bentem that are inspired by Escher's work. These delightfully playful creations include umbrellas, sea horses, birds, and even a giant skull and crossbones. The €26.50 family ticket makes a visit with the kids even more attractive.

    Lange Voorhout 74, The Hague, South Holland, 2514 EH, Netherlands
    070-427–7730

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: €10, Closed Mon., Tues.–Sun. 11–5
  • 3. Gemeentemuseum Den Haag

    One of the finest examples of 20th-century museum architecture was designed by H. P. Berlage (the grand Old Master of modern Dutch architecture) and completed in 1935. Although the collection ranges from A to Z—Golden Age silver, Greek and Chinese pottery, historic musical instruments, and paintings by Claude Monet and Vincent van Gogh—the museum is best known for the world's largest collection of works by Piet Mondrian (1872–1944), the greatest exponent of Dutch artistic movement De Stijl. The crowning masterpiece, and widely considered one of the landmarks of modern art, is Mondrian's Victory Boogie Woogie, an iconic work begun in 1942 but left unfinished at the artist's death. The painting's signature black-and-white grid interspersed with blocks of primary color arrived only in 1998, when the Netherlands Institute for Cultural Heritage controversially paid 80 million guilders for the (then American-owned) work. Also be sure to see the dollhouse with real doll-size Delft Blue chinaware. Elsewhere, the museum's Costume Gallery contains no fewer than 55,000 items (not all are on display at one time), providing endless inspiration for dedicated students of fashion.

    Stadhouderslaan 41, The Hague, South Holland, 2517 HV, Netherlands
    070-338–1111

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: €16, Closed Mon., Tues.–Sun. 11–5
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  • 4. Madurodam

    Statistically, the Dutch are the tallest people in Europe, and never must they be more aware of their size than when they visit this miniature version of their own land. Set in a sprawling "village" with pathways, tram tracks, and a railway station, every important building of the Netherlands is reproduced here on a scale of 1:25. Many aspects of Dutch life, ancient and modern, are also on view: medieval knights joust in the courtyard of Gouda's magnificent Town Hall; windmills turn; the famous cheese-weighing ritual is carried out in Alkmaar; and a harbor fire is extinguished. Thirty interactive points enable visitors to operate the awe-inspiring Delta Works storm surge barrier (constructed after the disastrous flooding of 1953), closing it to hold the ocean at bay and save villages from drowning. Or you can make a plane take off at Schiphol Airport, or load and unload container ships in the Port of Rotterdam. Madurodam has two restaurants, a picnic area, and a playground, and the entire exhibit is surrounded by gardens. It is located in the woods that separate The Hague from the port of Scheveningen to the north. To get here, take Tram No. 9 from either railway station in the city center.

    George Maduroplein, The Hague, South Holland, 12584 RZ, Netherlands

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: €17.50, Mid--end-Dec., daily 10–7; Nov.–mid-Dec. and Jan.–mid-Mar., daily 9–5; mid-Mar.–Aug., daily 9–8; Sept. and Oct., daily 9–7
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  • 5. Mauritshuis

    One of Europe's greatest museums, the Mauritshuis offers an incomparable feast of art, including no fewer than 14 Rembrandts, 10 Jan Steens, and 3 Vermeers. The latter's remarkable View of Delft takes pride of place; its rediscovery in the late 19th century assured the artist's eternal fame. In the same room is Vermeer's (1632--75) most haunting work, Girl with a Pearl Earring, which inspired Tracy Chevalier's 1999 best-selling novel as well as its 2003 film adaptation. For something completely different, look to Jan Steen (1626--79), who portrayed the daily life of ordinary people in 17th-century Netherlands. His painting The Way You Hear It Is the Way You Sing It is particularly telling. Don't miss local boy Paulus Potter's vast canvas The Bull, complete with steaming cow dung; the 7-foot-by-11-foot painting leaves nothing to be said on the subject of beef on the hoof. As an added treat, the original building itself is worthy of a 17th-century master's brush: a cream-color mansion tucked into a corner behind the Parliament complex and overlooking the Hofvijver River. It was built around 1640 for one Johan Maurits, Count of Nassau-Siegen and governor-general of Dutch Brazil. The pair behind its creation, Jacob van Campen and Pieter Post, were the two most important Dutch architects of their era. This truly is one of the finest museums in Europe.

    Korte Vijverberg 8, The Hague, South Holland, 2513 AB, Netherlands
    070-302–3456

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: €15.50 (includes entry to Galerie Prins Willem V), Mon. 1–6, Tues., Wed., and Fri.–Sun. 10-6, Thurs. 10–8
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  • 6. De Mesdag Collectie

    Literally wallpapered with grand paintings and exquisite fabrics and tapestries, this oft-overlooked treasure trove is the former residence of noted 19th-century Dutch painter H. W. Mesdag. Famed for his vast Panorama Mesdag, he left this house as a repository for his collection of works from The Hague School, which often featured seascapes and the life of fisherfolk in nearby Scheveningen.

    Laan van Meerdervoort 7f, The Hague, South Holland, 2517 AB, Netherlands
    070-362–1434

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: €9; €17.50 combined ticket, includes Panorama Mesdag, Closed Mon. and Tues., Wed.–Sun. noon–5
  • 7. Galerij Prins Willem V

    One of the last remaining Dutch art kabinets, this princely gallery is packed with Old Masters hung in 18th-century touche-touche fashion (with barely an inch between paintings). Opened in 1773, the gallery became the Netherlands' first public museum (until then most collections were seen only by special appointment). The cream of the collection was later moved to the Mauritshuis, but many fine works remain. The long narrow room has grand Louis XVI stucco ceilings, but nevertheless exudes an intimate, homey atmosphere, as if a friend who just happened to own a collection that included works by Jan Steen and Rembrandt had asked you over to see them.

    Buitenhof 33, The Hague, South Holland, 2513 AH, Netherlands
    070-302–3456

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: €5; free entry with a ticket for the Mauritshuis, Closed Mon., Tues.–Sun. noon–5
  • 8. Gevangenpoort Museum

    Originally a gatehouse to the local duke's castle, Gevangenpoort was converted to a prison around 1420. In 1882, it opened in its current incarnation as both a monument to its own past and a museum to apparatuses of punishment. After a slide presentation, the guided tour will take you through the torture chamber, the women's section, and the area where the rich were once imprisoned. If you're drawn to the macabre, the Gevangenpoort Museum offers a fascinating, if chilling, experience, showcasing enough instruments of inhumanity to satisfy any criminologist (not recommended for smaller children). The museum shares an entrance wth the adjacent Galerie Prins Willem V, making it easy to combine a visit to both.

    Buitenhof 33, The Hague, South Holland, 2513 AB, Netherlands
    070-346–0861

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: €15; combi with Galerie Prins Willem V €17.50, Closed Mon., Tues.–Fri. 10–5, weekends noon–5. Guided tours only, every hr at 15 mins to the hr (1st tour at 10:45; last at 3:45)
  • 9. Grote Kerk

    The main traditional street market (an organic farmers' market at that) in The Hague is generally held outside the Grote Kerk on Wednesday 11–6.

    The Hague, South Holland, Netherlands
  • 10. Haags Historisch Museum

    One of the series of museums that encircle the Hofvijver lake, the Historical Museum is in the Sebastiaansdoelen, a magnificent Classical-Baroque mansion dating to 1636. Worthy of a visit in itself, the mansion houses collections that offer an in-depth look at The Hague's past. Treasures include Jan van Goyen's enormous 17th-century panoramic painting of the city, a collection of medieval church silver, and a dollhouse from 1910. The idyllic views out the windows over the Hofvijver lake and the greensward of the Lange Voorhout are good for the soul.

    Korte Vijverberg 7, The Hague, South Holland, 2513 AB, Netherlands
    070-364–6940

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: €12, Closed Mon., Tues.–Fri. 10–5, weekends noon–5
  • 11. Hofvijver

    Beside the Binnenhof, this long, rectangular reflecting pool—the venerable remains of a medieval moat—comes complete with tall fountains and a row of pink-blossomed horse-chestnut trees. Today, the lake is spectacularly surrounded by some of The Hague's most elegant historic buildings and museums.

    The Hague, South Holland, Netherlands
  • 12. Lange Voorhout

    From the beginning of May until the end of October on Thursday and Sunday, an antiques market takes over Lange Voorhout. Wandering through the stalls on a fine day, perhaps to the accompaniment of a street musician, makes for a lovely experience. An alfresco café supplies that all-important coffee and apple cake.

    The Hague, South Holland, Netherlands
  • 13. Museon

    Museon claims to be "the most fun-packed popular science museum in the Netherlands," and perhaps they're right. Permanent exhibitions center on the origin of the universe and evolution, with hands-on, interactive displays, frequent special exhibitions, and children's workshops on Wednesday and Sunday afternoons (book in advance). The Museon is right next door to the Gemeentemuseum, so you can easily combine a visit to both.

    Stadhouderslaan 37, The Hague, South Holland, 2517 HV, Netherlands
    070-338–1338

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: €13.50; combi ticket with Omniversum €23, Closed Mon., Tues.–Sun. 11–5
  • 14. Museum Bredius

    Housed in an 18th-century patrician mansion, the collection of traveler and art connoisseur Abraham Bredius (1855–1946) supports the argument that private collections are often the best. It includes works by Jan Steen, as well as nearly 200 paintings by Dutch "little masters"—whose art Bredius trumpeted. Once curator of the Mauritshuis, Bredius was the first art historian to question the authenticity of Rembrandt canvases (there were zillions of them in the 19th century), rocking the art world with a seismic eruption that reduced the master's oeuvre to fewer than 1,000 works. The house, overlooking the Hofvijver, makes a fittingly elegant setting for the art.

    Lange Vijverberg 14, The Hague, South Holland, 2513 AC, Netherlands
    070-362–0729

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: €7, Closed Mon., Tues.–Sun. 11–5
  • 15. Omniversum

    The IMAX theater shows a rotating program of film spectaculars, including several with nature-based and futuristic themes, on a screen six stories high. It's one of the few Hague sights open in the evenings.

    Pres. Kennedylaan 5, The Hague, South Holland, 2517 JK, Netherlands
    070-354–5454

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: €12.50
  • 16. Panorama Mesdag

    Long before TV was capable of reproducing reality, painted panoramas gave viewers the chance to immerse themselves in another world. The Panorama Mesdag, painted in 1880 by the renowned marine artist Hendrik Willem Mesdag and a team including his wife, Sientje Mesdag-van Houtenback, is one of the largest and finest surviving examples of the genre. The cinematic vision is a sweeping view of the sea, the dunes, and the picturesque fishing village of Scheveningen. To enhance the effect of the painting, you are first led through a narrow, dark passage, then up a spiral staircase, and out onto a "sand dune" viewing platform. To the southeast is The Hague, detailed so perfectly that old-time residents can identify particular houses. So lifelike is the 45-foot-high panorama with a 400-foot circumference that it's hard to resist the temptation to step across the guardrail onto the dune and stride down to the water's edge.

    Zeestraat 65, The Hague, South Holland, 2518 AA, Netherlands

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: €12.50, Mon.–Sat. 10–5, Sun. 11–5
  • 17. Vredespaleis

    Facing the world across a broad lawn, this building houses the International Court of Justice plus a 500,000-volume law library. The court was initiated in 1899 by Czar Nicolas II of Russia, who invited 26 nations to meet in The Hague to set up a permanent world court of arbitration. The current building was constructed in 1903 with a $1.5 million gift from Scottish-American industrialist Andrew Carnegie. Built in Flemish style, its red-and-gray granite-and-brick pile has become a local landmark. Gifts from the participating nations embellish the interior and include statuary, stained-glass windows, doors, and clocks. Comparatively few litigations are heard here these days, although some still make headlines, such as the famous trial of Slobodan Milošević. A visitor center at the entrance gate provides a brief introduction to the workings of the palace and its exhibits. Free audio guides in English are provided.

    Carnegieplein 2, The Hague, South Holland, 2517 KJ, Netherlands
    070-302–4242

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: Visitor center free, tours €11, Visitor center: mid-Mar.–Oct., daily 10–5; Nov.–mid-Mar., daily 10–4. Hrs for guided tours vary, Closed Mon.

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