The Hague city guide

Nothing signifies the importance of a city more than a “the” in front of its name. Hague is not just “a” Hague. It’s The Hague or Den Haag in Dutch. And it’s home to the Netherlands' main pubic institutions. Amsterdam is de facto the capital, but the central administration and ministries are located in The Hague. The city is also home to many international institutions. The Hague Tribunal is one of the most important courts in the world. That’s where you take your case if you feel mistreated by your national judicial system. The Peace Palace is the United Nations’ beacon of influence in Europe. It is home to the International Court of Justice, one of the UN’s most important institutions. Calling this place “a church of law and order” wouldn’t be an exaggeration. It resembles one even architecturally. All the marble and stained glass leave a lasting impression. Most of the decorations came from all around the world. That further accents the universal values represented by the Palace. Embassies of various countries are spread around the neighbourhood. Downtown The Hague is actually textbook Netherlands with its renaissance buildings and signature canals.

Peace Palace on sunny lawn in The Hague

By one of the ironies of history, the construction of the Peace Palace in The Hage (International Court of Justice, the Permanent Court of Arbitration) was completed not long before the First World War started, in 1913; the idea of creating the palace was born at the First Peace Conference on Disarmament, in 1898

In the heart of Den Haag is the Binnenhof (Inner Court), a parliament square unlike any other. It’s a sort of a courtyard, open to the public at all times. This is also where the prime minister holds office in a building called het Torentje (the Little Tower). It’s overlooking the Hofvijver (Court Pond), the picturesque artificial lake next to the Binnenhof. The eye-catching medieval building in the middle of the Binnenhof is de Ridderzaal (Hall of Knights). It’s the cradle of Dutch politics. This is the place where in 1581 the States General declared independence from the Spanish rulers by stating they would no longer acknowledge King Philip of Spain as the sovereign lord of the Netherlands. It’s also where the Dutch king delivers his speech from the Throne at the occasion of the State Opening of Parliament, a joint session of the Senate and the House of Representatives that always takes place on the third Tuesday of September and is also called Prinsjesdag (Prince's Day). One of the royal residences; Noordeinde Palace (Paleis Noordeinde) is very nearby and also an important landmark. It’s the official working place of the King. Yes, in case you might wonder: the Dutch King really works.

Enjoy all the goodies of The Hague while you’re here. Grab a tasty herring at one of the food stalls, or head towards the Van Kleef Museum. They say it’s where Van Gogh used to chill when he lived in The Hague. It used to be a watering hole of sorts and it was common to serve jenever here. It’s like gin, but more vodka-ish as they distil it from grains and add juniper berries. They made it from the canal water back in the day, so it needed a ton of herbs to kill the taste. They host tastings of this “medicinal liquor” and you can take a tour of the old distillery. The Mauritshuis (Maurits House) should be your next stop on the museum trail. Even the uninitiated will appreciate the works of the great Dutch painters. The Girl with the Pearl Earring is probably the most recognizable piece in here. Vermeer, Rembrandt, and Rubens are names that should also ring a bell. The Passage is an option if you’re into a different kind of galleries. It’s a national monument/premium shopping mall built in 1885 in the image of Parisian arcades. A part of it got renovated and, in my opinion, feels a bit too modern for a place like that. Apart from that, it’s a cool place for a date, or an afternoon with the family.

Observation wheel and Pier at boulevard of Scheveningen in The Hague

The famous symbol of Scheveningen resort in The Hague is the pier, stretching 300 meters into the sea and ending as a sixty meter observation tower with bungee jumping at the top for the real dare-devils; on the sea boulevard there are numerous restaurants and cafes with open terraces and playgrounds

Scheveningen is even a better spot for those two things. It used to be a small fishing village, but it eventually became a district of The Hague. It is the country’s most popular beach resort, well maybe together with Zandvoort near Amsterdam. You could say it’s partially responsible for Hague’s iconic stork. You see it everywhere from the coat of arms to various statues and sewer hatches. Rumour has it that in the past storks stealing food from the fish market were seen as a sign of good luck. Modern Scheveningen is a beautiful seaside resort with a stunning beach. There’s the legendary Scheveningen Pier with restaurants, a Ferris wheel, and a bungee jumping platform. You can’t miss out on the Kurhaus, a massive hotel that stands in the middle of it all. Explore further past the dunes and you’ll come across old fortifications built by the Nazis. It's more of an underground village built to house over 3000 soldiers. I think it’s awe-inspiring, how quickly they managed to all this up. There are dormitories, kitchens, and even saunas, all below ground level. Some of those tunnels were discovered during the renovations of Hague’s subway system. The administration decided they might as well make use of them. These tunnels became a tourist attraction, but also a reminder of that dark past. And it was as dark as it gets. The Nazis established a prison here nicknamed the Orange Hotel. People held there were often tortured or just murdered at a nearby shooting range. You can take a guided tour, or walk around on your own. It’s sort of an interactive exhibition with different media telling a horrifying story. Make sure you visit the Cell 601; it’s where they kept death row prisoners. There are original writings carved into the walls by the inmates. Chilling stuff.

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