Let’s start by clearing out the confusion. Amsterdam is the official capital of the Netherlands, but The Hague (Den Haag or ‘s-Gravenage in Dutch) is the seat of the country’s government, located in a castle complex called the Binnenhof . It is one of the few countries where the capital and the government seat are not co-located. The Hague often hides in the shadow of its more cosmopolitan capital neighbor, Amsterdam, only 45 minutes away by frequent train service. However the city has many charms which can be easily explored on a day trip or overnight excursion. The Hague is often associated with its connection as home to several international courts; this along with a significant UN and EU presence give the city a professional, conservative atmosphere.
City Centre of The Hague
The compact city centre is defined by the tall, quirky skyscrapers jutting into the sky. Close to the downtown area are a number of attractions:
• Binnenhof — As mentioned, this is the seat of the Dutch government and has been since the 13th century. Unfortunately the debating rooms of the parliament can not be toured, but the medieval courtyard is free to explore and the Knight’s Hall – the original center of the castle complex – can be visited by guided tour.
• Mauritshuis — Here you will see some of the most famous pieces of art by the most famous Dutch painters, including Rembrandt and Vermeer. Translated as “Maurice’s House,” the building was constructed between 1636 and 1641 and is named after Prince John Maurice. Unfortunately the cupola that sat atop the building was destroyed by fire in 1704, but much of the damaged interiors were restored.
• Shopping — Many tourists say that The Hague has some of the best shopping in the Netherlands. Spuistraat is a pedestrianized street with a number of small shops. Venestraat and the Denneweg are also great for bric-a-brac and boutiques. One thing that should end up in your shopping basket is the love-them-or-hate-them “Haagsche Hopjes.” Translated as “the original Hague sweets”, these are one of the best Dutch liquorice. They can be purchased in a vintage-looking tin that makes for a good, easy to pack souvenir.
Further Afield from The Hague
There are two attractions outside the city centre that are simply must see:
This cute and kid-friendly exhibit explores the Netherlands in miniature – all the Dutch highlights you can find in a 1:25 scale. There’s even movement – planes taxi at Schiphol airport and ferris wheels rotate. The attraction is easy to reach with Tram 9 in the direction of Scheveningen – and it has its own stop, Madurodam.
So difficult to pronounce, the seaside town of Scheveningen was used as a codeword in WWII by the Dutch who knew foreigners couldn’t pronounce it properly. The beach has a long promenade full of cafes and restaurants and is a great place to unwind with a beer, fly a kite, or just wiggle your toes in the sand. A great restaurant if you’re in the mood for Peking is the Golden Duck; head here on Sunday afternoons for the special noodle soup only served once a week.
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Written by Andy Hayes for EuropeUpClose.com