Though Amsterdam is widely known as the Dutch capital, the royal family and the government have been situated in The Hague since the 16th century. This seaside city boasts, therefore, a more regal atmosphere, with palaces and noble estates lining leafy boulevards.
For nearly 500 years, The Hague had been the administrative center and the royal capital of the Netherlands. That changed in 1806 when Louis Bonaparte – Napoleon’s brother and King of Holland – brought his court to Amsterdam. But he could never settle on the location for his capital city. Hence, the Dutch government didn’t have a permanent seat for a while. Eight years later, as the French had been expelled from the Benelux, the government returned to The Hague. However, the title of the capital remained with Amsterdam.
As the seat of the parliament and residence of the monarchs, The Hague looks more spacious and somewhat greener than other Dutch cities. Its historic core isn’t ringed by canals and walls. Instead, it incorporates large estates, parks, and boulevards around natural streams. Many of these buildings still serve their original function as homes for diplomats and wealthy Dutch families. There are some close-knitted streets in the city center dating back to the late Middle Ages. They weave past luxury shops, elegant boutiques, and a centuries-old arcade, before ending up at Binnenhof – the city’s origin.
Setting on the reflective Lake Hofvijver, Binnenhof is literally the heart of The Hague. This palatial complex was founded in the 13th century as the residence of the counts of Holland. But since 1584 it has become the seat of the Dutch government, with both houses have been located here. Thus, Binnenhof is counted among the world’s oldest parliamentary buildings that are still in use.
In terms of architecture, this Gothic castle features four wings with different styles. They are arranged around a vast courtyard that was once used for executions. A majestic brick structure with a heavy timber roof, named Ridderzaal or Hall of Knights, dominates the central area. It originates as a ballroom but is now mainly used for official royal receptions, and inter-parliamentary conferences. The hall also contains the throne where the King delivers the annual speech to open the parliament on Prinsjesdag.
2. Peace Palace
Admittedly, the first time I heard about the Peace Palace was in 2016 when the Philipines won a landmark ruling about the South China Sea. The name “The Hague” and images of this building flooded the Vietnamese media, and since then I had been eager to have a look at this temple of international law and justice.
A peaceful oasis admist a busy city.
Opened in the early 20th century, the palace itself resembles a classical Neo-Renaissance residence in Northern Europe, with a red-brick exterior, a black-tiled roof, turrets, and a spacious terrace. Two clock towers, one big and one small are prominently placed on either side of the building. They mark the palace’s most important spaces – the courtrooms.
A vast and leafy garden embraces the palace, shielding it from the bustling city life. The architect deliberately selected trees and shrubs with small leaves, so that as much light as possible can pour into this peaceful oasis. Today, the Peace Palace is home to three high-profile judicial institutions: the Permanent Court of Arbitration, the International Court of Justice, and The Hague Academy of International Law.
Apart from its amazing palaces and residences, The Hague is the only Dutch city with a beach directly on the North Sea. In fact, its northernmost district – Scheveningen – is the most popular beach resort in the Benelux region, welcoming about 10 million visitors a year. The area has an 11km-long sandy beach, a promenade, and a long pier completed with a bungee platform.
A grandios hotel, the Amrâth Kurhaus, dominates the skyline of Scheveningen beach. Dating back to 1885, it boasts itself as the country’s oldest bathhouse. And the historic ambiance is still notable across its majestic facade and lavishly decorated foyer.
Tips for visiting The Hague
- The Hague is easily accessible by trains from Rotterdam (20 minutes) and Amsterdam (50 minutes), making it an ideal day-trip destination.
- Though the royal residence, Paleis Noordeinde, isn’t visitable, it is just a short stroll from the Binnenhof. Visitors can admire the amazing architecture of this Renaissance palace.
- A few days a year, the imposing doors of the Peace Palace are opened to the public. It costs around €14.50 per person and should be booked ahead on their website. Security is high, thus a passport or an EU identity card must be shown on entry. Unfortunately, there is no guided tour on offer at this moment.
- To Scheveningen beach, take Tram 1, 9, or 11 from the city center (direction Scheveningen Noorderstrand or Harbour). After just 20 minutes, you can enjoy, the sun, the wind and the North Sea.