A cyclist enjoys the view of Den Haag's well-loved skyline (Shutterstock)
List Words : Elizabeth Atkin | 04 May 2019

10 of the best things to do in The Hague, Netherlands

Well-connected to Amsterdam and a hop, skip and a jump away from Delft, the city of Den Haag is in an ideal location for a Dutch day trip. But what can you do during your visit?

A 40-minute train ride from both Amsterdam and Utrecht, and a stone’s throw away from picturesque Delft, The Hague (Den Haag) is well-placed for a day trip or an overnight stay on a jaunt around the Netherlands.

But it’s more than a South Holland stop-off on your way to more famous destinations, thanks to it’s modern vibe, an abundance of cosy eateries, brilliant book shops and a surprising abundance of outdoor spaces for nature lovers. No, it’s not all parliament and office buildings.

Here are the best things to do while you’re in The Hague… 

1. Walk the pier at Scheveningen Beach

The ferris wheel and rainbow-coloured pier at Scheveningen Beach, Den Haag (Shutterstock)

The ferris wheel and rainbow-coloured pier at Scheveningen Beach, Den Haag (Shutterstock)

Scheveningen (very roughly pronounced skay-ven-ing-en) is famous for its difficult-to-spell, difficult-to-pronounce name. In fact, it's well known that the word was used as an identifying codeword during WWII, because only a fellow Dutch person could possibly pronounce it correctly.

This near-endless stretch of sandy beach should be just as famous for its golden dunes, the long, arcade-packed pier, the pleasant promenade walk, and the well-priced ferris wheel with excellent views over the city.

Easily accessible from the city centre by tram, you can visit anytime. Go during the winter months for an extremely brisk walk along an almost empty beach, or enjoy a spot of sunbathing with the locals during summer. 

2. Explore the coastal nature trail at Meijendel

The dunes and nature trails of Meijendel National Park are close to The Hague's modern city centre (Shutterstock)

The dunes and nature trails of Meijendel National Park are close to The Hague's modern city centre (Shutterstock)

Approximately 20 minutes from The Hague’s centre, and closer still to Scheveningen, is Meijendel: a gloriously grassy, hilly nature reserve that extends to the town of Wassenaar. Expect beaches, lakes, open sand dunes, walking trails and pretty sunsets in the evening.

You can do more than just walk and explore here. There are horse-riding trails for keen equestrians, and true to the Netherlands' bike-friendly philosophy, the reserve is well-equipped for cyclists.

Birdwatchers will be pleased to know there are over 250 species here, making Meijendel one of the most populated sites in the whole of the country. Wildlife lovers can appreciate the deer, fox and weasel populations, as well as the many flora and fauna blooming year-round.

3. See Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring

The outside entrance of the Mauritshuis, home of many Vermeer paintings (Shutterstock)

The outside entrance of the Mauritshuis, home of many Vermeer paintings (Shutterstock)

Possibly the world’s best-known over-the-shoulder pose, and the painting behind the film starring Scarlett Johansson, the original Girl with a Pearl Earring can be seen in real life at Mauritshuis art gallery in the centre of The Hague.

Painted by Dutch artist Johannes Vermeer in 1665, the original oil painting is surprisingly not covered in bulletproof cases and is smaller than you’d expect. But for any art lover, or anyone in The Hague, it is a must-see. Photos are allowed, and the Mauritshuis has plenty more historic works to explore once you've put your camera away.

Don't forget to stop at the cracking Pearl-themed gift shop on your way out, too.

4. Shrink down to Madurodam’s size

Madurodam is full of miniature replicas of famous buildings, towns and cities in the Netherlands (Dreamstime)

Madurodam is full of miniature replicas of famous buildings, towns and cities in the Netherlands (Dreamstime)

Also by Scheveningen is Madurodam, a miniature version of the Netherlands packed into one park. The models include towns and historic buildings, such as Alkmaar's famous cheese market, built on a 1:25 scale.

Madurodam's certainly a unique experience, a see-it-once-and-you've-seen it attraction, but has a price tag to match. It's €19.50 to buy your ticket on the day, but buy your tickets online in advance and save yourself €2 a pop. Parking is pricey, too, so keep that in mind if you're not travelling by public transport.

5. Enjoy the Hofvijver lake by Binnenhof

A lake by the parliament building, Het Binnenhof - a touch of nature in the middle of the city (Shutterstock)

A lake by the parliament building, Het Binnenhof - a touch of nature in the middle of the city (Shutterstock)

Get your glimpse of The Hague's iconic skyscrapers alongside the calming view of Hofvijver lake – a touch of nature in the middle of the city. With plenty of benches dotted around, it's the perfect place to take a breather and rest your legs, before hopping on to your next activity.

Of course, if you're interested in stately buildings and politics, you can also explore the grounds of Binnenhof, the Netherlands' parliament buildings. Officially the Dutch political centre since 1584, these buildings are actually some of the oldest of their kind still in use today. They're also classed as a rijksmonument, a national heritage site.

6. Go book shopping

A cosy bookshop - one of many in The Hague, Netherlands (Shutterstock)

A cosy bookshop - one of many in The Hague, Netherlands (Shutterstock)

You can buy books all over the globe, but there's something about the vibe of the independent and not-so-independent bookshops of Den Haag.

De Vries Van Stockum in the shopping district (on street Spui 40) is a key highlight, with a delicious sit-in coffee shop in store and a range of modern and older texts in Dutch, English and a variety of other languages.

The American Book Centre contains secondhand books for thriftier shoppers, and stylish Stanza rents bikes as well as the latest international fiction and non-fiction.

7. Shop at De Haagse Markt

De Haagse Markt is the oldest outdoor market in Europe, so well worth a stop if you like to see where the locals shop. Open from 9am on Thursdays, get there early for your pick of exotic produce as well as everything from fresh fruit and veg, to clothing and electronics.

One thing that's not so old-fashioned? The selection of street food, which will delight even the trendiest foodie. There's a bit of a mix to choose from, some healthy, some more of a treat. Expect a fair few fried goodies.

8. Clingendael Estate

The Japanese garden at the stately Clingendael Estate, near The Hague (Shutterstock)

The Japanese garden at the stately Clingendael Estate, near The Hague (Shutterstock)

Located between The Hague and the town of Wassenaar, you'll be hard pressed to find a prettier country home and park than the Clingendael Estate during your time in the Netherlands.

Walks around the Old Dutch park and Japanese gardens are pleasant in most weather conditions, and you can admire the house's impressive structure and architecture all year round.

As you can see from the picture above, the Japanese gardens are especially attractive during the autumn months, with yellows, oranges and deep reds abloom, reflecting a rainbow of colours in the water. 

9. Get (temporarily) locked up in the Prison Museum

The Gevangenpoort, the former medieval prison gate, in the centre of The Hague, Netherlands (Shutterstock)

The Gevangenpoort, the former medieval prison gate, in the centre of The Hague, Netherlands (Shutterstock)

Don't worry, we're kidding. Of course. You won't actually get locked inside. Not even temporarily. But it is worth a visit, if you're interested in seeing the largest collection of torture and punishment instruments in the country.

The Prison Museum exists inside The Hague's eerie medieval prison gate, Gevangenpoort. The prison was home to countless murderers and criminals awaiting sentencing for just over 400 years, from 1420 until 1828. Since 1882, the gate has been a museum – and as of 2010, is connected via a special staircase to the Prince William V art gallery. 

10. Eat fries – Dutch style

Loaded fries at Bik Frietwerk, a new take on the mayo-and-ketchup-loaded friet cones sold all over the Netherlands (Instagram/Bik Frietwerk)

Loaded fries at Bik Frietwerk, a new take on the mayo-and-ketchup-loaded friet cones sold all over the Netherlands (Instagram/Bik Frietwerk)

Bik Frietwerk gets a good rep for upping the ante on the Netherlands' famous mayo-covered cones of fries. Forget the cone, expect a tray of chips loaded with all kinds of decadent toppings, from condiments to spring onions, meat, currywurst ... the list goes on.

(Of course, there are shops selling cones for just a few euros all over the Netherlands, if you'd rather not splash out.)

New restaurants like Barn47 and Instock keep popping up and making Den Haag's foodie scene even cooler. You'll never find yourself stuck for a snack or a slap-up meal, and you'll soon find that Asian cuisine is particularly well-represented in The Hague, especially Indonesian and Chinese food. When you're on the go, Full Moon Express comes highly recommended. 

More Netherlands days out:

A short break in the capital, Amsterdam

The town that straddles Belgium and the Netherlands

5 reasons you must visit Rotterdam

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