The Hague: the beating heart of Holland
Brilliantly colored tulips, charming canals, wooden windmills and plenty of Gouda cheese are expected while traveling in Holland. What you might not expect is how much you’ll love The Hague. As the seat of government for the Netherlands and the official residence of King Willem-Alexander, The Hague is the beating heart of Holland. Home to the stately International Peace Palace along with 118 embassies, it is truly a city of diplomats and much more. Holland’s Royal City by the Sea exudes an aura of grandeur. Wide avenues, plentiful parks, palaces and squares combine with a lively culture of food and drink. The Hague boasts 988 acres of greenery making it one of Europe’s greenest cities. Explore history, have a brush with royalty, admire centuries of art or pedal a bike through the dunes at the beach; all of this is possible in this diverse captivating city. Here are a few reasons The Hague should be on the top of your destination list:
The Peace Palace
Constructed from 1907 to 1913, the Peace Palace is The Hague’s most photographed building. The impressive palace houses the International Court of Justice (the judicial arm of the United Nations), The Permanent Court of Arbitration, the Hague Academy of International Law, and an extensive Peace Palace Library. It is also the venue for special events of international significance. Built as a dream palace to complement the dream of world peace, the conception, construction and furnishing of the Peace Palace were truly an international collaboration. The idea for the palace started from a discussion in 1900 between Russian diplomat Friedrich Martens and US diplomat Andrew White. An open international competition was held to find a suitable design through which the Neo-Renaissance style submitted by French architect Louis M. Cordonnier was chosen. The palace is filled with gifts from nations who attended the Second Hague Conference as a sign of support. Gifts include doors from Belgium, marble from Italy, a fountain from Denmark, wall carpets from Japan, the clock for the clock tower from Switzerland, Persian rugs from Iran and wood from Indonesia and the United States. If you are interested in a tour be sure to check the website to schedule your visit as dates and times are limited.
Royalty in The Hague
When count William II settled in The Hague in 1248, the bond between the city and the royal family was born. Today, the city still has several working palaces including Noordeinde (the palace of King Willem Alexander) and Huis ten Bosch. After a tour of the palaces, linger a bit in the lush manicured Palace Gardens. Craving a brush with royalty? The official entrance is located in the gardens, and it is quite possible the king may arrive or depart while you linger.
The magnitude of the artwork throughout The Hague is mesmerizing. One of the most intriguing art centers is Mauritshuis located in a 17th-century classical townhouse in the city center on the banks of the Parliament Pond. This jewel box of a museum is home to a world famous collection of Dutch art including Johannes Vermeer’s Girl with the Pearl Earring. She is elegantly displayed alongside the works of Dutch masters Vermeer, Rembrandt, Frans Hals, Jan Steen and Flemish painters such as Rubens, Bruegel and Memling.
Gemeentemuseum Den Haag
Elsewhere in town, the works of Piet Mondriaan including his last unfinished work Victory Boogie- Woogie, are on display at Gemeentemuseum Den Haag. Designed by architect H.P. Berlage, Gemeentemuseum is a pinnacle of modern architecture. This museum features interesting exhibitions throughout the year focusing on visual arts, crafts and fashion, but is primarily known for the work of Mondriaan.
For a literal immersion in art, step into the Panorama Mesdag, the oldest 19th century panorama in the world in its original site, and a unique cultural heritage. It’s a 360-degree optical illusion of the old fishing village Scheveningen as it was in 1881. From an observation gallery in the center of the room the cylindrical perspective creates the illusion of standing on a high sand dune overlooking the sea, beaches and village. Sand and scattered beach items in the foreground hide the base of the painting and make the illusion more convincing. Each viewing is unique as the light filters in at various angles throughout the day. Panorama Mesdag was painted by Hendrik Willem Mesdag in 1880 with the assistance of his wife and many student painters. Vincent van Gogh once said “Mesdag Panorama is the most beautiful sensation of my life. It has just one tiny flaw and that is its flawlessness.”
Festivals in The Hague
From the end of April through June, The Hague is the place to be for festivals. The season kicks off the evening before King’s Day with the Life I Live Festival and includes the Liberation Festival, Flag Day, and the Netherlands Veterans’ Day. For classical music lovers, Festival Classique in June is an experience to cherish when the historical city center is filled with classical music. There are intimate concerts with top musicians along with up-and-coming talent in unique venues. The highlight of the festival is the floating open-air stage located behind the historical Binnenhof.
The Beach at Scheveningen
Before or after a day filled with art appreciation, brushes with royalty, classical music and tending to diplomatic relations, relax with a leisurely stroll on the beach at Scheveningen. The distance from the rich cultural city life to the beach is only ten minutes. The Hague’s seven and one-half mile stretch of beach alongside the North Sea offers a myriad of activities. Take a bike ride through the sand dunes, build sandcastles on the shoreline, or participate in a variety of beach sports from kite flying to surfing. The beach has a pier with two floors, a long beach promenade, and Madurodam, a miniature theme park. With a history dating back 200 years, the Steigenberger Kurhaus Hotel is the most famous building in Scheveningen. The grand hotel’s terrace overlooking the beach effortlessly combines sun, sand and sea, making it the perfect spot to indulge in a glass of wine or your favorite cocktail and toast a day well spent.