The Hague: the International City Reviewed

In my twenty cumulative months spent in the Netherlands, I’ve lived in several Dutch cities and, while I’ve loved each one in its own right, The Hague has quickly become my favourite – to the frank puzzlement of some. It’s not as big or as hip as Amsterdam; it doesn’t offer the shopping haven that Rotterdam does; and it isn’t small enough or photogenic enough to be considered particularly quaint. As a result, it seems The Hague simply lies below the radar of many, meriting little thought beyond those for wacky Oh Oh Cherso participants, and attracting people mainly for the parliament and the beach. And, quite frankly, I think that’s a darn shame. So, without further ado, I bring you my top three reasons to jump on the Haagse bandwagon.

A square in Den Haag.
A square in Den Haag.

The city life is bumpin’

Alright, so maybe The Hague isn’t known for any nationally attended dance parties or wild festivals (to the best of my knowledge), but you’re unlikely to find yourself twiddling your thumbs at home on a Friday night, or a Tuesday morning for that matter … Unless you are in that way inclined, of course.

For a night out on the town, Plein is my undisputed favourite. It’s got a distinctly ‘chill’ vibe, with a slew of different bars and clubs sitting one on top of the other, a fairly varied and good-natured crowd, and a huge communal terrace. The borrel starts after work and, at the end of the week, carries on all night. Then, when the DJ has finally played that Cotton Eye Joe remix, Casanova and – yes – Mariah Carey’s ‘All I Want For Christmas’, and when the lights shine cruelly down on your dance moves, you can always haul yourself off to the classiest of all night clubs, Het Feest van Sinterklaas …

(Word to the wise: don’t.)

The dulcet tones of every single night out I’ve ever had in the Netherlands:

If you have more refined musical tastes, Café Luden hosts live music events weekly and offers a decidedly ‘gezellige’ atmosphere. (What’s an article on a Dutch topic without the word gezellig?)

But Plein isn’t only lovely at night. Every Thursday this winter you’ll find a sizeable second-hand book and antique market set up in the square, with a decent collection of English goodies to choose from if you’re up for a bit of digging. For the true book lover, the Meermanno Museum houses an impressive collection of old manuscripts, medieval and incunabula, as well as a variety of temporary exhibitions all relating to the written word.

For the politically inclined and Dutch-speaking among us, the Tweede Kamer is often open to the public, and if that fails there is in all likelihood, at any given moment, a protest of some sort happening within a few minutes of your current whereabouts.

And of course, The Hague is home to several often overlooked museums and galleries, perfect on a chilly/rainy/windy-as-all-hell/ice-pelting-your-face-raw sort of day. Right across from the parliament, the intimate Prince Willem V Gallery is currently featuring a different Caravaggio every month; the Escher museum is the perfect place to lose your mind for an afternoon without stepping foot into a coffee house; and walking into the giant Panorama Mesdag could elicit an ‘ooohhh’ from the most discerning of tourists.


It’s a foodie heaven

Whether you’re interested in going out to eat or in preparing your own food, there’s a good chance you’ll find what you’re looking for in The Hague. Is the meat substitute selection at your local AH, so thoughtfully sandwiched between shelves of Euroshopper bacon and gehakt, inspiring you no longer? Apparently there’s a Vegetarian Butcher for that. Looking for kimchi or a whole deep-frozen sea urchin or even an avocado in a city-wide shortage (true story by the way)? Look no further than China Town. Not only does it comprise more than one lonely ‘toko’ selling, rather inexplicably, Russian dolls … It actually spans several streets and has its own entrance arch. On top of the excellent variety of international grocery stores and other specialty food establishments, which are sure to meet all (or at least most) of your dietary needs and gastronomical desires, the city also has a mouth-watering variety of restaurants, many conveniently located in a very dense radius so that you could theoretically have yourself a food crawl bonanza.

Or is that just me?

the hague, plein, food
Phenomenal truffled risotto at Miller’s on Plein.


Nature beckons you

As a Canadian, a big challenge for me in adapting to life in the Netherlands has been the relatively sparse natural areas present in most of the big cities – particularly as my Facebook feed slowly but surely becomes saturated with pictures of glorious Ontario fall foliage. Fortunately, The Hague offers a number of lovely spots where I can disappear to when I need a break from the sound of busses, trams and bicycles in various states of decomposition.

Scheveningen beach, although admittedly packed in the summertime, is beautiful for a walk anytime of year. Once you’ve soaked up the view and the salty sea air, it’s customary to play a few rounds of air hockey at the arcade in the Palace Promenade, and then to relive those magnificent five days of sunshine we had this year with a few drinks right on the beach. Choose your venue wisely and you may even catch a steel drum performance!

Should you fancy a hike in the great outdoors, the Haagse Bos is conveniently located a mere hop and a skip away from central station. The woods are surprisingly expansive and, even though the paths are, as is typical of Dutch ‘hiking’ trails, neatly delineated and pristinely maintained, the area is gorgeous and offers a welcome refuge from the bustle of the city.

Finally, tucked away right in the city centre, the Paleis Tuin is ideally situated for a quick dose of greenery without a major time commitment. Bring along a date or a sandwich, grab a seat under a tree, and watch the ducks and swans race each other for the breadcrumbs someone will inevitably be throwing into the pond. In spite of the fact that doing this is expressly forbidden.

the hague, beach, scheveningen
Scheveningen beach on a blustery autumn day.

So there you have it – my highly scientific, not at all subjective list of reasons to love The Hague. I’d love to know: did your favourite thing about the city make the cut? Do you totally disagree and think The Hague ought to be called The Pits? What is your favourite Dutch city?


  1. I’m a expat in the Hague for a while now, and I’ve developed a strange love-hate relationship to it (as evidenced in my Dreview texts) – but in time I’ve grown fond of its strange sense of tranquility. I now have the added bonus of living next to Clingendael forest and man, thats a treat if you wanna run, walk, relax write *insert zen activity*.

    Great text, sorta made me wanna wander around “my town” a bit more : )

    • Thanks for the comment Matt! I’m ashamed to say that I actually had to look up Clingendael forest on Google Maps, but now it’s officially on my places to go in the city.
      I’ve also had my fair share of ‘hate’ moments here … Particularly in that windy tunnel of death you have to walk through to get to Centraal Station from Spui.

      • I used to go to school near Clingedael, long before I moved close to it, yet I never thought “Hey, here is wonderful forest in the middle of the city, why don’t I go there more often!”

        Long story short, its no shame to have to look it up on Google Maps – its one of those places in the Hague that need more appreciation : )

      • Sophie, I thought there was only 1 wind tunnel of death and that is in de bogaard Rijswijk. I must say I’m a fan of het zuiderpark. Park pop and a cool place to stroll around in summer or winter. When it freezes over its a great place to skate. I agree Plein is a cool place

  2. I’m not an expat, but if you ask me what my favourite city is, it’s Utrecht. all the beutiful old city centre one can possibly want, also the biggest student town in the country so there is generally lot’s and lot’s to do. The city has a whole bunch of different festival, from cultural to music and lifestyle (the august week long ‘ Summer Darkness( music and goth lifestyle festival) to theatrical. add lots of cool bars and restaurants and a lot of nature a short hop from the city, and well, I just love it here

    • I’ve only been to Utrecht once but I loved it too, especially those gorgeous trees lining that major canal in the centre and all the independent art workshops, cafés, etc.

  3. Thanks for nice article . I was expat living in the Hague for ten years.. and yes . it is also my favourite city in Holland :). I also will agree with comment of frits below that Utrecht is wonderful city too. For me the only why I prefer more the Hague – that it is truly international and there is of cause the sea with its dunes and lovely walks and cafes..
    just want to add one comment to this article- I think it would be slight exaggeration to call The Hague a food heaven ( if you compare to the other countries known as food heavens) and picture of risotto from Millers- mmmm… not only wine there is undrinkable but I never had anything there being closed to eatable. I would say that 90 % of food served on the Plein are just terrible unless you like bitter ballen..

    • I’m sorry you had such a bad experience on Plein! While it’s true that they have an overwhelming abundance of bitterballen/bitter garnituur in general, most of the food I’ve tried (and that’s not every café, mind you) has far surpassed my expectations. When did you live here? I’ve found that between the time I did my exchange in NL (2010) and my time here now, the options and the quality of food have improved tenfold – at least. It used to be that the only vegetarian option I could get at a café like the ones on Plein was a non-descript ‘veggie pasta’ with deep frozen peas & carrots and a sad, oily excuse for a sauce. Heeerlijk!

  4. Sophie, I left the beautiful foliage of Boston to move to the Hague. I agree that Scheveningen Beach can be enjoyed all year round. Although some places have had bland food, I have found that most places I have eaten have been quite good. And my favorite part about the city is that no matter how poorly I pronounce words, the locals are always patient and helpful.

    • I’ve noticed the same thing – the Haagenaars always answer me in Dutch no matter my accent or poor grammar. I don’t know why that is! Ten minutes away in Leiden everyone answers me in English…

  5. When you say that Den Haag isn’t known for any festivals – Parkpop is one of the largest free festivals in Europe, this year 250.00 people attended

  6. I would add the dunes- one of my favourite bike rides is from Scheveningen to Noordwijk along the cycle tracks along the dunes…beautiful!! Also , one of my favourite places to chill out when the beach is too crowded (I live in Scheveningen) is Westbroek park and the Rosarium. The hague has many beautiful spots! Thanks for this article 🙂

  7. I am not an expat but I like this article, since out of all the cities in The Netherlands i have also decided to choose The Hague as the place to settle down for similar reasons. I just find it funny that with this agreement on city, for going out you only talk about the area that I personally try to avoid at all cost since I find it the worst area for going out in The Hague (Plein)
    Also, beach wise off course most of the beach is not at Scheveningen and quiet enough year round

  8. Ben je weleens in het Westduinpark geweest? Aan het strand tussen Scheveningen en Kijkduin in. Ook een prachtig natuurgebied!


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