While the Netherlands in general tends to be a somewhat overlooked travel destination as far as countries go, its capital Amsterdam consistently ranks among the most popular cities in Europe, attracting just shy of nine million visitors annually. That should come as no surprise because Amsterdam is awesome. But all those crowds can be overwhelming, especially if you’re trying to find a restaurant with a table free at dinner time without reservations. And snapping the perfect photo of its famously beautiful canals without a bunch of tourists in the way? Forget about it.
Located an hour south of Amsterdam (or 30 minutes south of the airport) via one of the Netherlands’ highly convenient trains, however, is a significantly more laid-back alternative: the Hague. Famed for being the home of the Peace Palace and International Criminal Court from whence the UN International Court of Justice does its best to keep civilization on track, the Hague is a gorgeously developed city where the vibe is lively but chill. If you’re looking to travel to the Netherlands and enjoy its renowned Dutch charm, the Hague is the city where you can experience it without fighting a crowd — and if you’re doing a multi-city European trip, we’ve got the details on how you can make the most out of a weekend in the Hague.
The Hague has long been a popular destination for those who are interested in history and human rights issues, but it offers something for everyone. Stunning scenery, incredible art, tasty eats, a thriving nightlife—if you’re looking for it, the Hague has got it. But—and I can’t stress this enough—it serves it all with a heaping side of chill vibes.
Part of this easy-going atmosphere is undoubtedly derived from the fact that the car-to-bicycle ratio has been flipped, and therefore the streets are filled with the pleasant chiming of bike bells rather than the drone of motors and exhaust fumes. Beyond that, the laid-back feeling has something to do with the lack of rush. No one ever seems in a hurry to be anywhere. Amsterdam is relatively unhurried too, but as a major city, it still does have the busyness that tends to come with such a place. The Hague simply doesn’t have that sort of attitude.
When you go to enjoy its peaceful charms, here are a few suggestions for where to stay, eat, and enjoy your time.
If you’re looking for luxury with a bit of eccentricity, voco delivers an upscale experience in a beautifully offbeat setting. Housed in a historic bank building directly in the center of town, its modernist aesthetic has plenty of creative touches while its convenient location is just a few minutes’ walk from pretty much everywhere. Many of the rooms offer lovely views of the surrounding rooftops, and the service is outstanding.
For longer stays—if you’re in town for business, for example, or are on trial for war crimes (hopefully not)—Staybridge Suites offers a similarly elegant temporary home that includes practical elements like in-room kitchens. It sits on the edge of the canal directly across from the Parliament building and provides easy access to everything.
The Hague offers a slew of international eating opportunities, but if you’re looking to go Dutch—so to speak—check out Loetje Den Haag Centrum, which was recommended to me by a member of the Dutch Parliament. Her taste proved to be good, for the food was delicious indeed. Everything is smothered in gravy and other delicious sauces, so you can’t go wrong.
If you’re looking for a koffiebranderij (coffee roaster) where you can have a phenomenal cup of joe, it’s BOON. Not only will this unassuming little place blow you away with the quality of its coffee, but its outdoor seating provides an outstanding place to sit and watch local life pass by.
There are a number of quality museums in the Hague, but the standout is undoubtedly Escher in Het Paleis, aka the M.C. Escher museum. Escher is best known for his impossible staircase drawings, but this collection goes much further into his strange, surreal work. Located in the heart of the city—right down the street from both of the hotels suggested above—it’s particularly pleasant to visit on a weekend when the antique market is set up in the park leading up to the museum. And if you’re into smoking the notorious Dutch Kush, I highly recommend (emphasis on high) hitting up one of the local “coffee shops” for a Dutch joint before your visit.
Speaking of which, “coffee shops”—called such because cannabis used to be sold illicitly out of cafes—are all over the Hague, but Coffeeshop Greenhouse Secret Farmers is my favorite. Besides its semi-word salad name, it stands out thanks to its wide variety of strains, helpful staff, and all-around chill vibe. Chill vibes are, after all, what we’re here for, right?
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