With its North Sea breeze and Gothic architecture, the Hague sits pretty on the western coast of the Netherlands. Here's how to make the most of a day's visit to this charming city.
In the shadows of nearby Amsterdam and Rotterdam, the Hague—or as the Dutch say, Den Haag—holds its own as a Netherlands must-see. The capital of the South Holland province as well as the seat of Dutch parliament, the city is a political powerhouse. It's also the epicenter of global peace and justice; the historic Peace Palace houses the International Court of Justice and the Permanent Court of Arbitration, and there are more than 150 other international organizations based in the city.
But the Hague offers so much more than just historic sites. With its walkable avenues, miles of coastline, expanses of green space, and 18th-century baroque architecture, the city is a vibrant travel destination well worth a detour. Here's a guide to experiencing some of the Hague's more quotidian charms and making the most of a day's visit:
From the Hague Central Station, stop at a cafe to grab breakfast on the go: a pastry and a coffee, served short and strong like the locals drink it.
Find a seat along Hofvijver pond, the stretch of water that smooths along the Binnenhof inner court, to finish off your breakfast. The Hague is quiet this early in the morning, when most shops and museums are closed. Still, you got here just in time: there's nothing more intimate than bearing witness as a city wakes up and comes to life.
Hendrik Willem Mesdag is the beloved 19th- and 20th-century Dutch marine painter, famous for his enormous cylindrical panorama depicting a nearby coastal village. View his quintessential work at the Panorama Mesdag museum, which in addition to the panorama observatory, houses a collection of his other paintings. (Mondays–Saturdays, 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Sundays and holidays 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Adult combination ticket €17.50. Zeestraat 65.)
Convene with Carnegie's spirit at the Peace Palace, the neo-renaissance beaut the steel magnate financed in 1903. The visitors' center offers a free audio tour featuring a historical film and plenty of interactive exhibits. (Guided tours run irregularly and must be booked in advance.) The unassuming gift shop is worth a visit on your way out. (Tuesdays–Sundays November–March 11 a.m.-4 p.m., April–October 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Carnegieplein 2.)
Outdoor dining is popular in the Netherlands, and at lunchtime on a bright day, even as autumn begins to nibble at your nose, it's a must. If the weather's nice enough, settle in at a table on the Plein Den Haag, the city's old town square and favorite lunching spot (and drinking spot, come 5 p.m.) and order something warm and comforting, like toasties and croquettes.
Go Dutch: get a bike and spend the afternoon traveling the way the locals do. Regular old bicycles (no gears, bells, or whistles) can be rented from a number of shops like Fietsverhuur Scheveningen for as little as €7 for a half day. (Open daily, 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Noordiende 39.)
Shop like you're nobility at Het Noordeinde, the Hague's Royal Shopping District, where high-end fashion retailers mingle with centuries-old architecture and a dose of progressive artistry, found in the neighborhood's many galleries and creative coffee houses. Take a minute to recharge at Het Heden over a soothing cup of mint tea made with fresh leaves, honey, and a touch of ginger. (Tuesdays–Saturdays 11 a.m.-10 p.m., Sundays 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Noordeinde 148.)
For more casual shopping, check out De Passage. The Netherlands' oldest covered shopping center, the Passage offers a mix of chain brands and souvenir stores, in addition to many snacking options. Look for the shock of green plant-life, growing on a wall, that livens the white, dignified space. (Tuesdays–Wednesdays and Fridays–Saturdays 10 a.m.-6 p.m., Mondays 12 p.m.-6 p.m., Sundays 12 p.m.-5 p.m. De Passage.)
For some of the Hague's best raw herring—a traditional Dutch favorite—head to Haringkraam Buitenhof. This decades-old stand stationed in Buitenhof square, sells the stuff straight up, or with diced raw onions and a hot dog–style bun. The Dutch way to eat the herring on its own is to pick the fish up by its tail, dip it in the onions, open wide (really wide), and eat the whole shebang in one go. Just keep an eye out for area seagulls, ever poised to swoop in for a snatch. (Buitenhof T/O 22.)
Italian ice stands are a dime a dozen in the Hague, but the view from the one that stands in the shadow of the 13th-century Ridderzaal knight hall, is pretty darned impressive. Order and enjoy while seated at the base of the nearby fountain.
After just enough biking to work up another appetite, make your way to the city's Chinatown, the long-ago Jewish quarter turned East Asian enclave situated south of the Binnenhof. If the all-day smorgasbord of Dutch bites has left you craving something different, enjoy a dinner of dim sum and hot pot at Full Moon. (Mondays–Thursdays and Sundays 12 p.m.-10:30 p.m., Fridays–Saturdays 12 p.m.-11 p.m. Gedempte Burgwal 24-26.)
Ann Babe is a New York City–based writer who loves an unexpected adventure. In addition to Travel + Leisure, she contributes to Conde Nast Traveler, Roads & Kingdoms, and Techonomy, among other publications.