Den Haag serves up an enticing blend of cultural expressions from the past and present, in an environment that bustles and relaxes in equal measure. Between your time spent visiting its stellar museums, galleries and performance venues, you can also indulge in global-inspired fare, or soak up the sun by the sand dunes. Perhaps it’s time to turn your attention to this artistic city on the North Sea.
The Hague’s main cultural draw is the Mauritshuis, a 1640-built palace which houses iconic masterpieces such as The Goldfinch by Carel Fabritius, the Girl with a Pearl Earring by Johannes Vermeer, and of course, works from the Netherlands’ most celebrated artist, Rembrandt van Rijn. As 2019 marks the 350th anniversary of his death, the museum has put its entire collection of Rembrandt’s paintings on display in commemoration of one of the true masters of the Golden Age. To view collections of art from the late 19th-century, visit De Mesdag Collectie, located beside the Zeeheldenkwartier, north of the centre.
While the rich legacy of art from the past is well represented in The Hague, more recent work is on display in equal abundance. Across town, at the southern edge of the expat-populated Statenkwartier, stands the city’s leading showcase for art of the past century and the present: the Gemeentemuseum. Designed by architectural luminary HP Berlage, the elongated yellow-brick art deco building is as inspiring as its contents. Within its naturally lit halls and alcoves are sections devoted to historical artistic movements, along with works by such notable figures as Wassily Kandinsky, Egon Schiele and Francis Bacon. Adjacent to the main building on the north side of a reflecting pond are museums devoted to photography and contemporary art.
Those who really want to experience the creative sparks of the moment should head for the city’s galleries, particularly along Toussaintkade and Noordeinde.
Which of the dozens of galleries you choose to investigate may depend on the personal preference of the curators. Hoorn & Reniers, for example, promotes outspoken artists in contemporary figuration. Nearby Galerie Ramakers tends to exhibit minimalist art – its upcoming program celebrating the centennial of the Bauhaus movement will feature furniture and art from owner Catharijn Ramakers’ personal collection.
For an exciting overview of the gallery scene, plan your visit to coincide with Art The Hague (Oct 2-6), an art fair showcasing 50 galleries from The Hague and elsewhere. It’s held at the giant hangar of the old Fokker of the trend-setting Binckhorst district south of the central train station.
Beyond the galleries and museums, The Hague’s innovative spirit takes the stage. Designed in the 18th century as a palace, the Koninklijke Schouwburg (Royal Theatre) is home to the Dutch National Theatre and also hosts theatre troupes from abroad, along with classical and pop concerts. In the centre of town, the Korzo Theatre functions as a laboratory for experimental dance, theatre and music and holds several major dance festivals. Filmhuis Den Haag is the city’s dynamic venue for film as art, with an ambitious program of foreign films, most subtitled in English. For more raucous forms of expression there’s the Paard, The Hague’s suitably rough-edged rock and jazz venue, with bands playing in two concert halls and DJs in the café.
The Hague also hosts major pop festivals: in late June the Zuiderpark is the scene of Parkpop, a free open-air festival drawing over 300,000 music fans with big-name headliners; and in mid-summer stages are set up on the beach at Scheveningen for the lower-key Schollenpop music festival.
Like the city itself, the food here is a global mosaic, with the cuisines of Spain, Peru, Turkey and Thailand – among many others – on offer. Just west of the Stadhuis (City Hall) and central library is a pan-Asian wonderland where locals crowd into a patchwork of dining rooms for Japanese ramen, Korean barbecue, Chinese dim sum and so on. One of the more attractive options, Little V, serves Vietnamese pho and buns on a streetwise-furnished terrace facing a pleasant square.
The food of Indonesia, one of Holland’s former colonies, is a special highlight of The Hague, and people travel here to get it – though some of the finest places are quite humble family-run affairs and may take some effort to find. A good example is Soeboer, west of the centre, which despite its modest appearance is reportedly the Prime Minister’s go-to spot when he’s in the mood for Indo.
You’ll also find a plethora of casual, sophisticated restaurants and bistros that highlight natural ingredients and seasonal fare – like Blossom, a bright and airy hall crowded with young mothers and business colleagues digging into organic cheese sandwiches, spinach pancakes and farm-fresh asparagus soup.
Culture on the coast
Fortunately The Hague’s cultural and gastronomic abundance spills over onto its coast. Artist Hendrik Willem Mesdag made this his home to be near the sea; and in his own paintings he preferred to depict the dramatic coastline and dunes of the city’s seaside district known as Scheveningen. His masterwork, a 360-degree view of the coastal environs, is now housed under the dome of the Panorama Mesdag. Though much has changed since the artist’s depiction, the coast remains a spectacular vision and can be easily reached from the centre of town by bicycle or tram.
Perched upon the dunes behind Scheveningen’s main beach is Museum Beelden aan Zee, a showcase for the works of prominent sculptors from Holland and abroad, some of which stand upon an outdoor deck with the sea as a backdrop. Scheveningen beach is also the site of the Zuiderstrandtheater, current home to the Nederlands Dans Theatre while the acclaimed dance company awaits the completion of a permanent venue beside the Stadhuis.
For a taste of the coast, head to either end of the rectangular marina known as the Tweede Haven. At the west end, at least half a dozen establishments share a long terrace facing the yachts–most famously Restaurant Catch by Simonis, where sole, sea bass and lobster highlight the menu, along with caviar and a hearty bouillabaisse. At the southeast corner you’ll find a pair of popular places for straightforward fish and chips or herring sandwiches; while the east end has a brewpub and De Dagvisser, an unpretentious place where the catch of the day – be it flatfish or bass – is crisply prepared, and the harbor lights make a nice backdrop for your meal.