This So-Darn-Cute Netherlands City Looks Like It’s Made of Gingerbread Houses
But baked by a Dutch master of art.
While Amsterdam gets an almost-overabundance of attention, another city sits nearby, quietly majestic in its splendor. Located just shy of one hour south via one of the Netherlands’ super convenient trains is The Hague—a city that’s small in size, but is so charming it’s as if each house could have been constructed from gingerbread.
If you were considering a European Christmas getaway to celebrate peace on Earth and goodwill towards all, this just might be it. For starters, The Hague is a supremely peace-oriented place. It is, after all, the home of the Peace Palace, where, for over 100 years, diplomats from around the world have come to settle international differences.
Accordingly, the town itself has a vibe that is decidedly harmonious. This atmosphere is perhaps accentuated by the fact that there are more bicycles than cars, making it a delightfully pedestrian, unhurried place.
The city also offers an array of activities both holidays-related and of the year-round variety that will keep you busy no matter the temperature outside. So to that end, here are a few things you should do when visiting The Hague.
Shop the Christmas market
Starting December 8 and running daily through the 24, the Royal Christmas Fair is an expansive holiday market replete with twinkling lights, festive décor, and some 100 stalls offering a vast selection of foodie goodness and cheerful giftiness. Stands selling hot chocolate and mulled wine (called glühwein) abound, and the air is filled with the merry sound of carolers.
The market is located along a collection of small streets and plazas called Lange Voorhout, which is located directly in the heart of the city. It’s easily reached from pretty much anywhere in town, which makes it a breeze to wobble back to your hotel once you’ve had your fill of Glühwein.
Get lit at Madurodam
Located approximately 15 minutes north of the city center via tram is Madurodam—a theme park filled with scale miniatures portraying various famous Dutch landmarks and cities. From December 6 to January 8, the park is decorated with thousands of holiday lights. You’ll find ice skaters whizzing over the frozen canals and a rotating series of gift and food carts pop up all over the place.
Then on December 24, the Winter Weeks celebration starts, during which the park gets even more decorative and festive. Families can participate in a winter treasure hunt, and from the 24–26, Santa makes regular appearances.
Tickets cost between 17–22.50 euros, and the proceeds all go to support a variety of charities, which makes the whole thing even more in line with the season of giving.
Lose reality at the house of Escher
One of the most renowned names to emerge from the Netherlands was M.C. Escher, the artist best known for producing his impossible staircases, mirror imagery, and other surreal creations. At the museum Escher in Het Paleis, you can explore an expansive collection of some of his greatest works. It’s a delightfully strange place to spend a couple of hours, and as it’s located in the Lange Voorhout Palace adjacent to the Christmas market, it’s conveniently situated along any good holiday itinerary.
Insider tip: If you feel your stomach grumbling for food amidst all the art and holiday cheer, pop into Gastronomia Lusso just down the block from the museum. This cozy Italian café provides excellent coffee, as well as sandwiches filled with mouth-wateringly delicious sliced meats.
Browse the food scene
There is no shortage of tasty food options scattered all over the city, especially during the winter markets, when seasonal food carts are everywhere. Bøg offers a robust fusion of Dutch and Nordic flavors via entrees that combine elements like beef tartare, bone marrow, and berries or wild boar, kale, and turnips. Suzy Q offers a unique combination of East Asian and Dutch foods in a wonderfully wooden setting full of plants and art. And if you’re just looking for coffee, Boon has a cup of Joe that is, frankly, transcendent in its perfection.
Admire the masters of art
The Hague’s main museum is the Mauritshuis. Housed in a lovely, old building that stands next to the current house of parliament, its most famous resident is the Girl with a Pearl Earring by Vermeer, one of the great masterpieces of the Dutch Golden Age.
In addition to the aforementioned Escher museum, The Hague is also home to Panorama Mesdag, which is the name of both the museum and the epic circular painting housed there, created by Hendrik Willem Mesdag, one of the top artists to emerge from The Hague School of painting.
While you’re in the Netherlands, you should also be sure to visit the four key art museums of Amsterdam: the Rijksmuseum, the Van Gogh Museum, the Stedelijk, and the Moco. They’re a quick jaunt by train north of The Hague, and while you could see them all in a very long single day, we suggest breaking them into two or three days. Be sure to book tickets for each ahead of time. The Van Gogh Museum in particular can sell days in advance.
Stroll along a romantic winter beach
The beach might seem like a strange place to go during the winter, but the beach on the edge of The Hague—a mere 20 minutes from the city center by tram—is a pleasantly moody place during the holiday season. Watch as the waves crash and storms gather off the coast from a delightfully decorated boardwalk lined with shops and restaurants.
Walk into the covered market housed in De Pier, at the end of which stands a picturesque Ferris wheel. This is the perfect place to pick up a few stocking-stuffer souvenirs.