As the seat of the Dutch government, home to the royals, and host to embassies and powerful international courts, The Hague oozes elegance and gleams with polished prosperity. The rich and illustrious history means superb museums, and the city has corners of quiet charm, too – its swathes of green and nearby beach make it great for a summer break.
[Travel guide: 10 art breaks for autumn]
The magnificent Mauritshuis (mauritshuis.nl/en) houses a compact yet outstanding collection of old Dutch art (with the royal collection at its core).
Stay in appropriate old-style grandeur at Hotel des Indes (hoteldesindes.nl; from euros 190) or opt for the cheap and cheerfully functional The Student Hotel (thestudenthotel.com/the-hague; from euros 79).
This is a meandering zigzag, with plenty of opportunities to chill out, flop down, and fill up. Starting at the Mauritshuis, turn right in front of the museum, through the archway to the vast courtyard of the Binnenhof, the heart of the Dutch government. Leave through the opposite end, turning right on to Buitenhof, and stopping at the Prince William V Gallery. Then take a shady promenade in the stretch of green alongside the Hofvijver, the lake that runs back along the outside of the Binnenhof. A left turn to Lange Voorhout takes you to the perspective-warping works of M C Escher at the Escher Museum (escherinhetpaleis.nl), housed in a former royal palace. Double back down Lange Voorhout and turn right at Noordeinde for Noordeinde Palace, where the Dutch monarch spends his working day (with another public garden just behind).
The Gemeentemuseum (gemeentemuseum.nl), a 1935 masterpiece by H P Berlage, the father of Dutch modern architecture, houses one of the richest collections of modern art in the country.
Panorama Mesdag (panorama-mesdag.nl) offers a painted 360-degree view of the seaside at Scheveningen, done in 1881 by The Hague School’s Hendrik Willem Mesdag.
The main shopping drag is Grote Marktstraat, but you’ll find more upmarket stores and greater charm along Noordeinde, leading to the royal palace. Duck off into side streets such as Molenstraat, Papestraat and along Prinsestraat for funkier fashion, lifestyle and speciality shops. Across town, Denneweg has a laid-back feel and is good for fashion and antiques.
Zebedeus (zebedeus.nl) built into the side of the 17th-century Grote Kerk at Rond de Grote Kerk 8, and with a terrace under an ancient plane tree is great for a quiet sit-down or evening tipple. Around the corner, on Plaats 11, Jamey Bennett (jameybennett.nl) is the place for gin and people-watching.
Eavesdrop on what’s going on at the International Criminal Court and do a bit of senator-spotting while enjoying fine cuisine at Calla’s (restaurantcallas.nl; from about euros 80). The Hague is renowned as the place you’ll find the best Indonesian food in the country (a colonial hangover). Family-run takeaways with a few tables for sit-down diners are the place to go, and top of the lot is Toko Sawa (tokosawa.nl; from euros 25). For fresh fish, Simonis aan de Haven (simonisvis.nl/vestigingen; from euros 32), is where boats are unloading next door in the fishing harbour south of the promenade at Scheveningen.
Off the map
A tram takes you from Central Station to Scheveningen, now “The Hague’s beach”, in just 20 minutes, to find an endearingly tacky seaside promenade, with a restored 19th-century spa hotel (amrathkurhaus.com) up one end, and the excellent Beelden aan Zee sculpture museum (beeldenaanzee.nl) beside the dunes down the other.