Den Haag (The Hague) is synonymous with high-profile legal entities (notably the UN's International Court of Justice), embassies and mansions. Yet this palace-filled city is also packed with incredible art, stylish shopping, superb dining and a wealth of drinking, nightlife and entertainment venues. It's an easy train trip from Amsterdam or Rotterdam to hit the highlights on this 24-hour itinerary.
Arrive in style Unveiled in 2016 with a glass roof the size of two football fields, the airy, light-filled Den Haag Centraal Station (CS) is the city's main transport hub. From here, it's a short stroll to the centre.
Parliamentary explorations & royal encounters Officially known as 's-Gravenhage (the Count's Hedge), Den Haag is the Dutch seat of government (although Amsterdam is the capital), and the Binnenhof is the world's oldest House of Parliament in the world still in use. Set on the vast, reflective Hofvijver lake, the palatial complex dates from the 13th century and its central courtyard (once used for executions) is surrounded by parliamentary buildings. The Upper Chamber of the Dutch Parliament meets in the ornate 17th-century North Wing, while the Lower Chamber, which previously met in the ballroom of the 19th-century wing, now meets in a modern building on the south side.
Den Haag is also the seat of the Dutch Royal Family, and the Binnenhof's Ridderzaal (Knights' Hall) contains the throne where King Willem-Alexander opens Parliament, and is used for royal receptions. The buildings are magnificent to walk around, but if you want to see inside, you can make advance bookings for a tour with ProDemos.
Although the royal residence, Paleis Noordeinde, isn't open to the public, it's a short stroll 600m northwest of the Binnenhof to see the Renaissance palace's exterior.
Medieval punishment Opposite the Hofvijver, the Museum de Gevangenpoort (Museum of Prison Gate) formed part of the 13th-century city fortifications. Tours give a vivid insight into the medieval justice system and tools of torture.
'High Lunch' Pop across to pretty cafe Bloem, framed by flowers in keeping with its name, which serves great coffee as well as 'high lunch' (noon to 2:30pm) – with treats including quiches and gourmet sandwiches making up a deliciously savoury version of its afternoon high tea (from 2:30pm). Both versions include homemade cakes such as apple, chocolate and walnut.
Art at the Mauritshuis Den Haag's number-one cultural draw is the Mauritshuis, home of the royal collection. Masterpieces in this 1640-built palace and new wing include Vermeer's Girl with a Pearl Earring, and Rembrandt's The Anatomy Lesson of Dr Nicolaes Tulp. Rubens and Steen are among the old masters represented at the Galerij Prins Willem V, a five-minute walk southwest.
More art at the Escher in Het Paleis Museum Yet another palace (the Lange Voorhout Palace, the winter residence of Queen Emma), houses the Escher in Het Paleis Museum, showcasing the mind-bending works of Dutch graphic artist MC Escher. There's a virtual reality reconstruction of his fantastical buildings with their infinite staircases and water features, along with Escher's photos and correspondence.
Shopping spree Just south of the Binnenhof, off Hofweg and Spuistraat, is the Unesco World Heritage-listed 19th-century covered arcade De Passage, the Netherlands' oldest, with luxury shops including Lucardi Juwelier (jewellery), 1930-founded Van Os (bags and shoes), and Hop & Stork (premium coffee roasters that also handcraft chocolates on site).
Major department stores and high-street chains line Grote Marktstraat. Off-beat boutiques scatter on and around Denneweg.
Borrel Denneweg is also a hip drinking/dining hub and a great place to experience the time-honoured Dutch tradition of borrel ('drinks'). Try industrial-style Bouzy for by-the-glass wines and champagnes accompanied by borrelhapjes (bar snacks) such as bitterballen (meat croquettes).
Dinner time Dining options on Denneweg include stunning tapas-style dishes at Oker (along with Ociëtra caviar if you're feeling decadent), and house-speciality marinated spare ribs at long-standing local favourite Taveerne de Resident.
Hidden down a nearby lantern-lit alley, Restaurant Allard is a jewel serving outstanding contemporary cuisine such as seared scallops with wasabi mousse or charred ribeye with truffled mash and burnt-butter tarragon sauce, at exceptionally reasonable prices in exposed brick surrounds.
Great entertainment This sophisticated city has plenty of diverse entertainment options – from metal, blues, roots, reggae and soul, club nights and more at Paard van Troje to performances by the renowned Nederlands Dans Theater and concerts by the Residentie Orkest, Den Haag's classical symphony orchestra, which currently performs at the Zuiderstrandtheater.
Last drinks If you're still going strong, make your way to the Grote Markt, where you'll find bars such as cocktail specialist Vavoom, and stalwart De Zwarte Ruiter (The Black Rider), which often hosts live music gigs.
Where to stay
For old-world grandeur, you can't beat Den Haag's most historic hotel, 1858-built Des Indes. Its roll-call of past guests includes Tsar Nicholas II, who held the world's first peace conference here in 1899, Winston Churchill, Theodore Roosevelt, and ballerina Anna Pavlova, who died here in 1931.
Antique-filled Het Paleis Hotel, near the royal residence, also offers traditional luxury. Great mid-range options include Corona, spread over a trio of recently renovated 17th-century townhouses right by the Binnenhof. Budget travellers should check out the HI-affiliated backpacker hostel Stayokay Den Haag.
Train From Amsterdam Centraal Station, trains run every 30 minutes to Den Haag CS; journey time is 50 minutes.
Up to four trains per hour make the 25-minute trip from Rotterdam Centraal to Den Haag CS. Additional services run from Rotterdam Centraal to Den Haag Hollands Spoor Train Station (HS), a 1.5km walk south of Centraal Station. Metro line E also links Rotterdam Centraal with Den Haag Centraal every 15 minutes, taking 30 to 40 minutes.
Air The nearest airport is Rotterdam The Hague Airport, 19km southeast of central Den Haag, which serves over 40 European destinations. A taxi costs around €50.
The Netherlands' massive international airport, Schiphol, is roughly equidistant by high-speed train to both Rotterdam and Amsterdam (around 20 to 30 minutes each), with onward connections to Den Haag.