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The Hague - A Dutch city with an artistic heart


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The square at the centre of things is Plein. On its north-west corner stands the Mauritshuis with, just beyond it, the complex of former parliamentary buildings known as Binnenhof (Inner Court). Even though Amsterdam is the capital of the Netherlands, political and diplomatic business is conducted in The Hague. To the east, spectacular new structures have arisen around the Centraal station area. Just to the south-west of Plein, the steel-and-glass Stadhuis (City Hall) presents the imaginative face of municipal architecture. It is also the location for the tourist office – inside the public library on the side facing Spui, the main north-south street.

Rippling out to the north are streets lined with handsome mansions, many of them embassies. You could walk to the seaside suburb of Scheveningen in about 40 minutes, or hop on tram Nos 1 or 9 with your OV-Chipkaart.

Take a hike
Wander through the city centre from old to new. Start at the massive 15th-century Grote Kerk, no longer a place of worship but a private events venue. From 16 July to 20 August it exceptionally opens 11am-5pm daily except Monday/Tuesday.

Just east, the Oude Stadhuis (Old City Hall) is a handsome Golden Age building. Pass the watchful eye of the statue of The Observer and wander into the Passage – a 19th-century arcade of art and exotica.

Under the glass dome in the centre, fork left in the gallery and emerge on Hofweg opposite the Binnenhof. Bear right along the street, which is a river of cherry-red-and-cream trams.

On a fine day, buy ingredients for a picnic at Marqt, a Dutch echo of Whole Foods. Cross to the Stadhuis and follow Kalvermarkt to the Muzentoren, a tower with muscular statue outside.

Newly-opened Ekxi on Turfmarkt 224 is the sole Dutch café operated by a Belgian chain specialising in "bio-fastfood". The tasty lunch special, price €7.90, includes soup or sandwich, salad and iced tea.

Window shopping
In a city full of high-end fashion stores and galleries, Noordeinde is one of the most elegant retail streets – with the added interest of the Royal Palace.

Cultural afternoon
The cultural core of The Hague is best viewed from the north side of the Hofvijver, the Court Pond. You look across to the site of the fortress founded in 1248 by William II. Today, it is occupied by the Binnenhof. You can walk through it; the high security is because the prime minister's office is still here: the round tower across a canal from the 1637 mansion known as the Mauritshuis.

Two years of reconstruction have opened up the museum impressively. Appreciate the handsome sand-and-silver façade, then descend into a subterranean atrium containing the ticket desk (10am-6pm daily, to 8pm on Thursdays, €14) and shop. Climb the stairs to the ground floor of the mansion and marvel at the collection of Golden Age paintings hung in the home of a merchant who made his money in Brazil.

Rembrandt's Anatomy Lesson of Dr Nicolaes Tulp is back from loan; Carel Fabritius's Goldfinch has had its perch moved to a more prominent position befitting of Rembrandt's pupil. Vermeer's Girl with a Pearl Earring is the star of the show.

In addition, the building opposite, an Art Deco former gentleman's club, has been taken over for temporary exhibitions and a new brasserie.

An aperitif
Plein is full of bars, but for the most alluring interiors head across to Grote Markt, where the historic Boterwaag and Zwarte Ruiter glare at each other across a crowded square.

Dining with the locals
The Hague seems to have more restaurants per capita than anywhere else in Holland, but with a wealthy weekday clientele they can prove expensive.

Out to brunch
The seafront is dominated by the Steigenburger Kurhaus Hotel (kurhaus.nl), a sturdy late 19th-century building with a smart restaurant, the Kurzaal. The most economical way to appreciate it is breakfast; well worth the steep €27, but start early (7-10.30am at weekends) to get your money's worth.

Wander through the structure then continue your seaside walk south until you reach the statue of a mother looking out to sea; go down the slope past the Oude Kerk to Keizerstraat, Scheveningen's short, amiable main street. Then hop on tram 1, or walk south to Scheveningse Bosjes, a remarkably wild patch of urban woodland.

Take a view
On your way back into the centre you have a choice of views. Madurodam at George Maduroplein 1 (madurodam.nl; 9am-9pm in July and August; €15.50, €2 off if you book online) is a miniature tribute to "Holland's Highlights and Heritage". It contains 1:25-scale models of the Netherlands' most notable buildings.

Icing on the cake
In place until 31 August, Grandeur is the title of a fascinating outdoor sculpture exhibition on the central strip of the broad avenue of Lange Voorhout.

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