Unlike Amsterdam, The Hague has few navigable canals left as most were drained in the 19th century to make way for more building land as the city expanded. However the canals that have survived are as charming and historic as any in Amsterdam, and a guided cruise is the best way to see them. In August they are the focus of the Jazz on the Canals Festival, which brings people from across the Netherlands to enjoy al fresco concerts.
The few canals left form a rough ring around The Hague’s old heart and were constructed as part of the city’s defense system in the early 17th century; both Hooigracht and Smidswater canals are lined with trees and the elegant mansions of the wealthy built in Baroque, Neo-Renaissance and Art Nouveau styles. Sections of the gardens of Noordeinde Palace, the former residence of Dutch artist Jan Steen and the home of WWI spy Mata Hari can also be spotted from the water. Canal tours also take in the impressive contemporary towers of The Hague’s burgeoning CBD. Smaller boats make partial explorations of Koninginnegracht, which heads out of the city center some distance towards Scheveningen.
Nowadays attention has turned to opening The Hague’s canals up once more to tourism. Several bridges are too low for boats to squeeze under without everybody lying flat; the local authorities are looking at raising these and cleaning out some of the canals that have been become impassable.