The Peace Palace in The Hague is a monument to peace – a manifestation of man’s desire to resolve conflict through mediation. Tours of the palace are not offered very often and when they are offered, there can be little warning. When I saw a handful of English tours open in August, I jumped at the chance to take a peek inside this icon. (You can check tour availability here.)
Completed in August 1913 and funded by the U.S. steel magnate Andrew Carnegie, the Peace Palace is grand both inside and out. Carnegie stipulated that the building also have a law library. Now the library is in a stand-alone building next to the Peace Palace. Another change between 1913 and today is that the building now houses two organizations: the International Court of Justice and the Permanent Court of Arbitration. These bodies are distinct – the prior focusing on international disputes and the latter resolving conflict through voluntary arbitration. Those seeking the International Criminal Court need to look elsewhere as war criminals do not undergo trial at the Peace Palace. This is a common misconception and the tour guide was very quick to make this distinction.
The tours last 50 minutes and cost 9.50 Euros. Reservations
are a must. Bags, cellular phones and cameras must be stored in the free lockers. Also, photo identification is required. All tour guests process through security prior to entry. Toilets are available, but they are pay toilets.
The tour doesn’t waste any time outside the building because it is assumed guests have spent a few minutes staring at the building prior to the tour. Once inside, the tour guides focus on the art and architecture of the building. Most of the art has been donated to the Peace Palace from countries over the years – busts, statues and large objects abound. The building is quote ornate. The floors are tiled, the windows contain stained glass and every corridor is decorated. There are even some Delft Blue tiles adorning the walls.
The tour continues into both courtrooms. It is fascinating to see the chairs for the judges and the symbolic artwork in each room. Tour guides even let you sit in the chairs used by the arguing parties.
The Peace Palace is quite easy to reach. From anywhere in the HTM tram network, connect to Tram Line 1 and exit at the Vredespaleis stop. Or, it’s an enjoyable 20-minute walk from the Binnenhof or a 25-minute walk from Den Haag Centraal train station. From either, you pass the Nordeinde Palace, working space of the King.
If you are not lucky enough to catch a guided tour of the Peace Palace during your visit to The Hague, you should still go to the free visitors center. A free audio guide there allows you to hear about the history of the building and organizations. I found Carnegie’s involvement most fascinating. A full visit to the visitors center would last approximately 45 minutes.
Children are welcome on the tour, however we opted not to take ours along. Having kids on the tour would distract from your ability to absorb the information from the guide.