One of the most stunning buildings in the Hague is the Peace Palace (Vredespaleis in Dutch). Visiting the Peace Palace is not particularly easy, however touring the grounds where the International Court of Justice is held is a worthwhile endeavor. I’ll be discussing the history of the Peace Palace, what to expect from a guided tour of the Peace Palace, and how to visit the Peace Palace as a private citizen.
I received permission to take photos from the Peace Palace as I visited as a member of the press thanks to This is the Hague. Photos are generally not allowed inside the building.
Included in this article: History of the Peace Palace, how to visit the Peace Palace as a private citizen, and interesting notes about the Peace Palace.
As a teenager, I was very active in Model United Nations and one of the highlights of my teenage years was meeting members of the Laos delegation at their consultate prior to reenacting a recent United Nations debate within the actual Assembly Hall. (My only disappointment was the buttons didn’t work, so I still had to raise a placard to try to speak.) Maybe due to my own geeky past, visiting the Peace Palace was truly a dream for me.
Although we talk a lot about justice and creating a better world, there is no place as symbolic as well as significant as the Peace Palace in the Hague. Although the United Nation’s role in world politics is often discussed, the actual role of the International Court of Justice in preventing wars is not.
The history of the Peace Palace
As the 20th century was ushered in, politicians as well as philanthropists had a lot of hope that the new century would bring prosperity, peace, and unity to the new world. The Hague Convention in 1899 was a major peace conference that determined that there should be rules in regard to war and war crimes.
Andrew Carnegie (yes, the steel magnate) is personally responsible for funding a significant portion of the Peace Palace’s construction. This donation, which had go to through the Carnegie Foundation as it was not possible to directly donate the funds to the Dutch Queen, amounted to around 40 million dollars today. It was constructed not as a palace, but rather a secular monument to humanity’s hopes for a better world.
An international architectural competition was called in order to find a design that suited the cause. Unfortunately, the design was too grand, so only one large clock tower was built instead of two symmetric towers.
Various countries contributed various architectural features as well as decorations within the palace itself. These gifts include stunning windows from the United Kingdom, carpets from Japan, a clock from Switzerland, and marble from Italy. (I especially loved this creative window that is said to be inspired by Japan above!) It took almost five years to built the Peace Palace and the original building was opened in 1913.
How to visit the Peace Palace as a private individual
You can always view the Peace Palace from its exterior and my favorite time is right around sunset. Usually, the crowds have cleared out and you can admire the building through the fence. You can also admire the Eternal Flame, which burns outside of the grounds.
However, if you’re interested in visiting as a private individual, there are several options for visiting the Peace Palace interior although they are dependent on court cases and it can be difficult to arrange too far ahead of your visit. You must show valid identification, which includes a passport or EU identification card.
There are occasionally tours of the interior on weekends, so you can check the website for tours of the interior, which are generally posted a few weeks ahead of the dates. These tickets generally sell out quickly. Around the holiday season, the Peace Palace has a few nights where the building is lit up at night for visitors. Until I went on this visit, I had been unable to obtain tickets, even as a resident of the area.
The tours are fairly official and there are quite a few restrictions regarding photography, however the tour guides are very enthusiastic and knowledgeable about the history of the building. Be sure to leave any large bags at home/at your hotel room, bring your passport, and arrive early to ensure there’s enough time for security.
Attending court cases at the International Court of Justice
During court cases, the Peace Palace is generally not open for tours, but if you are committed to seeing it, you can arrive early on days with court cases to be part of the audience for court cases for the International Court of Justice. I visited as the ICJ (International Court of Justice) was preparing for a case, so I was unable to take photos within the room as employees were setting up.
As you might imagine, there are limited seats available and no photography is possible, but it is one way to see the Peace Palace in action. There are a number of conditions attached and there is no guarantee that you will be allowed into the audience.
Sporadic events at the Peace Palace
Events are typically listed a few weeks in advance, so if you wish to attend, check the website of the Vredespaleis as well as their Facebook page to stay informed of upcoming tours. Tickets typically sell out quickly and cannot be resold. (Tours are in Dutch, English, and German.)
My husband was able to attend a chess tournament at the Peace Palace, which cost a few euros, but it included a tour of the grounds prior to the tournament. There are also occasionally concerts on the grounds although these events are typically announced approximately one month ahead.
Garden visits at the Peace Palace
The garden surrounding the Peace Palace is also incredibly beautiful and it is possible to tour the grounds a few times a year. Tickets are harder to come by and go fast, so check the website for upcoming dates.
Interesting notes about the Peace Palace
The Christ statue
One of the parts that surprised me most about the Peace Palace was its non-religious interior, which is atypical in many places in Europe. Given that the Peace Palace was built as a “temple of Peace,” there was a decision to make it non-religious, however there’s one notable exception: a statue of Christ that sits on the second floor.
Although both countries were ready to go to war, the Peace Palace was able to prevent a war from occurring between Chile and Argentina. The statue of Christ is a replica of a large statue of Christ that was made of melted down bullets and other machinery after it was rendered unnecessary.
The love story of the Peace Palace
One of the most remarkable stories about the Peace Palace was the love story that took place within it. A locally born interior designer named Herman Rosse was hired at only 24 year old. Already well traveled, he was tasked with decorating the Peace Palace interior.
The interior, especially the ceilings are decorated with beautiful flower and art motifs with a modern twist. Although he assumed that these designs would be painted over in the future by a famous artist, his stunning designs have beautifully lasted the test of time. Be sure to take a moment to pause on the staircase to admire the intricate designs. His painting of Peace, Law, Order, and Justice as goddesses are shown above.
During his time decorating the interior, he ended up falling in love with the apprentice of the gardeners. The couple ended up marrying and it’s said that he’s painted her face into the ceiling of the Peace Palace. After this period, the couple moved to Hollywood where Herman Rosse became the first Dutchman to win an Oscar for his work on the King of Jazz’s sets.