Home to one of the oldest and most prestigious universities in Europe, Leiden brims with bookstores, windmills, gated gardens, hidden walkways, and some truly outstanding museums. Rembrandt’s birthplace and the site of the first tulip cultivation, The Netherlands’s third-largest city serves as a gateway to flower country. Follow the signs from the train station to the spacious and modern HMuseum Naturalis, which explores the history of earth and its inhabitants, providing scientific and anthropological explanations of fossils, minerals, animals, evolution, and astronomy. (568 76 00. Open July-Aug. daily 10am-6pm; Sept.-June Su and Tu-Sa 10am-6pm. ‚8.) Collecting the world’s heritage since 1837, the CSRijksmuseum voor Volkenkunde (National Museum of Ethnology), Steenstr. 1, has on display Inca sculptures, Chinese paintings, and African bronzes that were all acquired during the height of Dutch imperial power. The museum also houses impromptu re-creations and modem interpretations of past societies in its lush gardens. (516 88 00. Open Su and Tu-Sa 10am-5pm. ‚6.50.) The Rijks-museum van Oudheden (National Antiquities Museum), Rapenburg 28, holds the restored Egyptian Temple of Taffeh, a gift removed from the reservoir basin of the Aswan Dam. (a 516 31 63. Open Su noon-5pm, Tu-F 10am-5pm, Sa noon-5pm. ‚6.) Sharing a main gate with the Academy building is the university’s 400-year-old garden, the Hortus Botanicus, Rapenburg 73, where the first Dutch tulips were grown. Its grassy knolls alongside the Witte Singel canal make it an ideal picnic spot. ( 527 72 49. Open Apr.-Nov. daily 10am-6pm; Dec.-Mar. M-F and Su 10am-4pm. ‚4.) Scale steep staircases to inspect the inside of a functioning 18th-century windmill at the Molenmuseum De Valk, 2e Binnenvestgrt. 1. (516 53 53. Open Su l-5pm, Tu-Sa 10am-5pm. ‚2.50.) The Museum De Laken-hal, Oude Singel 32, exhibits works by Rembrandt and Jan Steen. (516 53 60. Open Su noon-5pm, Tu-F 10am-5pm. Sa noon-5pm. ‚4. Under-18 free.)

Leiden is easily reached by train from Amsterdam’s Centraal Station (30min. every 30min. until 2:45am, round-trip ‚12) or The Hague (20min. every 30min. until 3:15am, ‚4.20). The VW tourist office, Stationsweg 2d, a 5min. walk from the train station, sells maps (‚3) and walking tour brochures (‚2), and helps find hotel rooms for a ‚2.30 fee for the first person, ‚1.80 fee for each additional person. (090 02 22 23 33; www.leiden.nl. Open M llam-5:20pm, T-F 10am-5:20pm, Sa 10am-4:30pm.) The Hotel Pension Witte Singel 0, Witte Singel 80, 5min. from Hortus Botanicus, has immaculate rooms that overlook gorgeous canals and gardens, (s’512 45 92; wvanvriel@pensione-ws.demon.nl. Singles from ‚31; doubles from ‚47.) Locals and students pack the popular de Oude Harmonie , Breestr. 16, just off Rapenburg, where candlelight and stained glass set the casual mood. (Entrees ‚6-13. Open M-Th noon-lam, F-Sa noon-2am, Su 3pm-lam.) Super de Boer supermarket, Stationsweg 40, is opposite the train station. (Open M-F 7am-9pm, Sa 9am-8pm, Su noon-7pm.)

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