36km (23 miles) SW of Amsterdam; 20km (12 miles) NE of the Hague

Stately yet bustling, the old heart of Leiden is classic Dutch, and filled with handsome, gabled brick houses along canals spanned by graceful bridges. The Pilgrims lived here for 11 years before sailing to North America. Leiden's proudest homegrown moment came in 1574, when it became the only Dutch town to withstand a Spanish siege. This is also the birthplace of the Dutch tulip trade -- and of Rembrandt. The home of the oldest university in the Netherlands is here too, founded in 1575. The 12th-century citadel of De Burcht stands on a mound in the town center between two branches of the Rhine, the Oude and Nieuwe, providing a great view of the surrounding rooftops. And with a choice of 14 museums, covering antiquities, natural history, anatomy, clay pipes, windmills, and coins, Leiden seems perfectly justified in calling itself Holland’s Museumstad (Museum City).