The city of Leiden, today just 15 minutes by train from Schiphol airport, was where Rembrandt was born and lived for his first 25 years. Unaccountably overlooked by many travellers, the city makes an good antidote to the excesses of Amsterdam, with tranquil streets and canals, and excellent cafés and restaurants. A Rembrandt walking tour of Leiden has been devised, which includes the Old Church where the artist's wife, Saskia van Uylenburgh, is buried, and a new (and temporary) visitor centre. Starting on Saturday 15 July - the artist's birthday - Leiden will host a three-day Rembrandt festival.
A second Rembrandt Route is planned for the centre of Amsterdam, where the Rijksmuseum is planning six exhibitions devoted to the artist as an older man. The first runs from 24 February to 18 June, and draws in works by both Rembrandt and Caravaggio - "the geniuses of the northern and southern baroque", according to the Netherlands' ambassador to London, Count Jan d'Ansembourg. He believes that the commemoration will bring an additional €100m (£70m) in earnings from tourists. An additional 57,000 British travellers are expected to visit Amsterdam and Leiden.
Other Dutch museums will be joining in the celebrations, including the Mauritshuis in The Hague - where Rembrandt's The Anatomy Lesson of Dr Nicolaes Tulp presently hangs.
THE CLOSURE of almost all of the Rijksmuseum for refurbishment has barely affected visitor numbers to the Netherlands' leading collection of Golden Age masterpieces. It closed all but one wing at the end of 2003 to undergo the biggest renovation and restoration in its history. "We hope to present the collection as an integrated whole, and restore the building to how the original architect intended it to be," says the museum's spokeswoman Elles Kamphuis.
While the work is in progress, the "greatest hits" were transferred to a special "Masterpieces" exhibition in the small Philips Wing of the museum, including Rembrandt's The Shooting Company of Captain Frans Banning Cocq - better known as "The Night Watch". The exhibition is attracting around 850,000 visitors, 70 per cent more than anticipated and only marginally fewer than the one million who visited in the final year before renovation began. It appears that many tourists are happy with the opportunity to see the Rijksmuseum's highlights in just an hour or two.
The city's hoteliers - who are able to charge higher average rates than those of most European cities - are also cheered by the number of tourists visiting Amsterdam. "We are busier than last year," says Joop Kos, owner of the Owl Hotel in the museum district.
If the renovation goes to schedule, the Rijksmuseum should reopen in its entirety in mid-2008. Until then, parts of the collection will be displayed in museums in Belgium, Germany and across the Netherlands - including in the excellent Rijksmuseum annexe in the transit lounge at Schiphol airport.