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Amsterdam art, off the beaten path

Rembrandt and Vermeer, of course. But this city's art treasures hardly end there.

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Mauritshuis Royal Picture Gallery

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In 1640, Johan Maurits, governor general of the Dutch colony in Brazil, hired the architecture team of Pieter Post and Jacob van Campen to design a mansion in the poshest neighborhood of The Hague. Today the handsome Dutch classicist residence houses the Mauritshuis Royal Picture Gallery, with a small but unsurpassed collection of Flemish and Dutch paintings by Vermeer (including the "Girl with a Pearl Earring"), Rembrandt, Jan Steen, and Frans Hals. This intimate gallery makes you feel as if you've entered a private collection. That's exactly how the oldest part of the collection came to be – a result of passionate collecting by Willem V, Prince of Orange-Nassau. When Prince Willem fled to England during the French invasion of 1795, Napoleon took the paintings back to Paris, where they were hung in the Louvre.

Two decades later, the collection was returned to The Hague and donated by Willem V's son, King William I, to the Dutch state. In 1820, the government bought the Mauritshuis to display what became known as the Royal Cabinet of Paintings.

In addition to its splendid collection, the Mauritshuis presents exhibits like "Pride of Place: Dutch Cityscapes of the Golden Age," which showcases the new genre of cityscapes created by powerful burghers who commissioned paintings to celebrate their towns. Highlights will include Vermeer's meticulously detailed "View of Delft" and Jacob van Ruisdael's "View of Haarlem" (www.mauritshuis.nl).

The Royal Palace, The Hague

In 1536, Emperor Charles V ordered linden trees planted along Lange Voorhout, a stately L-shaped avenue lined with the residences of court nobility and government officials. Today, many of the avenue's elegant 18th-century buildings house embassies. One of the buildings is home to a permanent museum dedicated to the work of Dutch graphic artist Maurits Cornelis Escher. "Escher in the Palace" includes a good sampling of M.C. Escher's lithographs, woodcuts, engravings, drawings, and sketches. Visitors step into Escher's fantastic world in a virtual reality exhibit on the palace's top floor. Through September there's also a special exhibit on optical illusions (www.escherinhetpaleis.nl).

• For information about travel to Amsterdam, see www.us.holland.com.

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