For many travellers the Netherlands is all about Amsterdam, although plenty of other places in the country warrant a visit. Rotterdam, the nation's second city, is a viable destination for a weekend break and has much to offer, particularly if you're an architecture aficionado.
On 1 October Queen Máxima visited the city to open the new Markthal building, designed by MVRDV, the Rotterdam-based architectural bureau. The arched market hall houses 96 stalls plus 20 shops and restaurants beneath a structure holding 228 apartments. Locals are already talking about the Markthal as being one of the city's iconic landmarks.
The Markthal's arched inner wall features the biggest artwork in the country, Horn of Plenty, a colourful, 11,000 square metre work designed by Iris Roskam and Arno Coenen. Pixar animation software was used to create the vast artwork.
Rotterdam suffered widespread destruction during World War Two, with aerial bombardment laying waste to great swathes of the city centre. This was one of the factors making the city open to innovative architectural ideas over recent decades. Interestingly though, Modernism had already taken root in Rotterdam prior to the war.
The Sonneveld House (Jongkindstaat 12), dating from 1933, survived the Blitzkrieg of May 1940 and is a fine example of Dutch Functionalism. So too is the Van Nelle Factory, where coffee, tea and tobacco were prepared. The airy, cleverly designed factory is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Both buildings originated on the drawing board of the architectural firm Brinkman and Van der Vlugt.
You can discover more about architecture, design and e-culture in Rotterdam and the Netherlands at Het Nieuwe Instituut (The New Institute). The striking building, in the Museum Park, hosts themed, temporary exhibitions and has a café with outdoor seating on a terrace overlooking the building's pond.
Like the Sonneveld House, the City Hall, whose foundations were laid from 12 August 1914, was one of the few buildings to escape wartime destruction. The Nazis, it's said, wanted to take control of the municipality's records, so strategically bombed around building, designed by Dr Henri Evers, and the nearby post office.
The symmetrical, Beaux-Arts style City Hall has a grand, domed central lobby and visitors are welcome to wander in. A bust of Sir Winston Churchill, who on 13 May 1946 was made an honorary member of Rotterdam Municipal Council, hunches broodily in the high-ceilinged hall. Beneath the arches that lead into the courtyard garden you can see bas relief depictions of the suffering wrought on the city and its inhabitants between 1940 and 1945.
Over the coming months work will continue on the Timmerhuis, adjacent to the City Hall. Every floor of the cantilever structure is different. When complete, at the end of 2015, it will house 18,000 square metres of office space plus 90 apartments. Locals refer to the building as 'the cloud' because of its cloud-like steel form, which appears to hover above the ground.
By the Oude Haven you can see the innovative cube houses, designed by Piet Blom, before wandering to the waterfront, where you can look over the New Meuse River and the Erasmus Bridge. Rem Koolhaas's recently completed De Rotterdam building is one of the skyscrapers overlooking the river.
As you arrive or depart from the city, it's also worth taking a few minutes to explore the new central railway station, which was opened in March 2014. Positive change is afoot in Rotterdam and now is a good time as ever to explore.
KLM flies from airports around the United Kingdom to Amsterdam Airport Schiphol. See the klm.com website for fares and flight information.
The train journey between Schiphol and Rotterdam Central Station takes 27 minutes on an Intercity direct service.
Where to eat and drink
Pierre (Pannekoekstraat 38a, tel. +31 (0) 10 8423757) is a laid-back, French style café-bar and brasserie with Dutch snacks, including bitterballen (traditional meat balls that help soak up early evening drinks), plus dishes including steak tartare, snails served with herby butter and racks of lamb.
Level (Pannekoekstraat 76a, tel. +31 (0) 10 2800788) is a hip, lowly lit bar and restaurant where you order sharing platters plus vegetarian options in addition to main courses featuring meat and fish. Locals swear this is one of the best places in the city for cocktails. If you look at the drinks menu but can't decide which one to order, head to the bar and chat to the bar staff, who'll be happy to recommend a cocktail according to your favourite flavours.
Bazar (Witte de Withstraat 16, tel. +31-(0)10-2065151) serves Middle-Eastern and North African cuisine and has a multiplicity of decorative lamps. Check out the mirrored walls and ceiling, on the upper floor of this restaurant with three levels.
Where to sleep
Citizen M Rotterdam (Gelderse Plein 50) is an affordable design hotel by the Oude Haven. All rooms have an XL king size bed, free movies on demand and a blackout blind. Free Wi-Fi internet access is available throughout the hotel, which has a breakfast bar plus seating and public access computers in the lobby.
Read more of Stuart's travel features on his personal blog, go-eat-do.comSuggest a correction