Europe's 'architectural test kitchen'

Visit Rotterdam!

The Markthal in Rotterdam: Half apartment complex, half party.

Each week, we spotlight a dream vacation recommended by some of the industry's top travel writers. This week's pick is Rotterdam in the Netherlands.

(Image credit: Courtesy image)

"Rotterdam is like Disneyland for architecture geeks. But it may be even more fun for the rest of us," said Bert Archer at BBC. Packed with modern and postmodern masterpieces, the Dutch port city doesn't just have two or three standout buildings. It has dozens — enough to make anyone take notice. Though the city dates to the 14th century, it had to be rebuilt in the decades after German bombers all but leveled it in May 1940. Today, livable, walkable, bikeable Rotterdam is "the most architecturally serious, intense, playful, jubilant city in the world." It's "a city of wild experimentation, the architectural test kitchen of Europe, a postwar Dubai or Doha, but done better."

If you have a choice, "you should always arrive in Rotterdam by train." That way, you will fully absorb Rotterdam Centraal, the main railway station and "one of the most joyful buildings in the world." With its floating roof, acute angles, and sunlit spaces, it's the embodiment of motion — "a balletic leap captured in steel, glass, and wood." From there, take a tram to Blaak station in the center of the city, where you'll step out to see two masterpieces of late-20th-century and early-21st-century architecture. To the left stands the Markthal, a massive market and apartment complex that's shaped like an upright horseshoe, with a mural adorning its underside. To the right rises Piet Blom's Kubuswoningen: 39 cube-shaped houses, "each balancing on its vertex atop its own stem, making for something that looks like a concrete forest."

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"But what's best about Rotterdam is what you see between the showpieces." Even the city's routine office buildings strive for extravagance. Blaak 8, for example, "really doesn't need to be as cool as it is," but it has trapezoidal windows, and its shape shifts every few floors. A building nearby, Blaak 31, rises in three-story-high steps after the first floor "for no particular reason." The tax firm that occupies it, meanwhile, plans to build new headquarters in the shape of an hourglass — "once again, just because." If you're like me, you remember sights like that once you return home, and "wonder why our cities can't be a little more like Rotterdam."

Read more at BBC, or book a room at the hotel citizenM. Doubles start at $81.

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