Rotterdam is a city that pulses with modern panache. Blitzed by the Luftwaffe in 1940, it has since emerged as a bold testament to post-war regeneration, with strange and striking architectural feats and cutting-edge cultural institutions.
This month, the city shows off its standing with two new exhibitions in the Museumpark. The Kunsthal (kunsthal.nl) celebrates its 20th year with Avant-Gardes, a major autumn show displaying a cache of contrarians from Picasso and Mondrian to Lucian Freud (until 20 January).
Then, later, the focus shifts to medieval masters in The Road to Van Eyck at the Museum Boijmans (boijmans.nl), which explores the work of 15th-century Dutch and Flemish painters (until 10 February).
The tourist office at (rotterdam.info) sells a Museumpark ticket for €27.50 – exactly what you would pay for entry to the Kunsthal and Boijmans, with free access to three other museums.
The Meuse River rises in France, bubbles through Belgium, courses into the Netherlands – where it becomes the Nieuwe Maas – and bisects Rotterdam before spouting out into the North Sea.
This maritime artery defines the city, with the galleries, shopping precincts and parks falling to the north, and the docklands – where renovated warehouses hide hotels, bars and nightclubs – skirting the southern bank.
Two bridges span the divide: the asymmetrical arch of Erasmusbrug and the crimson curve of the Willemsbrug. Water taxis also skim between the shores (watertaxirotterdam.nl ) from €2.90.
Take a hike
The best of modern and maritime Rotterdam meets in the wharves to the west of Erasmusbrug. Start on the Wilhelmina Pier, where you'll spot the Hotel New York at Koninginnenhoofd 1 (hotelnewyork.nl). This landmark building once served as the main office of the Holland America Line, which whisked European emigrants off to North America until the late Seventies. It's now a hip hotel with a downstairs barbershop and an industrial dockside restaurant.
Stroll past the Las Palmas complex. These disused shipping workshops were in danger of demolition before Benthem Crouwel architects developed them into a thriving cultural space. Inside, you'll find the Netherlands Fotomuseum (nederlandsfotomuseum.nl; €9; closed Mon), with the largest collection of Dutch photographers in the country.
Continue to the red wraparound façade of the Luxor Theatre (luxortheater.nl), beyond which Erasmusbrug reaches out across the Nieuwe Maas. Amble across and aim north to reach the artsy avenue of Witte de Withstraat (wittedewith.nl).
Lunch on the run
The busy street-side tables of Bazar flow on to the pavements at No 16 (bazarrotterdam.nl). A reflection of the city's multicultural make-up, it serves up a mix of Algerian pancakes (€4.50), Tunisian fish soup (€5), and Persian lamb (€11.90).
Rotterdam earns its place in retail history with Lijnbaan, Europe's first purpose-built pedestrian shopping street, built in 1953. But these days it shows its age, especially in contrast with the Witte de Withstraat and its northern extension, Schilderstraat – both of which brim with boutiques.
Dining with the locals
For a five-star culinary feast, the restaurant inside the Las Palmas complex (hermandenblijker.nl) is not to be missed. Dutch television chef Herman den Blijker triumphs with a fish-focused menu of oysters (€16.95), seafood platters (€47.50) and the odd slab of Black Angus (€26.95).
Go to church
The city skyline is scant on steeples. But one notable exception is the Laurenskerk at Grotekerkplein 27 (laurenskerkrotterdam.nl).
Completed in 1525 as an austere paean to the simple shipping community it served, it was later stripped of sculptures during the Reformation, damaged but not defeated during the German aerial attack of 1940 and painstakingly restored after the World War II. Today, it endures as the only remnant of medieval Rotterdam, with Sunday services at 9am, 10.30am and 5pm.
Out to brunch
Look for the red neon sign of the Bagel Bakery on Schilderstraat 57a, where you'll find a small slice of New York. It serves frothy coffees, creamy milkshakes and every kind of bagel bun stuffed with fillings such as goat's cheese, walnut and red onion.
Prolific architect Rem Koolhaas is the man behind the new De Rotterdam building, a "vertical city" that's rising on the Wilhelmina Pier. But you'll have to wait until 2013 to admire it (derotterdam.nl). Until then, take in the Kunsthal, a striking structure crafted by Koolhaas in 1992. Its autumn show this year is Avant-Gardes, a display of 150 works by artists who broke the mould, from French surrealist Marcel Duchamp to Rotterdam-born abstract expressionist Willem de Kooning.
Walk in the park
Take a stroll around the park with no name – simply known as Het (Dutch for "the") Park. It's a pretty plot of gentle waterways, weeping willows and bushy trees that, over the next month, will burn bright with the colours of autumn.
It's also home to the Euromast, the highest tower in the Netherlands. You can take a lift up to a viewing platform at 95m, stay in a hotel at 112m or assail the full height on the Euroscoop ride to 185m (euromast.nl; €9.25). The view from the top will make a fitting end to your weekend.