Flattened by the Luftwaffe in 1940, then rebuilt and enlivened by waves of post-war immigration, Rotterdam is the Netherlands’ dynamic, ethnically diverse and architecturally out-there second city.
Straddling the Nieuwe Maas shipping channel, it is also one of the world’s biggest ports – the Europoort section alone stretches for 40 kilometres along the river banks towards the North Sea.
When you’ve explored Rotterdam’s weird-meets-wonderful architecture and perused the bustling wharves, take in some of the cultural wealth generated by the city’s merchants in the art collections at the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, one of Europe’s finest.
Soak up Rotterdam’s maritime history in the wharves near the postmodern Erasmusbrug bridge, or take a waterborne tour around the town centre ports or further afield. The Maritiem Museum Rotterdam and open-air Haven Museum are well worth a look.
An estimated 30,000 buildings were destroyed overnight in May 1940, clearing the way for some striking postwar architecture. Piet Blom’s bizarre tilted, cube-shaped Overblaak apartment development and pencil-shaped Het Potlood, near the flying saucer-topped Station Blaak, are a great place to start. One of the units opens as a museum (Kijk-Kubus Museum-House), or stay in one for the night at the Stayokay Rotterdam.
The city’s off-the-tourist-track status means its Boijmans Museum is an altogether more relaxing undertaking than, say, Amsterdam’s Van Gogh Museum. Take in works such as Rembrandt’s Titus at his Desk, Degas’ La Petite Danseuse or Bruegel’s The Tower of Babel in your own sweet time. One of Salvador Dali’s Mae West Lips Sofas is also in the collection.
Eat and Drink
Traditional Dutch cuisine is simple and hearty, with pork, ham, sausages and North Sea fish including cod, herring and mackerel forming the base of many dishes. Look out for shrimp croquettes, stamppot made with kale, bacon and mashed potato, and nasi goreng, courtesy of the former Dutch colony.
Street food includes the minced meat sausage frikandel, and don’t miss the thick-cut Dutch fries from Rotterdam favourite Bram Ladage, served with mayonnaise in a paper cone.
The West-Kruikade area serves up street and snack food from many cultures, and has speciality shops ranging from Middle Eastern bazaars to Korean bakeries and halal butchers. For a meal out with drinks before or after try the Oude Haven area, Katendrecht with its restaurant-dotted Deliplein square or the street Witte de Withstraat.
Where to Stay
From five-star to budget, Rotterdam has accommodation for every traveller. Most hotels are in the city centre or close by in areas such as Kralingen or Katendrecht, with further options near the airport or arterial routes into the city. Look for waterfront settings for great views, or go a step closer to the briny with a berth in one of Rotterdam’s floating hotels.
Rotterdam has wares for every taste and budget, from luxe to vintage and locally made. You’ll find department stores and “high street” shops on Lijnbaan and around Beursplein. Nieuwe Binnenweg has a jumble of interesting smaller shops tucked between restaurants and bars.
For high-end fashion, head to the Meent area, while up-and-coming Rotterdam North is the place for funky and vintage gear and antiques. The city puts its creativity on display at the GROOS concept store, selling only products made in Rotterdam. You’ll find books, clothing, food, furniture, music and art.
For food shopping, the spanking new Markthal is a must-do, if you can tear your eyes from the hallucinogenically hued arch ceiling that arranges 4000 tiles into the Netherlands’ largest artwork.
Rotterdam Like a Local
When the weather is fine you’ll find Rotterdam locals escaping their apartments and heading en masse to city parks with bikes, beers and portable barbecues in tow. Kralingse Plas is a wooded park surrounding a lake, with a small beach, restaurants and a windmill, while Het Park, next to the Euromast observation tower, is a favourite for festivals and events. Locals also flock to the drinkers’ triple treat of Biergarten, Annabel and BAR, set side by side with terraces for al fresco imbibing.