The first time you heard of or came to the Netherlands it was most probably not because of Rotterdam and that’s fair enough. It’s harsh to compete with Amsterdam and The Hague when it comes to tourists’ or interns’ attention. Still, if you find yourself on the streets of Rotterdam you will find plenty to do and see!
Stronger through struggle – the motto of Rotterdam was inspired by its amazing story. The first thing you’ll notice about Rotterdam is its distinctive look. The city was completely destroyed after World War II and this determined to a large extent its future appearance. Here you won’t find the countless canals of Amsterdam or the paved little streets of The Hague. After the bombings of 14th May 1940 Rotterdam’s historical central part was completely destroyed and had to be rebuilt all over again. This is partly the reason for the astonishing architecture and skyline of Rotterdam you can enjoy today. Walking down the streets of the historic center of Rotterdam, notice the round lamps built into the pavement – this is the so-called fire boundary – it marks the 12km long path of the bombings. Red lights indicate bombing by the enemy and white lights mark the friendly fire.
Ship, port and sailing enthusiasts – welcome!
You are now in the home of the biggest and busiest port in Europe – and this is truly something worth checking out! For starters you can take a 75 min ride on the Spido which will give you a pretty good idea of the size of the port and the volume that’s been handled here. It includes audio guide (for the whole audience, not personal ones) in 4 languages, so you have everything covered. If you’re looking for something different than the regular tour, there are plenty of other boat activities you can explore while in the city so pick the one that suits you – there’s the Pannenkoekenboot (literally the Pancake boat) which offers all-you-can-eat pancakes while giving you a tour along the river – great if you’re with kids. Another one is the Splashtour – that is a funnier way to explore the port area. Once you’re in Rotterdam you have to! get on a boat – the dam is what the city was built around, so if you just want to chill and take a break – try out the Sunday brunch at Vessel 11 or grab a glass of wine on board of the SS Rotterdam. They are very different but equally good choices for dinner or drinks aboard.
So now your tour with the Spido is over – you see above your head the most popular Rotterdam-ish sight – Erasmus bridge, also known as the Swan. You can walk down that bridge all the way from the North to the South side of the city, but don’t forget to stop somewhere in the middle and enjoy the breathtaking view on both sides! On the left you’ll see another massive construction – the Willemsbrug (the red bridge).
As you walk down Erasmus bridge you’ll see on your right a street called Wilhelminakade, where you’ll find the Dutch photomuseum. Continue to the end of the pier and on your right you’ll see a gorgeous little building called Hotel New York. This is the former headquarter of the first Holland-America line. The interior is kept as close to the original as possible and it’s a great place to hang out.
On your way back via the Erasmus bridge continue and after you pass the Leuvehaven metro station look to your right. An amazing view of different types of boats will greet you. To get to know more about these vessels you can go to the Maritime museum at the end of the street – it grants access and/or a tour of all the boats. The harbour of this museum is where the beginning point of the port of Rotterdam used to be!
If you have a soft spot for it – grab your walking shoes!
City hall and St. Laurence church
The Renaissance building of the City hall is one of the few in the center of Rotterdam that miraculously survived the bombings of WW II. Impressive on the outside are its four perfectly symmetrical wings as well as its amazing ivy garden inside. Normally you can’t go and visit on your own but you can ask the tourist office about upcoming guided tours or you can check when will the next Open Monumentendag be, when it will be open and free to visit. Speaking of survivors – St Laurence church is another one. From City hall walk along the popular wine-and-dine Meent street. On your right you’ll see the Binnenrotte plaza with lots of restaurants and bars. If you’re here on a Tuesday or Saturday – you’ll see the weekly markets. Walk to the middle of the square and look to the right – you’ll see the church tower of the only medieval building in Rotterdam. Like most of the buildings, it was damaged during the Rotterdam blitz and later restored thanks to Queen Wilhelmina. Nowadays, it’s a really beautiful sight right in the heart of Rotterdam. In front of it there’s a small canal with cafes where you can grab a bite and enjoy the view at sunset. The church is still performing services but you’ll be surprised how many concerts, events and exhibitions take place in (and in front of) it so if you visit – take a look at their agenda.
Cube houses, the White house, Euromast
Rotterdam’s architecture can’t be explained without these little yellow jewels – the Cube houses! Dutch architect Piet Bloom designed these little square houses in an attempt to create a mini village inside the city and the idea was to shape them as trees. They are one of a kind inside and out and you can find this out yourself by visiting them – one of the houses is turned into a museum (ticket is about 2 EUR) and if you REALLY want to experience living in a “modern tree house” – you can stay at the Stayokay Hostel.
You still think the Netherlands has always been the “lower land”? Think again! Leaving the Cube houses’ inner yard, right in front of you will pop The White house – Europe’s first skyscraper. It’s Art Nouveau style and decoration will mesmerize you, it’s on the UNESCO heritage list for a reason! It’s not open for visitors (except during Open Monumentendag!) but you can have coffee and enjoy the view of the old port and Cube houses in the Grand Café Het Witte Huis on the ground floor.
Remember that beautiful skyline we were talking about? Euromast is the best spot to have a panoramic view of all of it at once. The 185m tall TV tower offers a lot of activities – from simply getting all the way to the top and sitting in the rotating glass “room” while learning new things about the buildings on the horizon, to photography workshops, to Sunday brunch at the 100m high brasserie or a stair run up the 589 stairs of the tower which are usually closed to the public. Current record is set at 1 min. 47 sec – can you beat that?
Contemporary art – Kunsthal and Boijmans van Beuningen
You will probably fall in love with Kunsthal and that’s inevitable! It is a 10 min walk from Euromast and once you see its contemporary building you’re bound to walk in. The gallery hosts multiple exhibitions at the same time, offering a great variety – from American artist Keith Haring, to Soviet design, to Latin American culture. You can have a tour of the gallery as well as an architectural round if you make a reservation – both are available in English and German and totally worth your time! Leaving Kunsthal’s yard you’ll walk right into Museumpark where there’s regularly a music, movie under the stars or cuisine event! At the opposite end of the park you’ll see another must-see: Boijmans van Beuningen museum. This interactive experience offers a broad spectrum of literary everything! You can go through art from the Middle ages to masterpieces to not-really-popular contemporary art from around the world.
Witte de With Street and IFFR
While you’re in this neighborhood, when exiting Boijmans you can continue walking straight ahead and enter the party street of Rotterdam – Witte de With. Here you will find a lot of places to have a bite, grab a drink (Hamburger offers one of the best burgers in town, Bazar will take you to the Orient, Supermercado will welcome you like real Latino foodies and in WunderBar you’ll feel at home… if you’re ein Baerliner!) or you might as well go contemporary all the way and enter Witte de With Contemporary art center. Here you can contemplate long established as well as pretty unknown artists. Highly recommended!
If you’re really lucky (or if you plan really well!) while you’re visiting there will be an ongoing International film festival (the IFFR). Multiple locations in the city become spotlights for movies you have never seen before and oh, well you might find yourself buying more than one ticket. Not knowing Dutch here is not a problem (tested!) as most of the movies are in English with Dutch subtitles or simply have subs in English.
Now you’ve covered the basics of Rotterdam. Ready for more?