Rotterdam’s harbour is Europe’s largest, and just after Shanghai, world’s largest port. You can see the skyline of this modern metropole from a far distance, especially the Euromast and the Erasmus-bridge can’t be missed. The city lost most of its old buildings in the Second World War. Yet today Rotterdam is acclaimed for its modern architecture. Even the New York Times wrote that practically no other city in Europe has such diverse architecture.
Rotterdammers are the only people in the world who can’t sleep without the sound of pile pounding
Recently, the number of day tourists here have increased explosively. More and more cruise-ships stop here as the city has more to offer for tourists every year.
Getting around is easy: The usual tourist picks a bike to explore the city, but there’s also an extensive metro-network that will get you anywhere in no-time, much better than in Amsterdam. Another option is to take the super-fast Water-taxi to explore the islands or go from one side of the Maas river to the other.
1. Visit the Markthal (Market Hall)
2014 was a milsetone year for Rotterdam, when two architectural masterpieces were finished. First, the futuristic Central Station, and in october the Markthal was revealed. It can be described best as a shopping center and a market combined. The regular market, which can be found just outside, is where most of the locals go for their daily groceries.
The Markthal-building has turned into one of Rotterdam’s number one tourist attractions. Here you will find 100 produce stalls and dozens of restaurants and shops. Fortunately the big franchises have been kept out for now. The inner arch is covered with beautiful 3D artwork called Cornucopia.
2. Walk around in Delfshaven
Delfshaven is the oldest part of town that survived the bombing. A beautiful 15th century suburb where the Mayflower-pilgrims left in 1620 for the New World (America). You will find an old mill here, a couple of museums and a brewery. The area gives a nice feeling of how Rotterdam used to be, before the city was bombed in WWII.
The Pelgrim Brewery is a good place to sit down after a long walk. Their permanent beers; Stoombier, which is a lager, and the Mayflower tripel, are easy-drinking beers, and probably not unlike anything you’ll have tasted before. You can taste five of their beers for ~6 euros.
3. View the city from the Euromast tower
Near Delfshaven, you will find the highest tower of the Netherlands: The Euromast . An elevator will take you to the restaurant in the middle. Then, another rotating elevator will take you all the way up to the 185 meters high top, from where the view is breathtaking.
4. Visit the Boijmans Van Beuningen Museum
This is by far the best museum in Rotterdam, and worth a visit for lovers of classic paintings to modern art as well.
5. Explore the Maas river and the harbour
Walk over the Erasmus-bridge, and stroll around the river. Watch the ships go by.
If you’re not on a tight budget, you could also take the amphibian Aquabus (€24,50) which drives right into the Maas river, and gives a look around. Visit Splashtours for more info.
6. Take a peak in the City Hall (Stadhuis)
Unfortunately, you can’t visit this one on your own. Visit the tourist office and ask for a guided tour.
7. Cube houses
Near the Markthal and Blaak station, you will find the cube houses. Nowadays, the two large southern cubes house the Stayokay hostel. Wonder how it looks from the inside? Visit the Kijk-kubus for €3,-.
8. Visit Katendrecht island
I don’t want to use the word hipster here, but every major city has that part of town where craft beers are made, funny start-ups are founded and artful graffiti is on the walls.
Katendrecht is almost like that. This used to be where the sailors lived and where the Red Light District went down. Today you will find nice pubs, restaurants and theaters here. The night-life of Katendrecht is one of a kind, and certainly worth checking out. I recommend Café de Ouwehoer which is decorated with elements of the islands past. Don’t miss the nearby Kaapse Brouwers Brewery where you can eat and taste some of their exclusive beers.
9. Visit Hollands last Ocean Liner, the S.S. Rotterdam
However, the main reason to visit Katendrecht has to be the S.S. Rotterdam. This is a ocean liner passenger ship used on the Holland America Line. The Holland America Line company was key in transporting many Dutch immigrants to North America. However, this particular ship was in service between 1959 and 2000 as the last ocean liner. The appearance of the ship was very controversial, but ground-breaking. The S.S. Rotterdam was certainly a real work of craftsmanship, and an example for many of cruise ships today.
You should really take a look inside the ship. It is decorated by some of the best Dutch artists of the time. The mosaics, paintings and architecture will take you back to the glamorous days of the sixties. You can visit the ship and the restaurant for free, but all the great stuff can only be seen with a guided tour. This is a great place to have lunch, or even sleep if you can afford.
10. More of Rotterdam
Have more time? Go off the beaten track for some more unique parts of Rotterdam:
Hotel New York is former office building of the Holland America Lines. Unlike other buildings opened in 1993, the architecture is beautiful both from the out and inside. This is a great place to eat, but be sure to make a reservation.
The Walk of Fame Europe or the Star Boulevard is a place where (like in Hollywood) celebrities have left their handprins. It’s Europe’s largest, for what that’s worth 😉 You’ll find hand prints from stars like Tina Turner, Bon Jovi and Mark Knopfler.
The Rotterdam Port Experience is an over-the-top interactive exhibition that will show you how Europe’s largest harbour works in a surprisingly fun way. UPDATE: Has been closed down unfortunately.
Would you eat a hairdresser?
Imagine a Cape Verdian hairdresser walking into a Turkish döner shop, placing an order that includes just about everything on the menu, combined. Tadaa, the Kapsalon (hairdresser) was born. A perfect representation of the multi cultural city that is Rotterdam.
Kapsalon is a Dutch Street food that originated in Rotterdam. It’s something you either love or hate. The latter most likely because of the high amount of calories. You take fries, top it with Döner or Shawarma meat, grilled with a layer of Gouda cheese until melted and… (to make it look like something healthy) completed with a layer of tomato and green salad The dish is usually served with garlic sauce and sambal, a hot sauce from Holland’s former colony of Indonesia. You should be able to get this at nearly every “snackbar” or döner stall in the Netherlands.
The Dutch aren’t particularly proud of this food and probably won’t recommend this. Ironically, this is a big seller, nationwide. I think you should give it a try if you want to immerse yourself into Dutch Street Food.
Want to get away from modern architecture? Take the train to explore one of the many old nearby cities like Dordrecht, Delft or The Hague, or visit the 19 Windmills at Kinderdijk , an UNESCO world heritage.
Is Belgium or France your next stop?
Rotterdam is on the international high-speed railway towards Belgium, the Thalys or other international trains will take you to Brussels or Paris within a couple of hours..