The train takes an hour and ten minutes to reach Rotterdam from Amsterdam Central. Rotterdam is located in the southern part of the Netherlands and is the second-largest city in Dutch land. This place is also known as the ‘Gateway of Europe’ because of its location by the North Sea.
Situated at the delta of three mighty rivers Rhine, Meuse and Scheldt, Rotterdam has waterway access to the heart of Western Europe including Ruhr the highly industrialised German city.
In 1270, a settlement came up around the muddy land of the Rotte river after a dam was built over the river. The word Rot means muddy. Hence the name Rotterdam. In 1340, city rights were given to this place.
During First World War, the Netherlands was a neutral country. Because of Rotterdam’s strategic location between Germany, German-occupied Belgium and Great Britain, it became the world’s largest refuge for spies.
In 1940 during the Second World War Germany invaded the Netherlands. But Dutch Army fought with fierce resistance which caused German fury that resulted in a heavy bombing of Rotterdam city by the German Air force Luftwaffe. The city was completely destroyed. You will be amazed to see the re-emerged Rotterdam after that mass destruction. In 2015 this city was voted the European City of the year.
The Dutch rebuilt the city and gave it a sensational skyline… gorgeous enough to get it called the “Manhattan On the Maas”. There are no cobbled streets and cosy nooks… all that got bombed away in the second world war; the current Rotterdam version is full of skyscrapers and amazing constructs like the tube-shaped Food hall in Markthal and the graceful swan-like Erasmus bridge.
Rotterdam is divided into two parts from north to south. You will find many skyscrapers here unlike in other Dutch cities. The cable-stayed bridge (the Erasmus Bridge) that links north and south of this city is not only unique because of its engineering mastery but also an object of must-visit as it earned the nickname of ‘De Zwaan’ (i.e. The Swan). The city is known for its architectural genius.
New Orleans Tower is the tallest residential building in the Netherlands. Rotterdam houses the tallest office building in the country as well. A major tourist attraction of the city is its 610 ft tall Euromast Tower. Another bizarre architectural experiment that has now become a must-visit place for tourists is the Kubuswoningen or the cubic housing of Rotterdam (cuboid structured houses).
From 1962 to 2004 Rotterdam was the busiest port in the world. This port covers an area of 105 square kilometres and stretches across a distance of 40 kilometres!
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Places to visit
Rotterdam has some out-of-the-way attractions like the historic Tram Line 10 and the Westersingel Free Sculpture Route which is like a giant stretch of artwork display.
Markthal, a stunning piece of architecture not only houses several important offices but also is a marketplace. With a large semi-circular grey facade and a large windowed section facing out to the surrounding courtyard, the design of Markthal is quite unique. The varieties of bars here are quite interesting such as Tapas Bar (which serves a kind of Spanish cuisine), Tea Bar and ‘World of Drinks’ shops.
Having survived miraculously, the medieval architecture of The Church of Saint Lawrence (Grote of Sint-Laurenskerk) is a must-see. This church was built in 1449. It was among the first all-stone buildings. The religious decorations and various stone reliefs inside the church will leave you enthralled.
Situated nearby, the Erasmus Bridge joins the northern and southern parts of Rotterdam. This second largest bridge of the Netherlands runs from the confluence of the Noord and Lek Rivers and crosses over the tributary of the river Rhine. You will appreciate and adore the fine construction & its engineering genius as you walk across the 2,632 ft stretch of the bridge. The upright mast of this bridge resembles the neck of a swan and rightly fetches its nickname ‘De Zwaan’.
World’s one of the largest Maritime Museums is in Rotterdam with its huge collection of maritime memorabilia, cartography (i.e. the science of drawing maps) and art. The Maritime Museum is located near Markthal in central Rotterdam. Do not miss out on the controversial painting of the Battle of Trafalgar, figureheads of various ships and different navy uniforms and flags.
You can take a boat trip to understand the importance of Rotterdam’s Port. The huge Europort is a fascinating place to visit and learn about its role and importance in the country’s economy.
The 610ft tall Euromast Tower, the tallest structure of Rotterdam was built in 1960 to provide a breathtaking panoramic view of this port city. This observation centre also features a conference room, a restaurant, a hotel suite and an observation deck. With a modest entry fee, you can enhance your adrenaline rush by getting to the view deck.
Rotterdam Central Station is another example of the city’s great architecture. In 2014 this new iconic terminal became operative. With an obtruding angle towards the sky, this triangular shape building never ceases to amaze. To retain some memories of the old station the large letters and the clock were transferred here. You can travel to Amsterdam, The Hague, Groningen and other destinations in the Netherlands from here.
Another great destination in Rotterdam is the Zoological Park known locally as Diergaarde Blijdorp. Earlier it was situated in a different location. The move was made to protect the animals from Second World War bombings.
The Zoo is divided into different theme zones like the Chinese garden, Malayan forest, Crocodile River, Mongolian steppes and an Oceanarium. This is also a breeding centre for Red Pandas and other endangered species. You will find animals like Greater Kudu, Asian Elephant, Black Rhino, Sumatran Tiger, Amur Leopard etc.
Among other important places, you can visit the Fenix food factory. This is an ideal destination for foodies to spend some time amidst various foods and drinks. Visit Kinderdijk village 20 kilometres east of central Rotterdam to see the Netherlands’ iconic windmills.
Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen is a quiet and charming museum located in the Dijkzigt district of Rotterdam just 2 kilometres from Central Station and is one of the most important museums in the Netherlands.
Another great thing to do in Rotterdam is to take a guided tour in the large ocean liner The SS Rotterdam or The Grande Dame. Retired in the year 2000 this lavishly decorated cruise ship was constructed in 1950 and is now a combined hotel and a museum.
An interesting attraction is the Splashtour by amphibian vehicle. It is neither a bus nor a boat or ferry. The top two-third parts resemble a bus but the lower part is modified with four sets of wheels to roll on a road. After you board the vehicle it would start moving on the road that leads to the Mass river. And then the real fun begins as it splashes into the water. The voyage gives you an opportunity to see the cityscape from both land and water. The one-hour city tour leaves from Parkhaven near Euromast Tower.
One of my favourite places is Kubuswoningen or the Cube Houses located right above the Blaak station. It’s a set of houses built in a cuboid fashion. This strange-looking housing block was designed by Piet Blom. The 45-degree angle of the structures gives it a cubic look. And people really live here. This housing is mostly two and three-storied and looks like a concrete tree.
It would be an amazing experience if you get a chance to enter one of these houses. I was lucky to once get such an opportunity as the landlady called me in noticing my curious look. It feels strange inside… a wall suddenly protruding in from nowhere and the roof seems to be falling down… an awe-stricken experience.
The Uit Je Eigen Stad is a major urban farm that lets Rotterdam grow its own food… you will even see vegetable patches on building roofs. The people furiously recycle… they grow mushrooms out of used coffee rinds and plants out of waste plastic.
This is a city of floating architecture…. There is a Floating Pavilion on the southern side of the city’s Nieuwe Maas river and there’s even a newly opened Floating farm where sustainable farming takes place. The coolest of all is the Floating Park which has 28 massive hexagonal blocks that are made from plastic and waste collected from the rivers…these are now home to greenery, microfauna and benches.
There are plenty of shopping options in Rotterdam and most are open 7 days a week. The shopping centres are mainly concentrated between Rotterdam Central and Blaak train stations. Among all, the most famous one is Lijnbaan. Market Hall (Markthal) is also a nice shopping destination.
For body care and health products, the best option is Hoogstraat. To the left of Hoogstraat is Korte Hoogstraat famous for warm clothing and home decorations. To the right of Hoogstraat, you will find Rodezand market specialised in men’s wear.
There are few more markets nearby such as Beursplein, Beurstraverse underpass shops, Oude Binnenweg and Van Oldenbarnevelstraat.
Wining & Dining
To start off the day with a good breakfast you can visit a vegetarian brunch café Bertman’s located on the north side of the city. Try quinoa, spinach and pumpkin patties with egg poach and green salad. You may also try their brunch platter or the polenta fries.
Erstwhile Tropicana (a family fun place) has been converted into a unique bar & restaurant Aloha. Here you can have coffee, a nice range of food or may taste some fine wines.
While visiting Rotterdam you might also try Indonesian and Surinamese food for a change. For Indonesian dishes, you may visit Toko Toorop. Try a bowl of Surinamese Saoto Soup with chicken, beans, boiled egg, vermicelli, spring onions and scotch bonnet salsa at Surinamese outlet Warung Melatie.
A good place to spend an evening would be at Witte de Withstraat as the locals do. In fact, the city has a district that’s named “Cool” and Witte de Withstraat is known as the heart of the “cool district” and it’s filled with wildly inventive street art, the best restaurants and locally famous bars and there is also a street called Coolsingel (famous shopping hub and the seat of Rotterdam Marathon). Try out a gin & tonic with calamari snack… a locals’ favourite.
Also stop by NRC (Nieuw Rotterdams Café) at Witte de Withstraat to sip Rioja or bieterballen along with snacks like patata, brava or deep fried borrelhapjes.
To continue with the “cool” experience you can stay in the ultra-chic and smart hostels which marry a hostel’s relaxed and bohemian atmosphere with the luxury of a hotel… King Kong hostel at the centre of Witte de Withstraat is a good example. This area is also famous for Ter Marsch & Co burger joint and bar where the “best burger of Netherlands” or Burgeresse is served.
There is actually something very cool about Rotterdam apart from its permissive culture and free thinkers and lively music scene; people here have crowd-funded to save many derelict public spaces. One of them the Station Hofplein is now the hottest social space with trendy bars, cafes and designer shops. Another one is now the famous Fenix Food Factory (north side of the city) that’s full of affordable restaurants, cafes and bars and farmers’ produce outlets… this was originally part of a derelict red light area.
One of my all-time favourites is the Dutch delicacy Apple pie of Rotterdam. You can try the world’s best Apple pie in Café Dudok located at the heart of Rotterdam.
Getting to & around
From Amsterdam Central, it takes only 1 hour and 10 minutes to reach Rotterdam. Rotterdam is also well connected by air to several international destinations as well as to various cities in Europe. The flight time from London to Rotterdam is only 55 minutes.
The public transport network within the city is also quite extensive. You can avail Bus, Tram, Metro Rail and Trains to move around. There is also a waterbus (fast ferry) service between Rotterdam and various suburbs. The waterbus terminal at Rotterdam is located at Willemskade under the Erasmus Bridge.
Roaming around Rotterdam is super easy if you avail of public transport… RET gives you nice options like RET Tourist Day Ticket that’s amply sold at RET Service shops and stations. Moreover like in Amsterdam you can easily rent a bicycle and roam around the city. Cruises and private taxis are also available. ‘I Amsterdam City Card’ for hassle-free travelling is also helpful.
Best time to visit
Similar to other coastal areas of the Netherlands, Rotterdam also has a very temperate climate influenced by the Atlantic Ocean and the North Sea. So Climate never gets extreme. You can enjoy a cool summer and moderate winter here. There is no particular monsoon season, you can expect rain anytime, so carry a raincoat.
April to September is relatively dry and travellers prefer to visit Rotterdam during this period. However, you can visit any time of the year. But since many attractions and activities are open from April to September, I would suggest you visit during this period. Keep in mind that July and August see the maximum rush.
Do you know that people of Rotterdam have a funny habit of nicknaming almost anything? They nicknamed the shopping area of the city centre as ‘Shopping Gutter’! A bronze Santa Claus statue by Paul McCarthy situated at Eendrachtsplein in Rotterdam got a nickname too. Because of the peculiar shape of the Christmas tree on its hand, the citizens named it ‘Butt Plug Gnome’!!!