Rotterdam: 8 reasons to visit the Netherlands' second city

written by Stuart Forster
updated 4/19/2021
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Rotterdam has the confident vibe of a place on the up. Amsterdam might still be the brightest beacon for travellers to the Netherlands, but a host of exciting new attractions are putting this southern city on the map.

Last year, Rotterdam Central railway station and the Markthal, a market hall and apartment complex whose arched ceiling bears the largest artwork in the Netherlands, became the two latest landmarks to grace the city’s sprawl.

Then in June 2015 the Luchtsingel, a 390-metre-long, wooden pedestrian bridge linking the city centre and the north, was officially opened. The project was partially funded through crowdsourcing; an example of the social engagement that’s bringing about positive changes in Rotterdam.

The Luchtsingel bridge © Stuart Forster

Thanks to a progressive attitude to post-war reconstruction, after the city was blitzed by the German Luftwaffe, Rotterdam is also an interesting place to explore. The architecture is characterised by bold design and high-rise buildings, while Europe’s largest and busiest sea port helps to imbue the city with a strong work ethic and down-to-earth attitude.

Need more convincing? Here are eight reasons to visit…

1. It has an impressive public art trail

You don’t have to spend money to see artworks by world-renowned artists. Works by the likes of Auguste Rodin and Joel Shapiro are displayed on the sculpture route along the Westersingel canal. The 17 notable pieces include Pablo Picasso’s Sylvette.

Markthal © Stray Toki/Shutterstock

2. There’s a nightlife fuelled by creativity

Laidback café-bars are dotted throughout the city, including Boudewijn, which serves more than 100 Belgian beers. Locals recommend a stroll along Witte de Withstraat because of its high density of watering holes. You’ll find chic cocktail bars, such as the gin specialist Ballroom, plus casual venues. At De Witte Aap art displays change on a monthly basis.

For live music, from jazz to hip-hop, check out events at Bird, a club nestled below railway arches in the north of the city.

3. There's brilliant innovative architecture

Walk along the River Meuse’s waterfront and you’ll see De Rotterdam, a 149-metre-tall skyscraper designed by Rem Koolhaas. The building is described as a ‘vertical city’ and its eye-catching form resembles off-set stacks.

The Van Nelle Factory was opened to process and package tea, coffee and tobacco in 1932. It’s an outstanding example of carefully thought through Dutch functionalist design. The airy building today hosts offices and conference space.

To learn more about Dutch architecture and design head to Het Nieuwe Instituut, which hosts regularly changing exhibitions and events. Pop into by the nearby Sonneveld House to view modernist interiors of a building that in the early 1930s was regarded as an ideal family home.

Cube House architecture

4. Taking a taxi is more fun than you might think

Booking a journey by water taxi is a great way to see the city while travelling at speed along the river. Taxis travel at up to 50 km per hour, making trips a practical means of getting around while inducing an adrenalin-fuelled buzz.

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An iconic brick tower makes it easy to locate the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen. Its vast art collection ranges from paintings by old masters, such as Rembrandt and Hieronymus Bosch, through Magritte and Mondriaan to contemporary works by the likes of Maurizio Cattelan and Pipilotti Rist.

The museum’s collection of drawings and prints is one of the world’s most significant for understanding the development of art. It includes pieces by Albrecht Dürer and Paul Cézanne.

You can also see eight centuries of applied designs, encompassing Dutch Golden Age glassware and Rietveld furniture.

6. Restaurants are redefining the city’s cuisine

Cuisine at Bazar © Stuart Forster

If you’re looking for tasty but inexpensive food try dining at Bazar, whose selection of Middle-Eastern and North African cuisine proves popular with students and young professionals.

A handful of stylish restaurants are redefining Rotterdam’s culinary scene. At Restaurant de Jong you choose between the four-course vegetable or non-vegetable menus then the team of chefs in the open kitchen get creative with seasonal ingredients. Meat dishes are among the specials at Restaurant Las Palmas, whose industrial-chic dining room is a good place to spot celebs.

7. There is first-class accommodation for all budgets

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In-depth, easy-to-use travel guides filled with expert advice.

Rotterdam has a decent selection of inexpensive places to stay. Arguably the pick of the budget rooms are those decorated by local artists at King Kong Hostel.

Citizen M Rotterdam is a mid-priced design hotel that places you by the Oudehaven (old harbour) and within easy walking distance of the Markthal.

Most of the rooms in the four-star Inntel Hotels Rotterdam Centre overlook the River Meuse. The pick of them have views of the Erasmus Bridge.

8. It’s easy to reach from Schiphol Airport

Direct trains between the Schiphol Amsterdam International Airport and Rotterdam Central railway stations take just 27 minutes.

Explore more of the Netherlands with the Rough Guide to the Netherlands. Compare flights, find tours, book hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

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written by Stuart Forster
created 9/16/2015
updated 4/19/2021
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