Home to the largest port in the world, Rotterdam is a no-nonsense working-class city lying at the heart of a maze of rivers and artificial waterways that together form the outlet of the rivers Rijn (Rhine) and Maas (Meuse). After devastating damage during World War II, Rotterdam has grown into a vibrant, forceful city dotted with first-division cultural attractions. Redevelopment hasn’t obliterated its earthy character though: its tough grittiness is part of its appeal, as are its boisterous bars and clubs.
In terms of sights, Rotterdam’s attractions are enticing, most notably the Kunsthal, exhibiting contemporary art, and the Museum Boijmans van Beuningen, which has an outstanding art collection including representative works from almost all the most important Dutch painters: both are in the city’s designated culture zone, the Museumpark. Other city highlights include Oude Haven, the city’s oldest harbour, ravaged during World War II but sympathetically redeveloped, and Delfshaven, an antique harbour that managed to survive the bombs pretty much intact. Rotterdam also boasts a string of first-rate festivals, including the much-lauded North Sea Jazz Festival and the colourful Summer Carnival.
The North Sea Jazz Festival (w northseajazz.nl), held every year in mid-July, is the country’s most prestigious jazz event, attracting international media coverage and the world’s most famous jazz musicians. For many years, the festival was held in Scheveningen near Den Haag, but in 2006 it transferred to Rotterdam’s Ahoy’ centre, about 4km south of the city centre at Ahoy’-weg 10. To get there by metro, take the Erasmuslijn and get off at Zuidplein. Details of performances are available online and from the VVV, which will also reserve accommodation – virtually impossible to find after the festival has begun. Various tickets can be purchased; a dagkaart, for example, valid for an entire day, costs €89.
The shape and feel of the Leuvehaven, Rotterdam’s first artificial harbour, has been transformed by the Boompjes freeway, which scoots along the top of the old enclosing sea dyke. Beside the Boompjes, at the south end of the Leuvehaven, is the departure point for Spido cruises (t 010 275 9988, w spido.nl). They have several different tours of the surrounding waterways and port facilities, heading off past the wharves, landings, docks and silos of the world’s largest port, but the standard harbour tour costs just €10.50 (April–Oct 5–11 daily; Nov–March Mon–Wed 1 daily, Thurs–Sun 4 daily; 1hr 15min). In July and August, there are also longer trips to several destinations, most notably the series of colossal dams that make up the Delta Project along the seaboard southwest of Rotterdam (July & Aug 1 weekly on Wed; 7hr; €55).