The second largest city in the Netherlands has become a cultural, economic and academic powerhouse and although Amsterdam usually gets all the fame, Rotterdam should definitely not be omitted, think of it as Amsterdam’s modern brother.
History and overview:
The city, which is located on the Rhine, Meuse and Scheldt river delta has been a major logistics and trade hub for centuries. The city’s origins date back to a dam which was constructed in the Rotte river in the 13th century and served as a safety barrier to enable people to settle around it, Rotterdam was born. Since its foundation in 1270, the city has steadily grown into one of Western Europe‘s main centres for sea merchants.
A major halt for Rotterdam’s development came during the Second World War when Hitler’s armys that had invaded the Netherlands in 1940 were met by sturdy resistance in Rotterdam which led to devastating bombings of the city. The Second World War bombings ravaged substantial parts of the city and over 90,000 people were made homeless. The Dutch commiserated Rotterdam’s fate by nicknaming the city ‘De Verwoeste Stad’ (‘The Destroyed City’) after the war.
The end of the war saw Rotterdam regaining its path to prosperity and its economic success, boosted by its port and its financial sector, has transformed Rotterdam into one of the most innovative and modern cities in the Netherlands.
The port of Rotterdam is today Europe’s largest port complex and thereby the economic backbone of the city and the region. Most of the goods you buy will have been shipped to Europe through here and the importance of the maritime trade is ubiquitous in the city.
The best area for a short stay is without a doubt the city centre. For night owls, staying around Witte de With Straat is always a good idea as many nightlife options will be closeby.
NH Atlanta: An excellent upper-mid range hotel in a central location with all the usual amenities and a great breakfast buffet. Check it out here
The budget option: King Kong Hostel: A great hostel which delights travellers with its central location, its kind and helpful staff and its in house bar. Check it out here
Cultural offer and activities:
Market Hall: (Dominee Jan Scharpstraat 298) Rotterdam’s market hall epitomizes the spirit of the city. It is a multicultural food and drinks temple where you can find pretty much everything from every corner of the world and it is moreover located in a modern architectural gem in the city centre.
Maritime Museum: (Leuvehaven 1) The Netherlands have been a nation of maritime merchants for centuries and Rotterdam has always been the epicentre of these activities thanks to its enormous sea port. The maritime museum delivers an interesting lecture on how the maritime activities have evolved over the last centuries and on how Rotterdam’s port influences the global economy nowadays.
Havenmuseum (Port museum): (Leuvehaven 50) Situated right next to the maritime museum, the port museum is a ‘working museum’ where you can see parts of the daily work of Rotterdam’s most important asset in indoor and outdoor exhibitions.
Kunsthal (Art hall): (Westzeedijk 341) The place for art lovers in Rotterdam. The temporary and permanent expositions are varied and feature local and international art and although this museum can’t compete with Amsterdam’s art museums, it is definitely worth a visit for art enthusiasts.
Erasmus bridge and harbour: The Erasmus bridge is one of the most impressive structures that characterize the rebirth of Rotterdam while the harbour is a great place for a stroll or a bicycle ride, we are in the Netherlands after all.
Euromast viewpoint: (Parkhaven 20) A great observatory on top of the 185m high Euromast tower. The observation deck also contains a high end bar/restaurant where you can wine and dine in style while enjoying breathtaking views over Rotterdam.
Wine & Dine:
Fenix Food Factory: (Veerlaan 19D) Fenix Food factory is a place for true gourmets. It offers the possibility to see craftsmanship in action in an old factory where a wide variety of delicious, lovingly prepared high quality platters are served in a hip setting.
Oliva: (Witte de Withstraat 15A) One of the best Italian restaurants in central Rotterdam where even a demanding gourmet will be satisfied by the quality of the products and the impeccable service.
De Tuine: (Plaszoom 354) A typical Dutch restaurant on the shores of Lake Kralingen a bit further from the city centre where you can eat excellent tartes flambées. A great local option, especially in summer.
Witte de With Street: One of the main nightlife streets in Rotterdam. In the Witte de With, everybody will find something to his taste as the area offers a great amount of restaurants and bars which attract different types of crowds.
Witte Aap: (Witte de Withstraat 78) A hip alternative bar with weekly live bands and a great atmosphere that does not stop until very late.
Locus Publicus: (Oostzeedijk 364) One of the coolest bars in Rotterdam that delights its customers with its varied selection of local and international craft beers.
Thoms: (Meent 131-129) A hybrid between restaurant and bar which has the reputation of being un ‘underground’ bar and convinces patrons with its high quality drinks and its generally laid-back vibe.
Annabel: (Schiestraat 20): One of the best clubs in Rotterdam with well priced drinks (for Rotterdam standards), excellent Djs and a diverse crowd.
Maassilo: (Maashaven Zuidzijde 1-2) The electro lovers’ favourite in Rotterdam. A Berlin-style electro club which will delight ravers with its high quality techno/electro tunes played by talented local and international Djs.
Bird: (Raampoortstraat 26-28) A fantastic club in the Hofbogen district playing a wide variety of music genres ranging from jazz to hip-hop, funk and electro.
Final tips & verdict:
Rotterdam is a great city that benefits from its cultural diversity, its modern infrastructure and from the fact that is home to a great amount of students, young professionals and expats alike.
English levels are generally high in the Netherlands and Rotterdam is no exception, you will have no trouble communicating with the locals who usually speak excellent English. Knowing a few phrases of Dutch is however still very useful, especially with the older generations.
It is in fact a lot less touristy than Amsterdam but still boasts a vibrant culture and nightlife scene. As in most Dutch cities, cycling is the most common way to get from A to B, although the city also has an excellent tramway system for people who are too lazy to cycle.