Our hometown Rotterdam has been one of the most underrated travel destinations in the Netherlands. While all tourists flock to picturesque Amsterdam for canal boat rides and historic streets, they rarely add Rotterdam to their itinerary. We will tell you exactly why Rotterdam should be on your travel wish list and what to do when you get there.
Why visit Rotterdam
Rotterdam is quite different from all other Dutch cities. Most of the Dutch cities date back to the time when charming canals circling around the central church were the way to build towns, creating the picturesque and Amsterdam-like historic cities tourists expect to see in The Netherlands. But Rotterdam is different, as its historic buildings, charming lanes and old canals were destroyed during bombings at the start of the Second World War.
Though it’s a pity those beautiful streets and buildings were lost, this did create the opportunity to completely redesign the city center. The result is a beautiful city, known for its urban street art, modern architecture and world-class museums.
The Rotterdam architecture
The modern architecture of Rotterdam is one of the reasons to visit the city. It’s the only city in the Netherlands with award-winning skyscrapers, swan-shaped bridges and controversial designs for its train station. Must-see buildings are the central station with its uniquely shaped roof, which you can see best from the station square in front of the building. But make sure to head into the station as well, especially on sunny days when the shadow play of the roof creates a beautiful pattern on the platforms contrasting with the yellow colors of the trains.
Also make sure to take the Erasmus Bridge – known as ‘the swan’ among locals – to visit the Wilhelminapier with its modern skyscrapers as well. The Rotterdam building is one of the best known among them, as it won several design awards. You can already see it from the bridge. It’s especially beautiful when the sunset sets the Rotterdam sky on fire, which reflects in the glass Rotterdam building. There is a hotel and cocktail bar located in the building.
Other city icons are the yellow cube houses, the nearby market hall and the Euromast. The cube houses are Dutch design by Piet Boon, creating a modern forest with stairs in the trunks leading up to the cubes forming the leaf area. One of the cube houses can be visited as a museum. One of the larger cubes is now a hotel, which is one of the unique places to stay in Rotterdam.
Right next to the cube houses is the market hall, one of the most photogenic spots in Rotterdam. It’s filled with food stands with both local Dutch treats and snacks, and less-local cuisines like Spanish tapas, Asian street food or Italian pasta. It’s not the food though, but the stunning ceiling that makes this one of the most picture-perfect places to visit in Rotterdam. It is often called the modern Sistine Chapel because of its colorful artwork all over the ceiling. The Euromast is another must-visit. This huge tower from 1960 offers the best views of the Rotterdam skyline and adventurous travelers can go abseiling as well.
But don’t be fooled by all this modern architecture, because there are still some historic monuments that survived the bombings. The city hall is the best-known of them. You can visit it with a free tour, as long as you book ahead. Next to it is the old post office, which hasn’t been in use for a long time but is now finally being transformed into an apartment and restaurant complex. The Delfshaven area is located to the west of the city center and the best place to see the old Rotterdam. It has those canals, lanes and historic houses you’ll expect to see in Amsterdam, but not here.
The iconic Dutch windmills
There is even a typical Dutch windmill in Delfshaven. You can buy its products in the mill shop, which makes a great souvenir to take home. If Dutch windmills is what you’re looking for, you might want to head to the Kralingse Plas as well. This city lake and forest is one of the green oases in Rotterdam, where locals spend their summer days or go for a run. There are two windmills right next to the lake and one of them – the spice mill – is open to visitors some days of the month.
The best and most famous windmills of the Netherlands are located just outside of the city, at the Kinderdijk village. It’s a one-hour bike ride, if you prefer to visit it the way the locals would do. Or use the public water bus for a low-budget Maas river cruise. You can hop on right next to the Erasmus bridge in the Rotterdam city center and finish at Kinderdijk. Kinderdijk has the highest concentration of windmills in the Netherlands: 19 historic mills are set in a Dutch meadow landscape, once used to drain this swampy area below sea level. You can walk or bike around the area for free. You’ll only need a ticket to visit the museum mills.
The world-class museums in Rotterdam
If you’re interested in museums like we are, make sure to visit the world-class museums in the Museum Park. Boijmans Van Beuningen is known for its Golden Age masterpieces, like paintings by Rembrandt and Rubens, but also its modern art. We are especially fond of the surrealist collection with artworks by Dalí and Magritte. The museum is currently finishing its Depot building, a stunning mirror building housing the artworks that aren’t on display. It will be open to visitors, creating the unique opportunity to visit a museum depot.
Other great museums to visit are the Kunsthal for contemporary art, the Wereldmuseum about foreign cultures or the Maritime Museum about the Rotterdam port.
The Rotterdam street art scene
Modern art isn’t just on display in the Rotterdam museums though. The city has a lively street art scene. The city center has murals and street art everywhere, but if you want to find the best ones, make sure to go to the Witte de Withstraat. This street known for its restaurants and bars has the highest concentration of murals. “Mankind is the measure of all things” is hard to miss, as this enormous green artwork is located at a street corner at the end of the street. Other highlights are “Love Spreads” in the Kromme Elleboog street and “El Trotadamus” in the Zwarte Paardenstraat, both right next to the Witte de With.
Where to stay in Rotterdam
There are a variety of fantastic places to stay from classic hotels, modern styled accommodations to small inns. Check out the best rated inns and hotels here for the best rated places to stay in the area.
Hotel Mainport Rotterdam – located on the banks of the Maas river, this modern and comfortable hotel, clean and friendly staff. Conveniently located to the metro and main sites around the city.
Hotel New York – located on the old Holland American Lines, this classic building is well repurposed, modern and comfortable with classic details to this comfortable, beautiful and excellent customer service.
The Slaak Rotterdam – this sleek and beautiful repurposed building is spacious, well appointed, spacious and comfortable rooms with attentive and friendly staff and service.
For more choices and well reviewed places, check out these Trip Advisor reviews here for more details to staying in the area.
Guest Post Bio
Maartje and Sebastiaan, travel bloggers from The Netherlands in their thirties. We only knew each other for three weeks when we made our first trip and we welcomed a baby girl in April 2021 to our travel team.
By Maartje & Sebastiaan from The Orange Backpack
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