Rotterdam is not as “beautiful” as its arch rival Amsterdam on the first glance, but it’s got quite a lot to offer after all.
There is actually a reason for that, the place got completely bombed in World War II and instead of rebuilding it in traditional Dutch style, it became a place booming with modern architecture and funky buildings.
You’ll enjoy Rotterdam a lot more if you know where to go and some interesting things to do off the bat. Amsterdam can be great to simply wander and breathe in the sights without any real purpose, whereas in Rotterdam you’ll need a few tips on where to go. And that’s what I’m here for!
Rotterdam was first founded in the 9th century when people first settled near the River Rotte. In the 12th-century, however, the area suffered a tremendous flood which devastated the town and forced its inhabitants to flee.
In 1270, they came back to reclaim the land which needed some serious drainage. To do this, they built a 400-metre long wooden dam to hold back the River Rotte. Houses were then built on and around the dam for safety. That’s how the name “Rotterdam” originated. Today, an outline of where the River Rotter passed is marked with grey bricks on the pavement in front of the Markthal.
As the town grew and prospered, Count Willem IV of Holland granted city rights to Rotterdam on 7 July 1340. At this time, the population was only a few thousand.
Nowadays, Rotterdam is a major logistic and economic centre and home to Europe’s largest port. Unfortunately you won’t get to see the largest ports like Waalhaven, Botlek, Europoort, Maasvlakte or Maasvlakte 2 in this tour, because they are situated nearby the sea and the only way to see them is to drive on the A15 highway to the West, but you’ll see pretty much enough anyway!
As always, we’re starting at the Centraal station.
- De Trap
Right on the Stationsplein is situated a giant staircase of 180 steps, with which you can get to the top of the Groothandelsgebouw. It’s been an idea of an architectural company MVRDV, which also helped to restore Rotterdam after the WW2. Mayor Aboutaleb took the first steps on May 16th 2016, and it was possible to use them until June 12th 2016. Now it’s just an attraction you can take a look at.
- De Markthal
Rotterdam’s newest architectural gem is the first covered market in the Netherlands. Not only does it host food vendors, shops, restaurants, and parking, but there are over 200 residential apartments nested within its walls.
And if that wasn’t enough, covering the massive 11,000 square metre ceiling is the world’s largest painting. Appropriately dubbed the ‘Sistine Chapel of Rotterdam’, the mural consists of vegetables, fish, and other food items that create a sort of kaleidoscope of food.
You’ll find everything from traditional Dutch favourites, like Stroopwafels, to Balkan foods, Spanish tapas, and exotic Indonesian dishes, so make sure you come here on an empty stomach!
A cube house is a house in the form of a tilted cube on a pole, also called pile dwelling or tree house. In the seventies cube houses were built by the Dutch architect Piet Blom in Helmond and Rotterdam. The basic idea, that they’re built on columns so that the space under the buildings can remain public, is inspired by Le Corbusier.
- Maritiem Museum
The Rotterdam Maritime Museum brings the seafaring world of the past, present and the future to life. As well as its permanent collection, there are special exhibitions, events and guided tours on offer.
- Het Lage Licht
This lighthouse once stood at Hoek van Holland, together with a taller one. Both towers were needed for guiding ships towards Rotterdam. When the lights of the two towers were lined up, the captain knew that he was sailing safely in through the deepest channel.
- A communist crane?
The Figee kraan once unloaded seagoing vessels on pier two in the Waalhaven. It was the only place where ships from communist countries such as China and the Soviet Union were handled during the Cold War. On top of that, it was the home base for left-wing Rotterdam dockworkers and their trade unions. That’s why pier two was also known as the Red Pier. The colour of the Figeekraan has nothing to do with it, but it fits in with the theme well.
not my photo!
- De Zeemeeuw
The Zeemeeuw (“Seagull”) was built in 1937 and it’s a small trading vessel. These kind of ships were popular thanks to the small crew they required, their shallow draught and their flexibility. They were so efficient that before the War, Dutch traders completely overshadowed the German and English merchant vessels.
The Geertruida, built in 1906, was used for a long time for transporting building materials to Brussels. The vessel was referred to as “towed box” because it was pulled along by tugs, horses or donkeys. The ship didn’t get its own engine until 1956.
The Maas family used the Geertruida until the 70s. The ship used to be their home. Sometimes there are volunteers on board who can tell you all about life on the Geertruida. So don’t hesitate to step aboard!
- De Boeg
This monument by Frederico Carasso from nineteen fifty-seven honours the three thousand five hundred Dutch sailors who died in the Second World War. Merchant vessels that hadn’t fallen into German hands were required to sail for the Allies. Over five hundred ships were sunk by the German and Japanese navies. The photo shows the SS Statendam, a famous ship of the Holland America Line, which was set on fire during the German bombardment of Rotterdam.
- De Erasmusbrug
- Het Noordereiland
The Noordereiland was created in the 19th century when the Koningshaven was dug straight through the Kop van Zuid. At the start of the Second World War, many houses were destroyed, particularly on the west side.
not my photo
- De Hef
Also called a Koninginshavenbrug. A liftable railway bridge dating from 1927 is all that now remains of the railway bridge that used to cross the Maas. In the background you can see the Koninginnebrug.
The Celebes-Borneo-Java-Sumatra Warehouse, built in 1941 was used for a long time for storing tea and seeds. Later it was used to house flagship stores and loft apartments. The Leidschenveen Warehouse next to it, which was built in 1898, was used for storing tobacco. Now it’s used as student housing.
- Farewell to the Netherlands!
The Rotterdam Cruise Terminal is the former departure hall of the Holland America Line. Through to the 60s, hundreds of thousands of Dutch people emigrated to America, Canada, Australia and New Zealand from this area.
not my photo
- Cruise ships
The scheduled services of the Holland America Line may be a thing of the past now, but modern Rotterdam is still a port of call for cruise ships that come to Western Europe during the summer. A little further to the West you can also visit the SS Rotterdam, dating back to 1958. This legendary Holland America Line ferry and cruise ship has been moored at the Derde Katendrechtse Hoofd since 2010.
not my photo
- Port of Rotterdam Authority
This grey semi-circular tower houses the offices of Havenbedrijf Rotterdam NV, the Port of Rotterdam Authority, which is the management, proprietor and developer of the port. The municipality of Rotterdam and the Dutch Government are the only two shareholders of this important company. This 124 metre high tower was designed by Sir Norman Foster.
- Hotel New York
This building, dating back to 1917, was the headquarters of the Holland America Line until 1971. After that, the company moved to the United States. Since 1993, the building has been home to Hotel New York, a successful restaurant and hotel.
- De Rijnhavenbrug
For over a century, the Wilhelmina Pier quarter and the artificial peninsula Katendrecht were separated by water. A good thing perhaps, because Katendrecht used to be a notorious sailors’ neighbourhood with lots of cafés and even more prostitutes. Since 2012, the Wilhelmina Pier and Katendrecht have been connected by a pedestrian and bicycle bridge.
The Rijnhaven used to be a busy transhipment area. But as more and more new harbours were built, those activities moved increasingly towards the sea. Luxury apartment blocks have displaced the tall cranes. Do you think that’s a shame?
Katendrecht is the best-known port district in Rotterdam. From the WW2 through to the 90s, seamen spent their leisure time in the pubs and brothels on Deliplein. Katendrecht was also Rotterdam’s own Chinatown for a long time. The first Chinese sailors settled here shortly after the WW1. Nowadays though, thanks to the new bridge in particular, Katendrecht is a trendy area for living and for the nightlife.
If you have completed the routes on the Wilhelmina Pier and Katendrecht, you can take the water taxi across to the Veerhaven and continue the route from there.
- Het Wereldmuseum
This is the building where the Maritime Museum used to reside. Now it’s the headquarters to the Wereldmuseum, the World Museum. Both museums were founded in 1874. Rich port barons provided the model ships and the ethnic art objects for it.
- De Veerhaven
The Veerhaven in the Scheepmakerskwartier – the shipwrights’ district – dates back to the middle of the 19th century. It was one of the port of Rotterdam’s first expansion projects. The ferry from Katendrecht docked here until 1968. The harbour was managed until 1980 by the Royal Rowing and Sailing Society. The society’s building (built in 1908) is a splendid Jugendstil structure that still adorns the head of the port.
- Het Park
One of the most charming spots in the city is Het Park bij de Euromast, designed in 1852 by Dutch architect Zocher and his son and inspired by the English country style.
One of the highest towers in Holland can be found in Rotterdam: the Euromast. Architect Maaskant designed the tower for the occasion of the Floriade. Visitors can take an elevator up and enjoy the spectacular view.
In 1960, the Euromast was designed for that year’s Floriade. With well over 100 meters, it was intended to become the highest structure in Rotterdam. Another building took the title just a few years later, after which it was decided to increase the Euromast’s height. 85 meters were added to the construction. It should be noted that the Euromast is not the highest construction in Holland. The radio tower near Lopik has this honor: the Gerbrandy Tower is 361 meters high.
The view from the tower is spectacular. On a clear day, you can see the Belgian city of Antwerp some 80 kilometers away. A ticket grants access to the 100 m platform and the Euroscoop at a height of 185 meters. The restaurant can be found at 100 meters. This is where you can enjoy a real ‘high’ tea. Brunch, lunch and dinner are among the possibilities. Did you know you can also spend the night in the Euromast? High above the city you will find several luxury suites, where you may well enjoy the most beautiful sunrise and sunset ever.
- De Westersingel
During the second half of the nineteenth century, the rapidly growing port of Rotterdam attracted thousands of workers from Brabant and Zeeland. The city became overpopulated and an unhealthy environment to live in. The Westersingel canal was dug as part of a water project by Willem Nicolaas Rose that was aimed at improving the quality of the surface water in the city. This was an effective way of tackling deadly diseases such as cholera. On top of that, the canals made the city a lot more attractive to look at.
Now, to get back to the Centraal station, just follow the Mauritsweg and you’ll be there within a couple of minutes.
There are far more activities that you can enjoy in Rotterdam: numerous parks, a ZOO or the well-known Kinderdijk. But they’re situated all around the entire city, therefore I decided not to mention them in this article, but to write separate articles about them. But they’re still worth of looking for nevertheless! Centraal station is the best gauge point in the city for the public transport, therefore getting to those localities isn’t a problem.
Have a great day!
//created with the help of izi.travel/nl