When you think about Dutch culture, you might conjure up images of windmills, old warehouses standing along the canal and, of course, tulips. Rotterdam is pretty much the opposite of all that. With its tall and modern buildings, Rotterdam is the hippest and trendiest city in the Netherlands - no wonder it’s sometimes called the Dutch Manhattan!
After the city centre was destroyed during World War II, new, innovative buildings have been popping up on the skyline of Rotterdam. However, it is also possible to spot some ‘survivors’ of a bygone age when you are wandering around the vibrant and lively streets. Time to go out and discover the many faces of Rotterdam city.
As we’ve said, Rotterdam is a modern city, so don’t expect the idyllic canals you may associate with Amsterdam. Rotterdam is a breath of fresh air in comparison to the capital, exuding innovation, art and modernism.
Completely hidden by the high and modern buildings, you can find the White House tucked away in the ‘Old Harbour’. When built in the late 1800s it was the first skyscraper in Europe over 45 meters tall. Although every building in the area was destroyed during the bombings, the White House survived without a single scratch. Today the building itself is not in use, but on the ground floor you can find several café’s and enjoy a nice view over the water.
Although the Rotterdam city hall was inside the target area for WW2 bombers, it miraculously survived without major damage. You can find the building at the heart of the city centre at the Coolsingel. The building is completely symmetrical with a courtyard located in the middle. The clock tower is 71 meters high, with an angel of peace looking over the city; maybe their presence is the reason the building is still standing!
This building has been called the ‘Grand Old Lady’ by the locals, and with good reason. As well as its lovely rooms, the Hotel New York is one of the best places to eat in Rotterdam, bolstered by its rich and fascinating history. Hotel New York was the head office for the Holland-America line and was one of the city’s most important assets back in the day. This line was not only used to transport goods, but served equally as a connecting line for people looking to flee to America during the war. Go back in time and pay it a visit. If the restaurant is a bit above your student budget, indulge in a reasonably-priced drink instead.
One of the newer buildings in the city, it decorates the south bank of the river ‘de Maas’ and was awarded the flattering title of ‘best tall building of Europe’ in 2014. The building contains office spaces, a hotel, a bar and a restaurant with a large terrace looking over river. Rumor had it that Madonna had bought the entire penthouse of the prestigious building, but sadly, in the end, it was bought by an anonymous American couple.
This is where you go to escape city life for a moment. At Kralingse Plas you can have a walk in the woods, stare into the lake or enjoy a coffee or tea in one of the small wooden restaurants. Locals also use the Kralingse Plas for a morning run, so don’t be surprised to see loads of joggers if you’re around in the morning.
The cubic houses are some of the most talked-about architectural pieces of the city. The idea emerged as a countermovement against the grey and static buildings pushed out of the ground after World War II. Each cubic house represents a tree which, when put together, form a forest known as ‘The Forest from Blaak’. The practical innovation behind the project was about saving space. Fun fact: the people living here need to adjust their furniture to accommodate the 45-degree angle, for example, by sawing off half of the table legs!
This culinary Walhalla was built just 2 years ago and has already established itself as one of the main attractions for tourists in Rotterdam. Inside the dome, you can find various restaurants including Jamie’s Italian, Burgers & Pickles and Fellini (another Italian restaurant), but also stands where you can buy all sorts of delicacies from all around the world.
Think of spices, sausages, more olive oils than you can count, cheese, fruit...but also treats like Belgian waffles, stroopwafels and donuts. It might add a little to your cost of living, but it’s worth it! Inside tip: loads of stands will offer free samples, so you could fill up doing a tour of those!
De Witte de Withstraat is the number one location for a young, vibrant atmosphere with art, music, food, drinks and a groovy vibe. In the street you can find trendy bars, restaurants and shops. You can also find the ‘Witte Aap’ which was awarded best bar in the world in 2013 and the burger bar ‘Ter Marsch & Co’ which has also won several awards for best burger.
This street is located in the historical Delfshaven, playing host to a wide range of bars and restaurants. Ranging from small bakeries, to vintage and designer shops, restaurants and galleries, you can find pretty much everything you may need here. Some of the most popular spots are:
Koekela: a store with all types of cookies and pastries.
Schorem: one of the city’s best vintage hairdressers.
Westerpaviljoen: stroll down for a good cup of coffee or a cold beer on the spacious, sunny terrace.
The Pannenkoekstraat and the area around it are known as the Soho of Rotterdam. From a truly Parisian breakfast at ‘Pierre’, to a fresh lasagna or pasta lunch at ‘Mangiare’ and a beer at ‘Bokaal’ (or a cocktail at ‘Level’), you have it all!
In addition to sightseeing, there are plenty of things to actually do in Rotterdam. Rotterdam is not a very big city and most of its activities are centered above the Maas river, making Rotterdam the perfect city for walking, cycling and exploring!
The Rotterdam harbour is one of the busiest ports in the world, just lagging behind those in Singapore and Shanghai. There are biking and walking routes from the city centre all the way to the Maasvlakte, the industrial part of the port. This route called the ‘Port Navigation’ and starts at the Rotterdam Maritime Museum (Rotterdam City centre, close to the Erasmus bridge and the Coolsingel); on the way you can do bird watching, find submarines and check out several enormous cruise ships!
For the real fanatics among us, the entire route from Rotterdam to the Maasvlakte by the sea is 80 kilometers long - you can tour the whole thing in the saddle! The rest of us can pick and choose the route which is most comfortable for us, doing as much or as little as we please.
Miniworld Rotterdam displays Rotterdam in miniature format. Over a 535m2 area, you can see the city of Rotterdam in a day or night time lapse. Apart from the famous buildings, you can also see how Rotterdam does its water management, and the typical dykes, canals, windmills and pumping stages that make the Netherlands famous. A visit to Miniworld can also give you a good impression of the city and may help you decide where to visit next!
Euromast is an observation tower for which the top reaches 184 m! It has been built between 1958 and 1960 and since 1970, there is the Space Tower in which you can have a whole 360° observation of Rotterdam having the view up until The Hague and the entire harbour. It is located 10 minutes from the city center just next to the Erasmus MC and inside the Het Park.
Rotterdam has two parks where you can escape city life for a while. The Euromast park is, as the name indicates, close to the Euromast in the west part of the city. It’s not the biggest park, but due to its location it is more famous than the Kralingse Plas. In summer, the park fills up with sunbathers, barbecuers or sportspeople - you could be one of them!
The other park is the Kralingse Plas, which is the biggest of the two, spanning 3km2. It is located at the very east of the city and is a bit less popular than the Euromast Park. Bordering the park there is also a ‘forest’ where in autumn you can wander around between the orange leaves. There’s also a huge lake and enough open space to barbecue or chuck a frisbee around in the sun. If you fancy a run, the path around the lake is 5-7 kilometers long.
Bike tour = the best way to discover Rotterdam. The city is well-developed for bikes, with cycle paths throughout. You can go pretty much anywhere - remember that even though Rotterdam is a very modern city, the neighborhoods of Delfshaven and Kralingen were built before the devastation of WW2 and are still standing, offering an older taste of culture.
The Maas divides Rotterdam into a north and south part and dominates the city landscape, perfect for walks or bike trips. There are tons of different ways to explore the river by boat: a Speedo (fast) boat, party boats, cruisers - you name it, we have it. You can even cross the river while eating pancakes on the so-called Pancake Boat!
Rotterdam is very up-and-coming culturally, and it’s well on its way to usurping Amsterdam from where it sits as the cultural heart of the Netherlands. Some of the country’s biggest events are now hosted in Rotterdam, so be sure not to miss out! We’ve listed five of our favorites below.
As the port is one of Rotterdam’s most important economic assets, it’s no wonder that the city is very proud of all the activities that its operations bring. Every year in September the Port of Rotterdam opens itself up to visitors for a three-day event. Several demonstrations and shows are performed (by the marines, for example) and you can have a look at several monstrously large ships. The event takes place from Friday to Sunday during the first weekend of September, and traditionally on Saturday the day ends with a big fireworks show.
This 12-day event is hosted every year at the end of January/beginning of February. You can see a wide range of International films in cinemas across the city, with over 30 different films attracting nearly 305.000 every year. In addition, you’ll find about 2500 national and international film professionals come to the event. In addition to the films themselves is the award show which recognizes achievement in various categories. The Rotterdam International Film Festival is a must-visit for all movie lovers!
Alongside music and the arts, Rotterdam is a real sports city, with its headline event being the Rotterdam Marathon. Every April, thousands of sportsmen and supporters from all over the world gather for one of the Netherlands’ biggest annual events. They also run a ¼ marathon (10 kilometers) for those who don’t feel like going the full 43! Just coming as a spectator is a great experience as well. The whole city is full of activities and as the weather is normally quite good in April, the overall atmosphere is infectiously upbeat.
Rotterdam is a multicultural city with over 170 nationalities living within its borders. One of its biggest cultural festivals is the summer carnival hosted by Rotterdam United. As the weather is generally not great during the February carnival, and because the Dutch have their own unique way of celebrating it, they do it again in the summer! One of the highlights of this event is the Street Parade where hundreds of people are dressed in all the colors of the rainbow, accompanied by tropical beats and rhythms. Close your eyes and pretend you are partying in Rio de Janeiro!
The ATP tour is the absolute elite of the men’s game. The world’s top stars will be present competing for the trophy in Rotterdam in February every year. 2017 saw French superstar Jo Wilfried Tsonga finish on top, but given the resurgence of "The Top Four" this season, next year you could be in for a treat with Nadal, Djokovic, Murray and Federer all possible entrants!
The city by night is as alive as it is during the day. While the weekend kicks off on Thursday for most bars and clubs, students can find a great night out as early as Tuesday! This is the section you’ve been waiting for - the best five bars in the city!
The Netherland’s best cocktail bar of 2016, located at Oude Haven. This award-winning bar and its chatty bartenders could easily become your new watering hole of choice. The menu aside, you can order personalized cocktails based entirely on your tastes. If you like cocktails, Noah is definitely the place to be on a Thursday, Friday or Saturday night. From 23.00 o’clock the DJ will turn up the tunes and you can show off your (very impressive, we’re sure) dance moves.
Top tip: every Thursday all cocktails are 6.50!
Kade 4 is situated at one of the most idyllic spots in Rotterdam; the Oude Haven, or Old Harbour. Particularly in summer, this is the place to be - there’s a huge terrace next to the water where you can enjoy a nice cold beverage. That’s not to say Kade 4 doesn’t perform in the winter: you won’t find a better spot to warm up with a gluhwein. With a choice of over 7 different gins - including Nolet, Tanqueray and Hendricks - and 6 tonics, there’s no place you’d rather get a G&T than right here.
Located in one of the most talked-about buildings in the city - ‘the Rotterdam’ - you can find Nhow. It’s a pretty fancy bar and a good option for a stronger drink on the weekends. The bar has a trendy interior where you can slouch into comfy lounge chairs, or plonk yourself out on the terrace when the sun is out - there’s a stunning view of the Erasmus bridge to enjoy with your cappuccino or cocktail.
The Witte Aap - or White Monkey - has been awarded best bar in the world for several years now. It’s always busy in the evenings - including most of the staff from neighboring bars who have finished their shifts - and the vibe is chilled and welcoming. It’s open all day, serving as the resting grounds for all types of different people. You should check it out. It’s cool.
This place used to be the tropical swimming paradise "Tropicana". Now, you can feel that Hawaiian beach vibe on the terrace right across from the Maas river. Many plants, swinging chairs, decorations and lights lend a cosy, unique ambience. Step into the outdoor swimming pool and try some delicious meals, cakes or coffee while savoring the beautiful view. Every Tuesday they participate in the Vegan Challenge and offer a 4-course meal that’s completely plant based. If you’re a night owl, you don’t want to miss their silent disco...
Rotterdam is a good city for gastronomy. There are restaurants from every culture and wherever you go in the city, you’re bound to find a good deal - it’s one of the best things about moving to Rotterdam! Careful not to stumble into a 5* restaurant and burn through your Erasmus grant though!
With its middle-eastern interior, Bazar is one of the best-decorated restaurants in Rotterdam. You can find Bazar in the middle of the ‘Witte de With’ street, aka the place to be for small, cozy and arty cafes and restaurants. Its menu is inspired by eastern roots and you can find different types of kebab, couscous, falafel and koftes. Be sure to try the Tavuk Sis Kebab or the Yoghurtlu Adana - you won’t regret it!
For all foodies among us, this is one of the restaurants owned by the famous TV-chef Jamie Oliver! If you think this will be out of budget, then think again. Jamie is known for producing cookbooks of affordable meals, and this ethos extends to his restaurant. You can easily get a pasta dish for 10 euros (15 if you pick the most expensive one), as well as steaks, stews and salmon - but be careful, this price excludes side dishes, so the bill can add up if you choose recklessly!
One of the most popular restaurants in town for both students and professionals. This Italian restaurant is cheap, fast and delicious. The portions are massive, and doggy bags are allowed - next-day lunch secured! If you find some room for dessert, their Nutella pizza gets our heartiest recommendation: it’s every bit as heavenly as it sounds.
Ter Marsch & Co is the best burger joint in town. It won several awards for "best burger in the Netherlands" and Rotterdam. They have the classics with pickles, cheese and truffle mayonnaise, but also special creations with Japanese Wagyu and porzu/sambia gravy. A must-eat!
The striking white interior is in keeping with the modern, dynamic feel of Rotterdam as a city overall. It serves a range of tasty and diverse Asian foods, and everything is presented with exceptional style on the plate. Really cool for lunch, dinner and dates! Its location right in the centre of Rotterdam is a godsend, as you’re never far from it when the hunger takes you!
If you want to get more info about Rotterdam, check on these nice spots to chill.