Rotterdam, a city pioneer in architecture and urban design
Rotterdam is the second largest city in the Netherlands. Sure, it doesn’t have the touristy reputation of Amsterdam – the two cities are less than 80km apart but it’s a whole world apart on many levels.
Rotterdam has an identity all its own, even compared to cities that may be relatively close. This is mainly due to historical reasons. In the early days of World War II, the city was heavily bombed by the Luftwaffe. The entire historic center was destroyed and the Dutch decided to surrender before the Germans destroyed more Dutch cities. Instead of rebuilding the city as it was (as was done for example in several German cities bombed by the Allies), the residents and authorities of Rotterdam decided to build a new, modern city, with a new plan, with wide avenues and tall buildings . Few old buildings were repaired. Today, anyone walking through the city is surprised to come across an old building such as the Laurenskerk Cathedral or the old town hall.
Rotterdam leads in areas such as urban innovation and is famous for its constantly renewed architecture. All of this is combined with a raucous nightlife and cultural scene, while, by all accounts, the city is a step ahead of the rest of the Netherlands in areas such as design and fashion. Below, we present the best experiences and activities that are worth experiencing when you are in the city of Holland.
As mentioned above, the fact that Rotterdam suffered extensive bombing in World War II created – albeit in a tragic way – a large blank canvas to transform the city into a symbol of modern architecture. Innovation, intelligence and imagination are reflected in countless buildings in the city and perhaps the most special are the kubuswoningen: the cube-shaped houses, a creation of the architect Piet Blom.
Their construction was completed in the mid-1980s. Next to the pencil-shaped tower, there are 38 yellow houses with this architectural design. These small dwellings sit on a hexagonal base and each leans forward at an angle of 54.5 degrees. Although most of these houses are normally inhabited, the fully furnished Show Cube functions as a museum and can be visited.
A short distance from the kubuswoningen is another architectural gem of the city.
The Markthal, a creation of the MVRDV studio, is a horseshoe-shaped building housing offices and apartments. Each side of the horseshoe is 40 meters high and is made of steel and large glass surfaces. Downstairs, there is a space that redefines traditional Dutch food halls and is decorated with frescoes of food, flowers and insects, in the style of 17th century Dutch painting. Of course, what will attract the attention of foodies everywhere are of course the food stalls, among them many delicatessens and cheeses. Every Tuesday and Saturday there are additional stalls selling clothes, books and other products.
A separate neighborhood
Delfshaven is one of Rotterdam’s most pleasant districts and one of those that escaped the bombing. Here you can get a picture of the city before World War II. A special point worth seeing is the Pelgrimskerk, the church visited by the English pilgrims before they set sail for America in July 1620. You will see old mills, as well as a cafe. You can also visit its brewery. You will taste authentic local beer and learn all about its production process.
Rotterdam may fall short of Amsterdam in picturesque canals and buildings, but it certainly has nothing to envy in terms of shopping options. Maybe he even surpasses it. Meent and Nieuwemarkt squares are the city’s hotspots for fashion and design. A great alternative can be found on Van Oldenbarneveltstraat and Witte de Withstraat. At the same time, Rotterdam is definitely the leading hip city in the country, so it’s no wonder that it attracts artists and designers who have set up their workshops and studios there. Certainly, if you are interested in buying art and decorative objects of top design, you are in the right place.
Arts inside and outside
Art lovers will love the Museumpark. The Kunsthal offers five contemporary exhibitions while the Depot of the Boijmans Van Beuningen museum acts as a warehouse with thousands of works of art, such as paintings and ceramics. There is also Het Nieuwe Instituut with exhibitions related to fashion and design, as well as the excellent Museum of Natural History. Apart from the content of the exhibitions, the museums also impress with the architecture of their buildings. For example, the Sonneveld Huis, which houses Het Nieuwe Instituut is a brilliant example of ultramodern architecture, while the Depot, whose building is shaped like a huge bowl on which light is reflected, will not leave indifferent even the non-specialist visitor.
If you prefer to admire works of art outdoors, we suggest you follow the sculpture trail (Beeldenroute Westersingel) which starts from Chinatown and follows the Westersingel canal to the Museumpark. Along the route, there are 17 works by major artists such as Rodin and Picasso. There is also the most subversive Santa you will ever see. The provocative Santa Claus, according to the artist who created him “may be holding a tree, a sex toy or something else” is located behind the Binnenweg, one of the country’s largest shopping streets.
Two special hotels
Once the red-light district, now the regenerated Katendrecht peninsula is home to trendy restaurants and the Fenix Food Factory, a brewery with waterside tapas stalls. If you cross a footbridge, you will find yourself at the restored docks of Kop van Zuid. There are floating corporate offices, skydivers and a historical landmark.
Hotel New York is located in a hip district which is chosen by both locals and tourists for accommodation and entertainment. It is housed in the former offices of the shipping company Holland America Line and was the place where thousands of immigrants temporarily stayed before their journey to North America. Now, its bar and terrace offer fine cocktails and excellent views of the city. As a hotel, this particular building operated for the first time in 1993. It is managed by the same company that manages another hotel with a special history.
The cruise ship SS Rotterdam is permanently docked in the city’s harbor and has been operating since 2010 as a museum and hotel.
See the city by sea
Rotterdam stretches around the river Nieuwe Maas. Water tours are very common and perhaps the easiest way to see the city is either by water taxi or by renting electric boats which are easy to handle.
So you will pass under the very special bridges such as the Erasmus Bridge and the Willems Bridge, see up close the sustainable floating farm – a special dairy unit – and admire the old harbor where buildings from the 16th century and replica ships of the same era belong to the Maritime Museum, they create a contrast with the luxurious modern boats.