Defined in many ways by the waterways upon which it lies, Rotterdam in South Holland is located on both the New and Old Maas Rivers, just a stone’s throw away from the Netherlands’ North Sea coastline. Boasting the largest and busiest port in Europe, it is the second-most populous city in the country after Amsterdam and is a very vibrant and multicultural place.
Almost entirely destroyed by the Nazis, Rotterdam was rebuilt after the war and is now renowned for its wonderful modern buildings and innovative designs and architecture. Pockets of historic buildings remain, however, and cafe-strewn streets and canals are everywhere you look. On top of all these things to do in Rotterdam, its thriving cultural scene, rich maritime heritage, and fun-filled summer festivals all make ‘the Gateway to Europe’ well worth a visit.
12. Old Harbor
The Old Harbor – or Oudehaven, as it is called in Dutch – is located in the city’s Maritime District, just off the New Maas River. Towering above its reflective waters, which are full of delightful old ships, is a lovely Art Nouveau building named the ‘White House.’
Built all the way back in 1898, it was the first skyscraper in the whole of Europe, and one of the few buildings to survive the Nazi bombings. With a very lively ambiance, the Old Harbor’s packed terraces are a great place to grab a bite to eat or drink or even dance the night away.
11. Diergaarde Blijdorp
Known as Rotterdam Zoo in English, the Diergaarde Blijdorp is set in the northwest of the city. As it was founded in 1857, it is one of the oldest zoos in the Netherlands. Sprawling over a large area, it is divided into various geographic regions, with a Chinese Garden and Crocodile River found alongside Savanna, Mongolian Steppe, and Tiger Creek sections.
Home to over 180 different species, with Sumatran tigers, Indian rhinoceroses, and lowland gorillas counting amongst its most popular residents, the well-maintained and large enclosures resemble the species’ natural habitats. In addition to this, there is also a Botanical Garden for you to amble peacefully about, as well as a brilliant Oceanium, which features everything from stingrays and jellyfish to sharks, penguins, and turtles.
With lots of informative displays on show, as well as regular talks and presentations, a trip to the Diergaarde Blijdorp is as educational as it is entertaining, and makes for a great day out for all the family.
10. Huis Sonneveld
Designed by Leendert van der Vlugt, Huis Sonneveld was completed in 1933, and its sleek, streamlined look is very representative of the time. Named after Albertus Sonneveld, the man who commissioned it, the house is one of the best remaining examples of the Dutch Functionalist style; its interior has been preserved and kept how it would have been back in the ‘30s.
Now part of the Het Nieuwe Instituut museum, visitors can wander around Huis Sonneveld and take a look at the fabulous old furniture, fittings, and furnishings, which at the time were considered state-of-the-art.
9. SS Rotterdam
Built in 1959, this large transatlantic ocean liner sailed the seven seas for just over 40 years until it was retired in 2000. Once the pride and joy of the Netherlands, it is now permanently docked at the entrance of Maas Harbour. Visitors can take a fascinating tour around its lavish and finely decorated interior.
Preserved in the style of the day, the SS Rotterdam’s cabins, corridors, and staterooms look very elegant, with lots of paintings and artworks to see, while the engine rooms and the ship’s bridge show you how it all operated. In addition to learning all about the luxury liner, the ship is now home to a couple of fantastic restaurants and cafes, as well as a hotel should you want to spend a night aboard.
8. Rotterdam Centraal Station
Just one of the city’s many beautiful buildings that exhibit cutting-edge and unique architecture, Rotterdam Centraal Station was built between 1999 and 2013 and is now one of its most iconic landmarks. Located just to the north of the center, the station’s sleek design sees one end of the triangular-shaped building’s angled roof protrude up into the sky.
Besides its many train connections, which can take you all over the Netherlands and further afield, it also has lots of shops and cafes on offer should you need to quickly refuel before heading to your next destination.
7. North Sea Jazz Festival
Taking place every July, the North Sea Jazz Festival is one of the most prestigious and well-respected jazz events in the world. Hosted for the first time in 1976, the festival used to take place in The Hague until its former venue was demolished in 2006. Since then, it has been held in the Rotterdam Ahoy – a huge multi-purpose arena.
Every year, hundreds of talented musicians from around the globe descend upon the city to perform. It now has 15 stages where you can listen to everything from swing and blues to funk, gospel, and soul. Widely acclaimed to be ‘the biggest indoor jazz festival in the world,’ the festival is definitely worth checking out if you are a jazz or music lover. The lively atmosphere makes it a fun experience even if you aren’t.
One of the few parts of the city to have come out of WWII relatively unscathed, Delfshaven is where you will find the majority of Rotterdam’s remaining historic buildings. Bordering the New Maas River, the neighborhood is lovely to wander around and is centered around a very picturesque marina and two charming canals.
Once home to fishermen and shipbuilders, the quaint 17th-century townhouses are now cozy cafes, boutique shops, and restaurants. Its wonderfully preserved De Distilleerketel is one of the largest mills in the country. Offering a charming glimpse of what Rotterdam used to look like, Delfshaven lies just to the west of the city center and is not to be missed out on when in town.
Another fantastic example of Rotterdam’s marvelous modern architecture, the Cube Houses, as they are known, were built in 1977 and are sure to be unlike any building you’ve seen before. Designed by the Dutch architect Piet Blom, the unique houses are meant to look like trees. Atop each one is a cube-shaped apartment that is tilted forty-five degrees towards the ground.
All told, there are 40 of these incredible houses for you to check out, with the Kijk-Kubus being the only one you can go inside. While the museum house isn’t all that interesting or impressive, it does tell you more about their design, the concept behind them, and, of course, shows you what one of the cubes looks like from the inside. Best viewed from outside, the Cube Houses and the Kijk-Kubus are, without doubt, one of the city’s most innovative and unusual architectural features.
4. Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen
Located in the Museumpark, which lies just to the southwest of the city center, the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen boasts an astounding collection of artworks and is one of the finest art museums in the country. Named after Frans Jacob Otto Boijmans and Daniel George van Beuningen, who both left their extensive personal collections to the museum, it was opened way back in 1849.
On display are a staggering array of magnificent paintings and sculptures, as well as textiles, glassworks, and wood carvings. Famous masterpieces on show include the Tower of Babel by Pieter Brueghel the Elder, and On the Threshold of Liberty by Rene Magritte. Works by Cezanne, Dali, Goya, and van Gogh also feature. Currently closed for renovations, the museum’s vast collection has been distributed and displayed around Rotterdam, so you can still see the artworks in various institutions and museums.
3. Erasmus Bridge
Nicknamed ‘the swan’ due to its elegant design, the Erasmus Bridge was completed in 1996 and is now one of the most recognizable landmarks and symbols of the city. Spanning the width of the New Maas River, the suspension bridges stretches some 800 meters and connects the north of Rotterdam to the south.
Reaching 139 meters high, its pylon towers above the river. From it, 40 cables are suspended; these help support and prop up the deck of the bridge. As part of it is a bascule bridge, this can be opened to allow ships to pass to and fro. One of the most iconic images of the city, Erasmus Bridge is well worth checking out when in town.
2. Euromast Tower
Erected in 1960, with its spindly Space Tower added in 1970, the Euromast Tower is the tallest building in the city and stands at 185 meters in height. From its observation deck, which lies halfway up the tower, you can enjoy incredible panoramas of all of Rotterdam before you. The views are even better from its rotating glass lift that takes you right to the top of its spike.
If you’d like longer to bask in the beautiful views of the city and waterways below, you can always grab a bite to eat or drink in its restaurant or even stay the night in its hotel. In the summer months, it is even possible to abseil and zip line off of the Euromast Tower if you’re feeling brave.
Another of the city’s most famous and fabulously unique buildings, the Markthal is a marvelous multi-functional building that is home to apartments, offices, restaurants, shops, and of course, its large market hall. Opened in 2014, the distinctive horseshoe-shaped design sees the building arch gently above the open space market hall that runs through its center.
If you look up at the ceiling far above, you’ll see that it is coated in an enormous artwork entitled the ‘Horn of Plenty.’ Designed by Arno Coenen and Iris Roskam, it depicts lots of enlarged fruits, vegetables, and fresh produce; this fits perfectly with the purpose of the hall below.
Perusing the market’s hundred or so stands is loads of fun, and most of them sell delicious snacks, drinks, and meals. Very representative of Rotterdam’s multicultural identity, the Markthal is a colorful and vibrant place to visit.