Rotterdam is a truly modern, culturally diverse city, with around 186 different nationalities making up its population. As Europe’s largest port and the second biggest city in the Netherlands after Amsterdam, Rotterdam is an energetic and fast moving city that prides itself on the ability of its population to embrace change.
Though the city dates back to 1270, it was practically obliterated in World War II and, today, the skyline has more in common with New York than with a traditional Dutch city. Soaring skyscrapers and award-winning modern architecture sit, side by side, with the quaint traditional Dutch houses that remain of the original city.
This vibrant university town, with its buzzing nightlife and great shopping, is just under four hours from London by train, so perfect for a holiday or city break with friends.
Whether you’re a hard-core clubber, a jazz-lover, a shopaholic or an architecture buff, there’s plenty to do and see in Rotterdam.
This monumental modern building houses Rotterdam’s most spectacular food market. You’ll find everything here, cheese, cake, Genever gin, meat, fish – stall after stall of deliciousness. And, if looking at all that food makes you hungry, there are restaurants where you can sit and eat as you watch the frenzy of consumerism going on around you.
As the market is covered – by a spectacular ceiling so don’t forget to look up - it’s a great place to wander around when the weather is bad as it’s warm and dry. It’s very central, just next to Blaak metro station, but there’s also plenty of parking if you come by car.
For fabulous 360 degree views across Rotterdam, head to the top of the Euromast tower. The first level is the main viewing platform with a restaurant where you can sit and admire the views over breakfast, lunch or dinner, or even stay the night in one of the two luxury hotel suites.
To go even higher and get the best views, take the Euroscoop, this is the rotating glass lift that goes all the way up to the top of the space needle, 185 metres up. If that isn’t hair-raising enough, you can abseil or zip wire the 100 metres down from the viewing platform, seriously, you actually can! You’ll need to buy a Mastcard first, but it’s less than €20 and gets you other benefits too.
If you’re a sucker for baby animals, this is the time to visit Rotterdam zoo to see the baby rhino, born on Valentine’s day 2017. You can visit her in the nursery, and even keep up with what she’s up to after you’ve gone home, via the zoo webcam.
There are lots of other animals to see too, from Asiatic lions to polar bear twins and okapis. If you’re interested in marine life, visit Oceanium where you can walk through an underwater tunnel as sharks and other sea life swim above and around you.
The zoo organises events and activities throughout the week, so you can plan the best day to visit if you want to watch your favourite animals being fed.
There is no shortage of museums and galleries to visit in Rotterdam, in fact there’s an entire district called Museumkwartier, so you can even try pack them all into one day.
The Kunsthal is worth a visit for the building alone, designed by Rem Koolhaas in the late 1980s, it’s an iconic example of modern Dutch architecture. At first view it is a very simple, apparently transparent, square box but, as you explore the space, the complexity of the design becomes more obvious.
There are seven exhibition spaces as well as an auditorium so there is usually a pretty diverse selection of exhibitions on at any given time, from traditional art to industrial design, there is something for everyone.
Most of the old city of Rotterdam was destroyed during the war, the little that’s left is around the old harbour of Delftshaven. Full of quirky old buildings, houseboats, windmills and all things Dutch, Delftshaven is an oasis of calm in the high octane, ultra-modernity of Rotterdam.
The area is easily accessible by tram and it’s a lovely place to go in the morning, when it’s quiet. Take a wander around the picturesque old harbour where the pilgrim fathers set off to America in 1620, then explore the many boutiques, galleries and artists’ studios on the waterside along Aelbrechtskok and Voorhaven. While you’re in the area, drop into Rotterdam’s only city brewery – the Pelgrim, for a drink or something to eat.
The Dutch like their food deep fried and they like it to go, making street food popular and easily available. It’s warming, cheap and filling, in other words – perfect food to line your stomach before a night on the town!
Top tip: Jaffa, on Witte de Withkwartier, is a popular place to eat Kapsalon, especially during a night out.
Top Tip: Try the Patatje oorlog from Bram Ladage outlets, there’s one on Binnenwegplein, handy for the hungry shopper.
Top tip: If you’re in Rotterdam between November and early January, try Oliebollen from Richard Visser's stand on the corner of Heemraadssingel and the Vierambachtsstraat. These are regularly voted the best in the Netherlands.
Witte de Withkwartier should be visited at night when it really comes alive. During the day you can browse the numerous art galleries or visit the Maritime Museum but, if you want to get a taste of Rotterdam nightlife, head here after dark.
Listed on the worldsbestbars.com, De Witte Aap on Witte de Withkwartier is an institution in Rotterdam. Try to get there early as it fills up quickly and, if the weather is warm, nab a space on the terrace where you can sip beer and watch the world go by. If you’re wondering why there’s a large white ape over the door, that’s what the bar’s name means.
This area attracts a fairly diverse, mainly young, hipster crowd so the atmosphere is laidback. There are lots of bars and restaurants along the stretch, many with DJs in the evening.
The area around the town hall is where you’ll find the more upmarket bars and restaurants in Rotterdam. This is close to the main shopping area so is busy during the day as well as at night.
In the evenings the restaurants on the main square attract a well-dressed clientele so, if you’re going out in this area, put on your glad rags.
There are lots of terraces to sit out on when the weather is good, before moving on to the fancier clubs.
Some of the more exclusive clubs include: Club Villa Thalia, VIP Room, and the Austrian-themed Apres-ski hut where you can dance to Dutch and Austrian party music. Who knew that was a thing? To get your yodel on first, head to Bartender for a round of shots to get you in the mood.
Bars and clubs around the old harbour are popular with students, especially in summer, when the terraces along the waterfront are heaving.
One of the main venues around here is Café Plan C, which recently reopened after five years. This is a great budget place to eat during the day, but in the evening it transforms into a club, with DJs or live music most weekends.
There’s also Club Vie, a more upmarket venue, Stockholm, a club-style cocktail bar, Pardoen for an eclectic music mix, and Vrienden van which has live music from 10pm.
As they’re targeted at students, a lot of places in this area do special offers or reductions with student cards.
Meent is a slightly alternative place to shop during the day, with smaller more exclusive boutiques rather than high-street chains.
In the evening this area is increasingly becoming a place to go out for a slightly older crowd. So, if your hard-core clubbing days are in the past, this could the place for you.
Level or Café van Zanten are good places to go for dinner and a few drinks before moving on to a club. Try Sorbonne, which transforms from restaurant into a club with DJ in the evenings, or Club Cinema, which plays mainstream dance music on the main floor and more alternative music in the basement.
The Hofplein is home to Bird, one of the best known jazz clubs in Rotterdam. This restaurant and club is under the arches of the old Hofbogen railway bridge, and has a wide programme of jazz and related music. The area around the Hofbogen viaduct is being regenerated and there are quite a few bars and restaurants popping up under the arches.
If jazz isn’t your thing, Toffler, an underground techno/electro club is just on the other side of Hofplein, and may be more to your taste. Toffler is located in a former pedestrian tunnel, and has a DJ booth that can move around the space on a hydraulic system. The audience is a mix of young and old and the space, though snug, has some very impressive LED lighting.
Rotterdam has no shortage of shopping areas to visit where you’ll find all the usual high street brands. However, if you’re looking for something a bit different that you can’t easily find at home, head to van Oldenbarneveltstraat.
Hutspot Rotterdam is a concept store that stocks local designers as well as international brands. Try SHPPR for fashion and accessories by young Dutch designers, and Susan Bijl for bags.
Rotterdam’s main shopping area covers Lijnbaan, Beurstraverse and Binnenwegplein and is where you’ll find all the familiar high street shops, as well as a few Dutch ones. If you don’t know the Dutch chain, HEMA, it’s great for inexpensive gadgets and food that make perfect presents. The Sting is another local chain for fashion at reasonable prices.
While you’re in the area, pop into De Bijenkorf, the Netherlands' top department store. It’s just a few streets away, on Coolsingel. The building is a modernist masterpiece, designed by Marcel Breuer.
For high-end designers stores, Kruiskade and the Central Plaza mall are where you’ll find all the big International names. There’s a casino in the same complex, should you get bored of shopping and your money is burning a hole in your pocket.
Nieuwe Binnenweg links the central shopping district with hipper, historic Delfshaven. The street is full of small artisan food shops, trendy coffee bars and old-style barber shops and record stores. Try Buiten for a healthy organic lunch, Ruby Lee for vintage clothes and, ultra-hip concept store, Plek for things you never knew you needed. You can also pick up a new pair of Birkenstocks if your old ones have seen better days, there’s a whole store of them here.
These are very popular in Rotterdam and there is usually at least one going on somewhere in the city on every day of the week. The biggest market, with around 400 stands, is in the centre near Blaak metro station and the Markthal. You’ll find food, drink, clothes, flowers, plants and lots more.
For art and lifestyle goods, the Swan Market is worth a visit. It takes place several weekends a year in different locations. It’s a bit of an event, with music and food and drink as well as stands selling jewellery, crafts and fashion.
Rotterdam has a great public transport system, The RET. You can choose from bus, tram, metro and waterbus and a selection of travel cards that cover travel on all of them.
For budget sightseeing, take a trip on Historic Tram line 10, it will take you past many of the city’s main attractions and you can get off and on wherever you like. The tram is available in July and August and costs around €7.
This being Holland, it’s no surprise that the city is very bike-friendly with a large network of bike paths. You can rent bikes for around €6.50 a day from various places around the city or take a guided bike tour.
If you fancy venturing further afield to the Hook of Holland or inland to Dordrecht, you could consider a water taxi for something a bit different. You’ll need to check prices as these are dependent on distance and number of people travelling.
International film festival
Museum night – all the museums stay open late so you can do a museum crawl
Rotterdam marathon; Kingsday - annual celebration of the monarchy that takes place across the Netherlands with different local events taking place throughout April
Bevrijdingsfestival - Independence day celebration with a festival in the Euromastpark
Hidden garden weekend - more than 90 private gardens open to the public for two days only
Architecture day - some iconic buildings are free to visit
North Sea Jazz Festival – this is massive and attracts thousands of people from all over the world
Rotterdam Unlimited – Street parade and celebration of cultural diversity
World Port Days – event in and around the port, finishing with a spectacular fireworks display
World of Witte de With - street art festival with live music and late-night gallery openings
International Comedy Festival Rotterdam
Festival Jazz International Rotterdam
Buma Rotterdam Beats Festival – hiphop/urban music festival that takes place in multiple venues across the city
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