Often overshadowed by its big sister Amsterdam, the Netherlands’ second largest city boasts its own unmissable character, one – as Dutch resident Tim Skelton reveals – based on a vibrant combination of multiculturalism and stunning modern architecture.
0700-0900. The Dutch aren’t known as early risers, and you may be alone as you head for Leuvehaven for a pre-breakfast stroll. Once a bustling part of the city’s port, still Europe’s busiest, the quayside is now lined with historic but long-retired ships. At its south end is the impressive Erasmus Bridge, stretching across the Nieuwe Maas River. Having worked up an appetite, head north along Coolsingel, then right into Meent to find Café Dudok (Meent 88, 010 433 3102). The high-ceilinged former offices of a national insurance company, it’s named after the architect who built it in 1945. They serve a full range of breakfasts, from simple yoghurts to the cooked works, with a cheeky glass of cava on the side.
. Most sights in Rotterdam
won’t open until 11am, but a good way to gather your bearings is to take a tram or metro 2 kilometres southwest to the city’s biggest park, ingeniously named Het Park. It’s a relaxing place in its own right, dotted with ponds and lagoons, and a place to lose yourself among the trees. But if you maintain your bearings, make a beeline for the soaring tower on the western side. This is the 185-metre Euromast (Parkhaven 20, 010 436 4811) that provides a sweeping panorama across the city and beyond. If you need a little light refreshment to help you take in the scene, the tower’s Brasserie is 96 metres up.
1100-1300. Back at ground level, near the northeast corner of the park is Museumpark, home to several museums. Chief among them is the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen (Museumpark 18-20, 010 441 9400), one of the Netherlands’ finest galleries. Its collection is a who’s who of artistic geniuses through the ages, from Hieronymus Bosch and Rembrandt, to contemporary works by Piet Mondriaan and Andy Warhol. Just over the road is the Nederlands Architectuurinstituut NAI (Museumpark 25, 010 440 1200), which pays homage to the giants of Dutch architecture. Part of the museum is the adjacent Sonneveld House, an ultra-modern home built in 1933, once a blueprint for how we would all live in the future.
1300-1500. Continuing east you soon arrive on Witte de Withstraat, a street full of galleries, shops and eateries. Head first for the Nieuw Rotterdams Café (Witte de Withstraat 63, 010 414 4188), a popular hangout that occupies the former offices of the NRC, a Dutch national newspaper. They serve lunches ranging from simple soups or rolls, to hearty burgers that will set you up for the afternoon and more. Alternatively, walk further down the street and step into the exotic charms of Bazar (Witte de Withstraat 16, 010 206 5151), a unique hotel and restaurant decked out to resemble something from 1,001 Arabian Nights. Their menu offers tasty Middle Eastern morsels such as falafels and lahmacun (Turkish pizza). Once refuelled, the best gallery on the street is TENT Rotterdam (Witte de Withstraat 50, 010 413 5498), a suitably minimalist space for the most innovative local artists.
1500-1700. To see things from a watery perspective, head south from Witte de Withstraat to the river. Near Erasmus Bridge is Spido (Willemsplein 85, 010 275 9988), where you can board a boat for a 75-minute harbour cruise. As you sail, look across to Kop van Zuid, a rejuvenated pier filled with modernist skyscrapers. At the west end is a survivor from the past: Hotel New York (Koninginnenhoofd 1, 010 439 0500), formerly home to the Holland America Line, whose ships transported emigrants to the USA. Back on dry land, make the short hop west along Willemskade to the Wereldmseum (Willemskade 25, 010 270 7172), a celebration of how Rotterdam’s long history as a port city has led to it embracing cultures from around the globe.
1700-1900. To prove everything in Rotterdam is not all modern, take a metro to Delfshaven, one of the few areas of the city left standing after the bombings of WWII. Strolling its lovely canals – spanned by picturesque bridges and lined with gabled houses – is a delight, and there’s even a working windmill at the far end. A top place to stop for an aperitif is De Pelgrim (Aelbrechtskolk 12, 010 477 1189), named after the Pilgrim Fathers who prayed in the church next door just before heading to America in 1620. The atmospheric café is also a brewery. If you can’t decide what to try, order the ‘Pelgrim Proeveke’, a selection of taster glasses containing several of the house beers.
1900-2100. Heading back into town, there is no end of great dinner options. For those with deep pockets, most Rotterdamers agree that FG Restaurant (Lloydstraat 204, 010 425 0520) is the city’s ultimate dining experience. To see the results of true culinary artists at work, go for one of the tasting menus – anything from five up to 11 (yes, that’s eleven) courses, all exquisitely presented and mouth-wateringly delicious. Not cheap, but certainly memorable. More affordable is Lux (‘s Gravendijkwal 133, 010 476 2206), the best Italian in town. The menu is simple and changes regularly, but the ‘fish of the day’ dish never disappoints.
After 2100. After hours, the most popular nightlife hangout is Rotown (Nieuwe Binnenweg 17-19, 010 436 2669), which has live music most evenings. Concerts normally start at 9.30pm. For a great selection of beers, head for the modernist industrial chic of Café Reijngoud (Schiedamse Vest 148, 010 414 6050), a relative newcomer with the most adventurous beer menu in town, and a wine list that’s just as good. Just east of the centre, Locus Publicus (Oostzeedijk 364, 010 433 1761) is an institution among beer lovers, and one of the Netherlands’ finest cafés. Compact and popular (it gets crowded at night), it has an open wood hearth that’s lit whenever the temperature drops. The lovely 1904 building somehow escaped damage in WWII, and if you can’t find something worth sampling among its 250 beers, you aren’t trying hard enough.
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Written by World Travel Guide.