“If I had to live anywhere in Holland, Rotterdam would be the place” , “Can’t wait to visit Markthal! It looks very impressive!” Iason, whom I generally trust, revealed to me while I was trying to figure out an itinerary around the city the night before my visit.
“What are you gonna do there?”, “It’s only good for shopping!” were some of the reactions of my Dutch colleagues when I told them I’m planning to visit Rotterdam, accompanied by a look of disapproval, pity and wonder at the same time!
What happened in the end is that I did go! Three times in fact! And I’d advise you to do the same! Not only are there many things to see and do in Rotterdam, but let me make it easier for you: I’ve split the must see and do things in a 2 day itinerary, which you can find below.
Rotterdam is the 2nd largest city in the Netherlands and home to one of the largest seaports in the world. Most of its city centre was bombed during World War II, as well. Therefore, it’s more known for its industrial side and is not considered to be your typical tourist destination. A quite unfair reputation, as far as I’m concerned. Here’s why:
DAY 1: The older Rotterdam, art and must see highlights
Day 1 starts from as soon as you arrive at the Central Railway Station, which is a sight by itself! It includes Delfshaven, the only actual traditional part of the city, the city’s landmark TV tower (Euromast), an iconic bridge (Erasmus Bridge) and some stops to appreciate art along the way!
1.Rotterdam Centraal Station
The city’s central railway station opened only in 2014! It’s quite big (46k m²) and it has a modern and edgy design. I find it quite photogenic, too, especially if you can have a look at it from above, from one of the tall buildings nearby!
2. 3D graffiti
Cross the street in front of the train station and in the corner of Weena and Kruisplein you’ll see the most unusual graffiti I’ve ever encountered! It’s actually 3 dimensional! Have a look here to see what I’m talking about:
So cool and so unusual! Do look around for some modern high-rise buildings, too!
One of the reasons Rotterdam isn’t considered to be your average tourist destination is because it lacks a typical old town in european style or the picturesque character of most places in Holland. This is not by choice or attitude! The city centre was destroyed almost completely during World War II, so the city had to be rebuilt; hence its modern style.
Delfshaven is a borough of the city that escaped the bombings and it’s the closest there is in the city that has a traditional dutch character: Here you’ll find a canal, pretty houses, a windmill and a few boathouses!
Apart from nice cafés, quirky shops, art galleries and pretty restaurants, look out for the Tovertunnel and the Delfshaven Factory, a former factory transformed for a modern use! It looks like a chimney from a distance!
4. De Machinist
In the same spirit of the Delfshaven Factory, you can stop by at de Machinist on your way to the city centre. De Machinist is another former industrial building, which now hosts a wide variety of cultural events and even has a nice restaurant, if you feel like eating at this point.
There’s a cool outdoors space if you happen to be visiting in the summer!
5. Het Park & Euromast
Rotterdam might not have your typical european central square and city centre, but one of its landmarks is very ordinary: Euromast is the city’s observation tower and you need to stop by for some panoramic views!
Or just enjoy a walk at Het Park, which is -surprise!- a big park! And from there you can take nice photos of Euromast itself. And if clichés is not your thing and you’re not interested in unremarkable city parks and observation towers, do spare a few minutes to discover Norsk Sjømannskirke, a timber Norwegian church, assembled by Norwegian carpenters in 1914, based on a typical 13th century stave church design!
If you have to visit one museum in Rotterdam, then Kunsthal should be the one! Located in the Museumpark, the Art Hall (as its name translates in English) is an interesting building of modern architecture, designed by Holland’s Rem Koolhaas in the late 1980s and opened in 1992.
What’s intriguing about it is the lack of a permanent collection! Therefore, a variety of different exhibitions are organised at the same time and they’re different from time to time.
If you’re interested in gossip, the museum is, also, famous for a theft of works of huge artists, such as Picasso, Monet and Gauguin! But I know you’re not! 😀
7. Erasmus Bridge
And the last sight of the day is the seriously impressive Erasmusbrug! Finished in 1996 it’s probably Rotterdam’s most iconic structure! I wasn’t prepared for its sight and beauty and had to take photos from different angles because it looked pretty from almost everywhere! Even at night.
8. Have an unusual cocktail!
The Stirr is not a well kept secret or one of those hidden bars that are not visible from the outside and you need a password to enter etc. It’s famous and it is so for a reason. Not to celebrities and wannabes, but people in the know have discovered it already. The Stirr is the ultimate cocktail bar. The bartenders first get to know you and what you like and then make your cocktail! Their menu changes every couple of months and they have a specific theme every time, e.g. the South American Treasure Map Menu or the Black Menu! They organise different events as well!
Perfect closing for the day!
DAY 2: The modern side of Rotterdam and its architectural marvels!
Day 2 starts from the Old Harbour, which is not so old and then carries on to the Blaak district, which is my favourite part of the city, and all the cool things you can see and do there!
1. The Old Harbour (Oude Haven)
De Oudehaven is the oldest harbour in Rotterdam and it was built in the 14th century. Except for some old ships moored there, you can, also, see a shipyard, which is still in operation!
Some of the oldest buildings around are located here, including the famous White House (Witte Huis), often quoted as Europe’s first high-rise building! Built in 1898 in Art Nouveau style, it’s 43 metres (140 feet) tall with 10 floors. It’s a national heritage site.
There are cafés and restaurants around the old port. Not an ideal place for breakfast, if you ask me, as they open relatively late, but quite a nice spot for an evening drink and dinner.
2. Cube Houses
What more can I say about the Cube Houses of Rotterdam… It was the reason I went back to Rotterdam 3 times, particularly to see what they look like from the inside! It’s located practically behind the Old Harbour and it’s the first stop in the beautiful Blaak district!
Also known as Kubunswoningen or the Blaak Forest, this unusually shaped building houses shops, offices, small businesses, a museum, a hostel and, of course, private residences! And yes! You can visit one of them at least to see what it’s like living in one of them!
But even admiring them from the outside is also worth it!
3. The Central Library & the Blaaktoren
In the vicinity of the Cube Houses, there are 2 more very architecturally interesting buildings:
First there is the Pencil Tower (Het Potlood) or Blaaktoren and from its shape you can tell where it got its nickname from! One of the viewers of my Snapchat Story from Rotterdam thought its windows look like sunglasses and I think I can see why!
Next to it there’s the controversial building of the Rotterdam Central Library. Not everyone’s a big fan of its 6-story cascading facade, industrial design and angular yellow tubes! It was designed by the Van den Broek and Bakema architectural firm and completed in 1977. There are 12 rooms in the building and they can be used for congresses, events or meetings. One of the library’s highlights is its theatre and there’s so many interesting things going on there, like anime drawing classes for instance!
A definite must see in Rotterdam! What is Markthal? Hmmm… What is it not is the right question! The Markthal (Market Hall in English) is a residential and office building with a market hall underneath, designed by the architectural firm MVRDV and it opened in 2014.
Inside you can find all sorts of food and you can choose to stop for a walk around or just a coffee. I couldn’t resist my favourite portuguese pastries (pasteis de nata) and I wanted to go back for the sushi burrito! And I couldn’t decide whether the cherry tomato wallets were too clever or too useless to buy! What do you think?
Also, don’t forget to look above, though I’m sure you will! The interior of the Markthal is adorned with a massive artwork by Arno Coenen, named Hoorn des Overvloeds (Horn of Plenty), the Sistine Chapel of the Netherlands for some! Not me though! 😀
The history and construction of the building is explained in a very nice way here, for those interested!
If you happen to be around on a Tuesday, there’s a not as fancy open air market right outside.
5. Shopping streets
If you feel like shopping and look for a the usual high street shops (Zara, H&M, Body Shop etc) together with some local ones (HEMA), head to the Coolsingel part of the city.
Lijnbaan is the main shopping area in Rotterdam. Built in 1953, it’s considered to be the first pedestrian only shopping street in Europe. Shops are open on Sundays, too.
Walking distance from there, there’s Koopgoot, a smaller, subterranean shopping street that looks a little more unique, if you ‘re looking for something a bit more alternative.
6. H2OTEL floating hotel
Looking for somewhere cool and unusual to stay but the hostel at the Cube Houses is too claustrophobic for your liking? How about a floating hotel? Whether as an attraction or as a place to stay, H2OTEL is one of those cool places you need to see!