What to do in Rotterdam.


When I lived in the UK, there were a lot of cheap flights a week to the Netherlands. Mostly drunk crazy football players or others who were looking forward to the neighborhood with red lights headed towards Amsterdam. But these are not the only attractions in this amazing country. Rotterdam is a reason to head to the Netherlands and skip Amsterdam.

Rotterdam is the second largest city in the Netherlands, and if you want to get out of the tourist center of Amsterdam, Rotterdam provides a slightly slower lifestyle with just as much fun and excitement. Settlement in the area dates back at least to 900 AD, and by 1150 the development of the area had stalled due to flooding. Locals, fearing the loss of land due to water, soon began building embankments and dams. Eventually, the dam on the Rotte River was built in the 1260s, giving rise to the name “Rotterdam”. Where the dam was built, there is today’s area Hoogstraat (main street) is. With coastal control over dams, the city was able to grow even more and soon became the largest seaport in the world. Although it has since been surpassed by other ports in the world, the port of Rotterdam is the largest in Europe.

Rotterdam was largely destroyed during World War II, so much of the post-war and newer architecture leans to the more modern side giving the city a distinctly contemporary look unlike what you’ll find in Amsterdam. Explore the colorful and diverse city of Rotterdam, shop a bit, visit museums and learn interesting history. Here are some of the best things to check out in Rotterdam.

Explore the Boijmans-van Beuningen Museum

While Amsterdam is home to large and important art museums, the Boijmans-van Beuningen Museum gives the Rijksmuseum a race for its money. Paintings and art from the 14th to the 16th century are presented here by the works of famous Dutch artists such as Jan van Eyck, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Rembrandt and Rubens, to name just a few. Although there is a strong focus on legendary Dutch painters, there is also a strong emphasis on other European masters with depictions of Monet and Gauguin, along with modern painters such as Picasso and Matisse. All this and more make it an important museum, not only for the Netherlands, but for Europe as a whole. Paintings, sculptures and decorative arts from different periods across the continent make the Boijmans-van Beuningen Museum an unmissable place, and with beautiful grounds and manicured lawns outside, the museum is the perfect place to look.

See history at The Old Harbor and Marine Museums

While Rotterdam is home to one of Europe’s most important ports, the Old Port (Oude Haven) is where it all began. Rotterdam thrived as a city in the Middle Ages and in the Renaissance because of its prosperous port. The area that once led to a thriving city economy is now a tourist center with maritime museums, cafes, seaside restaurants and, of course, a multitude of boats. The marina itself is a kind of living museum with old ships that indicate their age, name and much more so you can take a walk and check out what is there. A short walk from the harbor is the Maritime Museum in Rotterdam, built in 1873, which offers reconstructed 2,000-year-old vessels and 19th-century flagships. If you are looking for an interesting place to stay, the 1958 SS Rotterdam, which was once considered “the best Dutch-made passenger ship ever built”, is now a hotel and museum. The elegantly decorated boat offers lunch and dinner in the dining room or book a room for the night and see for yourself the sailing time of old school travelers.


The former Holland America building is now the New York Hotel.

Stay at a historic hotel in the New York Hotel

From the 19th to the early 20th century, many people who wanted to emigrate to America did so by riding a series of Holland-America passenger ships. In the period of one decade from 1900 to 1910 alone, 15 million immigrants left Europe, and those who would leave would stay here before boarding the ship. The building was twofold: it served the offices of the Holland-America line and provided accommodation to ticket holders before they traveled on a day trip to New York. Although the building was not officially a hotel at the time, it officially became so in 1993 when two local entrepreneurs bought the cult building to keep it from collapsing. The building has over 72 rooms, two restaurants, a conference center, and is located on the east side of the river and offers quite amazing views. The Holland-America building (now the New York Hotel) is also on the National Heritage List and is also filled with memories from its days as the last stop for European immigrants.

See the remains of medieval Rotterdam in the Grote in Sint-Laurenskerk

During World War II, the German army planned to conquer the entire country within a day. To their great surprise, the Dutch fiercely defended the state and the city of Rotterdam, but to force them to surrender, the German air force bombed the city. During the war, Allied air forces also bombed the city in certain areas where the Germans established strategic centers usually around ports and harbors. Suffice it to say that most of the city was destroyed, and one of the few remains of the city’s original medieval buildings is the Grote Sint-Laurenskerk. Translated to the Great Church of St. Lawrence, the church was built in the 15th century, and although part was destroyed in the bombings, much was spared and rebuilt after the war.

When you enter the church, you will notice a striking play of light offered by the large windows and painted massive stained glass windows. Complex Danish organs sit on a large marble base on the tower wall. The church offers tours, and music and cultural events are often held here as well.

Taste some not-so-local food

Rotterdam is the largest city in the Netherlands, home to the largest community of people from Cape Verde and the Netherlands Antilles outside those countries. Nearly 50% of the population has one or both parents born in another country, so if you want to taste delicious Caribbean or African food, there are a few good places in town. The Afrikaanderplein market on the south side of the river market is mainly intended for the inhabitants of the Antilles and Africa and is a great place to procure affordable food that abounds in exotic and interesting flavors. Blue Caribbean offers several places around the city for dining and dining options with classic island-inspired dishes, and La Bandera also brings a taste of the Antilles with a Latin fusion twist and fun environment.

Spend the day at the Market

Opened in 2014, the eclectically designed Market locals are nicknamed the “horseshoe”. It serves both as a market and as an office building, but what this place is worth visiting is that it is essentially an architectural marvel with its large semicircular façade and large window section facing the courtyard. The interior of the building was designed by artist Arno Coenen and displays a variety of colorful fruits, animals, plants and insects. All of this together makes a real kaleidoscope so be sure to take a look while shopping.

Aside from the cool design of the place, what about the purchase itself? Well, the market is absolutely huge with a large number of shops, stalls, boutiques, and even restaurants and bars. Check out tapas bars, traditional Dutch restaurants, tea bars, Balkan grocery stores and Indonesian noodle stalls, just to name a few. You’ll walk in thinking you’ll buy a thing or two and end up spending more than you hoped for, but at least you’ll show a lot of good things for it!

Take a look at the strangest sculptures in Rotterdam

Rotterdam is a city of art. Museums and art galleries really reflect that, but what makes the city interesting is the amount of public art and sculpture around the city. Most of them are kind of weird.

  • Biopic: The Biopic is located in the gardens of the Boijmans Van Beuningen Museum, a large yellow phallus-shaped sculpture hidden in the museum gardens. Made by Joep van Lieshout, a well-known artist in the Netherlands, the sculpture is on museum property and represents a need for reproduction, while neglecting thoughts of purposeful design. In short, he only expresses doing his own thing. It was built in 1992 and caused some controversy after which it was moved to a less conspicuous location.
  • Polaroid: When the war ended, the city of Rotterdam had to be rebuilt urgently. In the post-war years, aesthetically boring concrete buildings sprang up, and in an effort to make the city’s landscape more interesting, the art collective set up Polaroid (among some other art installations). A Polaroid is a massive display, you guessed it, of a Polaroid with a massive red needle holding it in place. Its strange position below the overpass and its slightly oblique position make it interesting to look at, and the picture changes over time.
  • BMW: Manufactured by the same eclectic people who made the Polaroid, the BMW was introduced in 1987 and features a German car hanging precariously over the edge of a parking lot as in a scene in the middle of a search.
  • Paul McCarthy’s Santa Claus: Christmas time is a wonderful time of year. Christmas markets are bustling, people are shopping, spending time with family and friends. So why is this sculpture significant? The city of Rotterdam commissioned American artist Paul McCarthy to build a Christmas-themed sculpture and he delivered it. But the controversy over it was not due to religious intolerance. This is because they have discovered that the Christmas tree that Santa Claus keeps is too sexual. Without delay, the sculpture was soon nicknamed the “gnome for the cork” and the name got stuck. People tried to get rid of him, but he found a new home that goes from the Opera House to the Museum Park.


    Go out of town and take a look at Kinderdijk’s windmills

Experience the Dutch countryside in the Kinderdijk windmills

The city of Rotterdam is a lot of fun, but if you want to get out of town a bit and explore some of the beautiful Dutch villages, then the cult Kinderdijk windmills are just a short drive from the city center. Translated as “baby embankment” the name comes from a local legend about a cradle that was stranded there during the 1421 flood. But what most people come here for is to check the canals and windmills that lead down the waterways. 19 windmills built in the 18th century is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is one of the most visited places in the Netherlands. Take your camera with you!

Our last word

Rotterdam is an amazing modern city filled with some pretty cool things to see. Museums and interesting works of art set up not only the walls of the museum, but also the streets. Buildings with fun design make the city feel unique and fresh, while the history of the city remains alive through monuments and structures. So next time skip Amsterdam and head to Rotterdam. You will not regret it.

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