If you are visiting Rotterdam chances are that you are travelling around the Netherlands and will pass by for just a couple of days.
For everybody, people who just arrived in the city or the ones that have been living here for a long time, Rotterdam feels different and I would like to brain storm a bit and list down some of the special elements of the city that you really should not miss because unique and worth discovering.
One of the exceptional characters of Rotterdam is that it doesn’t have a city center, instead it’s a city made of many different districts that live together. It is challenging to have a feeling of the complexity of the city in just a couple of days, but I can guarantee that it is a special place and I have thought about things that can make you experience it.
If you are like me and you love to discover a new place by exploring local flavors, kapsalon is the ultimate taste of Rotterdam and you won’t be able to find it anywhere else. It is the combination of shoarma, fries, salad and sauce, all served in a not-so-glamorous metal tray: the absolute best hangover food.
The story tells that a hairdresser with a very short lunch break started asking the next door shoarma place to put everything together and bring it to his hair salon. That’s how the kapsalon (literally “hair salon”) started becoming a thing.
It is far from an healthy option, but if you want to try it the one at BurgerTrut (a very nice pop up restaurant constantly moving around the city) is a good option.
2 CITY FROM ABOVE
To start with, it could be a good idea to see Rotterdam from above, as all the cities with a towering skyline I think that being up high is the best way to experience the whole picture.
There are more, but I think that these 4 places give the best views of different elements of the city: the Euromast, the official panoramic tower is located in Het Park, the perfect surrounding to put the skyline at a distance; NHotel lounge at the 6th floor of de Rotterdam has outstanding views over the Erasmusbridge; the clocktower of the Laurenskerk (only in the summer months) couldn’t be more central; Op het Dak, also extremely central, is an interesting urban experiment to create a vegetables garden on top of a 7 floors building with views over one of the busiest infrastructure of the city.
3 ERASMUSBRIDGE (ERASMUSBRUG)
Built only in 1996, the Erasmusbridge became quickly one of the main symbols of the city and it’s now almost impossible to imagine Rotterdam without it. The bridge connects the center to the south of the city and, besides being a physical connection over the Meuse (Maas), it finally opened a communication to the south area of the city that for decades had been isolated from the rest.
Designed by Ben van Berkel, the cable-stayed bridge section has a single 139-metre-high asymmetrical pylon that divides the bridge in two spans. The southernmost one has an 89-metre-long openable part for ships that wouldn’t pass under the bridge, it is the largest and heaviest bascule bridge in Western Europe and has the largest panel of its type in the world.
I am not a fan of visiting churches; I have seen so many of them growing up in Italy that I rather skip them when travelling, but I would highly recommend visiting the Laurenskerk. It was the only survivor of the bombing that destroyed Rotterdam’s city center during the Second World War and it’s now standing to host not only religious events, but also exhibitions, concerts and parties.
The decorations inside this protestant church are very modern, but so subtle you should know to pay attention to them and their busy agenda offers plenty of occasions for a visit.
5 OUDE HAVEN
Imagine impressive historic ships, innovative architecture from different periods in time, lively clubs and cozy cafes and you will have a very short summary of what Oude Haven is.
Now, one element at a time.
Many of the ships parked here are actually home to people who enjoy normal life from a different prospective and like sailing their ship around every once in a while.
Beside the Meuse as the natural connections to the Oude Haven, the famous Cubic Houses mark one of the entrances to the port and make a great frame for it. Opposite to these futuristic constructions, stands de Witte Huis. Not many people would guess that this classical building was once Europe’s tallest building and it is remarkable to think that it was built (and still stands) on the worse soil for such an adventurous construction.
Among the variety of places around the port, I have some favorite picks: I really like Lot&Daan for a coffee, cake and chats with friends; Healthful is the perfect cute little place for organic, healthy meals and we were not disappointed when tasting Meat’s menu.
6 ADEM INN
I had never heard of a silence café and I immediately fell in love with this one when I discovered it. Run by volunteers it’s a cute little spot just a bit outside the city center. While the first part is a normal café, the back room is silence only: no wi-fi, no sound and a lot of cozy corners were to read, write or just meditate.
7 KRALINGSE PLAS BY BIKE
On sunny days there is no better place to be than the Kralingse plas. This area feels like a secret green pocket with the skyline of the city in the background.
To get the best views it’s necessary to reach the north side of the lake and I would definitely recommend doing it by bike or making it a nice running loop (but I don’t run so I can’t speak by experience).
Getting to the lake you will be passing in the nice neighborhood of Kralingen, at its best around Vijverweg.
8 HOTEL NEW YORK AND WATER TAXI
Very few cities have a water taxi system and what makes Rotterdam even more special is the fact that water taxis are the best way to reach the Hotel New York. Now a hotel, this building was the former office of the Holland America Lines and it was used as temporary accommodation for Europeans emigrating to New York in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries.
Water taxis are small black and yellow motorboats cruising fast in the river and the harbors along it and it’s very easy to book one through the watertaxirotterdam website.
The food court concept arrived to Rotterdam and the Foodhallen finally opened last summer. What makes is special thought is the fact that this hip spot in town is at a walking distance from the Food Fenix Factory, its rough, industrial counterpart.
In the Foodhallen popular city restaurants have stands that serve their street food selection and people enjoy a drink snacking expensive bites from different cuisines, the Food Fenix Factory instead is where producers sell their products and promote 0 km economy.
I don’t know which one of the two I would recommend visiting first, but If you want to experience Rotterdam this is a great spot to start.
Former grain silo and grain elevator in the Maashaven, it’s now a great venue for concerts and events. Particularly popular in the rave scene, it is an extremely good location with a very strong Rotterdam vibe.
It doesn’t get more industrial than this.
11 DE KUIP
Even if I am not a football fan, I do understand that de Kuip football stadium has something special to it. Designers Johannes Brinkman and Leendert van der Vlugt were asked to design a stadium out of glass, concrete and steel, cheap materials in the 30s and they tested a structure made of two free hanging tiers and no obstacles blocking the view.
I have never experienced it, but people say that, because of the very flexible steel structure, when supporters jump all together, the stadium literally bounces up and down (most at the bottom of the top tier), and that surely adds to the overall excitement.
12 PORT OF ROTTERDAM
The harbor of Rotterdam is impressive.
Not only it covers 105 square kilometers, but it’s also part of one of the most advanced water systems in the world.
Its size and accessibility are exceptional and it’s a great experience to enter it. It’s very interesting to drive through it by car till the sea and the guided tours by Spido boats are an excellent option in rainy days.
13 STROOP AND THE WEST
If there is one Dutch food that everybody likes, that is stroopwafels. It’s not difficult to understand why if you think that they are made of two super thin crunchy wafer biscuits with caramel in between.
You can find them in many different shops or stands, but finally in Rotterdam there is also a café dedicated to this, Stroop. Here freshly baked stroopwafels can be tasted while sitting comfortably sipping a nice drink. Beside the traditional flavor, they also invented many alternatives.
Outside the city, on the south-east side, Kinderdijk is a magnificent showcase of engineering and Dutch landscape. This innovative system of 19 windmills was created in the 18th century to drain an area that was particularly prone to flooding and, although some of the windmills are still used, the main water works are provided by two diesel pumping stations near one of the entrances of the windmills site.
There are different ways to reach Kinderdijk and the best and most authentic one is by boat from the center of Rotterdam, right next to the Erasmusbrug.