When I lived in the UK, there were a lot of cheap flights a week in the Netherlands. Most drunken footballers or others waiting for the red light district were heading to Amsterdam. But these are not the only attractions of 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 hustle and bustle of Amsterdam, Rotterdam offers a slower, more fun and exciting way of life. Settlement in the area dates back to at least 900 AD and in 1150 the development of the area was halted due to flooding. The locals, for fear of losing their land due to water, soon began to build dikes and dams. Finally, a dam was built on the river Rotte in the 1260s and therefore the name “Rotterdam” was realized. Where the dam was built is the current site Hoogstraat (main street) is. With control of the coast through dams, the city was able to grow even further and soon became the largest seaport in the world. Although it has been surpassed by other ports in the world since then, the port of Rotterdam is the largest in Europe.
Rotterdam was destroyed mainly during World War II, so much of the post-war and new architecture rests on the more modern side giving the city a clearly contemporary look unlike what you’ll find in Amsterdam. Explore the colorful and diverse city of Rotterdam, do some shopping, visit the museums and learn about the interesting history. Here are some of the best things to visit in Rotterdam.
Explore Museum Boijmans-van Beuningen
Although Amsterdam is home to important and important art museums, the Museum Boijmans-van Beuningen gives the Rijksmuseum a lot of money. Paintings and art from the 14th to the 16th century are presented here with works by renowned Dutch artists such as Jan van Eyck, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Rembrandt and Rubens to name a few. While there is a strong focus on the legendary Dutch painters, great emphasis is also placed on other European masters with samples of Monet and Gaugin along with modern painters such as Picasso and Matisse. All this and much more make it an important museum, not only for the Netherlands, but for the whole of Europe. Paintings, sculptures and decorative arts from different eras covering the whole continent make the Boijmans-van Beuningen Museum a must-see and, along with the magnificent grounds and manicured outdoor gardens, a museum is a perfect place to see people.
Check out the history of the old port and the marine museums
Although Rotterdam is home to one of the most important ports in Europe, the Old Port (Oude Haven) was where it all began. Rotterdam prospered as a city during the medieval period and until the Renaissance due to its prosperous port. The area that once led to the city’s thriving economy is now a resort that houses maritime museums, cafes, restaurants by the sea and, of course, numerous boats. The marina is a kind of living museum with antique boats indicating their age, name, and more, so you can stroll around and check out what’s out there. Within walking distance of the harbor is the Rotterdam Maritime Museum, which was built in 1873 and provides 2,000-year-old rebuilt ships and 19th-century armored flagships. If you’re looking for an interesting place to stay, the 1958 SS Rotterdam, once considered the “best Dutch-made transatlantic liner ever built,” is now a hotel and museum. The elegantly decorated boat offers lunch and dinner in the dining room or book a room to spend the night and make a small taste of the old-school passenger navigation age.
Stay in a historic hotel at the New York Hotel
From the 19th century to the early 20th century, many people who wanted to emigrate to America did so by taking a walk along the Holland-America line of passenger ships. In the course of a decade from 1900 to 1910, 15 million immigrants left Europe and those who left would stay here before boarding the ship. The purpose of the building was twofold: it served the offices on the Holland-America line and provided accommodation to ticket holders before arriving on a week-long trip to New York. Although the building was not officially a hotel at the time, it officially became one in 1993, when two local businessmen bought the iconic building to prevent it from falling into disrepair. The building has more than 72 rooms, two restaurants, a conference center and is located on the east side of the river with amazing views. The Holland-America building (now the New York Hotel) is also listed as a National Heritage Site and is also full of memories of its time as a last stop for European immigrants.
Look at the remains of medieval Rotterdam in Grote of Sint-Laurenskerk
During World War II, the German army planned to conquer the entire country in one day. To their surprise, the Dutch defended a fierce defense of the country and the city of Rotterdam, but to get them to surrender, the German air force bombed the city by submission. Throughout the war, Allied air forces also bombed the city in certain areas where the Germans established strategic centers usually around ports and the harbor. Suffice it to say that much of the city was destroyed and one of the few remains of the city’s original medieval buildings is the Sint-Laurenskerk Grotto. Translating into the church of Gran Sant Llorenç, the church was built in the 15th century and, while some were destroyed by bombing, much of it was saved and restored after the war.
Upon entering the church, you will notice the amazing play of light offered by the large windows and the colorful solid glass fittings. The elaborate Danish organs sit on a large marble base on the wall of the tower. The church offers tours and music and cultural events are often held there as well.
Have a taste of less local food
Rotterdam is the largest city in the Netherlands that hosts the largest community of people from Cape Verde and the Netherlands Antilles outside these countries. Almost 50% of the population has a father or both parents born in another country, so if you want to taste delicious Caribbean or African cuisine, there are some good places in town. The Afrikaanderplein market, located on the south bank of the river, is a market aimed mainly at West Indian and African locals and is a great place to get affordable food, full of exotic and interesting flavors. Blue Caribbean offers some places for the city to take away and dine with classic dishes inspired by the islands and La Bandera also offers a tasting of the West Indies with a touch of Latin fusion and a fun setting.
Spend the day at Market Hall
Opened in 2014, the eclecticly designed Market Hall is nicknamed “the horseshoe” by locals. It serves as both a market and an office building, but what makes this place worth visiting is that it is essentially an architectural marvel with its large semicircular façade and large section of windows overlooking the courtyard. The interior of the structure is designed by artist Arno Coenen and shows various colorful fruits, animals, plants and insects. It all becomes a real kaleidoscope, so be sure to look it up while shopping.
So aside from the cool design of the place, what about the shopping itself? Well, the market is absolutely massive with a variety of shops, stalls, boutiques and even restaurants and bars. Take a look at tapas bars, traditional Dutch restaurants, tea bars, Balkan grocery stores and Indonesian noodle stands, to name a few. You’ll still think you’ll buy a thing or two and end up spending more than you negotiated, but at least you’ll have plenty to prove it.
Check out Rotterdam’s strangest sculptures
Rotterdam is a city of art. Museums and art galleries really reflect that, but what makes the city interesting is the amount of art and sculpture in the city. Most of them are weird.
- Biopik: Located in the gardens of the Boijmans Van Beuningen Museum, Biopik is 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 the museum’s property and represents the need to reproduce and at the same time dispense with the thoughts of intentional design. In short, he just expresses doing his things. It was built in 1992 and caused some controversy after which it was moved to a less notable location.
- The Polaroid: When the war ended, the city of Rotterdam had to be rebuilt in a hurry. In the post-war years, aesthetically boring concrete buildings emerged and, in an effort to make the cityscape more interesting, The Polaroid (among some other art installations) installed a collective of artists. The Polaroid is a massive description of a complete polaroid with a huge red pin holding it in place. Its strange position under an overpass and its slightly awkward positioning make it interesting to see and the image shows changes over time.
- The BMW: Built by the same eclectics that made The Polaroid, the BMW was unveiled in 1987 and features the German car hanging precariously on the edge of a parking lot as if in a medium chase scene.
- Paul McCarthy’s Santa Claus: Christmas time is a wonderful time of year. Christmas markets are bustling, people go shopping and spend time with family and friends. So why is this sculpture remarkable? The city of Rotterdam commissioned American artist Paul McCarthy to build a Christmas-themed sculpture and delivered it. But the controversy surrounding it was not out of religious intolerance. It was because they found that the little Christmas tree that Santa Claus was holding was too sexual. Without giving away too much, the sculpture soon earned the nickname “the cover gnome” and the name got stuck. People tried to get rid of it, but found a new house that ran from the front of the Operapera building to the museum park.
Get to know the Dutch landscape at the Kinderdijk windmills
The city of Rotterdam is a lot of fun, but if you want to get out of the city a bit and explore some of the beautiful Dutch landscapes, Kinderdijk’s iconic windmills are a short drive from the city center. Translated to “children’s dam,” the name comes from the local legend of a cradle that got stuck there during the flood of 1421. But what most people come here for is check out the canals and the windmills that line the watercourses. The 19 windmills built in the 18th century are a UNESCO World Heritage Site and are one of the most visited sites in the Netherlands. Be sure to bring your camera.
Our final word
Rotterdam is an amazing modern city full of fun things to see. Museums and interesting works of art not only line the walls of museums, but also the streets. Buildings with fun designs make the city feel unique and fresh while the history of the city stays alive through monuments and structures. Next time, skip Amsterdam and head to Rotterdam. You will not regret it.