An industrial powerhouse on the river Rhine, Rotterdam is a modern urban paradise. Dating back to the Middle Ages, when the city’s namesake dam was constructed to separate the river Rotte and the Nieuwe Maas, Rotterdam has a long and varied history as the Netherlands’ second-largest city. After the city centre was almost entirely destroyed by air raids in 1940, new urban designs and reconstruction gave Rotterdam new life, mixed with old charm. Now home to the biggest port in Europe and many magnificent buildings, this bustling area is one of the most modern and architecturally interesting places in Europe. In this article, you’ll learn about the most interesting places in the city to help you plan the perfect sightseeing tour.
The Oude Haven and the Maritime Museum
The Oude Haven is part of the city’s revived maritime district. Many locals actually live on houseboats bobbing on the water of the harbour. Some of their neighbours are restored historical boats, creating a picture-perfect port scene. You can watch people mend and care for their boats – there are even signs indicating how to know how old a boat is. What’s more, pictures show how the seaport used to look back in its heyday.
On a sunny day, it’s easy to while away the hours in this district. Take a seat in one of the many cafés and simply watch the world go by. A stone’s throw away from the old port you will find the Maritime Museum of Rotterdam. Founded in 1873, the museum guides you through the city’s connection with the sea and offers fantastic insights on the history of seafaring. Ship fanatics will love the model ships, maritime paintings and even the replica of a 2,00-year-old ship. In total, you can check out more than 20 historic ships, including the preserved armoured naval vessel “Buffel”. In addition, the maritime district hosts the SS Rotterdam, considered to be the best Dutch-made passenger liner ever put to sea. Nowadays, you can visit a hotel and museum in this splendid, 70-year-old ship.
The Grote of Sint-Laurenskerk
As previously mentioned, a lot of Rotterdam was destroyed during the Second World War. The Grote of Sint-Laurenskerk is one of the few remnants of Rotterdam’s medieval buildings. This late Gothic church is located at the Grote Kerkplein and dates back to the 15th century. Due to the structure being built on marshy ground, the building has a recognisable slope. The slope was corrected only after the reconstruction of the foundations in 1650. Though the Laurenskerk was severely damaged during the bombings of World War Two, it was fully restored after the war ended.
Welcoming you at the front of the church is a statue of Erasmus, Rotterdam’s most famous citizen. Simply step through the bronze doors designed by Italian artist Giacomo Manzu and prepare to be amazed. Upon entering the church, the bright interior will immediately wow you. Impressive stained-glass windows amplify and emphasise this inviting atmosphere. The three imposing Danish organs are stand-out features of the church. The largest of the trio stands atop a marble pedestal on the inner wall of the tower.
Rotterdam Centraal Station
As you can tell by now, Rotterdam is a city chock-full of modern and unique architecture, and the central station is no exception. Opened in 2014, the new terminal seemingly defies the laws of physics with its staggering angle. Inside, a web of creatively structured beams mimics a forest. It’s not all spanking new, though. In fact, the clock and the striking letters at the entrance to the station were preserved from the old station. As such, the new Centraal pays tribute to its past.
Cube Houses and Rotterdam Architecture
Hungry for more epic architecture? Possibly one of the most iconic and intriguing spots in Rotterdam is the famous yellow cube houses. A modern architectural marvel, these unique houses are like nothing you’ve ever seen before and are just as awe-inspiringly mind-bending in real life as in pictures. You can’t miss their geometric facades which walking around the Oude Haven. Our top tip is visiting the Kijk Kubus house, which is open to the public. Inside, you will find exhibitions about the design and history of the buildings, as well as a museum about chess.
Another architectural masterpiece is the so-called Witte Huis”. This impressive ten-story art nouveau building, which was once the highest building in Europe, was constructed in 1898. If you’re interested in architecture, you should definitely visit “Het Nieuwe Instituut.” Here, you can find out all about the development of different architectural movements over the decades.
Rotterdam Market Hall
One of the most popular meeting spots in Rotterdam is its impressive Market Hall. Locals refer to the giant complex as “Koopboong” which translates to horseshoe, thanks to its shape. The hall’s vaulted ceiling features larger-than-life paintings of vegetables, fish, and other produce.
At the market itself, you can buy a multitude of fresh groceries and prepared food. In addition to stylish restaurants, you can also find all kinds of fast food as well as Dutch specialities. Tuck into one of the famous stroopwafels and see what all the fuss is about!
The old district of Delfshaven was one of the few areas of the city to come out of World War Two largely unscathed. Delfshaven’s untouched older buildings now stand out against the modern Rotterdam cityscape and is now one of the city’s most popular places. Each year, many tourists visit the Oude Kerk, where pilgrims held their last mass in 1620 before setting sail towards America.
Coolsingel Main Street
The Coolsingel main street is one of Rotterdam’s most modern and central areas. When you’re in this part of the city, you can’t miss the City Hall. Thankfully, this awesome building, constructed between 1914 and 1920, was not harmed during World War Two bombings. Now, you can explore the beautifully decorated interior by yourself.
Across the street from the City Hall, you will find a war memorial designed by Mari Andriessen. The De Doelen concert hall and congress centre, as well as the Rotterdam Schouburg theatre also offer a taste of local culture. Another highlight on the Coolsingel is the Beurs-World Trade Centre – a skyscraper with a green-blue glass façade. Also worth mentioning is the Bijenkorf shopping mall, with its impressive building designed by Marcel Breuer. If you fancy a spot of shopping, you can also find the popular streets Lijnbaan and Koopgoot in this area of the city.
At the northern entrance of the Maastunnel, you will find one of the most striking landmarks of Rotterdam: the Euromast. Standing proudly at 185 metres, the tower is the highest building in the country. Dutch architect Huig Maaskant designed this goliath in 1960 in honour of that year’s Floriade. Originally, its height was limited to 101 metres. By adding another mast in 1970, however, the tower reached its current height. Now, visitors can dine at either of the two restaurants 92 metres up or take a ride up on the Euroscoop glass gondola for the most colourful view of the city.
Founded in 1857, the Rotterdam Zoo is one of the oldest in the Netherlands and is famous for its breeding programmes for endangered animals. Among these animals is the red panda, the international breeding programme of which is centred in Rotterdam. In the zoo, animals can feel at home in enclosures based closely on their natural habitats. Swamplands, aviaries, steppes and caves in the Asian section, for example, accommodate a variety of species from exotic birds to bats. The Oceanarium of the zoo is also remarkable and features an impressive collection of aquatic animals from the United States. An ideal day trip for anyone interested in animals and conservation!
Did you know Rotterdam is home to the second-largest bridge in the Netherlands? For a county with so many canals and waterways, that’s no small feat. The monumental Erasmusbrug crosses the Nieuwe Maas with a span of 802 metres. Though named after the renowned philosopher Erasmus of Rotterdam, the bridge is affectionately nicknamed “The Swan” by locals, thanks to its upright mast.
Emerging from a rocky but rich past, Rotterdam has an enormous selection of impressive sights and hints of preserved districts against a modern urban background. Wander along the Coolsingel and through Delfshaven, and don’t forget to check out the famous Rotterdam landmarks Erasmusbrug and the Cube Houses!
Rotterdam is a cool and vibrant city where it’s easy to chill and lose track of time. We recommend staying a few days longer than a simple day trip to drink in the atmosphere! It’s never a dull day in Rotterdam.