Rotterdam is one of the coolest and hippest cities in the Netherlands. If you are planning a Dutch holiday that’s as lovely as Amsterdam but less crowded, Rotterdam is the place to go. This is a modern, industrial city located in the southern part of the country, but has kept its mystical medieval profile. Expect to see high-rise buildings and modern shopping centers alongside old 13th-century structures and architecture of bygone years.
To help find your way, here are 8 cool places in Rotterdam that should be on your itinerary.
A really “cool” district
One of Rotterdam’s main districts is called “Cool” (how much cooler can a city get than this?), from the name Coolsingel. Come here to see the lovely, Renaissance-style Town Hall (Stadhuis) that was built between 1914 and 1920, as well as Stadhuis, a war memorial designed by Mari Andriessen. The Town Hall is beloved by everyone, not only for its beauty and historical significance but also for surviving the destructive bombs of World War II. All roads lead to Stadhuis.
Other sites to see here are the uniquely greenish-blue Beurs-World Trade Center, the De Doelen concert hall and congress center, Theater Rotterdam Schouwburg, which is the city’s municipal theatre, and the Bijenkorf (“Beehive”) department store built in 1958. You’d also love the 26-meter-high “Construction” sculpture created by a famous French sculptor.
Do Doelen can accommodate 2,200 people and is known for its excellent acoustics and a superb roster of concerts.
You can also do your shopping here at Cool. Visit the always busy Lijnbaan and Koopgoot shopping streets.
The eccentric Cube Houses
Rotterdam is known for its modern architecture but you’d surely be blown away by the sight of the famous Cube Houses. Unique, chic, surreal, cool, geometric, and stunning. These are adjectives you can use to describe this string of cube houses that are tilted at an abnormal angle of 55 degrees. You will surely notice them as soon as you step out of the adjacent Blaak Train Station or while walking through the Old Harbor.
Although the original intention was to address a zoning problem in the city, the resulting design is a truly bizarre and eccentric housing block that has become a tourist attraction. One of the cube homes is open to the public, so you can see how people actually live here. It also serves as a museum to let you know more about their design and history.
From the Cube House, you might want to check out the White House (Witte Huis), a National Heritage Site, and another structure that features Rotterdam’s cool architecture. It’s a stunning 10-story Art Nouveau building structure and was Europe’s tallest building when it was built in 1898. Climb to the rooftop to enjoy amazing views of the city.
Modern Kunsthal Rotterdam
Another cool example of Rotterdam’s modern yet functional architecture is the Kunsthal Rotterdam or Art Hall in Museumpark. Most of Rotterdam’s modern architecture was inspired by the city’s waterside setting or in response to the devastation of WWII.
Kunsthal Rotterdam is a trendy gallery where you can catch a variety of constantly changing international exhibits on design, visual arts, architecture, and culture from across the globe.
You can then hop to Chabot Museum to see interesting works of Dutch painter and sculptor Henk Chabot. The museum is nestled in a charming white villa built-in 1938.
The lovely Old Harbor and maritime museums
Rotterdam has a lively maritime industry, which makes Old Harbor (Oude Haven) an important attraction. Here you will see restored historic boats, including houseboats where Rotterdam residents live.
For a cool and relaxing time by the water, visit one of the many cafés and restaurants in the area, take a sip and just enjoy the scenery. A stroll around the harbor to see people painting or repairing their boats is also a great idea.
Not far from the Old Harbor are the Maritime Museum Rotterdam and Maritime Museum Harbor.
Built in 1873, Maritime Museum Rotterdam has a huge collection of ship models, a reconstruction of a 2,000-year-old vessel, and numerous boat-related paintings, so you can better understand and appreciate the history of Dutch shipping and seafaring.
You can then proceed to the open-air Maritime Museum Harbor to wonder at a well-preserved 19th-century ironclad Buffel (ram ship) and 20 other historic vessels.
In case you’re vacationing with your kids, there’s a maritime museum designed for little travelers. It’s called the Kids Marina. Here the children can experience how to captain their own mini-version of a cargo or passenger vessel.
A huge and impressive market
Everyone goes to Market Hall (Markt), not just to buy stuff but also to simply be amazed by the food hall’s soaring arch, covered in larger-than-life murals of vegetables, fish, and other produce. Market Hall itself is quite breathtaking. It is a huge office complex that is shaped like a giant horseshoe, which is why locals refer to it as “Koopboog” (“Horseshoe”).
Come here to buy all sorts of food, eat in any of the many fast food stalls and classy restaurants, or simply hang out and watch people.
A cool majestic medieval cathedral
Grote of Sint-Laurenskerk or Great St. Lawrence Church is a truly amazing medieval building that has stood the test of time. You will stand in awe upon seeing this late Gothic church that dates back to the 15th century.
Walk inside and be in reverence upon seeing how the colored glass windows brighten the entire church’s interior. Some of the important artifacts inside are the three Danish organs, the largest of which stands on a marble base on the inside wall of the tower, the main entrance bronze doors, and a statue of Rotterdam’s most famous son, Erasmus.
An important art and cultural venue
A trip to Rotterdam is never complete without a visit to Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, one of the Netherlands’ (and Europe’s) most important art destinations. Come to this peaceful and charming museum to see cool sculptures, paintings, and decorative arts from famous artists, including Van Gough, Rembrandt, Monet, Hubert, Dali, Picasso, and Matisse.
Some of the most popular works are the “Couple with their heads full of Clouds” by Dali, “Titus at his Desk” by Rembrandt, “Belisarius receiving alms” by Mattia Preti, and “Tower of Babel” by Pieter Bruegel.
If you are a museum buff, make sure to also check out the Wereldmuseum Rotterdam, an ethnographic museum that is famous for its ancient and modern cultural collections from around the world.
Finally, immerse yourself in unspoiled old architecture at the old district of Delfshaven. This part of the city survived WWII largely unscathed and is now one of the most popular spots for locals and tourists.
The Dutch recognize Delfshaven as the birthplace of Admiral Piet Hein, a 16th-century hero during the war against Spain. It was also here where the last service was held in 1620 by the Pilgrims before sailing for the New World. It was held in the Old Church (Oude Kerk) and is now commemorated with a memorial and bronze tablet.
Rotterdam is the second-largest and most important city in the Netherlands. It is also the world’s largest port. Compared with the capital city of Amsterdam, Rotterdam can be considered as way cooler because you won’t contend with the usual tourist rush here. It isn’t as popular as Amsterdam, which is also a good reason to come. Be ready to enjoy a cool, relaxed yet exciting Dutch holiday in Rotterdam.