Rotterdam Travel Guide
For many travellers, a visit to the Netherlands is synonymous with a trip to the ever-beloved and free-spirited city of Amsterdam. But don’t let Rotterdam—the country’s second-largest city—fall off your radar. Long revered for its innovative outlook, Rotterdam is brimming with world-class modern architecture, a thriving coffee culture, and an edgy art and underground club scene. Add to that Europe’s largest port and the Netherland’s most dramatic skyline, and you’ve got the backdrop for an idyllic yet contemporary urban escape. Rotterdam’s culture of cutting-edge ingenuity dates back to 1940 when WWII bombing left the city in ruins. Rather than rebuild an imitation of the port city that once stood, Rotterdammers set out to create a modern metropolis of world-class urban design. Today, you’ll find a sparkling skyline complete with utterly unique and innovative buildings. This, coupled with the Maas River that runs through the city, has earned Rotterdam the moniker “New York on the Maas.” More recently, this nickname has evolved into “Dutch Brooklyn,” largely due to the increasing number of locals seeking to escape Amsterdam’s high prices and crowds in favour of Rotterdam’s cool vibes and modern art scene. At the heart of Rotterdam’s arts culture is the vibrant neighbourhood Witte de Withkwartier, with a plethora of theatres, galleries, avant-garde boutiques, and trendy bars and cafes. Whether you’re strolling along the picturesque port, admiring the state-of-the-art architecture or relaxing over freshly brewed coffee, Rotterdam offers an inspiring travel experience that should not be missed.
The best hotels in Rotterdam
Easily one of the most luxurious hotels in Rotterdam, The Mainport Hotel is perched on the banks of the Maas River, promising spectacular views of both the water and Rotterdam’s signature skyline. The chic global design concept merges influences from both East and West. Luxury amenities include butler service, a five-star spa (complete with Turkish steam room and Hammam complex), and a Green Key gold sustainability certification. Also located in central Rotterdam, the citizenM Hotel is a smart choice for those who appreciate design but can forgo ultra-luxury services and bellboys. Expect comforts such as extra-large king beds, blackout blinds, and free WiFi. The trendy common areas—complete with bookshelves, fireplaces and Dutch artwork—ensure ample space for leisuring. Architecture and history buffs shouldn’t miss Room Mate Bruno, a luxury boutique hotel nestled in what once served as a 19th-century tea warehouse for the Dutch East India Company. Located in the area of Kop Van Zuid, this neighbourhood is revered for its famed buildings by renowned architects such as Rem Koolhaas and Renzo Piano. Inside Room Mate Bruno, nautical designs and Dutch paintings pay tribute to Rotterdam’s rich past. When hunger strikes, head downstairs to Foodhallen, a large market featuring 15 themed food stands.
Another fascinating 19th-century building turned boutique hotel, The Suitehotel Pincoffs is a small sustainable hotel with easy access to all of Rotterdam’s main attractions and lovely views of the Erasmus Bridge.
If you’re spending more than a few nights in Rotterdam, Hotel Light is a short stay hotel just a stone’s throw from Museumplein and Central Station. The lobby areas, communal kitchen and laundry area provide ample space to wind-down or get some work done; the 16 rooms are basic but comfortable, with home-away-from-home amenities.
Things to do in Rotterdam
Considered one of the most important institutions for contemporary art in Holland, the Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art is a non-profit that seeks to “present and discuss work created by visual artists from around the world.” There are three expertly curated seasons of exhibitions each year, featuring everything from painting and sculpture to video art and performance. The Witte de With Center is aptly located in the heart of Rotterdam’s arts and culture neighbourhood (Witte de Withkwartier) where you’ll also find numerous independent boutiques and galleries. Continue your art education at Kunsthal Rotterdam, an exhibition space and auditorium featuring a wide array of art exhibitions, with everything from classic to contemporary pieces. Open since 1992, the Kunsthal’s unique architectural design warrants a visit in its own right.
Given Rotterdam’s history of avant-garde design and architecture, it comes as little surprise that the city’s Museum of Architecture Design and Digital Culture—the Het Nieuwe Instituut—is a must-visit museum with a particular emphasis on innovation. The Het Nieuwe Instituut encourages its visitors to think of the exhibition as a ‘museum of the future’ and encourages questions and debate on architecture, design and digital culture.
All that said, if you’re only going to visit one museum, make it the iconic Nederlands Fotomuseum. With more than three million pictures by Dutch photographers in the archives and collections, this expansive photography museum offers a mesmerizing look into Dutch culture and the visual history of 20th and 21st century Netherlands.
After all that Rotterdam sightseeing, you’re going to need some pampering, too. The obvious answer is a world-class trim or shave at the New York Barbershop. Located in the basement of the iconic Hotel New York—which was once the head office of the Holland-America Shipping and Cruise Line—the chic salon retains original 1930s barber chairs, framed photos of famed stars who once rode the ocean liners, and an undeniable timeless charm. Once you’re all glammed up, head to the nearby Lantaren Venster to catch a film or concert. Its newly designed, state-of-the-art glass and wood building on Rotterdam’s waterfront is magical, and the theatre draws big names in the jazz and European film industry.
Perhaps the most famous of these sculptures is Rotterdam’s curious Santa Claus Statue, more colloquially known as the Butt Plug Gnome
Things to see in Rotterdam
Rotterdam’s small size makes exploring the city’s top architectural marvels an easy feat. As you stroll about, keep an eye out for top Rotterdam tourist attractions like the iconic Cube Houses, the stately Erasmus Bridge, the inspirational Smog Free Tower, and the UNESCO World Heritage Van Nelle Factory. Walk along one of the world’s first crowd-funded public infrastructure projects on the Luchtsingel Pedestrian Bridge, a 400-meter-long pedestrian bridge connecting three previously neglected areas to the city’s Central Station. And don’t miss the city’s many public sculptures on the Westersingle Sculpture Route, some by the likes of well-known Rodin and Carel Visser. Perhaps the most famous of these sculptures is Rotterdam’s curious Santa Claus Statue, more colloquially known as the Butt Plug Gnome. Created by L.A. artist Paul McCarthy, it makes for a favourite photo opportunity (whether you love it or hate it).
Nature lovers won’t need to venture far outside the city to find a peaceful respite. Conveniently located in the city centre, the Arboretum Trompenburg is a stunning oasis of some 4,000 plants and trees. Another idyllic spot for a quiet stroll is The Veerhaven, a rare historical neighbourhood featuring 19th-century buildings and architecture. Restored antique ships glimmer in the harbour when not sailing along the Maas.
Where to eat in Rotterdam
Start your Rotterdam food tour at the iconic Het Industriegebouw; the building (dating back to 1952) is a symbol of the city’s post-war recreation. There’s a smattering of shops and restaurants inside, of which you can’t miss Heroine. At Heroine, choose how many courses you like, then sit back while the chefs craft the perfect, seasonal menu. There are over 100 wines and house-made liquors to accompany the curated dinner experience. Another fab choice for fine dining, FG Food Labs is a warm, unpretentious space tucked away in an old railway station arch. The rustic wood interior and bustling open-air kitchen add to the relaxed ambience, yet the unusual combinations of tasty ingredients on the four to nine-course menu make this a one-of-a-kind experience.
A recent addition to Rotterdam’s food scene is Bertmans, a cafe and restaurant specializing in vegan and vegetarian dishes. The buckwheat pancakes are a crowd favourite, as are the fresh cold-pressed juices and smoothies. Vegetarians and carnivores alike will love Burgertrut, a burger joint with homemade veggie, vegan and organic beef burgers. Unique accompaniments like Jamaican Jerk seasoning and Vegan Mango Chutney keep the burgers interesting. Then there’s Dertien; Chef Pepijn Schmeink changes the menu daily, always featuring organic, fresh and local ingredients. The restaurant has a notable hip and industrial design— think wood, metal and a commanding charcoal oven.
Rotterdam takes its coffee seriously. For a delicious caffeine fix from knowledgeable baristas, head to Man met Bril, a smart cross between a coffee bar and in-house roastery. For something a bit heartier, there’s By Jarmusch, a comfy diner with strong coffee, classic breakfast staples, and modern favourites like acai bowls. (It’s conveniently located alongside Heroine in the Het Industriegebouw.) Another local breakfast hit, Picknick serves up a local, organic and seasonal menu. Head to the back terrace for a leisurely breakfast platter including delicious homemade scones.
One of Rotterdam’s most delectable food halls is the Fenix Food Factory, housed in a former warehouse on the Katendrecht Peninsula. Pick up local produce, meat, cheese and freshly baked bread for a picnic, or grab a bite at the Kaapse Kitchen which features different Rotterdam chefs each week. And finally, it would be a shame to forgo fresh seafood in a city boasting Europe’s largest port. Sylt Seafood Bar is the place for oysters, tuna sandwiches and freshly battered fish.
Shopping in Rotterdam
Rotterdam’s modern look on design extends into fashion, and Evernow Rotterdam is one of the best places to scope out clothing or home decor from young designers and emerging brands. Pieces are made locally from the highest quality materials. For a local souvenir made in Rotterdam, that’s far removed from kitschy key chains and mugs, try Groos. This design concept store has everything from socks to notebooks to vases imagined by well-known designers.
Once a small pop-up store, Hutspot is now a pioneer in fashion and art, with pieces from both emerging and established brands. Expect everything from clothing to home decor to everyday supplies. The self-proclaimed “keepers of cool,” Denoism was explicitly created with the well-dressed, modern-day gentleman in mind. There’s an array of high-end fashion, from English field jackets to iconic Porter and Yoshida accessories. Don’t miss the chance to design your perfect pair of custom jeans at the shop’s famed denim atelier. For minimal modern male fashion, the Dutch label Goodpeople has an entire line of menswear, with clean wardrobe essentials perfect for all occasions. Then there’s Bohemian by Jibodh, delivering smart streetwear and well-known international fashion labels for ‘the easy-going man.’ Great in-store styling advice helps if you get stuck choosing between bowties or sneakers.
On the weekend, stop at Swan Market. The lifestyle market always has live music, food trucks, and a plethora of small businesses selling everything from vintage fashion items to one-of-a-kind artwork. If you can’t make it to the market, the concept shop Collective by Swan (inspired by Swan Market) is a good alternative.
Nightlife in Rotterdam is gay-friendly, with most gay bars in the triangle between Churchillplein, Westblaak and Van Oldenbarneveltstraat
Nightlife in Rotterdam is gay-friendly, with most gay bars in the triangle between Churchillplein, Westblaak and Van Oldenbarneveltstraat. One of the most popular gay nightclubs is Keerweer (come back), where popular dance music reverberates until the early morning hours. Keep an ear out for the Keerweer Parade, a three-day party that happens twice a year. By day, the bar doubles as a pub, should you prefer a more tranquil vibe ideal for quiet conversation. Strano is a hip gay club and long-time institution in Rotterdam’s gay scene, where red leather couches and strong drinks make it easy to while away an evening. For something more low key, FERRY combines a small menu with fantastic wines and beverages, along with regular performances by up and coming artists. Even better, the bar is just a stone’s throw from Keerweer.
Aptly named BAR is a nightclub with an emphasis on electronic music, regularly hosting both national and international artists. On weekends, BAR hosts sultry themed party nights. Once a small underground club, Herr Zimmerman is now known for its extravagant techno parties and creative electronic dance music. Follow their schedule to know when their next epic rave is scheduled.
Unsurprisingly, Rotterdam knows how to imagine cool new entertainment ideas. Case in point: The Performance Bar. Equal parts bar and stage, it’s a unique place to sip on strong cocktails while enjoying everything from live art to poetry to DJs and dancers. It’s a one-of-a-kind concept that promises to be an entertaining evening, no matter what that entertainment is. And while most wouldn’t think of the doctor’s office as a choice evening out, Rotterdam might change that. Dr. is a stylish prohibition-inspired speakeasy featuring “medicinal” cocktails. You’ll need to make an appointment online for a consultation to gain access inside the discreet townhouse. Once in, bartenders in apothecary attire ‘prescribe’ exquisite craft cocktails.
Denoism | Photo: Jurgen Jacob Lodder
Photo: Nicole Baster
Man met Bril
Groos | Photo: Ossip
You won’t find a gay district per say, but what you will find is that most places in Calgary are filled with all walks of life. Sharing makes much more sense then having designated spaces for certain groups. People are nice and like to spend time together; they are Canadian after all.Explore >