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Many visitors to the Netherlands overlook Rotterdam in their headlong rush towards the hedonistic pleasures of Amsterdam, but as Tim Skelton reveals, they are missing out on a vibrant, multicultural treat.
0700-0900. A scenic place to stroll in the early morning is Leuvehaven, a long, narrow harbour by the busy Nieuwe Maas River, which gives an impression of the maritime spirit of this major port, still one of the busiest in the world. Het Havenmuseum (Leuvehaven 50, 010 404 8072) won’t be open at this hour, so you can’t clamber around the row of historic ships moored here, but you can stroll the catwalk to admire their elegant beauty. From the top end of Leuvehaven, take to the water by catching a boat taxi to the Hotel New York (Koninginnenhoofd 1, 010 439 0500). Formerly home to the Holland America Line, whose fleet of ships transported huge numbers of European emigrants to the United States, its lively and elegant dining room makes a fine spot for breakfast with unbeatable harbour views.
0900-1100. Hotel New York stands at the western tip of Kop van Zuid, an old pier now renovated into a residential and business district. After breakfast, take some time to stroll around this area, which is filled with restored warehouses and brand new skyscrapers, some designed by top architects such as Rem Koolhaas. Housed in an old warehouse, and open from 10am on weekdays, the Nederlands Fotomuseum (Wilhelminakade 332, 010 203 0405) is worth a look around. It has a permanent exhibit on the history of photography in the Netherlands, as well as hosting thought-provoking exhibitions by top contemporary photographers.
1100-1300. Leaving the museum, retrace your steps to Hotel New York and catch another water taxi, this time across to Veerhaven, a small harbour filled with private yachts. If you need a break, stop for a coffee and a snack at Café Loos (Westplein 51, 010 411 7723). Then head west along Parklaan until you come to a park, known simply as Het Park. A maze of paths and bridges crossing small lagoons, it makes a peaceful retreat, and on sunny weekends is awash with picnickers. The soaring tower on the west side is the Euromast (Parkhaven 20, 010 436 4811), erected in the late 1950s for a flower fair. From the summit, 185 metres up, you can see right across the city and beyond. For a fee, the more adventurous can abseil back down again, although most mortals find the elevator just as convenient.
1300-1500. Further west again is Delfshaven, one of the few Rotterdam areas left standing after the bombings of WWII. Strolling its lovely canals – spanned by picturesque bridges and lined with gabled houses – is a delight, and there’s even a working windmill at the far end (open Wednesdays only). A good place to stop for lunch is De Pelgrim (Aelbrechtskolk 12, 010 477 1189), named after the Pilgrim Fathers who prayed in the church next door just before heading to America in 1620. As well as serving good food, this is also a brewery. If you can’t decide which to try, order the ‘Pelgrim Proeveke’, a selection of taster glasses containing several of the house brews.
1500-1700. From Delfshaven, take a tram or walk east to Museumpark. Located here is the pride of this architecturally vibrant city, the Nederlands Architectuurinstituut NAI (Museumpark 25, 010 440 1200), containing a permanent exhibition on the giants of Dutch architecture. Another nearby must-see is the Kunsthal (Westzeedijk 341, 010 440 0301), which at any one time hosts up to half a dozen temporary exhibitions on a wide range of themes.
1700-1900. Nearby Witte de Withstraat is an artistic highlight, with a mix of quirky shops and alternative galleries. The best is probably TENT Rotterdam (Witte de Withstraat 50, 010 413 5498), a suitably minimalist space for the most innovative local artists. The same street is also home to several trendy bars that make a good place for an aperitif. Nieuw Rotterdams Café (Witte de Withstraat 63, 010 414 4188) is a lively joint that occupies the former offices of the NRC, a Dutch national newspaper. Further down the street, step into the exotic Middle Eastern charms of Bazar (Witte de Withstraat 16, 010 206 5151), a unique hotel and restaurant decked out to resemble something from 1001 Arabian Nights.
1900-2100. For an altogether different dining experience, seek out Eendracht (Eendrachtsweg 31a, 06 1486 5478). The owner here is both chef and waiter, and the small restaurant works on the table d’hôte principle, meaning most guests eat together at one long table, and the menu – your only choice is whether to go for four or six courses, although vegetarian alternatives are available – may be a complete surprise. The imaginative dishes use seasonal organic produce from local suppliers. Note that credit cards are not accepted here. If seafood is your thing, it doesn’t come much better than the offerings at Zeezout (Westerkade 11b, 010 436 5049). Located on a quiet riverfront terrace, the charming restaurant serves fresh and fabulous fish and shellfish creations produced in the open kitchen at the back. A large fishy motif on the tiles on one wall dominates the room, leaving you in no doubt about the main event here.
After 2100. After hours, many Rotterdammers make a beeline for Nieuwe Binnenweg, the main road linking Delfshaven to the centre. The most popular hangout here is Rotown (Nieuwe Binnenweg 17-19, 010 436 2669), which has live music most evenings. The café attracts surprisingly big names considering its small stature, mostly in the alt-rock or folk vein. Concerts start at 9.30pm. Afterwards, stop by one of the nearby atmospheric old pubs, such as Stalles (Nieuwe Binnenweg 11a, 010 436 1655), a cosy ramshackle brown café with a popular terrace. Alternatively, head over to the theatre district, where you’ll find Café Floor (Schouwburgplein 28, 010 404 5288), a more modern café with a garden at the back and a good range of drinks. If you’re more in the mood to party, you’re in the right place – there are many other nightspots in this area.
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Written by World Travel Guide.