With a contemporary art scene, fantastic food and pulsating nightlife, Rotterdam has it all.
The Netherlands' second city it may be, but Rotterdam's contemporary art scene, fantastic food and pulsating nightlife mean it makes a strong case for the title of coolest. With The Hague and Gouda just a stone’s throw away, there’s plenty to do in the surrounding area too.
Start with some culture in the Witte de Withkwartier. This part of town is packed full of things to do, with a great selection of art galleries and dining options. This is the place to come for a taste of Rotterdam’s thriving contemporary cultural scene; start off at the Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art, one of the finest modern art museums in Europe, with a collection of works from artists across the world. Then head to the adjacent TENT, which showcases Rotterdam's best, with works from local artists. If you’ve not had your fill of museums yet, make your way down Witte de Withststraat to the magnificent Museum Boijmans van Beuningen, home to works by greats such as Van Gogh, Rembrandt and Dali.
Next up, make the pleasant stroll along the iconic Erasmus Bridge to the Katendrecht district, one of Rotterdam’s coolest areas. Once the city’s Chinatown, this district juts out into the Nieuwe Maas river, making it feel like an island, and its long history as a port for international trade has coloured its unique character. The best place to get a feel for this is the SS Rotterdam. Now part-museum, part-luxury-hotel, it’s a restored vintage cruise liner dating from the 1950s where you can learn about Rotterdam’s maritime history on guided tours. There are also restaurants onboard and a bar on the deck – the perfect place to round off your half-day in Rotterdam with a drink and a view.
A couple of days in Rotterdam will give you the chance to get more of a feel for the city. A good place to start is in Katendrecht; a fashionable neighbourhood with a colourful history, this is the place to get a feel for Rotterdam's maritime culture. Today, Katendrecht is known as a fashionable area of cafés, bars and pop-up food stalls – perfect for your first breakfast or lunch during your stay in Rotterdam. Sample some traditional Dutch breakfast dishes, like uitsmijter (fried eggs and melted cheese on bread). Afterwards, be sure to check out Katendrecht’s main attraction, the SS Rotterdam – a restored vintage cruise liner from the 1950s, which operates today as a maritime museum and luxury hotel.
Now that you're clued up on Rotterdam’s maritime history, make the half-hour walk across the iconic Erasmus Bridge to the northern half of Rotterdam and the Witte de Withkwartier, the city’s ‘axis of art’. Here, spend an afternoon exploring the numerous art galleries lining Witte de Withstraat. The first you’ll reach from the Erasmus Bridge is the Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art, which gathers contemporary art from leading artists across the world over the last 25 years. Just next door, at TENT, you’ll find a more local focus, with the cutting edge of Rotterdam’s contemporary art scene represented. For something more experimental, cross the road to Worm, where you’ll find an ever-changing offering of boundary-busting avant-garde art, including music and film.
The next day, explore Rotterdam’s more historic side. The Laurenskerk is the last remaining example of medieval Rotterdam, completed in 1525. Tours are available of the church and its distinctive central tower, while a patio café pops up in the summer months. In the afternoon, dive in to Rotterdam’s fantastic food scene at the Markthal, just across the road from the church. This eye-catching, arch-shaped building houses a food market that mirrors Rotterdam’s cosmopolitan nature, with 176 nationalities and cuisines represented.
A full week in Rotterdam gives you the chance to experience the city in more depth and make some excursions to outlying attractions. A good place to begin is in the Museumkwartier, home to several excellent museums. The Natural History Museum is sure to get you in the mood for more, with 400,000 objects spanning the breadth of history across the entire world. From there, make the short walk to the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, home to a truly world-class art collection that includes works by the likes of Van Gogh, Rembrandt, Dali and Bosch.
Days two and three
Over the next couple of days, continue exploring Rotterdam’s cultural scene by spending some time in the Witte de Withkwartier, to the east of the Museumkwartier. Centred around Witte de Withstraat, this area is known as Rotterdam’s axis of art. The multimedia space Worm is where you’ll find Rotterdam’s cultural cutting edge, with all kinds of underground artists represented in music performances and film showings. Across the road is the Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art, one of the leading modern art museums in the country, and TENT, which focuses specifically on contemporary art from Rotterdam.
Having spent several days exploring Rotterdam itself, today take a break from the city by jumping on a bus or in a car to make the short journey to the historic town of Gouda. Popular among visitors for its beautiful historic architecture, Gouda is most famous as the home of Gouda cheese, and the town’s cheese market is the place to go for the best selection; north of the market is the Waag, a 400-year-old former cheese factory, which today houses the Cheese and Craft Museum. Other attractions in Gouda include the Museum Gouda, which covers the history of the town.
Today, continue your exploration of Rotterdam’s surroundings with a trip to The Hague, which although a separate city is easily reachable from the centre of Rotterdam – around half an hour’s ride on the metro. The Hague is the Netherlands’ administrative capital, the seat of political and royal power. So it’s home to some beautiful civic buildings and palaces, such as the Binnenhof, the historic Dutch parliament building, which you can explore on a guided tour. The Mauritshuis is also a must-do – this a superb art museum houses some iconic works, including Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring.
Days six and seven
Spend your final couple of days in the city relaxing and taking in some of the sights you haven’t yet visited. One must-visit area is Katendrecht, which sits on a near-island in the middle of the Nieuwe Maas river. Formerly Rotterdam’s Chinatown, this area played an important role in Rotterdam's maritime past and is now the home of the SS Rotterdam, a vintage cruise liner renovated into a luxury hotel, restaurant complex and museum. The ship’s deck bar is the perfect place to see out your trip, cocktail in hand, as the sun goes down over Rotterdam.