Canada Association of Tourism Employees

What to do in Rotterdam.

When I lived in the UK there were a lot of cheap flights a week to the Netherlands. Mostly drunk footballers or others looking forward to the red light district made their way to Amsterdam. But these are not the only attractions of this incredible country. Rotterdam is one reason to go to the Netherlands and skip Amsterdam.

Rotterdam is the second largest city in the Netherlands and if you want to get away from the tourist hustle and bustle of Amsterdam, Rotterdam offers a little slower life with just as much fun and excitement. Settlement of the area dates back to at least AD 900 and around 1150 the area came to a standstill due to flooding. The locals, fearful of the loss of their land to the water, soon began building levees and dams. Finally, in the 1260s, a dam was built on the Rotte and that’s how the name “Rotterdam” came about. Where the dam was built is the current one Hoogstraat (Main road) is. With control of the coast via dams, the city was able to grow even further and soon became the largest seaport in the world. Since then it has been surpassed by other ports in the world, but the port of Rotterdam is the largest in Europe.

Rotterdam was largely destroyed during WWII, so much of the post-war and newer architecture leans on the more modern side, giving the city a distinctly contemporary look that is different from Amsterdam. Explore the colorful and diverse city of Rotterdam, do some shopping, visit the museums and learn about its interesting history. Here are some of the best things to do in Rotterdam.

Discover the Boijmans-van Beuningen museum

While Amsterdam is home to large and important art museums, the Boijmans-van Beuningen museum leaves the Rijksmuseum for its money. Paintings and art from the 14th to 16th centuries are displayed here with works by famous Dutch artists such as Jan van Eyck, Pieter Bruegel the Elder. Ä., Rembrandt and Rubens, to name a few. In addition to the legendary Dutch painters, the focus is also on other European masters with exhibitions by Monet and Gaugin as well as modern painters such as Picasso and Matisse. All of this and more make it an important museum, not just for the Netherlands, but for all of Europe. Paintings, sculptures, and decorative arts from different eras across the continent make the Boijmans-van Beuningen museum a must-see, and together with the beautiful grounds and manicured lawns, a museum is a perfect place to people-watch.

Get a glimpse of history at the Old Harbor and Marine Museum

While one of the most important ports in Europe is located in Rotterdam, it all began in the Old Port (Oude Haven). Rotterdam flourished as a city in the Middle Ages and into the Renaissance because of its thriving port. The area that once led to the city’s thriving economy is now a tourist hub with maritime museums, cafes, seaside restaurants and of course plenty of boats. The marina itself is a kind of living museum with old boats displaying their ages, names, and more for you to stroll along and see what is there. Just a short walk from the harbor is the Maritime Museum Rotterdam, built in 1873, which features reconstructed 2,000-year-old ships and iron flagships from the 19th century. If you are looking for an interesting place to stay, the 1958 SS Rotterdam, once considered “the best Dutch passenger ship ever built”, is now a hotel and museum. The chicly decorated ship offers lunch and dinner in the dining room or book a room for the night and get a taste of the old school age of passenger sailing.

The former Holland America building is now the Hotel New York.

Stay in a historic hotel in the Hotel New York

From the 19th to the early 20th centuries, many people who wanted to emigrate to America did a ride on the Holland-America line of passenger ships. In the period from 1900 to 1910 alone, 15 million immigrants left Europe, and those who emigrated stayed here before getting on the boat. The building served a dual purpose: it served the offices of the Holland-America Line and housed ticket holders before embarking on the week-long trip to New York. Although the building was not officially a hotel at the time, it officially became one in 1993 when two local contractors bought the iconic building to keep it from deteriorating. The building has 72 rooms, two restaurants, a conference center and is located on the east side of the river and offers incredible views. The Holland America building (now the Hotel New York) is also a listed building and is filled with memorabilia from its time as the last stop for European immigrants.

See the remains of medieval Rotterdam in the Grote von Sint-Laurenskerk

During the Second World War, the German army planned to conquer the whole country in one day. To their great surprise, the Dutch vigorously defended the country and city of Rotterdam, but to persuade them to surrender, the German air force bombed the city to the point of submission. In the course of the war, the Allied air forces also bombed the city in certain areas where the Germans usually set up strategic centers around the ports and ports. Suffice it to say that much of the city was destroyed and one of the few remains of the city’s original medieval buildings is the Grote von Sint-Laurenskerk. Translated into the Great St. Laurentius Church, the church was built in the 15th century and while part of it was destroyed in the bombing, a large part was spared and restored after the war.

When you enter the church, you will notice the impressive play of light from the large windows and the solid colored stained glass. The ornate Danish organs sit on a large marble plinth on the tower wall. The church offers guided tours and music and cultural events are often held here.

Try some not so local food

Rotterdam is the largest city in the Netherlands, home to the largest community of people from Cape Verde and the Netherlands Antilles outside of these countries. Almost 50% of the population have either one or both parents who were born in another country. So if you want to try some delicious Caribbean or African food, there are some good places in town. The Afrikaanderplein market on the south side of the river is a market primarily aimed at Antilles and African locals and is a great place to get affordable food brimming with exotic and interesting flavors. Blue Caribbean has a few eateries in town for takeout and dinner with classic island-inspired dishes, and La Bandera also offers a taste of the Antilles with a Latin American fusion twist and a fun setting.

Spend the day in the covered market

The eclectic market hall, which opened in 2014, is called “the horseshoe” by the locals. It serves as both a market square and an office building, but what makes this place worth visiting is that, with its large semicircular facade and large window area facing the courtyard, it is essentially an architectural marvel. The interior of the structure was designed by the artist Arno Coenen and shows various colorful fruits, animals, plants and insects. It all adds up to a true kaleidoscope, so be sure to look up when shopping.

Aside from the cool design of the place, what about the shopping itself? Well, the market is absolutely huge with a wide variety of shops, stalls, boutiques and even restaurants and bars. Check out tapas bars, traditional Dutch restaurants, tea bars, Balkan grocers, and Indonesian noodle stands, to name a few. You will come and think that you will buy a thing or two and end up spending more than you expected, but at least you have tons of goodies to show you!

Check out Rotterdam’s strangest sculptures

Rotterdam is a city of art. The museums and art galleries really reflect this, but what makes the city interesting is the amount of public art and sculpture all over the city. Most of it is kind of weird.

  • Biopik: Located in the gardens of the Boijmans Van Beuningen Museum, Biopik is a large yellow, phallus-shaped sculpture hidden in the museum’s gardens. The sculpture, created by Joep van Lieshout, a well-known artist in the Netherlands, stands on the grounds of the museum and represents the need for reproduction while at the same time ignoring the idea of ​​functional design. In short, it expresses that it just does its own thing. It was built in 1992 and caused some controversy after which it was relocated to a less noticeable location.
  • The Polaroid: After the end of the war, the city of Rotterdam had to hastily rebuild. In the post-war years, aesthetically boring concrete buildings emerged, and to make the cityscape more interesting, an artist collective installed The Polaroid (along with a few other art installations). The polaroid is a massive representation of a polaroid with a massive red needle holding it in place. Its strange position under an overpass and the slightly inclined positioning make it interesting to look at and the displayed image changes over time.
  • The BMW: The BMW was built in 1987 by the same versatile people who made The Polaroid.
  • Paul McCarthy’s Santa Claus: Christmas time is a wonderful time of the year. The Christmas markets are bustling with activity, people go shopping and spend time with family and friends. Why is this sculpture remarkable? The city of Rotterdam commissioned the American artist Paul McCarthy to build a Christmas sculpture and he delivered. But the controversy over it was not due to religious intolerance. It was because they felt that the little Christmas tree that Santa Claus is holding was too sexual. Without giving too much away, the sculpture was soon nicknamed “the butt plug gnome” and the name stuck. People tried to get rid of it, but it found a new home that stretched from the front of the opera building to the museum park.


    Get out of town and check out the Kinderdijk windmills

Get a feel for the Dutch countryside at the Kinderdijk windmills

The city of Rotterdam is great fun, but if you want to get a little out of the city and explore some of the beautiful Dutch countryside, Kinderdijk’s iconic windmills are just a short drive outside the city center. Translated into “the children’s dike”, the name comes from a local legend of a cradle that was stranded there during the flood of 1421. But most people come here to explore the canals and windmills that line the waterways. The 19 windmills built in the 18th century are a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the most visited attractions in the Netherlands. Be sure to bring your camera!

Our last word

Rotterdam is an amazing modern city with some pretty cool sights. Museums and interesting works of art not only line the museum walls, but also the streets. Buildings with fun designs give the city a unique and cool feel, while the history of the city stays alive through monuments and structures. So next time skip Amsterdam and head to Rotterdam. You will not regret it.

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