With its interesting skyline and hip atmosphere, the second largest city in The Netherlands is gaining in popularity as a travel destination. DW’s Eesha Kheny found out why Rotterdam is a great place for a city break.
An impromptu decision to visit The Netherlands, a country neighboring my adopted home in Germany had me loading up the car and driving the three and a half hours from Cologne to the port city of Rotterdam. A preliminary scan through travel guides and photographs had filled me with anticipation and curiosity about the city.
Although like many travelers, my first choice had been Amsterdam, at the last minute I opted for the more budget-friendly Rotterdam. As I drove into the city, I caught sight of tall towers and bridges gleaming in the sunlight on a cold afternoon.
Rotterdam’s remarkable architecture
Rotterdam is an important port city situated on the Maas River with a history that goes back to 1270. However it is not an old-world European city because had to be built from scratch after being heavily bombed in 1940 during the Second World War by the German Luftwaffe, in what became known as the Rotterdam Blitz. This near complete destruction of the city center paved the way for architects to give it a very varied and modernist futuristic feel – its cityscape unusually for The Netherlands even has skyscrapers.
Grabbing a map from the hostel I had booked into, I made my way to what is apparently the most popular pit stop in the city: The Market Hall. I allowed myself a few minutes just to admire the massive horseshoe shaped modern structure.
The building, which opened in 2014, consists of a 40 meter tall arc full of residential apartments covering the indoor market square. On entering the building I encountered a world of some 100 stalls selling fresh produce and delicious food. The ‘Markthal’ also has restaurants and cooking classes. I spent my time sampling cheeses, gorging on caramel filled stroopwafels and admiring the artwork by Arno Coenen. Spanning the interiors of the hall was the aptly-named Hoorn des Overvloeds (Horn of Plenty),depicting gigantic fruits, vegetables, flowers and butterflies, which come to life in 3D animation.
Following this warm and satisfying break, I walked 300 meters to the next location on my list - The Cube Houses. Designed by architect Piet Blom, and built between the late 1970s and early 80s, these are a block of 51 cubes attached together to create a village within the city. I was amazed by the innovative thought behind the entire concept of high density urban living within these 45 degree titled cubes. Standing there, looking up at the sky framed by the yellow cubes and I was suddenly filled with regret that the hostel here was fully booked. It would surely have been a memorable experience to live in one of these cubes for a few nights.
Rotterdam harbor by boat
At any time of the year, Rotterdam is a windy city but nothing could have prepared me for the strong gales I encountered during my visit. Crossing the Maas River on the Erasmus Bridge was a blustery and yet exhilarating undertaking. This 800 meter long white bridge – fondly nicknamed ‘The Swan’ by locals due to its graceful shape – connects the northern and southern parts of the city and adorns its horizon. This 1996 landmark designed by Ben van Berkel offers great views of the city and it was also a good starting point for the harbor tour, which also departs from here.
For the cost of 13.25 euros and 75 minutes of my time, I had the opportunity to experience Europe’s largest port from the comfort of a boat. Along with many other tourists I watched the many ships and containers we passed with rapt attention. I witnessed huge cranes at work loading and unloading cargo from big international companies. The audio guide imparted information about the history and development along with facts and figures of the present status of the port.I learned for instance that from 1962 until 2004 was the world’s busiest port, now overtaken by Shanghai. The port of Rotterdam these days is ranked the sixth largest, covering 105 square kilometres (41 sq miles), stretching over a distance of 40 kilometres (25 miles).
Rotterdam is multi-faceted
But there is so much more to Rotterdam than its port. As I explored other districts, I realized there is a lot more to the city than initially meets the eye. For instance, those seeking to explore the historic side of the port city should head to the well-preserved district called Delfshaven, which miraculously escaped the WWII bombardment of Rotterdam.
In complete contrast there is the aptly named Cool district, which is very contemporary with an energetic vibe. It is also home to the popular street ‘Witte de Withstraat’ which with its center for Contemporary Art quickly became my favorite place to relax after a long day of sightseeing. I took photographs of street art and sipped coffee while watching people go about their day.
Later, I discovered that Rotterdam has a very happening nightlife with numerous bars and clubs and found myself dancing the night away until the early hours of the next morning.