The Dutch second city of Rotterdam came as such a surprise when I visited back in May for the annual Traverse conference. I barely knew anything about the destination beforehand, but I left with a real feel for Rotterdam and its districts. It’s the city of cool and is well worth a weekend away, or a day trip from Amsterdam.
From futuristic architecture, to the old historical district of Delfshaven, Rotterdam has an awful lot to offer. Some even describe the city as an ‘open-air museum of modern and contemporary design’ and a brief walk along its charismatic streets, it’s easy to see why.
For a city that was largely destroyed to the ground following World War 2, it has risen again to be a multi-cultural destination and its urban developments are very cool and contemporary. Rotterdam offers excellent shopping, endless unusual cafes and bars, pumping nightlife and an eclectic arts scene, I already can’t wait for a return trip!
Read on for my guide on all of the districts in Rotterdam, as well as attraction recommendations and a few foodie suggestions too. If you’d like a more detailed overview of some of the best cafes in Rotterdam, check my guide here.
Known in Dutch as Kubuswoningen, these are Rotterdam’s famous Cube Houses, built by Piet Blom in 1984. These are genuine homes and truly like nothing else in the world – a real 20th century icon. Apparently, the architect wanted to create a mini village within the city and you really get a sense of that. Each of the cube houses is tipped downwards, so that three sides face the ground and the other three face skywards. You can even go inside a ‘Show Cube’ to see what it’s like to live here!
A giant indoor food market, shaped in a giant inverted U-shaped design and lined with glass walled apartments on the upper levels, Markthal is a completely unique destination. Remember, arrive earlyish and it isn’t open too late into the evening!
The city’s central station is one of the most iconic architectural sites in Rotterdam. Not only is it striking and a wonder to walk around, but the roof is covered in solar panels so it contributes to renewable energy, which is excellent. Some of the original features from the previous station, such as the clock above the front facade and the letters spelling ‘Centraal Station’.
Witte de Withkwartier
This lively district is home to the heart of Rotterdam’s art and culture. At the centre of it all is the famous Witte de Withstraat, an eclectic street showcasing the best of Rotterdam’s multiculturalism and artistic nature. The street is lined with buzzing galleries, independent fashion boutiques, hip restaurants and bars and of course, the most creative and colourful street art around.
Restaurants to try here include:
- Bazaar – North African and Middle Eastern dishes served us in a colourful mishmash of fun and lively music
- Warung Mini – This popular Surinamese restaurant is the place to try the cuisine typical of Suriname
- Supermercado – Serving up the best Latin American food, it’s very Instagrammable too!
- De Witte Aap – Nominated as Lonely Planet’s best bar in the world, this pub is a Rotterdam institution and at the absolute heart and soul of the city. All day sessions keep this place pumping year-round.
Located in the west of the city, around a 30 minute walk away, or a short tram ride, lies the picturesque district of Delfshaven. One of the few parts of Rotterdam city that survived the World War 2 bombings, this beautiful area is worth a visit to see how the city used to look. The area came to be in the 16th century as a rich harbour town, and has continued to be historically important for Rotterdam, as it was even the departure point for the Pilgrim Fathers who sailed to America. The historical canal houses are similar to Amsterdam, but the vibe is very different. Now home to a couple of riverside cafes and pubs, and a handful of antique stores, it’s a delightful place for a wander.
Rotterdam has plenty of open green spaces – always a big tick for me in any city. Museum Park is a vast and pleasant location and a delightful place to wile away a summer’s day. It is also the location of Rotterdam’s iconic Euromast observation tower which was constructed in 1960 and whisks visitors 185m above the city to the observation deck and restaurant. Visit the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, one of the Netherland’s oldest museums, featuring art from the likes of Van Gogh, Dali and Rembrandt!
Erasmusbrug and Katendrecht
Rotterdam’s iconic bridge, the Erasmusbrug spans the Nieuwe Maas River, linking the two sides of Rotterdam. I enjoyed glorious cycles across this bridge plenty of times and would recommend crossing by bike or by foot to explore the Katendrecht area. Built in 1996, it finally connected the South to the Centre of Rotterdam and opened up development to an area once known as the red light district.
- Hotel New York
This famous Rotterdam landmark must be one of the most beautiful historic buildings in the city. The Hotel New York used to be the headquarters of the Holland-America Cruise Line but is now an elegant hotel and restaurant, offering fantastic views across the water.
- nhow bar
The view from this hotel’s sky-high bar is rather stunning. Located 30m above ground level and also home to a restaurant and rooftop terrace, the nhow bar is the perfect place for a craft cocktail overlooking the Erasmusburg bridge and city.
- ss Rotterdam
Located on Katendrecht, the ss Rotterdam is the former flagship cruise liner of the Holland-America Line. It was built in 1959, but since 2008, it has been docked in Rotterdam at the tip of the Katendrecht peninsula. Now, it has been re-purposed as as permanent hotel and events venue. You can wander on-board for free to explore but you’ll see and learn more if you join a guided tour. Also, make sure to head to the terrace for a different perspective of Rotterdam!
Where to stay in Rotterdam
I enjoyed the most fantastic stay at the Citizen M Hotel, located near the Markthal and the Cube Houses.
I’m a huge fan of Citizen M Hotels, and love everything they stand for. The rooms are unbelievably well-thought out and practical, which is a total dream for an organisation geek like me!
Districts of Rotterdam – What to See and what to Do
If you’re heading to Rotterdam in The Netherlands soon, I do hope this post on the city’s districts is helpful. Rotterdam is a wonderful and surprising destination, with a lot to offer – I couldn’t recommend a long weekend here enough. It is so different to Amsterdam and Rotterdam really is a less visited destination just waiting to be discovered.
If you’re looking for all my favourite foodie recommendations in Rotterdam, then do check my guide to the best cafes here.
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