Rotterdam is having a well-deserved moment. With a direct Eurostar service from London, a slew of new openings – trendy restaurants, cool hotels, up-and-coming breweries – and some of the most exciting architecture in Europe, the Netherlands’ plucky second city should definitely be on the shortlist for your next short break.
Here are the best 10 ways to while away a trip.
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Amsterdam doesn’t have a monopoly on bicycle culture – the rest of the Netherlands is bike mad too, Rotterdam included. And one of the best ways to see the city’s diverse architecture, from 1970s classics (Piet Blom’s distinctive yellow cube house) to modern-day masterpieces (the sharp-angled Centraal Station, opened in 2014), is from the saddle.
Hop on two wheels and explore by renting a bike, or book onto an architecture bike tour with UrbanGuides – €25 (£22) for 2.5 hours.
Craft brewery crawl
Forget the traditional pub crawl – Rotterdam has enough exciting craft brewers producing creative, small-batch beers to ensure you can go a whole trip without touching a drop of Heineken. Kaapse Brouwers, which is at the forefront of the Netherlands’ burgeoning craft brewing scene, can be found at Kaapse Maria, its low-key bar-cum-restaurant, and Fenix Food Factory, a cooperative of entrepreneurs all operating out of an old port warehouse that has rejuvenated the area of Katendrecht to the south. Move from there to up-and-coming brewery/bar Thoms, the second brewery in the Netherlands to serve its beer unpasteurised and unfiltered onsite.
Grab a fork
It’s an exciting time in Rotterdam’s restaurant scene, with plenty of new openings and innovative dining options. For a tour and a meal combined, climb aboard Rottertram – a vintage tram recently converted into a gourmet restaurant that goes around the city while a four course dinner is served. Op het Dak, meanwhile, is a café overlooking the Netherlands’ first urban rooftop farm, which uses the garden’s fresh vegetables and herbs in its healthy dishes.
For fancier fare try De Jong, an insouciant yet welcoming restaurant housed under one of the repurposed railway arches as part of the trendy Hofbogen development. Head chef Jim de Jong’s championing of local, fresh produce means menus change frequently – and each is a surprise. Diners pick whether they’d like four, five or six courses, share any dietary requirements and then await their fate.
Go back in time
Rotterdam was famously bombed in the Second World War. It used to look not unlike Amsterdam, but Hitler put paid to that, and futuristic architecture sprang up where traditional Dutch buildings once stood. But you can still get a window into the past and get your fix of quaint canalside views by heading over to Delfshaven in the west of the city – it has pretty gabled buildings, a canal and even a windmill, all just a tramride away from the city centre.
The city’s superior sense of humour is evidenced by its museums: the Natural History Museum Rotterdam has a permanent exhibition called Dead Animal Tales, which chronicles unusual ways creatures kicked the bucket, including a hedgehog perfectly preserved with its head stuck in a McFlurry container. There’s even a plaque to commemorate when a duck flew into the building and died, before it was subject to the, ahem, sexual advances of another male duck. It was allegedly the first time an act of homosexual necrophilia was witnessed in the species.
Galleries abound in Rotterdam, but a trip to Kunsthal is a must – not least because the building itself is an architectural gem. Its bold design raised the profile of architect Rem Koolhaas, founding partner of Dutch architecture firm OMA, when the building was first opened in 1992. Box-shaped and industrial, it leads visitors through seven exhibition spaces via a sloping, spiralling floor. Current exhibitions include Cracking The Image – You Don’t Know What You’re Seeing, a selection of original, miscellaneous pictures showing the influence images have on our daily lives. Entry to the gallery is €14.
Rotterdam is all about water – it’s Europe’s largest port, doncha know. Take advantage of this by travelling in style and catching a water taxi to get around. These black and yellow boats clip along at 50kph and stop at 50 different locations along the port. Passengers can book online or by phone; a short boat trip for two costs about €12.
To market, to market
The city is home to multiple food markets, each with its own unique flavour (pun intended). Markthal is undoubtedly the most eye-catching, housed in a giant, glass-fronted horseshoe with an oversized artwork of technicolour flora and fauna adorning the ceiling. Hundreds of stalls, restaurants and shops are crammed inside, from sit-down places, to grab and go.
The newest concept on the block is Foodhallen on the ground floor of the Room Mate Bruno hotel on Wilhelminakade. It’s Rotterdam’s very own answer to Lisbon’s popular Time Out market: a cool industrial space with communal seating in the middle and outposts of some of the city’s best-loved restaurants lining the edges for pick’n’mix street food.
Finally, Fenix Food Factory could have been plucked straight out of east London, with bare bulbs strung across concrete walls and mismatching squashy chairs strewn between stalls selling everything from colourful Moroccan spices to exotically flavoured stroopwafels
Not sailing, but abseiling. Rotterdam’s Euromast offers daredevils the opportunity to jump off and dangle 100m down to the bottom. If you’re game, it’s €57.50pp.
Most cities can boast a decent green space, but how many can say they have a floating park? Rotterdam’s Recycled Park is a revolutionary concept, which uses plastic rubbish and debris collected from the Nieuwe Maas River to create a 140m-squared stretch of octagonal structures that float attractively in the water to the east of Wilhelminapier.
As well as looking good, the islands act as a habitat for minibeasts such as snails, flatworms, larva, beetles and fish.
Eurostar operates two services from London St Pancras to Rotterdam a day, with a journey time of just under three and a half hours; from £35 one-way.
Room Mate Bruno has doubles from €90, room only.