There’s more to Holland than Amsterdam, despite what the stag and hen parties may think. For a real Dutch treat, visit Rotterdam.
Just 25 minutes away by train from Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport, Rotterdam is Holland’s second largest city – a vibrant and dynamic metropolis with lots of arty happenings, numerous shopping opportunities, first-class restaurants and a world-class port. It’s Dutch to its core, yet it doesn’t rely on kitsch touristy images of clogs and Edam cheese to lure visitors. Despite being 650-years-old, the spirit of this city is as modern and cutting edge as it comes.
Famous for its art and architecture, Rotterdam is like Holland’s Berlin, yet it’s not intimidating for visitors seeking a fresh take on the Netherlands as it’s totally geared up for tourists.
I’d last been to Rotterdam as a teenager, on a family holiday in the late 1980s, so the adult me was keen to discover the city for myself during a two night weekend break.
While Paris has its Eiffel Tower, and New York the Empire State Building, Rotterdam has its Euromast. After lunch at Restaurant Bazar, which serves mostly north African and Middle Eastern food to a cosmopolitan crowd, my first full appreciation of the city came from the top of the Euromast, the highest lookout tower in the Netherlands.
ROTTERDAM SHOPPING AND SIGHTS
I had hopped on a water taxi from Veerhaven and arrived at an area known as Parkhaven, from where it was just a few steps to the towering, futuristic Euromast. Built in 1960, it measures 185 metres and boasts a tower-top restaurant as well as a viewing platform, from where you can enjoy fabulous views over the harbours, the skyline, the football stadium and the stunningly modern Erasmus bridge.
My hotel, the canal-side Bilderberg Parkhotel, was centrally-located, within walking distance to the shops, the waterfront and the main nightlife areas. One of the finest and most historic hotels in the city – it’s known as the Grande Dame of Rotterdam hotels – all 189 Villa and Garden rooms are spacious, while some of the Garden rooms, such as mine, also boast their own balconies.
Rotterdam is full of museums and one of the most interesting I found was the Fotomuseum in the Las Palmas area – I spent ages wandering around its clean, sleek spaces, checking out its various exhibitions. The museum promotes primarily Dutch photography, with continually changing exhibitions featuring the work of international photographers.
Culture vultures will also love the Wereldmuseum (Worldmuseum) which specialises in world culture and the eclectic Kunsthal Rotterdam, which stages around 25 exhibitions a year and presents culture in its widest sense, from the work of the Impressionists, to Pop Art.
And befitting Rotterdam’s reputation as a centre for cutting-edge architecture, the Netherlands Architecture Institute is more than just a museum of architecture – this dramatically striking building is also a cultural institute that’s open to the public and boasts one of the largest collections of architectural drawings, models, photographs and sketches in the world.
For shopping, a walk around the city centre will bring you to major fashion chains as well as designer boutiques and quirky vintage clothes shops, but look out too for the shopping areas of Witte de Withstraat (the collection of streets billed as the city’s ‘cultural axis’); Oude Binnenweg and Nieuwe Binnenwag.
The heart of the city’s shopping district, though, is the Lijnbaankwartier, home to Lijnbaan street, where most of the shops are open seven days a week and where you can take a break from abusing your credit card to sit at a café and people-watch. After World War II, when Rotterdam started rebuilding itself, this became Europe’s very first pedestrian-only shopping street. Come night time you can let your hair down in the Meent area at places such as bar Soho and Level and in Dizzy’s jazz club in the Nieuwe Binnenweg area.
Two days weren’t enough to fully explore all that Rotterdam has to offer, but it was a great start, and whetted my appetite to seek out more of what I consider to be the real heart of the Netherlands. Travel beyond the tourist traps and the souvenir shops of Amsterdam to find the real, thriving beating heart of modern-day Holland.
Where to Eat
Gusto, a bustling, modern Italian restaurant that makes the most of local organic ingredients. Schiedamse Vest 40 Check out the official website of the tourist information office has information on the city’s architecture, festivals, events, attractions, art, culture, museums, accommodation, clubs, bars and shopping.
Z&M, a French-oriented organic deli with a restaurant and cosy terrace with views over the waterfront. Veerhaven 13
Wereldmuseum (World Museum)
Kunsthal (Netherlands Architecture Institute)