Here’s a sentence to split opinions: I think Rotterdam is better than Amsterdam. There, I said it. Just a 40 minute train ride away from the capital, you couldn’t get two cities in such close proximity that are so different; far away from the charm of Amsterdam’s canals and wonky houses, Rotterdam’s post-war rebuild focused on modern skyscrapers to complement its industrial harbour. In fact, one of the only similarities was the huge amount of bicycles, and even then Rotterdam’s cycle paths seemed a world away from the “risk-your-life-whenever-you-cross-the-road” style of Amsterdam…
Home to the biggest port in Europe which deals with a huuuuuuuge amount of imports, I was kinda expecting a slightly grubby, run down city with smoke everywhere. I couldn’t have been more wrong! Glass buildings stretch above you on the tree lined avenues which reminded me of some of the great American cities. There were offices and buildings that people actually worked in, like an actual city – to me Amsterdam felt almost like a museum that was purely for the entertainment of all the tourists. Yes, the port is industrial (come on, it is a port after all…) but it’s easily hidden by the high rises and cafe-lined streets.
One of the things Rotterdam prides itself on is being a foodie’s paradise, which is clear when you see the amount of eateries and markets full of local produce. There are restaurants for all budgets and if you’re watching the pennies, you can certainly eat on the cheap; I enjoyed a two course meal at Very Italian Pizza by the Cube Houses, with a glass of wine, which cost a respectable €17 – they also do basic pasta or pizza dishes for six euros, and the service is fantastic.
Fenix Food Factory offers a choice of artisan food goodies locally including meats, cheeses, ciders, bakery goods and much more, and is definitely worth checking out, although you might wander around for a while before making a decision!
The Markthal, as well as offering over 70 different stalls selling everything from gourmet choccies to perfectly stacked spices, has one of the most amazing roofs you will see. Decorated with insects, fruit and flowers, the dome is definitely worth seeing even if you don’t plan on savouring the culinary treats – like with most things in Rotterdam though, things don’t get going until quite late on in the day, and it doesn’t open until midday on Sundays.
If that wasn’t enough, I was lucky enough to be in town when an Asian market sprung up by the Markthal featuring the best of Thai, Japanese and Chinese cuisine. There are a lot of culinary events in Rotterdam’s calendar, so there’s always something new and exciting to whet your appetite.
What to do
One of the nicest things about Rotterdam is its cafe culture, which again I wasn’t expecting. There were plenty of bars and cafes (especially on the Witte de Withstraat, where I stayed) where you could just sit outside with a nice cold beer or glass of wine.
The Euromast, the tallest building in the Netherlands at 185m, is THE place to go for a view of Rotterdam; ride the lift up to the viewing platform for €10, enjoy the view of the port and city (including the famous Erasmus bridge), then enter the glass panelled room as it’s raised to the top of the mast for an even more impressive outlook. It’s not in the centre of town but still well within walking distance from most places, and you can even zipwire off on certain days if you’re brave enough!
I mentioned the Cube Houses earlier on but they are definitely one of the standout pieces of architecture the city has on offer. Designed by a Dutch artist, a hundred bright yellow buildings all in the shape of cubes contain houses, small businesses and even a hostel. There’s a museum “show cube” where you can pay a few euros to see how people actually live in these bizarre shaped homes, but just walking around and gazing up at them is equally interesting.
Where to stay
I stayed in King Kong hostel which has to be the most hipster hostel ever; imagine corridors where the rooms are hidden by curtains, decorated with hammocks and pommel horses (I’m not quite sure why), and you even get a free banana when you check in. There’s a bar and cafe attached which offers healthy food options, and they do offer a paid breakfast option. The beds were really comfy though and I did end up with a whole dorm to myself, which was perfect to relax in after the craziness of Amsterdam!
The hostel does cater for large groups though which wasn’t great for meeting people as a solo traveller, and one whole floor was taken up by a children’s football tour when I stayed. Staff did try and ask them to keep quiet when they were running around the bar until the small hours, but it definitely wasn’t the normal backpackers hostel experience! Perhaps there’s usually a better vibe and I just caught it at a bad time, but it all seemed a bit too… pristine, and not somewhere where you could put your feet up and chill with new friends.