With several world class museums, Rotterdam is an obvious destination for art lovers. But there is also plenty to see for free. The city is full of street art, sculpture and cutting edge architecture. At times it feels as if the whole place is an open air museum.
Rotterdam Street Art
The first official graffiti wall was opened in the Crooswijk area of Rotterdam in 2007. But this is only a tiny part of the city’s street art scene. There are formal projects such as Make it Happen (interactive street art) and Rotterdam Street Art Museum. But some of it is more spontaneous: isolated art works or pieces that seem to be integral to buildings.
You can discover street art in Rotterdam just by keeping your eyes open as you walk around. Sometimes it is where you least expect it, like a covered passage in the historic area of Delfshaven. Guided tours are available if you want a bit more information about the artworks. Alternatively, for a small fee you can download the Rewriters app onto your smartphone. This gives you two self guided walking tours around the city’s street art with detailed written and audio commentary.
Outdoor Sculpture in Rotterdam
Sculpture International Rotterdam manages a trail of 48 sculptures in Rotterdam. These range from works by well known sculptors like Henry Moore to more contemporary creations. Many of the sculptures are alongside the Westersingel, where you can enjoy a peaceful walk in the parkland beside the canal.
As with the street art, you will find some sculptures and installations that are not part of a formal project. I was particularly intrigued by the large green statue of Erasmus outside the Tourist Information Centre. This is a 3-D computer printed replica of the figure in Grote Kerkplein (dating from 1622, this is the oldest statue in The Netherlands).
Traditional Buildings of Rotterdam
Rotterdam suffered extensive bomb damage during the Second World War, and most of its older buildings were destroyed. However, you can still find buildings from the late 19th and early 20th centuries in the city centre. In particular there is the Art Nouveau style Witte Huis on the waterfront (dating from 1898), and the City Hall, which was completed in 1920.
One area which did survive the bombing was Delfshaven, the historic port area of Rotterdam. Here the canal is lined with old houses and the occasional warehouse. There is an 18th century windmill and the Pilgrim Fathers’ Church, which dates back to the 14th century (although most of what you see now is more recent). It was from here that the Pilgrim Fathers departed for their historic voyage to America in 1620.
Modern Architecture in Rotterdam
The modern buildings in the centre of Rotterdam all seem to be individual design statements. This is particularly so in the Spaanespoort area between the waterfront and the city centre. The area was redeveloped in the 1970s and is largely the vision of one man: the architect Piet Blom.
Blom aimed to combine high density affordable housing with recreational areas in a way that was not too “functional”. The result was a Mediterranean style waterfront with outdoor cafés and restaurants. And perhaps Rotterdam’s most famous buildings: The Cube Houses. These are a startling structure of 39 tilted cubes on a bridge connecting the water to the market.
Then there is the Market Hall. This is like an inverted horseshoe with apartments looking down over a central market area. But what is most startling is the ceiling: it is covered with a massive mural with colourful fruits, flowers and insects. I wasn’t sure whether to describe the Market Hall as art or as architecture, but it seems to sum up Rotterdam’s innovative approach to contemporary design.