As I came out of the ferry terminal at Rotterdam Europoort there were several coaches waiting to whisk people off to Amsterdam. And just one minibus going to the centre of Rotterdam. Yet the second city of The Netherlands is a vibrant city with a lively arts and social scene. So why is it overlooked as a tourist destination?

Here is my list of five reasons to visit Rotterdam…

Sculpture trail, Rotterdam

Modern architecture and outdoor sculpture in Rotterdam

1. The Art… and the Architecture

You are surrounded by art in Rotterdam. There is street art on every corner: often provocative and colourful, and occasionally interactive. There is sculpture too, with a specially created trail alongside the Westersingel Canal.

Rotterdam street art

There is street art on every corner

Then there is the architecture. The relative lack of older buildings is made up for by bold contemporary design. The Cube Houses near Blaak Station are perhaps the best known, but the city centre is full of stylish modern buildings. (Read more about Rotterdam’s art and architecture here.)

2. World Class Museums

Unfortunately I ran out of time and didn’t manage to visit any of the museums on this trip. This was a pity because Rotterdam has several excellent museums. Top of my list would have been the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, an impressive collection of classic Dutch and modern artworks, and the Nieuwe Instituut, an exploration of architecture. There is also the Maritime Museum (which looks as if it would be good for families, with children’s activities and an interactive Offshore Experience), the Fotomuseum, and many more.

Most of the museums have an entry charge. However if you want to learn a bit about the history of the city for free, head to the Market Hall and take the escalators down to the car park. Beside the escalators is a timeline showing the development of Rotterdam and the surrounding area. There are also a few display cases with historic artefacts (you need to go through the doors to the car park to see them properly).

Reasons to visit Rotterdam

3. The Rotterdam Waterfront

Bombing during the Second World War destroyed much of Rotterdam’s waterfront and harbour area. However there has been a gradual programme of redevelopment and now it is part of an amenity area stretching from the Museum Quarter to the Cube Houses and the modern buildings of central Rotterdam.

Rotterdam waterfront

The Rotterdam waterfront

Today the water is full of leisure craft. And the harbourside is packed with bars and restaurants. This is very much a place where the locals come: make sure to stop for a drink and join in with the social buzz.

4. Eating and Drinking in Rotterdam

You can try just about any cuisine in Rotterdam. Walk down Witte de Withstraat – where every other building seems to be a bar or a restaurant – and you’ll see everything from traditional Dutch to Indian, burgers and kebabs. You would expect Indonesian in The Netherlands, but in the small Chinatown area around Westersingel and West Kruiskade you will also find Chinese, Vietnamese and Japanese. There are several “Surinamese” eateries: confusingly, these seem to serve south east Asian food!

Of course there is fine dining in Rotterdam too. I was treated to a sneak preview of the Millen Restaurant in the Marriott Hotel (due to open mid-July) where the Michelin starred chef was serving up imaginative and beautifully presented food such as freshly caught red mullet with samphire and fennel.

Red mullet

Fresh red mullet at the Millen Restaurant

If you are looking for a drink, there are trendy bars everywhere. Or, if you prefer, there are traditional wooden panelled pubs. I enjoyed a drink and a snack in the Art Deco style interior of the Sijf on Oude Binnenweg. (Oude Binnenweg is now a modern shopping street, but it is one of the oldest roads in Rotterdam and has retained a few of the older buildings.)

5. Rotterdam as a Base

Rotterdam is easy to get to. It is accessible by train from just about anywhere in mainland Europe, by ferry or Eurostar from the UK, and by plane to Rotterdam The Hague Airport. And it is much less crowded than Amsterdam, making it an ideal base for a stay in the Netherlands.

From Rotterdam you can take day trips by train to Delft, Den Haag, Amsterdam, Leiden, or many more places. Or you can travel by waterbus to Kinderdijk, a UNESCO World Heritage Site with nineteen windmills.


The windmills of Kinderdijk are a short boat ride from Rotterdam

Have you been to Rotterdam? Let me know what you enjoyed most about the city in the comments below.

This article is now available as a mobile app. Go to GPSmyCity to download the app for GPS-assisted travel directions to the attractions featured in this article.

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