It was a comfortable 30-minute train ride from Amsterdam Centraal Station to Rotterdam. I must be honest, I didn’t know what to expect as my train came to a stop. I thought perhaps just a smaller version of Amsterdam awaited me.
But from the moment I stepped off the platform, I realised I was wrong. It turned out Rotterdam is one of the most modern cities I have been to. And it’s a side to the Netherlands and in fact Europe as a whole I hadn’t expected. I knew very little about the second-largest city in the Netherlands before I decided to go to Rotterdam. What I discovered was a modern, vibrant city full of architecture, art and culture.
During my visit, the weather was very beautiful, so I spent most of my time outdoors just walking, enjoying the city and the incredible architecture around the city. The majority of Rotterdam was destroyed during World War II which is why Rotterdam is so different to Amsterdam. The city has been rebuilt and is now filled with modern, sleek, innovative, creative and unusual buildings. My favourite thing about many of the buildings was the way a slick skyscraper would stand next to a quaint little house, emphasising the uniqueness of them both.
When I arrived, I took a while to look at the architecture of Rotterdam Centraal, which is an attraction in itself. The station went through a total makeover in 2014, adding a wow factor to Rotterdam city center. The state of art diagonal roof is best welcome wish any traveler can receive. The station itself is huge, bright and plenty of shopping opportunities. The square around the station was also renovated, adding to the complex gigantic underground bike parking and lots of green and resting areas.
When I exited the station into the plaza, I turned around and looked back at the station to admire its flying saucer-shaped roof, its tip in harmonious juxtaposition with the adjacent buildings.
The architecture of Rotterdam is like nowhere else on earth. Weird shapes sprout from the concrete, huge towers make a unique skyline and incredible structures are as functional as they are striking. Almost every building in Rotterdam is a tourist attraction and if I were to list all of them here this blog post would become a book. My mind was blown in Rotterdam, with shapes, colors and innovation.
Rotterdam is a small city so it’s easily walkable and I mostly walked everywhere during my trip. There are trams, buses and the metro too but I didn’t need to use these.
St. Laurence Church is the only Gothic building remaining in Rotterdam, and that’s why it’s worth the visit. The church was reconstructed after being partially damaged by the World War II bombing. Nowadays, it’s one of the most interesting places to see in Rotterdam as you admire the old and new architectural features side by side.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, Rotterdam has stunning architecture. Old structures mixing seamlessly with the modern, it looks so retro, but it works so well.
I think I can’t list the places to go to in Rotterdam without mentioning the Cube Houses! I found it hard to believe that the Cube Houses were built in the 1970’s. This architectural project by Piet Blom takes urban space and housing to a different level. You can walk among the houses, visit one of the Cubes and even spend the night in one of them (there is a hostel). The houses are built on a cube shape, placed on top of pylons and together they resemble trees, creating a concrete jungle.
I love the Makthall Food Hall which is food and art in only one place. It is located in front of the Cube House, the Market Hall is another must visit in Rotterdam. It is not like any other covered market that I have come across on my travels.
It looked particularly impressive at night time with the interior all lit up but was equally lovely throughout the day. This horseshoe-shaped indoor food market houses more than 100 food stalls where you can grab a casual bite to eat or be seated at the many restaurants.
I was so mesmerized by its design, particularly, the ceiling. which is striking colourful. It is like a fruit and vegetable basket that has been thrown in the air. It is well worth visiting just to see this architectural landmark.
This post on Rotterdam concludes my entire The Netherlands winter trip in December 2019.
My final thoughts - Amsterdam or Rotterdam? I feel Rotterdam is so often overlooked with a preference to Amsterdam, and the reason I say that, is because I did that exact thing. Don’t get me wrong - I loved my time in Amsterdam.
However, if you are looking for a similar Dutch experience that is slightly calmer, plenty of charm, perhaps not so many canals, then Rotterdam is for you.
Go to Amsterdam for its canals, its medieval buildings and a window into the Netherlands’ past. Rotterdam is modern Holland and without the crowds that can often swamp Amsterdam.
My advice is, if you love quirky and eclectic architecture, enjoy a city with a relaxed and welcoming vibe, and of course a harbour or two, then you’ll want to visit Rotterdam. What I saw Rotterdam is an architectural showcase designed by the great and the good of contemporary architects.
Don’t visit Rotterdam expecting a living Vermeer painting. Instead, come for bold modern architecture and a multicultural buzz that is hard to beat.
You won’t be disappointed.