Rotterdam is the second-largest city in the Netherlands, after Amsterdam to the north. It is often considered as the business-like younger brother of A’dam; a commonly uttered phrase is that “Money is made in Rotterdam, and spent in Amsterdam”.
Rotterdam seems, at first glance, a city that only focuses on modernity and business. However, this can’t be farther from the truth; the traditions and people that makeup ‘the other ‘Dam’’ are alive and on display. No doubt, this is a wonderland of modernist architecture; one of the few cities to boast skyscrapers and Michelin stars without a massive urban population. Rotterdam is an amazing city to visit if you only have one day, the perfect mix of modern and classical.
The region of modern-day Rotterdam saw periodic inhabitation for over 1000 years; an extended settlement was only prevented by frequent flooding in the low countries (Netherlands). A dam was built on the river Rotte (or Rotta, meaning ‘muddy water’) in 1270, providing protection for the development of a permanent settlement. This dam remains as the Hoogstraat area of the modern city.
Over the following 500 years, the town saw slow but steady growth. The end of the 19th century was marked by a massive expansion of the city and its population. This prompted the founding of Erasmus University in 1913, named after famed resident Desiderius Erasmus. The institution is consistently ranked in the global Top 50 for Finance, Business, and Medicine.
World War 1 largely spared Rotterdam due to the neutral stance of the Netherlands throughout the calamity. The city actually played host to the densest population of spies in Europe, easily accessible from the UK, France, Belgium, and Germany. The conflict prompted an influx of new residents, mainly Belgian refugees, German pacifists, and Allied prisoners-of-war.
Hitler was not so kind to Rotterdam. The Nazi’s saw strong resistance when trying to invade the Netherlands – they decided to make a display of force. The Rotterdam Blitz destroyed most of the structures in the city center, similar to nearby Eindhoven and Dusseldorf, and prompted the Dutch surrender days later. The assault required Rotterdam to rebuild from ruins.
Rotterdam’s unique location on the North Sea has garnered it the title of ‘Gateway to Europe’, or in the other direction, ‘Gateway to the World’. The city is near the confluence of some of the most famous rivers on the continent: the Rhine, Meuse, and Scheldt. These waterways connect deep into the heart of western Europe, making Rotterdam a frequent stop in either direction. This strategic location has resulted in the city developing into Europe’s largest port.
The city expanded from a central point on both sides of the Nieuwe Maas River. This resulted in Rotterdam being largely split down the middle; the North and South are connected by at least four tunnels and four more bridges. Most of the city is located North of the river, however, the Southside has been expanding quickly since the 1990s, after the construction of the Kop van Zuid.
The plethora of waterways surrounding the city, along with the elevation being near sea level, give Rotterdam a temperate oceanic climate. This means that winters are cool with a few cold days, but rarely below -5°C; summers are mild to warm, temperatures above 30°C are not particularly rare.
While Rotterdam may seem all business, it is still quite a small city, with less than one million residents. The majority are immigrants, with foreign-born residents outnumbering the Dutch in the city center. Over 20% of the city’s population comes from Suriname, Turkey, and Morocco alone.
This multiculturalism as led to competition with Amsterdam as the cultural capital of the Netherlands. The Rotterdam Philharmonic, the local orchestra, is held in high esteem and often compared to its regional counterparts. The city is also known for its large festivals: their Caribbean Carnival (Zomercarnaval) is the 2nd largest in Europe, with other events celebrating dance, pop music, film, poetry, and jazz.
The prevailing ‘professional’ vibes of the city has attracted many young people; 70% of people between the ages of 20 to 40 are single, as of 2018. This population, often with disposable income, has prompted the development of many shopping streets and complexes:
Rotterdam doesn’t have many food traditions unique to itself, it combines and glorifies the national dishes of the Netherlands alongside the international cuisine brought by immigrants. Frankly, if you’re feeling adventurous, choosing a place to eat at random is often to please and rarely disappoints.
However, aside from what might seem like too much selection, Rotterdam is known for a selection of world-class markets. The Markethal is a breathtakingly huge, permanent market, with over 100 stalls and restaurants. Here you can sample the best of Dutch comfort foods and find trinkets and souvenirs to bring home.
The Witte de Withstraat is a popular district for diners and tourists alike, worth visiting both during the day and at night, for markedly different vibes. If you’re looking for something unforgettable, there are at least five Michelin-starred restaurants scattered throughout the city, with most situated around the shopping districts mentioned above.
Rotterdam is a modern city, especially captivating for lovers of recent architecture. However, there are still a few traditional buildings that remain in the wake of WW2, where you can explore the classical underpinnings of this contemporary and cosmopolitan city.
While the Markthal has plentiful options to quell your hunger, there are endless opportunities throughout the city to satisfy a craving for something specific. From wholesome noodles to Michelin stars, there’s surely something for everyone.
After satisfying your culinary cravings, you can spend the rest of the day wandering the beautiful streets of Rotterdam. Thankfully, many of the remaining highlights of the city are all within a few blocks of each other. Visiting these landmarks will bring you through some of the nicest and most affluent parts of the city.
And there you have it, a fabulous day in Rotterdam – with all of the top highlights. Of course, if you have more energy in the evening there is wildlife that is as inhibited as the other top spots in Europe – Amsterdam, Vienna, London, Stockholm – so if you are tempted…well, we would never judge you…
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Just add an adventurous attitude and plenty of smiles - they go a long way - and that about covers it all! Now go out, find your own path and don't forget to share your best inspiration stories with me on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram...I'd love to hear from you!