When it comes to city breaks, there are plenty of things to do in Rotterdam. The Netherlands’ second largest city is an exhilarating whirlwind of adventures and architecture. Capitalising on its maritime heritage, Europe’s busiest port is awash with museums and fun activities, such as inner-city canal surfing and bike tours. So, hop aboard and make the most of your action-packed trip to Rotterdam.
Hop on A Bike
Even the most nervous cyclists can’t fail to fall in love with Rotterdam by bike. There are plenty of bike tours to choose from; if you are a less confident cyclist, select a tour operator that boasts “easy-to-ride” bikes. On two wheels, you will be guided through the city, with your experienced guide pointing out local spots of interest and taking you to less well-known areas; hidden gems tucked away from the vibrant tourist trail.
Grote of Sint-Laurenskerk
One of the most popular things to do in Rotterdam is a trip to the 15th-Century Grote of Sint-Laurenskerk (Great St Lawrence Church), the last of Rotterdam’s medieval buildings, and the only remaining one to survive WWII. Pass through the vast bronze doors, which are adorned by images of War and Peace by the Italian artist Giacomo Manzu. Inside, the magnificent interior is bathed in coloured light from the stained-glass windows. If you have time, there are organised tours and tower climbs, but if you can’t fit that in, make sure you take a few minutes to admire the trio of Danish organs, for which the church is most famous.
A twenty-minute drive east of Rotterdam, you will find the UNESCO World Heritage Site, Kinderdijk (Children’s Dyke). The Dyke gains its name from a legend depicting the flood on St Elizabeth’s Day in 1421: it is said that, amid the destruction and devastation of the flood, a baby’s crib was stranded at the dyke, and the baby was saved. The Kinderdijk is an iconic location, with people flooding to the area to see its 19 windmills, build between 1722 and 1761. They are the largest cluster of windmills in the Netherlands and their perfectly preserved forms, nestled along the banks of the dyke, present a picture-perfect image.
In the aftermath of WWII, Rotterdam’s inhabitants reacted to the decimation of many of its landmarks by throwing themselves into the world of modern architecture. The famous Kubuswoningen (Cube Houses) stretched the limits of modern architecture to the max, the cuboid upper floors looming apparently precariously over the street below. In the show cube, you can discover the logistics and inspiration behind Dutch architect Piet Blom’s design.
Most walking and cycling tours will take you to Kubuswoningen as well as Rotterdam’s other architectural highlights, including the Witte Huis (White House), built in 1898 and once the tallest building in Europe. To get a greater insight into architectural influences and designs in Rotterdam, visit the Netherlands Architecture Institute, whose museum will take you through the city’s fluctuating skyline over the last century.
It is impossible to visit Rotterdam without being awed by its maritime history and its massive port. The city’s port dominates life in Rotterdam, occupying half of the city’s total area and forming the livelihood of many of its occupants. The massive Europoort is known as the gateway to Europe, and a visit to the complex is one of the key things to do in Rotterdam. The port is a strange mix of the industrial and leisurely: while functioning on a huge scale, the presence of guided tours and boat trips turns the hard work and inconceivable logistics of daily port life into a vaguely voyeuristic activity. Night tours are a great way to see the city illuminated in all its glory.
Tour The SS Rotterdam
In the mid-20th Century, ship travel between the Netherlands and the US was not luxurious until, in 1956, the Holland America Line set about creating a flagship to beat all others. The result was the SS Rotterdam, the Netherlands’ largest and possibly best passenger liner. At 228 metres long, 28 metres wide, and 61 metres high, the SS Rotterdam, also known as La Grande Dame, is still the pride of the city, and well worth a tour. Today, the ship is run as a hotel and restaurant: you can choose from hour-long or longer tours, dine in style aboard the ship, and even stay the night for less than 100 euros. Guided tours range from the child-friendly “Sea breeze Deluxe”, complete with mini passports and fun games, to the Art Tour and guided group tours; each aimed to help you discover more of the ship’s stormy past.
Fenix Food Factory
Rotterdam’s cuisine is a reflection of the city itself: honest, hip and entirely unapologetic! Amble around the immense warehouse of the Fenix Food Factory, where you can buy cider, cheese and other delicacies locally made and sold by independent vendors. Much more than a market, the Factory has a festival-like air as gourmands come together to celebrate their love of good food. Delicious scents waft tantalisingly from food trucks, which sell anything from coffee to fresh bread. Shop, enjoy, sit back with a coffee and soak up the wonderful atmosphere. On the last Sunday of the month, the Factory expands to include a farmers’ market too: a truly cosmopolitan thing to do in Rotterdam on a Sunday morning.
There is no doubt that Rotterdam is a perfect city to explore on foot, on two wheels, or by boat. You are spoilt for choice in this hip harbour city, where you will discover fabulous food, art and architecture and create memories to treasure forever.
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