10 Things to Do in Rotterdam
New design and old world charm collide.
Call it a mash-up: since rebuilding the city centre after devastating bombing during the Second World War, Rotterdammers have been infusing modern design into their old-world home. The 500-year-old Gothic Laurenskerk church sits just a block away from the coolest McDonald’s you’ve ever seen (its golden perforated exterior earned it a profile in Dezeen), and Ben van Berkel’s sleek, sculptural Erasmus Bridge (nicknamed “the Swan” for its long, arching steel pylon) gives a fantastic view of Noordereiland, a floating village covered with historic homes.
What to Do in Rotterdam
Hit the market
Markthal is beautifully chaotic, a collection of 96 food stalls—gouda, chocolates and fresh tulips beckon alongside global wares like fresh sushi and olives—inside a gorgeous hangar structure, designed by architecture firm MVRDV. The glass-front building makes it the ideal spot for people watching, whether you’re enjoying your snacks indoors or out. (Love the space? Apartments are for sale on the side of the building, with windows that peek out onto the cacophony below.)
Cross the square to explore Piet Blom’s iconic Cube Houses. People and businesses still occupy the strangely angled architectural experiment—yellow cubes that jut out with such an unusual perspective that they look like an Escher painting come to life. One kind homeowner lets visitors pop inside and look around his humble abode (replete with custom furniture to fit the strange internal twists and turns), and it’s a fascinating look at one of the most unusual residential designs in the world.
Stroll along the canal-adjacent Westersingel Sculpture Route (aka: Beeldenroute Westersingel) to spot pieces by Picasso and Rodin, then take the Luchtsingel pedestrian bridge for a look at the great work community can do—the crowd-funded structure designed by studio ZUS features bright yellow planks stamped with each investor-citizen’s name, connecting the Rotterdam Centraal station with public spaces and the historic Laurenskwartier district.
Go cruising (kind of)
The SS Rotterdam is a vintage cruise ship that is now moored as a hotel and restaurant hub. The Club Room is perfectly preserved from it’s mid-century heyday, featuring lively mod murals and aquatic carvings to accompany classic dishes like beef tenderloin and spring vegetable ratatouille.
A retrospective of fashion photographer Horst P. Horst, Dutch nature photography or crime-scene snapshots: whatever sample of the Nederlands Fotomuseum’s five million photographs (five! million!) is on display, it’s sure to put your Instagram feed to shame.
Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen offers a survey from Hieronymus Bosch to Yayoi Kusama in historic building with fun modern twists: a courtyard has been tiled in a black and white swirl and the interactive, hang-your-jacket-from-the-ceiling coat check is an artwork in and of itself.
&DesignShop stocks pieces from up-and-coming local designers and house-made items as well as global brands (hello, Menu!), all with a penchant for pushing boundaries. Find side tables made of intersecting plywood rectangles, pendant lamps with magnetic lampshades and vases repurposed from test tubes.
Taste some global influence
With an immigrant population of 50 percent, it’s no surprise that Rotterdam features a bevvy of dining options from around the world. Among the best is the North African/Middle Eastern fare at Bazar: come for the fried yufka and spicy harissa, and stay for the inviting interior design, with colourful tiles covering every surface and twinkling metal lanterns giving off a beautiful golden glow.
In need of a cocktail? Hit up the New York Basement, which rocks a NY speakeasy vibe. The fedoras the waiters wear are a bit much, but all is forgiven once that first drink is delivered with cinematic flourish. Roses from Broadway comes under a bell jar; when it’s lifted, aromatic cedar smoke drifts out.
Rem Koolhaus and his firm designed both the building and the interior of the nHow Rotterdam Hotel, making it a fairly immersive experience of Dutch design. Concrete and glass bedrooms are stark but cozy, while the lobby gets a little more decorative, featuring a rotating pop-up shop of local design pieces and art installations.