When it comes to short breaks in Europe, Amsterdam often steals the limelight. But 45 miles southwest, the creative city of Rotterdam is well worth your time. As much of the city was sadly destroyed during the Second World War, Rotterdam has used innovative architecture to breathe new life into the area. While some magnificent original buildings remain, the city has found unique ways to introduce some of the world’s most cutting-edge design into Rotterdam. The result is a spectacular blend of old and new.
If you’re new to cruising or eager to spend a weekend away, mini cruises are an excellent option. But while neighbouring Amsterdam has a lot to offer, Rotterdam is certainly an underrated European city.
Why book a mini cruise to Rotterdam?
Heather, the brains behind blog Heather on her Travels, spent a day in Rotterdam during a cruise holiday. We were eager to find out how much Heather had a chance to see during her stopover and what she thought of Rotterdam:
“We visited Rotterdam as part of a short cruise and to be honest I wasn’t expecting much since I knew that Rotterdam was a big port and heavily bombed during the war. However, I was pleasantly surprised by how much there was to see and impressed by the way the city had been rebuilt using cutting-edge design and leading architects.
“Because this was a cruise stop we mainly visited the things around the harbour area, but we managed to pack in a lot in one day, just by walking, taking the water taxis and the boat tour. We had some great seafood at Schmidt Zeevis for lunch and Dutch apple cake in the afternoon at Hotel New York before re-joining our ship.
“We started our day with a harbour tour, which was one of our favourites as you get a real flavour of the city and the architecture as well as a commentary about the history of Rotterdam. After that we wandered around the harbour area, loosely following a self-guided architecture tour to see some of the modern architecture and then visited the famous Cube Houses. We went inside the one that is open as a museum but although it was interesting, I think I’d have found it too small to live there. We also enjoyed taking a water taxi back across the harbour to Hotel New York – as the captain opened the throttle I almost imagined I was in a Bond movie!”
Sofie of European travel blog Wonderful Wanderings also believes Rotterdam has something to offer that Amsterdam can’t: “I think Rotterdam is a city that truly feels alive because of its residents, and not because there are hordes of tourists like is the case with, for example, the centre of Amsterdam. There’s always something going on Rotterdam and even when you don’t feel like attending an event, there are plenty of coffee bars, restaurants and independent boutiques to pay a visit.
“If you only have one day to spend in the city, I’d recommend visiting some of the iconic sights such as the cubicle houses, the Markthal, the Erasmus Bridge and Hotel New York.”
What to do in Rotterdam
With more than 100 fresh food stands, food shops and restaurants, Markthal is one of the world’s most spectacular indoor markets. Look up and you’ll see a beautiful artwork sprawled across the market ceiling by artists Arno Coenen and Iris Roskam. Due to the magnificent scale of the artwork, Markthal has been dubbed the Dutch version of the Sistine Chapel.
If you’re looking for a taste of authentic Dutch cuisine on your mini cruise, Markthal is the place to be. Pick up a warm gooey stroopwafel and wander around the market, or stop for a traditional cone of chips with satay sauce and chopped onions. The market is open seven days a week until 8pm.
Built from light-blue steel, the Erasmus Bridge is a feat of engineering. Stretching for 800 metres across the water and rising 139 metres high, the bridge is one of Rotterdam’s most photographed attractions. Locally, the bridge has been nicknamed ‘De Zwaan’, or The Swan, due to its unique shape. It was designed by Ben van Berkel and opened by Queen Beatrix in 1996.
Church of Saint Laurence
The Church of Saint Laurence, or Laurenskerk, is Rotterdam’s only surviving late Gothic building, after the bombing of Rotterdam in the Second World War. Photos of the severely damaged church and the following reconstruction became a symbol of the city’s resilience. Visitors to Rotterdam will notice that the city skyline today is incredibly varied as such the Church of Saint Laurence stands out amongst the cutting-edge architecture. The church is open for guided tours.
The picturesque district of Delfshaven escaped the bombing which devastated many other parts of the city, and so is home to much of Rotterdam’s original architecture. Today, Delfshaven is a pretty yacht marina, with historic canal houses, independent shops, art studios and bars. Its historic centre has been carefully preserved and is well worth a visit on your cruise stopover.
Fenix Food Factory
Enjoy artisanal Dutch food in this converted warehouse on the waterfront. Sample beer from Kaapse Brouwers, cheese from Booji Kaasmakers and unique pates from Firma Bijten, with a stoopwafel from Stroop Rotterdam for dessert. On a sunny afternoon, take your food outside to take in the views over Rotterdam. Fenix Food Factory is open from 10am 6 days a week.
The Witte Huis
The Witte Huis, or White House, is a beautiful building and UNESCO World Heritage site in the heart of Rotterdam. Built in 1898 in Art Nouveau style, it’d be difficult to miss this imposing building while wandering around the city. Remarkably, it was Europe’s first skyscraper, despite having just 10 floors. Although it has since been dwarfed by hundreds, if not thousands, of other buildings, the Witte Huis holds a special place in the heart of locals and is definitely worth a visit.
The Cube Houses
Tilted at an angle of 55 degrees, Rotterdam’s iconic Cube Houses are one of the city’s top attractions. The futuristic homes were built in the 1970s by architect Piet Blom, who was commissioned to design a housing complex over a busy road, using a small piece of land. Although innovative in design, the houses are not said to be practical. But you can find out for yourself by visiting one of the Cube Houses on your day trip to Rotterdam!
Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen
Situated in the city’s urban Museumpark, Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen opened in 1849 and showcases a broad selection of art. Whether you’re interested in the classics such as Monet and Van Gogh, or contemporary Dutch and international art, the museum has an extensive range of permanent and temporary exhibitions to keep things fresh.
Eating out in Rotterdam
Ter Marsch & Co
Voted best burger in the Netherlands in 2015, Ter Marsch & Co is a safe bet when it comes to good food in Rotterdam. As well as its award-winning ‘De Burgeresse’ burger, made with winter truffle gravy and Spanish onion, its ‘The Royal Dutch’ burger, made with dry-aged rib eye and Japanese Wagyu, fermented mini pickles, Old Amsterdam custard and Remeker walnut crunch, won the World Food Championships in Kissimmee Florida. The only downside to this joint is having to choose from its mouth-watering menu.
As Heather of Heather on her Travels mentioned earlier, Schmidt Zeevis is an excellent place to try fresh seafood, particularly Holland’s most iconic dish – raw herring. Even the most adventurous eaters might find this a challenge, but if you love seafood, it’s well worth a try.
Image: De Kaashoeve
You simply can’t leave Rotterdam without sampling some exquisite Dutch cheese, and De Kaashoeve comes highly recommended. This little cheese shop sells a multitude of products, including the classics such as Gouda and Edam. There’s nothing quite as satisfying for a foodie as being able to sample authentic local cheeses and see them on display in their beautiful rounds.
If you’re looking for somewhere to enjoy a delicious Dutch beer and bar snack, look no further than De Pelgrim. Grab a glass of beer and pair it with a portion of bitterballen – a Dutch meat-based snack with a thick, creamy beef or veal-based filling, or choose from their full menu of tasty, authentic bar snacks.
The long history between the Netherlands and Indonesia means that the country embraces authentic Indonesian cuisine. Throughout Holland, and Rotterdam, you’ll see restaurants serving delicious Indonesian fusion-food. One excellent restaurant is Dewi Sri, which serves authentic cuisine at its two establishments in Westerkade and Hillegersberg.
Bike & Bite
If you’re looking for an alternative way to explore Rotterdam’s food and bar scene, why not join a tour with Bike & Bite? Join the guides at Bike & Bite for a food tour of the city’s culinary highlights. We spoke to one of the founders, Laura, to find out more: “My husband (Paul) and I started up the bike tour together. I’m a flight attendant and Paul and I love to travel and do bike tours and explore culinary highlights in other cities around the world.
“When Rotterdam became popular as a city for tourists we thought, let’s combine our favourite things to do abroad and put them in a tour! Basically we bring our guests to our favourite places to eat our favourite bites. We stop 5 times for a bite and/or drink. All the food together is comparable to a big lunch.
“Rotterdam is a fantastic city to explore! You can dive into architecture, food, great museums, we’re the biggest festival city of Holland, beautiful parks, fab markets, hidden cocktail bars, not overtaken by tourism, friendly people, a lot of culture!”
If you’re feeling inspired to visit the wonderfully diverse and creative city of Rotterdam, why not book a mini cruise? These short cruises are a great way to explore new cities in Europe without the stress of arranging transport and transfers.