Most people head straight for Amsterdam when they take a trip to The Netherlands, which is understandable- it’s an awesome old city with a tonne of stuff to see and do and which is famous round the whole world. (For various reasons, know what I’m saying? Wink wink, nudge nudge and all that) But Rotterdam has a completely different vibe; Europe’s busiest port, it’s filled with abstract architecture and sleekly designed cafes, shops, bars and restaurants, as well as museums and galleries galore, all strung together with a series of bridges across the water. Truth be told, this place is just plain, downright cool, and the people are even cooler; I’m not gonna lie here guys, coolness is something that I often find rather intimidating, but fear not! In my experience, as a general rule Dutch people may be super cool but they are also super friendly and open to conversation. It’s a nice quality to have. Good on you, people of The Netherlands! I was able to explore the city when life just took me there by chance due to many overnight stays whilst our ship was docked there, and all I’m saying is, it is one full on interesting place with a completely different atmosphere to it’s more famous neighbour- far less touristy, way more like a living breathing bunch of people all being awesome together.
Embrace the nautical lifestyle
As Rotterdam has such a massive nautical heritage, there are a whole load of boat-based activities that you can get up to whilst here. The obvious ones are going on a classic boat tour or even renting your own boat if you’re that way inclined, but there are also several floating hotels around if you fancy sleeping on the water. During my four months as a regular visitor however, I was covered on the bed front (you know, that big old cruise ship I was living on), so as of this point in time I’ve not been able to check out the sleeping arrangements in any non-cruise ship location. What I could check out, however, is the array of boat bars and restaurants sitting on the river. One of my favourite places to eat was Vessel 11, a red lightship parked right in the centre of the city; granted it’s an English restaurant but it’s definitely not the type of English food they serve in England. It doubles as a music venue at night, with a stage below deck, and has a proper cute and cosy atmosphere which is just slightly less hipster than other places around and about.
Let’s be honest here. The most important thing to do when visiting anywhere is to try as many different foods as you possibly can, which is why my number one spot in all of Rotterdam was the Fenix Food Factory. Located in a big old warehouse next to the river, you would hardly know this place is here if you hadn’t been told about it by a friend beforehand, especially as the Markthall is far more well-known. Inside is a treasure trove of different locally made foods to try, sold by various independent companies. It’s pretty glorious to sit in here with a cheese board of cheeses you’ve selected yourself from Booij Kaasmakers, bread from Jordy’s Bakery, and a coffee from Stielman Koffiebranders and just while away an hour or two. It’s also home to a small brewery and cider-makers. By the by, I found if I was in here at a certain time in the morning (approximately 11am), a large dog would run in seemingly unaccompanied and wait patiently to be thrown either a freshly sliced piece of sausage or some cheese from the people behind the counter, after which it would do one bark in thanks and move swiftly on. Like clockwork I tell you! Magic moments you guys, magic moments.
Learn some things in a museum or two
Rotterdam is jam packed full of museums; the Nederlands Fotomuseum is right opposite the cruise terminal, but in addition to that the Rotterdam Museum, Maritime Museum and the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen are but a few of the highly interesting locations the city has to offer.
One fine morning however, as myself and my pal Toby were strolling across a bridge towards our favourite Fenix Food Factory hang out, we spied a change in the scenery: a cardboard sign bound to a post which declared-
“DUTCH PINBALL MUSEUM, 200m!!!!!”
Well that is the kind of signpost that one simply must follow, no questions asked. We followed the arrow to a doorway in the side of a building overlooking the river, where a Dutch fellow who was sat alone glanced up at us as we approached. At first he informed us that they were only open on Saturdays- a day which we would never be in Rotterdam for, alas- and disappeared inside the mysterious doorway. He must have felt sorry for the forlorn expressions on our faces when we realised we would never see inside the National Pinball Museum however, as moments later he resurfaced from the darkness and asked us if we’d like to take a look around anyway. WOULD WE!!?? What a question, of course we would. The whole experience felt like the beginning of an early 90s kids sci-fi film, where we would undoubtedly be sucked inside a pinball machine and have to battle the Grand High Pinball Wizard in order to escape, Tron style. Luckily that didn’t happen, although it probably would make a great film let’s face it.
Let me tell you I have never met a man so passionate about pinball in my life; it turns out the museum is actually his private collection which he decided to open up to the public, and the relatively small space is jam packed with pinball games from across the decades all waiting to be played by whoever stumbles upon them. He turned on his newest machine- a Lord of the Rings themed creation- so we could have a go, and then proceeded to give a demonstration himself, explaining the whole process whilst simultaneously clearly loving our amazement at the fact that he actually was a real live pinball wizard, no doubt about it!
Spend an evening bar-hopping, it’s a right laugh
Rotterdam is a great place to go out in the evenings, with a generally young-ish vibe and all kinds of different locations from rooftop bars to clubs in underground tunnels. We tended to stick to the Witte de Withstraat area as there were bars and pubs galore and it tended to still be busyish on a Thursday evening when we docked in the city. I’m not normally a big beer drinker but Bierboutique is somewhere I highly recommend as they seemed capable of finding a beer for anyone and everyone in that place, and the general atmosphere is more chilled and cosy than a few other places that we frequented. On a side note, the Jaffa Shawarma kebab shop on the same road is just fantastic for after you’ve finished your evening. One time we actually left the ship at 1am after our pals finished work specifically to go to the kebab shop, that’s how brilliant it was- no drinking of alcoholic beverages necessary. In fact. It was so good that my pal decided she simply must smuggle a kebab and fries back onto the ship for her boyfriend (food is absolutely forbidden from being brought onboard), so she stuffed a full meal down the back of her trousers and calmly breezed through security like butter wouldn’t melt.
Or just stick to one (much more sophisticated) location
Don’t get me wrong, there are several classy joints around the city, but one of my favourite places to go for a drink was the Hotel New York. Located near the cruise terminal in the former headquarters of Holland America, the hotel is beautifully designed, with the bar located in the basement of the building. Although it’s pricey, the cocktail menu is just downright AWESOME- from your classics to the full on spectacular- my favourite was a smoky (both in taste and look) cocktail served under a glass bell jar with a rose petal floating on the top, Beauty and the Beast style. There’s something pretty cool about when they take the dome off in a flourish and smoke pours out, you know?
Appreciate some awesome design
Due to the fact that almost the entire city was wiped out during World War 2, Rotterdam is full of a whole load of modern and sometimes downright crazy-looking architecture. A case in point is the famous yellow cubic houses built in the eighties and designed by Piet Blom in a rather abstract style; most of them house actual people but one has been turned into a museum and apparently one is now accepting visitors on AirBnB, don’tcha know.
- The train from Amsterdam to Rotterdam (or vice versa) takes anywhere between 30 minutes (on the slightly more expensive Intercity Direct), to an hour and a quarter on the stopping service. And with around 160 trains a day to Rotterdam, that’s pretty full on convenient if you ask me.
- Trams and buses run throughout the city, although as I never needed to get further out of the centre, I tended to stick to my good old fashioned legs to carry myself from A to B.
- Amsterdam Schiphol is the closest airport- a mere 20 minutes away.
- This is a bit of a weird one, and maybe I was just looking in all the wrong places, but there seems to be a severe lack of cash machines in Rotterdam, combined with several bars and cafes that either only accept cash, or have a minimum spend on cards! If you withdraw cash, be sure to take more than you think you need as chances are you won’t find another ATM for days.
- It’s worth doing your research and finding areas and specific places you want to see or visit beforehand; unlike a lot of other European cities it’s not always beneficial to just wander around and see what you come across. (Mainly as you might accidentally end up in a not-so-interesting housing estate or office development)