You can find all my Europe Trip posts here.
After spending three nights in Rotterdam, it was finally time for us to see the city itself!
A quick note on staying in Rotterdam: we stayed at the Novotel Brainpark, which is a bit east of the city center. Novotel Brainpark is right by Erasmus University and feels very much like your typical American hotel–and, consequently, very much unlike your typical European hotel. The neighborhood around the hotel also felt very suburban, despite being in the Rotterdam city limits. There were no restaurants around the corner to pop into for a meal or sights to see close by (other than the university, I suppose). That worked out just fine for us, because our main concern as far as hotels in Rotterdam went was free parking. We were right by the highway, which made all of our day trips super simple (though it was a pretty quick walk to the subway from our hotel as well, and a quick subway ride to Rotterdam Centraal.). But if you want to be within walking distance of the city center, Novotel Rotterdam definitely isn’t your best bet.
Rotterdam is unlike any other city we visited on our Europe trip. Much of the city was destroyed in World War II, when the Germans dropped over 1,300 bombs on Rotterdam, destroying over 28,000 buildings. Because of that, the city center in particular is extremely modern compared to what you’d see elsewhere in the Netherlands. As an aside, the story of the bombing of Rotterdam and its rebuilding reminded me a lot of Chicago’s history, where a city-destroying event provided a blank slate for trying new architectural and city-planning ideas.
We started our day by returning the car to the car rental facility just outside Rotterdam Centraal, then headed out to get breakfast before commencing on–what else?–a Rick Steves walking tour. For breakfast, we opted to visit Op Het Dak, a little cafe that proved much trickier to find than we anticipated. It’s a rooftop facility: something that probably would’ve been a lot more obvious to us if we spoke Dutch, given that the name literally means “On the Roof.” *facepalm* I had my first-ever avocado toast there (not something I expected to eat in the Netherlands!) and was very impressed by the cafe in general. They grow their own food in a rooftop garden, which I thought was so cool! It was all very hipster and delightful.
And then we were off! This was one of the longest Rick Steves tours in terms of distance–about four miles–but we didn’t have anywhere to be until around 6 p.m. that evening, so we had plenty of time. We started at the Schouwburgplein, which led us into the Lijnbaan. The Lijnbaan is an outdoor shopping area for pedestrians only: no cars can drive up to the shops. Think the Oakbrook Center, for my fellow Chicagoans, just downtown rather than plopped in the middle of suburbia.
We saw City Hall and St. Lawrence Church, two of the very few buildings in the city center that survived the bombing.
We reached St. Lawrence Church by taking the beurstraverse, a passage that goes under Coolsingel (a road), allowing pedestrians to get to the other side of Coolsingel without waiting for traffic. Beurstraverse is also lined with stores, so it seamlessly blends in with the Lijnbaan.
We walked down Hoogstraat to a gigantic open area from which we could see several of Rotterdam’s modern (as in time, not as in the less-is-more, minimalist style) architectural highlights, including Markthal, the library, and the Pencil (a building that looks, unsurprisingly, like a pencil).
(Library is on the left, Pencil on the right)
We went into Markthal, and it was incredible! It put every other food hall I’ve ever visited to shame. It was huge, for one thing, but the variety of offerings was amazing! If you could imagine it, they seemed to have a stand that sold it at Markthal. The design of the building is also something else. It’s shaped like a horseshoe, and the center of it is where the food hall sits. Around the outside are apartments, offices, and retail space. The inside walls are covered with an enormous mural that I wish I could’ve captured in a picture. If you ever go to Rotterdam, I highly recommend checking out Markthal so you can fully appreciate this building.
(Also so you can see Markthal in all its glory, which this picture does not capture.)
From there, we walked through the courtyards underneath Rotterdam’s legendary cube houses, which I found baffling. Apparently they’re fully functional, normal houses, but I couldn’t wrap my mind around how that works. There is a house museum you can visit which probably would’ve cleared things up for me, but we didn’t go in.
We saw the Oudehaven (Old Harbor) and Witte Huis (White House) on our way to the Maas River. Rotterdam’s Witte Huis is more of a Witte Skyscraper – or at least it was at the time of its construction in 1898. It’s 10 stories tall, which isn’t much by today’s standards (in Rotterdam or elsewhere in the world), but was quite the feat at the time.
The Maas River is the body of water that connects Rotterdam to the North Sea (and thus, the world), so it’s pretty significant to the city’s becoming the largest port in Europe. We saw the Williams Bridge, then walked along the water through the Parade of Flags to get to de Boeg (The Bow), a monument to those who died at sea during WWII. We had a good view of the Erasmus Bridge and the skyscrapers on the south side of the Maas River from there, so we sat for a bit before continuing on the walking tour. Though we had locked the majority of our luggage up at Rotterdam Centraal after returning the car, we both still had backpacks on, and they got awfully heavy after awhile!
Once we were ready to get moving again, we headed back into the city past the Leuvenhaven, once a bustling port but now home to the Maritime Museum in Rotterdam. In a plaza outside the Maritime Museum, we saw De Verwoeste Stad (The Destroyed City), a sculpture commemorating the bombing of Rotterdam. It’s quite striking.
We walked down Witte de Withstraat, a road full of bars and restaurants, and stopped to get beer (or, in my case, water) at Bierboutique. Witte de Withstraat ended at the Singel Belt, and following that brought us back to the train station. Witte de Withstraat the Singel Belt were the only part of the walking tour that went past any sort of historic architecture, which really put into perspective just how much of the city was destroyed during the bombing, if we could take a four-mile walking tour and not see any significant collection of historic architecture until the very end.
On another note, we saw some coot chicks in the Singel with their parents. I thought they were so ugly they were cute, but my traveling buddy thought they were just ugly, ha.
We had some time to kill before our train to Amsterdam would arrive, so we went back to Markthal, where I got a cupcake and my traveling buddy got fries. Good thing we had avocado toast in the morning to make up for it 😛
And that was Rotterdam! We made our way back to the train station, retrieved our luggage, and boarded the Thalys that brought us to the final stop of our Europe trip: Amsterdam.
- Novotel Brainpark (K.P. van der Mandelelaan 150, Rotterdam). 3.5/5
- Restaurant at Novotel Brainpark (once for dinner, once for breakfast). 2/5 for dinner, 4/5 for breakfast.
- Op Het Dak (Schiekade 189, on the roof). 5/5
- Bierboutique (Witte de Withstraat 40B). 5/5
- Markthal (Verlengde Nieuwstraat). 5/5
- Erasmus University
- City Hall
- St. Lawrence Church
- The Pencil
- Cube Houses
- Witte Huis
- Maas River
- Parade of Flags
- de Boeg
- Erasmus Bridge
- De Verwoeste Stad
- Witte de Withstraat
- Singel Belt