Rotterdam is a city that was reborn after the second world war. After much of it was destroyed during the war, it regained its position as a port hub and reimagined itself as a modern city, built into the leftovers of old Rotterdam. Some of the country’s most iconic contemporary buildings, such as the Cube Houses and the Central Library, are in Rotterdam. Popular Dutch architect Rem Koolhaus is from Rotterdam, and he has had a hand in redefining the cityscape. The city is divided by the ever-important and famous river Nieuwe Maas. There are several ways to cross over the Nieuwe Maas, but the most iconic is the Erasmus Bridge or, as the locals call it, ‘The Swan, ‘ another modern architectural gem.
What stood out about Rotterdam was the open space, the laid-back vibe, and the mix of old and new. The city embraces both its history and modern form, creating a blended city that reveals pockets of old Rotterdam, next to shinning pillars of modernity. In addition, the city was exciting to explore by bike because each neighbourhood felt so unique. Depending on your mood or what you felt like doing, you could head over to one area or explore multiple areas in a day. As a result, the city feels young, vibrant, and innovative.
Rotterdam is a city I would like to move back to and explore more. I was lucky enough to spend just over a month and a half there en route to Berlin. The city wasn’t in complete lockdown yet, so it was possible to dine out, shop, and go to museums, which I did with fervour. This post highlights the spots I tried and also some wishlist items.
Delfshaven is a beautifully preserved neighbourhood next to the harbour. Restaurants, bars, and cafes line the canals giving you a perfect view of the water and the cozy houseboats and boats in the water. If the weather cooperates, it’s a great spot to have a drink or dinner and watch the sunset.
At the epi-center of the downtown core is fairly mainstream shopping, but you don’t have to go far to experience smaller boutiques, restaurants, and specialty shops. Restaurants and cafes line the sidestreets, with museums and other cultural institutions within walking distance. The mix of mainstream and small businesses is well-executed here, creating a balanced liveliness to the center.
This is a trendy waterfront neighbourhood known previously as a warehouse district. The most famous Fenix Food Factory is known for its range of food fresh food offerings. But, there is a significant selection of restaurants, bars, and cafes in a small area located on Delistraat (such a great name). I love this street; it has loads of outdoor seating to enjoy the array of food and drink you’ll be consuming.
This is the neighbourhood I lived in, south of the center on the other side of the water. A reasonably residential area and quite multi-cultural, it was quieter than the center. Many specialty food shops are specializing in a mix of Asian and Turkish food offerings, among others. The neighbourhood has lots of pocket restaurants and cafes and a short walk to a vast park.
- The Tea Lab – I stumbled on this spot, a great spot to work remotely. In fact, they encourage it. I sat upstairs for a nice view of the street and people watching—they offer an excellent selection of teas, sandwiches, and baked goods. If you’re feeling fancy, you can even do high-tea (pictured).
- 30ML Coffee – A cute little coffee shop with a nice assortment of snacks, sandwiches, and a good spot for brunch.
- De Brunch Club – A lovely brunch spot next to the canal, a short bike ride (or tram ride) from the downtown core. If it’s a nice day, definitely sit next to the canal. I chose a classic, flat white and avo toast (pictured).
- Vietnamese Meme – This restaurant was close to my house, so that I may have frequented it more than others. But, arguably delicious Vietnamese food.
- Bagels and Beans – This is a chain bagel shop, but an excellent assortment of bagels (savoury and sweet), baked goods and coffee.
- Mangiare Rotterdam – This delightful spot is a hidden gem tucked away on a sidestreet, adorably called Pannenkoekstraat. The vibe is relaxed and inviting. Grab a seat on the terrace. The sharing platter is perfect for grazing and taking your time with a glass of wine. Everything on the menu looked delicious, but I opted for the beet tortellini and the grazing platter (pictured).
- Lisa Kitchen|Bar – Conveniently located next to Zuidplein metro station. This spot hosts a great patio area and a full menu for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The hummus sandwich is a staple, and they have a good selection of snacks and local beers that pair well with their patio vibes.
- Binnemarket Main Market in the City Centre – This market is my kind of outdoor market. It has an excellent array of fresh produce, cheese, meat, fish, flowers, and plants. But (for me) the big score is on Saturdays, you can also find a fantastic assortment of vintage goods–clothes and furniture. So, if you like to rummage or just get lost for a few hours in a market, this is an excellent choice. You can get a snack here or wander over the smaller streets and relax on a terrace with a coffee or glass of wine. Markethall is also super close.
- Markethall – Is a great place to go hungry and sample a vast range of food. It’s not inexpensive, but good quality food to go and food to take home. There are also a few restaurants to stop at for a few drinks and snacks. Check out the tapas bar. Try and grab a seat at the bar if you can.
- For an extensive list of markets, check out this blog by Weekends in Rotterdam.
Spend that hard-earned cash
- Stek Plant Store – A fantastic shop for all things plants. The owner is super helpful and will help you find the perfect plant for your home, needs, and experience level. You can also get it repotted (you have to pay for the soil and the pot).
- HutSpot – This shop provides a well-curated selection of clothes, books, jewellery, prints, or housewares with a nod to local Dutch brands and beautiful brands from within the EU. You are sure to find something for yourself or a gift for someone special.
- Cheap Fashion – This is a staple in the world of second-hand garments in Rotterdam. Often with long lines waiting to get their hands on a new drop, you can find prices at staggeringly accessible prices. In addition, you’ll find their social presence bold and fun, which keeps people entertained and informed.
- Sweet Rebel – This is a lovely vintage shop. The owner puts together a beautiful and thoughtful collection of vintage pieces for everyday moments and special occasions. Or, if your style is bold every day, it also works. I found some truly stunning pieces that I wish I could take all of them home. They also have a great selection of quality jeans and a nice mix of some contemporary second-hand items.
- Dodo – On my wishlist for brunch, dinner, and cocktails. The photos, of course, look delicious, but the vibe is trendy and fun. I’ll have to report back.
- Backyard – This spot hits the mark for a great breakfast, dinner, or just cocktails. Fresh, healthy, and tasty breakfast options look like they could keep me going all day. And the vegan wine selection piqued my interest.
- Kino Rotterdam – A charming independent triple threat, with a bar, restaurant and cinema. With a great rotating selection of cult classics, international cinema, and popular mainstream films. I can’t wait to check it out.
- The Nederlands Fotomuseum – With a blend of historical and contemporary photographic exhibits, this is a museum to see if you love photography. Moreover, the preservation and celebration of iconic Dutch photographers.
Camping in trash?
Repurposing old objects into sleeping accommodations or ‘sleeping objects, Culture Campsite gives a second life to materials otherwise destined for the trash. The merging of sustainability and design creates a unique getaway experience right in the city. With names like ” (S)low Tech,” “Trash Inn,” “Scuba,” and “Second Skin,” you’ll be reimaging what you think of camping. This clever and innovative concept is what makes Rotterdam such a fascinating city to visit, and I would argue the Netherlands at large.
Biking culture is fascinating in the Netherlands. Biking is a way of life. Most people use a bike as their primary transportation mode (although the rapid transit, metros, and trams are highly developed and convenient), students, adults, teens, kids, even families with three kids. So when I say let’s go for a bike ride, because it’s an enjoyable thing you do on a sunny day in Vancouver, that’s a regular day (rain or shine) in Holland.
To fit in, I bought a second-hand bike right away. I was lucky enough to find a second-hand bike and one that was my size (the only one!). So, I went to 010 Bikes. The staff were accommodating, let me test ride the bike, and set up my bike lock. Bike theft in the Netherlands is a daily occurrence and a running joke. So, having two locks is not out of the ordinary.
I am making a note of this because I found this a gateway into understanding Dutch culture. I also found it interesting to observe, both through my mistakes and pure observation, like people watching while you’re moving. I admire the way that Dutch people navigate life on bicycles: texting while cycling (although dangerous, it still looks cool), kids piled into the front attachment, navigating through pedestrians, teenagers in gangs moving around with such freedom, lovers riding side by side, and parents giving a helpful push to their child.
So, if you’ve been thinking about visiting Rotterdam, do it. It’s a fun, thriving city with so much to offer from museums, culture, food, city life, and history. Lastly, if you enjoyed this article, leave a comment or follow me on Instagram for more travel adventures. – Sidestreet Travel