Rotterdam: The Dutch city you should really give a damn about

Amsterdam aside, the Netherlands is a country full of unique cities that are worth seeing; Rotterdam is the lesser known of the two Dams, and our visit there was a true travel exploration!

More than just another Dam

A semi-port city with snaking canals, Rotterdam was decimated by bombs during WWII. Post-war, the city kept a low profile. The majority of the tall buildings were demolished and the area needed a serious revamping from the Dutch government.

Rotterdam after World War II

During the 1980s, Rotterdam began to reinvent itself with innovative architecture and a new skyline. Now, Rotterdam is a center for business, art, and culture. It was even voted European City of the Year for 2015 by the Academy of Urbanism, an honor shared with major cities like Berlin, Glasgow, and Copenhagen.

Cool architecture, cool people — just plain cool

Today, Rotterdam is just plain cool. I don’t know how else to put it. It’s like Amsterdam and Boston had a baby and filled it with Dutch people and travelers from around the world.

The buildings are cool, the streets are so clean — it’s as if someone comes in and vacuums them in the middle of the night.

Rotterdam Central Station

When we exited Rotterdam Station, a massive and shiny new atrium, we walked into what felt like the future. See, we had just left Amsterdam, where the quaint cobblestones and charming bridges made us feel like we were living in a piece of history.

The ultimate hostel experience

We had booked two beds at the King Kong Hostel, which, during our research prior to the trip, we learned was ranked the #7 hostel in the world.

King Kong Hostel in Rotterdam
Photo courtesy of King Kong Hostel in Rotterdam

It’s on one of the more interesting streets I’ve been on in Europe, Witte de Withstraat, which is lined with top restaurants, coffee shops and stores of all kinds.

It’s fun to say— Whit-ay day Whitter-strawt. The sidewalks are a throwback to the past and incorporate some of the original stonework, plus there are string lights and signs hanging over the street, secured to lush trees. 

The hostel was full of young travelers and cool artwork. My traveling partner Joe and I had a space that was tucked into the actual roof of the building in a hostel room that slept ten. We shared with eight young French travelers on holiday.

Finding our spirit / tour guide

The highlight of staying at the hostel was the free walking tour of the city, and that was how we met Hassan. Hassan Hidare is a Rotterdam local and a world-class tour guide. Seeing the city through his eyes is a real treat because his perspective is that of a traveler. He knows which cool and unique locations help tell the best story of Rotterdam.

The tour centered on relics of the city pre-WWII and then showing how the city has revitalized and grown as a result of being able to basically start over.

For the modern-day traveler the real attraction is Markthal, an enormous and unique building housing 200+ apartments, thousands of square feet of office space, a hundred of different gourmet food stands, and the world’s largest piece of artwork, the mural that adorns the ceiling.

Hoorn des Overvloeds

The piece is called Hoorn des Overvloeds (Horn of Plenty), and it was printed on 4000 aluminum squares that together create a vast horseshoe-shaped roof over the market. You can see windows in it too, windows from INSIDE offices and apartments.

Supremely unique and full of delicious food everywhere you look, it’s worth coming to Rotterdam just to see the Markthal.

As we wandered with Hassan, Joe and I got to meet the other travelers in the group: a man from Iran, two girls from Russia, a group of four from Venezuela, and another American, from upstate NY.

The remainder of our day was spent in some of the areas of the city we didn’t see on the tour. A park with a large green space where we threw the frisbee around, a Vietnamese restaurant, and one of the coolest thrift shops I’ve ever seen. I still regret that I didn’t purchase that leather Nike hat.

Here is my main point. Rotterdam doesn’t get a ton of love or appreciation when people think about taking a European trip. But I’m advocating for it to be a must-see destination if you’re traveling through the Netherlands. Go just to see how different it is from a city like Amsterdam, which is so close. 

You’ll see one of the up-and-coming European destinations that has a flavor all its own. You’re sure to find something there to enjoy, as you explore this great big world we live in.

Hi guys! I’m Harry and I’m a digital nomad originally from Boston, MA and currently living in Tel Aviv, Israel! I’m a photographer and video creator with a passion for traveling. During my trips, I document each day with hundreds of photos and gigabytes of video footage as well. I hope sharing my photos and Instagram tips inspires you to venture outside of your comfort zone and explore more beautiful places on this planet!

This is the third installment of my So Tov series on Europe.