I’ve come to learn from my time living in Amsterdam that there are a few unwritten rules you must follow:
1. Speak English better than any native speaker.
2. Run over at least three tourists a year on your bike.
3. Hate Rotterdam.
Well, unfortunately these are three rules I’m almost instantly going to fail at (apart from maybe no. 2, I’m on course to easily meet that target!) because I am a native speaker of English and yes, I love Rotterdam. I really love Rotterdam.
And here are 21 reasons why.
1. Koekela– I’m not ashamed to have a cake shop at the top of this list. This place makes the most delicious white chocolate brownies I’ve ever tasted. It was my first stop upon my return there… and it probably always will be. Yum.
2. North Sea Jazz Festival– One of the best music festivals I’ve ever attended. You can read my full review for Travelettes here, including five reasons why it was better than I expected, including free jazz music around town.
3. Bikes (and big bike lanes!) – Think Dutch city cycling, you think Amsterdam? Well, you’re wrong. Bikes and bike lanes dominate every city, town and village in the Netherlands. Cycling around Rotterdam was a real pleasure and due to the layout of Rotterdam being more spread out and open-plan than Amsterdam the bike lanes are often wider and feel a bit safer.
4. Hotel New York– A Rotterdam institution for sea food and views across the River Maas. With Amsterdam being less than an hour away by train, we keep talking about going back to this place just for the prawn croquettes and wine list.
5. Canals – Yep, Amsterdam, get over yourself. Rotterdam has them too and they’re just as pretty.
6. Running routes – I love running in new cities and so when I stumbled across the markers for running routes at the foot of the Erasmusbrug (Reason #22 I love Rotterdam) I gave myself a hi-5 and off I went.
7. Boijmans van Beuningen Museum – One of the country’s, if not Europe’s most forward-thinking and treasured contemporary art museums, an afternoon at Boijmans will see you in the company of Picasso, Dali, Renoir, Monet, Magritte and Mondrian. Now that does not happen everyday.
8. Architecture – With the historic heart of Rotterdam devastated by the Second World War (see #21) Rotterdam literally rose from the rubble and kept on rising… in all manner of shapes, sizes and peculiar angles. Gazing up at the Rotterdam skyline is like looking at a one-stop modern architecture museum. Fascinating and awesome.
9. The Student Hotel– Dripping in good design and served with a very affordable price tag, The Student Hotel is part fashionable student accommodation and part budget hotel – i.e. the place to stay for the budget-conscious Travelette.
10. Wake Up In It– Wake Up In It is a very cool concept, a very new idea, a very Rotterdam way to see the city. In essence it’s an opportunity to stay with one of the city’s most interesting residents through a sort of bespoke Airbnb type service, i.e. bed and breakfast home-stay. Yet, it’s much more than that. Wibbine, one of the founders, explained to me “Wake Up In It gives you the opportunity to wake up in the home or studio of an internationally known artist, opera-singer or Jazz musician during North Sea Jazz Festival – they’ll even make you breakfast! And you can stay with a local artist during one of the city’s many art and culture festivals. Each local resident has their own story, their own version of Rotterdam to share with their guest. It’s a unique opportunity to wake up in the heart of the city; in the homes of its talented locals.”
11. Rotown– I visited Rotown twice this summer – once on a Friday night for drinks and dancing – both of which it delivered very well (I woke up with a hangover and aching thighs!) and the second time was a (slightly) more sober meal with the boyfriend. I opted for a veggie burger and a glass (or two) of prosecco. It was delicious, the service was great and on both occasions the soundtrack had me constantly reaching for the Shazam app on my phone wanting to know what all the cool music was.
12. Bagel Bakery – Yes, more food. But the Bagel Bakery on Shilderstraat could be a breakfast, brunch, lunch or evening stop on your itinerary. With yummy and varied bagels and an always interesting specials menu, you’ll find it hard to save room for the paving slab sized homemade apple tart, but you must – YOU MUST!
13. Nederlands Fotomuseum – The Netherlands is already home to my favourite photography museum (FOAM in Amsterdam) so when I went to Nederlands Fotomuseum (just a few steps away from Hotel New York) I was convinced it wouldn’t come up to standard. I was wrong. Oh, so very wrong. In fact, it leapfrogged over FOAM and is my favourite of all. I can’t wait to go back and if you do go you better go downstairs to the “Dark Room”… you’ll find out why!
14. Heart Stickers and Street Art – Spend more than a few hours in Rotterdam and you’ll start to see a reoccurring thing – red love heart stickers. They’re everywhere. I have it on good authority that they are the project of one singular Rotterdammer who wanted to bring a little love to their city. I think it works, don’t you? But yes, keep your eyes open for other sticker, stencil and street art throughout Rotterdam.
15. Hotel Bazaar – In the thick of Rotterdam’s nightlife neighbourhood – Witte de Withstraat – Hotel Bazar is a hotel, bar and restaurant covered in colour and character. With a choice of rooms “from” Africa, South America and the Middle East plus a North African style communal interior, a Middle-Eastern inspired menu and quirky South American details, you’ll have to abandon preconceptions of where you’re supposed to be when you stay or eat at Hotel Bazar, but you’ll find that’s not only easy to do, it’s also a lot of fun. (And yes, there is one in Amsterdam too, and while they’re very similar, this one is quite individual.)
16. Nightlife – You went to Amsterdam. You partied hard. You thought “Wow, these Dutchies know how to party!”. Well, you have no idea. Get yourself, your best raving jeans and a family pack of Berocca to Rotterdam. Now that is how the Netherlands really parties.
17. World Food Festival – Happening right now and lasting an appetite stretching five weeks, the World Food Festival captures one of Rotterdam’s best features – it’s international make up. With over 170 nationalities represented in Rotterdam’s residents even without a dedicated food festival, it’s easy to taste numerous different flavours in this city, but the World Food Festival is one of the best excuses to find many of these in one place.
18. Cube Houses. How many other cities have houses like this? Look, a star!
Originally built as social housing, there is now a museum dedicated to this modern architectural feat. And you can even stay in them if you stay at Stay Okay Hostel, Rotterdam.
19. Bird Jazz Cafe – Of course, I was going to love a jazz cafe named after my blog – alright, a jazz cafe with the same name as my blog – but as the official after party location for the North Sea Jazz Festival and the country’s foremost jazz and soul music venue, it was a real revelation to discover this Rotterdam hot spot. And guess what the food and drinks are excellent too!
20. It’s one cool city. My boyfriend, a man of few words, described Rotterdam as “the illegitimate love child of Amsterdam and Berlin” and that’s a fairly accurate way to describe it. It’s got the creative edge, the student style and the bohemian rawness of Berlin while also boasting the quaint Dutch ways, the treasured tradition and the bikes and canals of Amsterdam. However, Rotterdam is still very much its own city and a brave new one at that….
21. It’s one brave city. The centre of the city was all but flattened by bombings in the Second World War and it’s not difficult to imagine the impact this had. Very few cities have blossomed out of such devastation with such courage and Rotterdam did it by embracing the new, the unusual and the cool. It’s not clear if the pioneers of Rotterdam’s rebuilding knew that they were building the only city with a real skyline in the Netherlands, but they did and boy is it something to be proud of.
This post was written by Frankie Thompson who was a Travelette from 2012 – 2015. Originally from London, UK, Frankie was nomadic for several years before settling in Amsterdam, The Netherlands, where she lives with her Australian partner and baby boy. She spends her time buying vintage dresses, riding a rusty old bike around the canals and writing books inspired by her travels. Frankie blogs about travel, writing and motherhood at As the Bird flies blog.
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