The post-war rehabilitation of the heavily-bombed Rotterdam abandoned the idea of restoring damaged buildings especially in and around the city centre. Instead, restoration took on a moving forward approach–completely taking down the old for the construction of new ones. There are a few historic buildings though that survived the bombardment. They blend in with the hypermodern buildings constructed in the recent decades that either reach for the sky, push the design envelop or both.
Greeting visitors as they get off their trains in Rotterdam Centraal is the city’s iconic ultra-modern main station that easily puts many international airports in the world to shame. The complete dismantling of the old beggars/junkies-infested train station to give way to this new one is probably the most laudable decision the city has ever made. The new station sits north of Kruisplein grabbing attention despite being dwarfed by a sprawl of giant buildings surrounding it. The city centre is close easily reached on foot.
The city centre was initially planned to be functional. Different city functions were clustered in different areas: shopping, leisure, banking, housing. This however resulted in a less lively, even deserted city centre especially outside of business hours. As a solution, available spaces were utilised for small-scale housing developments. One stand-out in terms of design are the Cube Houses–just outside of Blaak Metro Station. Designed by Piet Blom and constructed in the 70s, the Cube Houses is a must-see for its unique asymmetrical design.
Just steps away from the Cube Houses is the recently built Markthal–an arched tunnel-like apartment complex that assembles the best market vendors in The Netherlands. It is also home to upscale cafes and restaurants including Jamie Oliver’s Jamie’s Italian. Shops abound in the nearby Cool District.
Economic boom of the past decades followed a huge labor demand, which immigration helped fill. As a result, Rotterdam now is a melting pot of cultures. Multiculturalism is evident in the diversity of people you come across, tolerance to whatever religious practice and the plethora of restaurants catering to various tastes. 50% of Rotterdam population are either non-Dutch or have a Dutch parent. Aptly so, Rotterdam sees The Netherlands’ first immigrant mayor–Ahmed Aboutaleb. And Rotterdam’s multicultural aura is apparent in the July holding of Zomercarnaval (summer carnival) patterned after Rio de Janeiro’s carnival.
A visit to Rotterdam won’t be complete without climbing the Euromast. Its unobstructed 360-degree view of the city makes it the perfect spot for studying Rotterdam’s urban planning and development. It offers a view of the sprawling high-rises and the towering cranes further to the sea–Rotterdam is arguably the busiest port in Europe.
Spido Tours meanwhile offer views of popular attractions of greater Rotterdam onboard a ferry cruising along the River Maas. Undeniably, the most prominent attraction is Erasmusbrug–an ultra-modern minimalist 800-meter long bridge that connects the North and the South. The televised annual New Year’s Eve fireworks display is held here.
Rotterdam is second to Amsterdam in terms of tourist visits. Amsterdam’s biggest tourist draws are its canals, the Red Light District and unarguably, weed (and all sorts of drugs). And Rotterdam, cleverly, doesn’t wish to replicate what Amsterdam offers tourists. Rotterdam is an altogether different experience.