DESTINATION FOCUS • September 2018
With boundary-pushing architecture that sets the tone for an expanse of creative innovation, it’s easy to see how Rotterdam is casting off its ‘second city’ status and becoming the port of call for visitors to the Netherlands. Serial day-tripper Mark Smith shares his recommendations
Amsterdam may have cornered the market in Golden Age masterpieces, but when it comes to contemporary creativity, Rotterdam is the place to be. Take a stroll down the Witte de Withstraat for independent galleries such as the Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art (pictured), which has hosted quirky exhibitions by the likes of Douglas Coupland. Major institutions pack a serious punch too, from the digital-arts hub Het Nieuwe Instituut to the Rem Koolhaas-designed Kunsthal.
Rotterdam’s modernist vistas are the result of having to rise from the ashes after the Second World War, but architecturally speaking the city has always had one eye to the future. Whether or not you’re attending an event there, such as the annual Art Rotterdam fair, hop on the bus to the Unesco-protected Van Nelle Fabriek (pictured), the spectacular tobacco and coffee-packing plant from 1931 that’s widely held to be the Netherlands’ most important modernist building.
Europe’s biggest glass-window cable structure and an icon to rival the mighty Erasmusbrug as the symbol of Rotterdam’s modernity, the Markthal (pictured) is a horseshoe-shaped live-and-work complex containing a vast array of food stalls serving everything from dim sum to doughnuts. If you’d sooner sit down while supping, you could do a lot worse than dining atop the Euromast tower.
Unlike other Dutch cities, this town’s pavements are made for pounding, not pottering. If you want to take the weight off while continuing your adventures, hop aboard one of the trusty vessels (pictured) operated by Watertaxi Rotterdam as they nip up and down the Nieuwe Maas – one of the world’s busiest rivers.
The area surrounding this lesser-known Metro and railway station is a treat. Piet Blom’s characterful ‘Kubuswoningen’ (pictured) – cubic dwellings apparently tilted at 45 degrees then perched on hexagonal pylons – are deservedly an Instagram sensation. You can even stay in one of them. Happier in a hotel? High-low hospitality brand CitizenM is a Dutch original, and its Rotterdam property is particularly well appointed, overlooking as it does the Witte Huis – Europe’s first high-rise building.
If you want to dine, shop and stroll like a savvy local, Hofbogen (pictured) is the name to drop. In its day, this reinforced concrete viaduct stretching from Rotterdam Central Station to the northern edge of the city was a marvel of engineering. Now its elegant arches have been reinvented as engines of creative commerce, home to record shops, music venues and the experimental FG Food Labs restaurant.