ONE of the largest ports in the world -it was the world’s busiest from 1962 to 2004, Rotterdam is also one of Europe’s most vivid multi-cultural cities and is renowned worldwide for its maritime heritage, cultural landscape (one of its most famous sons is internationally acclaimed artist, Willem de Kooning) and cutting-edge architecture.
That its near neighbour, Amsterdam, often overlooks it is perhaps inevitable, but a pity nonetheless as this city of over 600,000 has lots to offer.
Indeed, Rotterdam is presently undergoing a renaissance of sorts, specifically in the areas of arts, culture, night life and fashion. And we love the saying adopted by the residents: ‘Amsterdam may have it, but we don’t need it.’
Whether you’re in Rotterdam for business or pleasure, there are enough things to see, do and experience to pass a few days very easily.
The Witte de Withstraat is well worth a mooch around in; here, you’ll find the flagship stores of Dutch women’s underwear designer Marlies Dekkers ( www.marliesdekkers.nl ) and shoe designer Betsy Palmer ( www.betsypalmer.com ).
Outside Holland, there are few enough chances for women (or, indeed, admirers of women’s lingerie and shoes) to shop in such close proximity to the originators of the designs, but Marlies Dekkers’ store in particular is a standout.
For those of cultural bent, a visit to Kunsthal Rotterdam (Museumpark; www.kunsthal.nl ) is a must – one of the forthcoming highlights here is a major retrospective exhibition on the life and work of American artist and activist, Keith Haring (1958-1990).
Keith Haring: the Political Line gathers together over 120 artworks that aim to reveal an heretofore underexposed side to the influential and controversial artist. Runs from September 20 to February 7 2016.
A few typical touristy things? Enjoy a tour (€10.50, adults, €6.50, children) of the city’s port on a Spido boat, which whisks you around the historical Veerhaven harbour, the Euromast, the museum ship SS Rotterdam, the famous Hotel New York (former HQ of the Holland American Line) and the city’s landmark Erasmus Bridge.
You’ve got to see the city’s Cube Houses (Overblaak 70), which were designed in 1984 by Dutch architect Piet Blom. If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to live in a 45-degree cubed-shaped house (with no straight walls) then now’s your chance.
The most recent addition to the city’s shopping experience is the humungous Markthal, an igloo-like structure that houses almost 100 stalls, 20 shops, nine restaurants and over 200 apartments. It truly has to be seen to be believed.
And finally? Well, if you’re looking for a bit of tranquillity within the bustling city, seek out the quaint district Delfshaven, which is possibly the least touristy place you could recommend tourists to visit.
There are lovely walking guides, one of which will bring you to Schiedamseweg, which houses a brilliant array of ethnic cafés and craft/produce shops. From Rotterdam centre, take the trams numbers 4 and 9, or the Metro.
Rotterdam might be a compact city, but it has enough stylish and classy hotels across all budgets to suit every tastes. One of the most welcoming places to rest your head is Inntel Hotel (Leuvehaven 80; www.inntelhotelsrotterdamcentre.nl ), which is situated by the waterside and which boasts lovely rooms with contemporary furniture designed by Montis and lighting designed by Artemide and Foscarini.
Another bonus is that the metro and tram stops are right outside the hotel, and it’s only a few minutes walk into the centre of the city.
A good business touch with this hotel is that they promise the best rate guarantee (with no booking costs and a direct-to-you confirmation) once you book through its website. Rooms from €90.
For an extra slice of luxury, you could check into The Manhattan Hotel (Weena 686; www.manhattanhotelrotterdam.com ), which is located in the heart of the city’s business and financial centre.
This place is truly classy – not for nothing was the 5-star hotel nominated in a recent World Luxury Hotel Awards. Next year it rebrands as a Marriott hotel, which will be the first that hotel group’s city debut. Rooms from €130.
If you’re looking for something smaller and quite different, then A Small Hotel (Witte de Withstraat 94; www.asmallhotel.nl ) is just for you.
Located in the centre of Rotterdam’s cultural heart – thriving with cool shops, smart bars, even smarter restaurants, and mere minutes away from several museums and art galleries – this boutique hotel has six large rooms across three floors.
Think luxury and privacy in equal measures, as well as some interesting facts: the hotel has no reception, but there is a self-check-in/out procedure that isn’t anywhere as inconvenient as it sounds; and each room has a free mini bar. Yay! Rooms from €125.
EAT AND DRINK AT
Sorry, but are we in New York or Rotterdam? Blender (Schiedamse Vest 91; www.blenderrotterdam.nl ) is an epitome of cool, with its highly defined faux images of Karl Lagerfeld and Snoop Dogg, its basement club/DJ area, and its industrial interior design. Not forgetting its cocktail menu (well, it isn’t called Blender for nothing).
Far removed from the relative intimacy of Blender, Las Palmas (Wilhelminakade 300; www.restaurantlaspalmas.nl ) is something of a showstopper.
Owned by Dutch television celeb chef Herman den Blijker, this fish restaurant, located portside, boasts the best bouillabaisse in town – as well as Warhol-like fishy wall hangings. Noisy? Large? Yes, but the buzz and the bustle are infectious.
If you’d rather have a quiet dinner-for-two, then you should make a beeline for Rotterdam’s highest dining experience - the Euromast Brasserie (Parkhaven 20; www.euromast.nl ).
The views are, inevitably from a height of over 100 metres, amazing (especially at night), while the food is very impressive.
The Euromast is great at night, but if you’re in search of a daytime place for an equally relaxing but less costly meal, then head to De Ballentent (Parkaade 1; www.deballentent.nl ). This waterfront pub/café serves schnitzels and mussels, but the house specialties include their renowned meatballs, which are cooked with fresh peppers, onions, mushrooms, and more.
HOW TO GET THERE
Aer Lingus flies from Cork and Dublin to Amsterdam. High-speed trains go from Amsterdam’s Schipol Airport to Rotterdam Centraal train station every hour. Ryanair flies direct from Dublin to Rotterdam.