Rotterdam took us by surprise.
Our expectations of the city and the reality of it were wildly different: in a brilliant way. We’ve visited countless European cities in our time; climbing many a clock tower and enjoying the winding cobbled streets of Medieval towns. Yet Rotterdam is different. Modern, bold and unafraid, this is a city that we could visit again and again, and not simply for its mesmerising architecture and unique museums. This is a city that also lends itself perfectly to a leisurely weekend break; offering a relaxed atmosphere, delicious food and fantastic shopping.
We don’t often refer to the food and leisure aspect of a city in our blogs, but Rotterdam offers such a variety of the two that we felt it deserved a blog post of its very own. First up: food.
Food is an important part of our travels (greedy). With many of the countries or cities we have visited, we have always had an expectation of what food will greet us when we arrive and what we will get a chance to wrap our tastebuds around. However in Rotterdam, a city with 170 different nationalities, this isn’t a city you can pin down to just one dish. Bursting with quirky cafes; market stalls overflowing with freshly made waffles; seafood restaurants and contemporary dining, the food of Rotterdam is anything but predictable. It’s even been voted the culinary capital of the Netherlands! So if like us, you love your food, a visit to Rotterdam is a must.
To help ensure you fill your bellies in the best possible way, below is a summary of our suggested places to eat.
Hotel New York
Hotel New York, sat on the Wilhelmina Pier, was once the office buildings of the American Holland Line; a place where European emigrants left European shores for a new life in North America. One of the few surviving buildings following the bombings of WW2, Hotel New York offers a beautiful Art Deco restaurant, home to some of the most delicious sea food in Rotterdam. On the look out for a little aphrodisiac? Hotel New York is your place, boasting a famous Oyster bar of its very own.
We enjoyed a lovely dinner here, watching the twinkling lights of the city’s sky line, whilst enjoying the atmosphere inside this restaurant belonging to days gone by. Hotel New York is also a beautiful place to stay and we did have a sneak up the stairs to take a further look. It looks like a fascinating place to rest your head, filled with the memories of the thousands of people who passed through the building before you, hoping for a better life.
This restaurant is so delicious that we visited twice! Bazar, located on one of the most famous streets in Rotterdam, is more like a North African bustling market than a restaurant. With hanging glass lanterns casting colourful lights across the tables, this is a relaxed and fun place to eat. The food, mainly North African and Middle Eastern, is some of the tastiest we’ve tried in a while. Washed down with a fresh mint tea in an equally colourful mug, we fell in love with this restaurant and would highly recommend it. We would definitely suggest trying the sharing platters, allowing you to indulge in a little bit of everything. Just make sure you’re wearing trousers with an elastic waistband: you’ll need it.
The Bazar also offers an equally glamorous and exotic hotel that we would love to stay in.
No visit to Rotterdam would be complete without a visit to the famous Markthal, which is almost impossible to miss. This enormous horseshoe-shaped building, adorned with a vast fruit and vegetable mural, is a food mecca in Rotterdam. Bursting with stalls selling doughnuts; cheese; sausages; coffee; cakes; milkshakes; vegetables; bread; ice-cream and just about anything else you can imagine, we strongly advise you do not enter on an empty stomach (as we did). Running around like women possessed, we moved from hot waffles covered in milk chocolate sauce, to strawberry bubble tea, all in under ten minutes. This place is a food lovers dream, all sat beneath the vivid colours of giant raspberries and broccoli. Incredible!
The Markhal also offers restaurants, bars and even a supermarket on the lower level. We ended up visiting this incredible building three times, unable to stay away from their sweets and ice cream! It’s also the perfect place to pick up some gifts, including the iconic Stroopwaffel – a delicious Dutch biscuit.
Fenix Food Factory
The Fenix Food Factory was created by seven Rotterdam based food entrepreneurs and sits just across the water from Hotel New York. Housed in an old warehouse, this quirky space is a real foodie gem. The factory offers a fresh food market selling locally made goods including: cheese; meat; cider; coffee; and products from a local brewery and bakery. This is the perfect place to visit to pick up a few items for lunch and to enjoy a drink by Rotterdam’s infamous port, all whilst enjoying the city’s skyline.
Unfortunately – as became a common theme during our trip – in our eagerness to visit the Fenix Food Factory, we arrived an hour before it opened. We spent a while with our noses pressed up against the glass, staring in at what could have been, before sadly turning away. At least it gives us another excuse to visit the city again!
A brilliantly quirky place to eat is the Rooftop Farm located on the top of an office block! Open Wednesday to Sunday you can enjoy views of the city whilst enjoying delicious fresh produce. This place is firmly on the top of our list to visit when we return to the city.
Witte de Withstraat
Once a rather shady part of the city, Witte de Withstraat had a makeover in the early 1990s and is now one of the trendiest streets in Rotterdam. As well as plenty of places to eat and drink, the street offers many boutique shops and art galleries to browse. This is the perfect place if you’re looking for something unique and a little different. There’s even a shop that sells the same glass lanterns found in Bazar, which we made a beeline for.
This beautiful shop only sells products produced in Rotterdam, in keeping with its name ‘Groos’, meaning ‘pride’ in Dutch. We say it’s a beautiful shop but we could only peer in through the glass windows as we had successfully visited (again) when the shop was closed. The realisation of this nearly killed Laura off, who is a magpie for anything with a quirky feel. I could feel the disappointment radiating from her as I dragged her away from the shop door, comforting her that they did at least have an online shop. This wonderful little shop sells homeware, art, jewellery and much more.
Rotterdam also features larger shopping areas if you wish to visit some mainstream shops, including Beurstraverse and De Lijnbaan. We swang by Lijnbaan to pick Laura up some new boots, after she failed to bring any acceptable shoes fit for walking long distances. Not so much of a seasoned traveller, hey?
We also found some beautiful homeware shops, similar to Goos in the now converted old railway viaduct – Station Hofplein. There’s also a lovely courtyard there to enjoy in the summer months.
Quirky sights and events
The Floating Farm, due to open in August 2016, will most definitely be an unusual spot to visit in Rotterdam. Designed with the environment in mind, the farm will house cows for the production of milk for the citizens of Rotterdam. Reducing the chain from production to consumer, lowering transport costs and pressure on land, the floating farm will be open to visitors.
Rotterdam recently launched its own urban wave machine, located in the canal of Steigersgracht, cut off from the rest of the river. Learn to surf in the heart of the city, without a beach in sight.
Rooftop Days of Rotterdam (festival June 10-12)
Over two days in June, the rooftops of Rotterdam open up to members of the public with festivals and parties. The festival provides access to rooftops not usually open and unique views of the city. We would have signed ourselves up to going this year, were it not for the inconvenient event of Claire’s wedding.
Rotterdam is a city that took us completely by surprise. A traditional European city, Rotterdam is not, and we loved it for that very reason. A melting pot of a city, Rotterdam offers a dazzling selection of food, drink and shopping options. It feels fresh, cutting-edge and decidedly cool. So, before you book your next city break, take a look at Rotterdam. You might just fall in love.