Amsterdam’s an attention seeker. There, we said it. Don’t get us wrong, it’s an amazing city, but it kinda reminds us of that friend who always wants to be in the middle of the photo. Know what we’re saying? Talk to tourists about Holland, and they always jump straight in on Amsterdam. Which is fine, but there’s so much more to the Netherlands than the leaning city. It’s got sunflowers, windmills, and a second city that’s just as cool as its first. Yup, you heard us. Rotterdam might be under your radar now, but it won’t stay that way for long. This is a happening city: from mind-bending architecture and soul-nourishing art to lip-smacking food and killer nights out, Rotterdam’s got it all. Here are six reasons you should get to know it now.
1.the futuristic architecture
Walking around Rotterdam can feel like you’ve jumped in a time machine and been spat out a hundred years from now. Seriously. When the city was badly bombed in 1940, local authorities decided against restoring Rotterdam to its former glory. Instead, they would use the tragedy to implement radical changes, to establish a clean break with the past and develop a truly forward thinking metropolis. The result: Rotterdam has risen from the ashes to become Europe’s most architecturally innovative city. There’s just so much to see, from the breathtaking Markthal to the Piet Blom-designed Kubuswoningen: an ‘urban forest’ of cube-shaped houses. If you fancy stretching your legs, you can wander along the 390m air canal, and don’t miss the recently reopened Centraal Station, nicknamed ‘Kapsalon’ after Rotterdam’s favourite fast food dish. Here, even the McDonald’s are good looking. And the factories too – make sure not to leave without checking out Van Nellefabriek. Rotterdam’s even got a pavilion and exhibition space floating in its city harbour. And soon it’ll have a floating dairy farm too. So, forget about quaint, leaning canal houses. Dutch architecture’s so much more than that.
2.the coolest bars in town
Amsterdam might steal the headlines as Holland’s number one party city, but there’s plenty of nightlife to rival it in Rotterdam. Don’t believe us? Listen up. Most of the city’s hedonistic pursuits are centred around Witte de Withstraat. You can’t head there without stopping in at vibey De Witte Aap, which Lonely Planet named as one of the best in the world. DJs keep the party pumping till late and it's always packed with plenty of bohemian 20-somethings. The Stirr – just round the corner – was recently voted Holland’s best cocktail bar, and it’s just a stone’s throw from Ballroom, a chic bar and restaurant where they serve 100 types of gin and tonic and the best meatballs in town. A little further afield, Tante Nel is a chip shop cum cocktail bar not to miss, and it’s just down the road from Bokaal: a serious beer hall with a huge terrace. For drinks with a view head to The Suicide Club, and why not finish your night off at Toffler, a nightclub housed in a former pedestrian tunnel. With DJs playing the best progressive house and tech – and an LED light show like no other – you’re sure to dance your way through the wee hours.
3.all the art you could want
If all that partying has got you feeling down on yourself, we’ve got just the answer. A heavy dose culture. And lucky for you, Rotterdam’s got all the galleries and museums your heart could desire. If it’s big names you’re after, why not start at Museum van Boijmans Van Beuningen, an artistic treasure trove housing works by Dali, Van Gogh and Monet. Kunsthal is equally impressive, and its constantly cycling exhibitions mean you’re never quite sure what you’ll get: in the coming months ‘Prince Love Live’ will pay tribute to the legendary singer, while ‘Cat Love’ will focus on felines in art. Meow. Those who want to keep up with what’s hot in the contemporary Dutch art scene should check out Witte de With, TENT and Galerie Delta, while photography buffs simply must not leave without paying Nederlands Fotomuseum a visit. And even if you consider yourself a philistine, there’s got plenty to keep you happy here. A trip to Museum Rotterdam is a great way to get to grips with the city’s history, the Natural History Museum has a collection of more than 400,000 items and the Maritime Museum is a wonderful shrine to all things nautical. How’s that for options?
4.a food-lovers paradise
Feeling peckish? Don’t worry – there are few better places to be struck with a serious bout of the munchies. Rotterdam’s got something for everyone, whether you’re after haute cuisine or hot sauce slathered over frites. If you’re feeling fancy, why not try one of the city’s Michelin Star offerings: two-starred Parkheuvel serves refined plates in a stunning riverside setting; while former Fat Duck sous chef François Geurds showcases his dynamic molecular gastronomy at neighbouring FG (two stars) and FG Food Labs (one star). Restaurant de Jong is a local favourite: they grow vegetables on-site in the restaurant’s garden, and offer stunning, daily-changing four course menus. Those looking for a slice of Rotterdam history might want to head to Brazzo, a cozy French-inspired brasserie housed in a former public slaughterhouse. They support local artists, who even supply the plates, which you can buy should you wish. Now that’s what we call eating your art out. If you’re after something a little naughtier, Ter Marsch & Co’s burgers are rated as Holland’s best and you really shouldn’t leave Rotterdam without trying Kapsalon. The mixture of fries, shawarma meat, cheese and hot sauce was invented by a local hairdresser (hence the name) in 2003, and has since spread across Europe. You’ll see it in fast-food spots across the city. Don’t be shy – get stuck in.
5.the next-level markets
There’s something nostalgic, romantic even, about shopping in markets – and if you enjoy haggling with hawkers and picking up produce without barcodes, Rotterdam’s the place for you. The city’s status as a major port has meant that it has long had a thriving market scene, and this shows no sign of letting up anytime soon. First things first: we need to talk about Markthal. Opened in October 2014 – at a cost of €175 million – it’s hard to think of a more unique or innovative market the whole world over. Open from morning till eve, it houses 96 magnificent stalls and 20 restaurants, boasting some of Holland’s best and most diverse produce. Plus, it’s an architectural wonder – a hollow arch with apartments built into its walls and roof – worth visiting just for the trippy and wonderful 11,000m2 mural splashed across the ceiling. Just outside the Markthal you’ll find the sprawling Blaak Markt, which sells everything from flowers to food to second hand furniture. The prices tend to be a little lower than inside, and it’s a great place to pick up lunch – especially if you’re into fries. And visitors to the city should make sure not to miss Swanmarket. Open on weekends, in different locations across the city, it specialises in bespoke vintage jewellery, gourmet street food and bric-a-brac. So, forget about park life: in Rotterdam, it's all about markt life.
6.the ultimate sculpture trail
All too often getting your culture fill means being stuck indoors. Fine in the winter, but when the sun’s shining, most of us don’t want to be holed up in a museum all day. In Rotterdam, you don’t have to be. Sculpture International Rotterdam wants citizens to engage with art, and curates a wonderful collection of work in streets, parks and squares across the city. So, you can get your vitamin D fix and nourish your soul all at once. And there’s so much good stuff to see. Rodin’s L’homme qui marche is a must see, as is the Picasso designed Sylvette – depicting one of his muses and rendered by Carl Nesjar. And that’s just for starters. Federico Carusso's The Bow is a moving WWII tribute, Henry Moore’s Wall Relief No. 1 is truly magnificent, and if you’re into the Dutch renaissance you should head straight to Hendrick de Keyser’s Erasmus, the oldest bronze statue in Holland. Oh, and we almost forgot – if you’re a fan of the subversive, you can’t leave town without seeing Paul McCarthy’s Santa Claus: the statue caused quite a stir with residents when it was commissioned in 2001, and quickly picked up the nickname ‘the butt plug gnome’.