Rotterdam Citytrip: Manhattan on the Maas

A great place for urban photographers, under all angles!Locally referred to as ‘Manhattan on the Maas’, Rotterdam is a city in transition. Long known as a blue collar hard working port city, hosting the world’s largest port, it is rapidly evolving into the place to be in the Netherlands. Rotterdam is a city of modern architecture, modern shopping, modern food and the country’s best cityscapes. I guess there is a good reason that #instawalk010 is one of the most popular traveler hashtags of the Netherlands.

I visited Rotterdam many times without writing about it. Somehow it feels less attractive to write about a place that is only an hour away from home. But as we travellers know, it is not always about travelling to far away places where beauty and wonder can be found. In fact, there is as much beauty to be found in our local area than there is on the other side of the planet.

So last week I spent a day in Rotterdam with my family. Our main target was the new market hall food center, opened a few months ago. Its architecture and indoor food market is an absolute novelty in this part of Europe and a popular destination for visitors and locals alike, from day one. The market hall is located in the midst of many other classic and new Rotterdam attractions and makes an excellent starting point to explore some of the highlights of the city. Let me take you on a virtual tour of some of the highlights:

Rotterdam highlights walking tour map

Rotterdam highlights walking tour (3 km) map [click to enlarge]

Rotterdam Market Hall

The new market hall is a good starting point because it has both the largest underground parking garage in the city as well as a train and underground station (Blaak). If you arrive at Rotterdam Central Railway station it is a nice 20 minute walk to the market hall.

The Market Hall is a 10-story arch-shaped residential building, covering an open air food market.

The Market Hall is a 10-story arch-shaped residential building, covering an open air food market.

Colorful murals make for a very special atmosphere inside.

Colorful murals make for a very special atmosphere inside.

The roofs of the food stalls carry small coffee bars and terraced restaurants, overlooking the hall and the hustle and bustle at the stalls underneath.

The roofs of the food stalls carry small coffee bars and terraced restaurants, overlooking the hall and the hustle and bustle at the stalls underneath.

The market stalls are all hand-picked specialty stores offering the best food products available in the city. More a delicatessen market than a food market for sure!

The market stalls are all hand-picked specialty stores offering the best food products available in the city. More a delicatessen market than a food market for sure!

Of course you will find the best Dutch cheeses in the hall!

Of course you will find the best Dutch cheeses in the hall!

But also colorful donuts...

But also colorful donuts…

And a Parisian treat that is conquering the world: Macarons!

And a Parisian treat that is conquering the world: Macarons!

A vertical panorama of the market hall from one of the roof terraces. [click to enlarge]

A vertical panorama of the market hall from one of the roof terraces. [click to enlarge]

Rotterdam Cube Houses

Directly opposite the Market Hall dome you will see the famous Rotterdam Cube Houses. This experimental architecture really put Rotterdam on the world architecture map. In the seventies Rotterdam still clearly showed the scars of the 1940 bombing, that destroyed the entire heart of the city. The cube houses by architect Piet Blom meant to give the feeling of an urban forest, with lots of open space underneath the tree trunks that lift the 39 cubes off the ground. Although already built in 1977 the forest of cubes are still an attractive place to visit. In fact, one of the cube houses is open to the public. Look for signs to the ‘Show Cube‘ to have a look. A large part of the complex was recently converted to hold the ‘Stayokay’ hostel, so you can even spend the night here!

The 'forest floor' underneath the Show Cube.

The ‘forest floor’ underneath the Show Cube.

A great place for urban photographers, under all angles!

A great place for urban photographers, under all angles!

A great view of the cube houses 'forest' edge is on the 'Oude Haven' (Old Port) side of the complex, where old fishing barges provide a historic foreground to the modernist housing blocks.

A great view of the cube houses ‘forest’ edge is on the ‘Oude Haven’ (Old Port) side of the complex, where old fishing barges provide a historic foreground to the modernist housing blocks.

Historic Port of Rotterdam

Of course Rotterdam is well know as the largest port of the world. Most of the commercial port is outside the city, on the Nieuwe Maas river towards the North Sea, but some of the more historic elements of the port are right in city center. Highlight of the old port is the wonderful Maritime Museum. This modern museum has a very good historic collection inside, as well as a large collection of ships outside of the museum, in the water. You can see the museum ships in the water as part of above walking tour, but I highly recommend having a look inside the museum too. For small kids I recommend visiting the toy harbour on the top floor, where kids can play while they learn about how a large port functions.

One of the old Port of Rotterdam tug boats in the museum marina.

One of the old Port of Rotterdam tug boats in the museum marina.

City views

To see why locals refer to Rotterdam as Manhattan on the Maas, you have to walk to the riverside directly next to the Erasmus Bridge. This is also the point where the Spido Port Cruises depart to show you the commercial port operations. The best views are had at the waterbus quai right next to the small cruise ships.

View on Manhattan on the Maas from the waterbus terminal.

View on Manhattan on the Maas from the waterbus terminal. [click to see full panorama]

Looking onto the Erasmus Bridge (locally known as the Swan), next to the recently opened 'De Rotterdam'. The area on the other side of the bridge has many nice hotels, restaurants, the cruise terminal and the famous Hotel New York. From here thousands of immigrants left the old world to sail towards America on the Holland-America Line. Now the old terminal has been converted into a very atmospheric hotel and restaurant. Highly recommended!

Looking onto the Erasmus Bridge (locally known as the Swan), next to the recently opened ‘De Rotterdam’. The area on the other side of the bridge has many nice hotels, restaurants, the cruise terminal and the famous Hotel New York. From here thousands of immigrants left the old world to sail towards America on the Holland-America Line. Now the old terminal has been converted into a very atmospheric hotel and restaurant. Highly recommended!

I hope you enjoyed this little introduction to Rotterdam. Of course there is a lot more to see in this vibrant modern city, like the art museums in the Museum Park, the views (and food!) from the Euromast tower and the shopping in the heart of the city, including the new ‘Koopgoot’ (Shopping Ditch) that connects the traditional shopping streets to the Market Hall and the Cube Houses.

The walking tour in the map is about 3 kilometers long and will take about an hour of your time, excluding visits to the many sites along the way.

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