Rotterdam is a city full of surprises. Although it plays a much maligned second fiddle to Amsterdam, I really enjoy exploring the city. It may not have the grand traditional architecture of Amsterdam, thanks to being flattened by the Luftwaffe during World War II, but what it lacks in tradition it more than compensates for with innovation and creativity.
The fatal downside of Rotterdam is the bitter wind that whistles through the wide streets and open spaces. One thing about the city’s reconstruction, it rejects the narrow streets and confined centre of Amsterdam and other Dutch cities. Still, on a cold but sunny winter’s day (precious few of those recently), a walk through some of the more historic bits of the city is hugely rewarding.
We started at Blaak Station close to the extraordinary new Markthal. Avoiding the temptation to sit in the sun in one of the cafes by Oudehaven, we walked over one of Rotterdam’s two iconic bridges, Willemsbrug, and crossed the Nieuwe Maas river to reach Noordereiland, the small island that sits in the river with views back towards the city.
Noordereiland is now largely residential but the buildings have been converted from old shipping warehouses, from when this was a centre of Dutch commerce and ships from across the world made port here. We found ourselves leaving the island on a small road bridge but next to it was De Hef, a glorious metal railway bridge dating from the 1920s, its central section elevated above the river in a silent salute to passing ships.
It was Sunday morning and even in Rotterdam things were sleepy. We met a few dog walkers and the occasional refugee from Saturday night, but the city was pleasantly quiet. We headed along the river front until reaching Maas Toren, the tallest building in the country (now the Dutch HQ of Deloitte), where we watched an old sailing ship glide past starkly contrasted against its surroundings.
Deciding we’d earned a short rest, we were lured into the shining glass temple that is the nhow hotel. The promise of a refreshing Bloody Mary accompanied by sweeping views over Rotterdam’s second iconic bridge, Erasmusbrug, was in the air. The view across the river were pretty wonderful, as was the Bloody Mary.
Fortified, we set off to the water taxi where the Hotel New York sits in all its grandeur. This was, as the name suggests, where hundreds of thousands of Europeans embarked on the journey across the Atlantic to the New World and a new life – including a huge number in the aftermath of World War II. The building was the former HQ of the Holland America Line shipping company which first sailed the Atlantic to New York in 1872.
We took a slightly shorter boat ride in a tiny wooden river taxi across the Nieuwe Maas back to Veerhaven, another picturesque port. Having started at the Martkhal, we decided we needed to sample some of the food on offer in the market and made our way along the river towards a lunch of grazing food stalls. We’d definitely earned it.