By Victoria Looseleaf
Who knew that Rotterdam, the Netherlands' second-largest city and biggest port, is also one of the country's coolest places? Having been heavily bombed during a German air raid in 1940 — with its center essentially flattened — the town, with its population north of 600,000 and from 170 nationalities, has come roaring back. Teeming with great art, food, a hip nightlife scene, friendly people and eclectic architecture, Rotterdam is less than an hour's train ride from Amsterdam.
From May 24 to June 16, it's Rotterdam Architecture Month. Join a guided city tour or embark on your own by beginning at the 5-year-old Markthal, the Netherlands' biggest — and first to be covered — indoor market space. This striking edifice is home to a horseshoe-shape food hall, as well as an office and apartment complex. Topped by Arno Coenen's and Iris Roskam's "Horn of Plenty," an enormous arch in which 4,000 colorful tiles depict fruit, grazing cows and flowers that form the largest artwork in the country, the market is an outstanding place to shop and eat, with some 100 fresh food stands, 15 food concessions and eight restaurants onsite.
For a unique take on living spaces, a visit to the Cube Houses is a must. Designed in the late 1970s by architect Piet Blom, these 39 identical yellow cubes transformed city dwellings and were each meant to house a single family. To experience what life in a geometric abode is like, stop in at the Kijk-Kubus (Show-Cube), a furnished museum house.
Check in and freshen up at the James Hotel, located in central Rotterdam, before heading to Het Industriegebouw (Industrial Building). Opened in 1952, this renovated post-war-era building is home to an array of shopping and dining concepts, including Heroine Restaurant and Bar, where four-, five- or seven-course meals are paired with delicious wines. Each dish comes as a surprise, and chef Michael Schook also offers vegetarian plates.
Begin the next day at The Museumpark Rotterdam. Named for its proximity to a number of museums, it's one of the city's most popular outdoor spaces and includes sculptures such as Picasso's 46-ton "Sylvette." Het Nieuwe Instituut, the go-to place for design-related exhibitions, hosts the Dutch state archive on architecture, while the Kunsthal Rotterdam, which opened in 1992 and houses seven exhibition spaces, was designed by native son Rem Koolhaas.
This summer, in collaboration with HipHopHuisRotterdam, the Kunsthal features a show about hip-hop and its influence on fashion and lifestyles. Those who seek a deeper dive into hip-hop culture should plan a visit to HipHopHuis, co-founded and directed by Aruna Vermeulen, where a community of young creators is engaged in hip-hop music, dance and street art.
City rooftops are also the latest in environmental awareness and are being used to grow fruits and vegetables. Stop in — and up — at Op het Dak (literally "on the roof"), a cafe that overlooks the Rooftop farm and is both Rotterdam's and Europe's largest urban farm rooftop. The menu focuses on seasonal and local foods, with breakfast and lunch served by convivial waitstaff amid towering sunflowers and ripening rows of vegetables and herbs.
Pleasures also abound in the Katendrecht district. Once Rotterdam's Chinatown, this hot spot is home to the Fenix Food Factory. Located in an old port warehouse and operated by a cooperative of entrepreneurs, this indoor market offers everything from fine Dutch cheeses to a variety of meat dishes, including a daily barbecue as well as baked goods. And if you happen to be there on a Friday night or Sunday afternoon, catch some live jazz at the Kaapse Brouwers, where there are 30 fine craft beers on tap.
Take in views of the Rotterdam skyline from a bench on the adjacent quay. Here you'll see the Erasmus Bridge, completed in 1996 by Ben van Berkel and nicknamed "The Swan" because of its elongated pylon. The SS Rotterdam, a steam-powered cruise ship that sailed between the city and Manhattan in the 1960s, is also permanently docked there and it's possible to take tours through the ship's gangways and halls. Make sure to save time to sip a drink on the promenade deck!
WHEN YOU GO
For general information: www.rotterdampartners.nl
James Hotel: www.thejames.nl
Heroine Restaurant: www.restaurantheroine.nl
Fenix Food Factory: www.fenixfoodfactory.nl
Victoria Looseleaf is a freelance travel writer. To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.
The skyline of Rotterdam, Netherlands, includes the Erasmus Bridge, nicknamed "The Swan" because of its elongated pylon. Photo courtesy of Claire Droppert.