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Tour of Rotterdam

Rotterdam has a completely different character from all the other cities in the Netherlands. It’s raw, edgy, surprising and always on the move. Rotterdam native and iFly reporter Iris shares her favourite spots in the second largest city in the Netherlands.

Explore the city

Ten years ago, if I said to someone in the Netherlands that I lived in Rotterdam, I would be get a look full of pity or a scornful laugh in return. For a long time, the second largest city in the Netherlands was a place understood by few and often dismissed as cold and sterile. Nowadays, I’m met with expressions of jealousy and have dozens of friends and colleagues who would move here in a heartbeat. The reason? Rotterdam has become the hippest city in the country and is developing at breakneck speed. It has been featured in many hot lists in leading travel magazines, too.


All the same, Rotterdam is more difficult to truly comprehend for an outsider than Amsterdam or Haarlem, where the centre is concentrated around picturesque canals and medieval mansions. In Rotterdam, the best locations are spread across the city, and you more or less have to be in the know to find them. But the good news is that you’ll know exactly where to go after reading this article!

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Text & photography
Iris van den Broek

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Witte de Withstraat

Artistic and culinary

I always recommend to those visiting Rotterdam by train to exit the central railway station and walk down to the Westersingel. The quay on this side of the canal is full of art, and it’s a fun way to reach one of Rotterdam’s liveliest streets, Witte de Withstraat. Once you reach the ‘Sylvette’ statue by Pablo Picasso, turn left over the bridge, and you’ve arrived.

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Witte de With is packed with art galleries, street art, fun shops and, above all, lots of cafés and restaurants. Café De Witte Aap was even proclaimed the best café in the world by Lonely Planet. Personally, I like to go to Ter Marsch (best burgers in town) or Bazar for an amazing köfte in a decor straight out of One Thousand and One Nights. Witte de Withstraat is at its best after dark, so make sure to return at the end of the day. But, until then, continue walking towards the Markthal, only ten minutes away.

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Hoogstraat

Hotspot in the making

Seen the famous cube houses and colourful Markthal? Great! Keep walking on Hoogstraat, a seemingly nondescript street but in full development. More and more coffee bars, shops and restaurants have been opening here in recent years. One of my favourites is COCO, a global cuisine restaurant where the owner, Manuela, prepares mouth-watering soul food. To be honest, I love everything on the menu but definitely try the crawfish roll and peanut soup. During the daytime, COCO is a bustling lunchroom, but in the evening, it’s a restaurant with an underground bar where stand-up comedy nights are organised regularly.

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On the other side of the street, you’ll find Ohana, an Instagramable joint (everything is powdery pink) with absolutely delicious poké bowls.

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For a good cup of coffee and breakfast, make sure to go to Amada Coffee, where you can get a selfieccino: a cappuccino with your picture on it!

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Kop van Zuid

Metropolis

Rotterdam is sometimes referred to as ‘Manhattan on the Meuse’. Thanks to all of the high-rises, the city is the only one in the Netherlands with an impressive skyline. The epicentre of all those skyscrapers is Kop van Zuid, which connects the area with the rest of the city by way of the elegant Erasmus Bridge. Right next to the bridge, you’ll find ‘De Rotterdam’, the showpiece of the skyline, designed by architect Rem Koolhaas.

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    What I love best about Kop van Zuid is the contrast between the modern glass structures and the lovely old warehouses. One of them houses Foodhallen, an indoor food market with fifteen stands and three bars, where you can eat everything from baos and dim sum at Baomazing to spareribs and burgers at Roffa Streetfood.

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    And, of course, there is the Hotel New York at the end of the pier, a genuine icon of the city. Between 1873 and 1978, passenger ships operated by the Holland-America Line departed here for New York City. The fantastic outdoor seating area is one of my favourite hangouts in the summer, while I often dive into the New York Basement in the wintertime. The cocktail bar in the basement has a Frank Sinatra-inspired atmosphere and makes the best cocktails in Rotterdam. You can also enjoy lunch with live music here on Sundays.

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      Historic Delfshaven

      Back to the Middle Ages

      Historic Delfshaven is a treat to visit, even for the Dutch. With a water taxi from Hotel New York, you’ll be there in no time! This is where Rotterdam sheds its rugged, raw image and shows you what the city looked like before the war. Since this part of Rotterdam was not bombed during World War II, it’s full of medieval buildings and cobblestoned streets. At De Pelgrim brewery, you’ll have to fight for a spot in the sun during the summer, but I find it equally as delightful to sit in the sheltered courtyard with a stew & chips and beer brewed on the spot.

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        M4H

        Pioneering city harbour

        Keep walking a short distance from the picturesque Delfshaven, and you’ll end up in the industrial Merwe Vierhavens (M4H), a harbour area with frayed edges that is bursting with cool street art and green initiatives. Young entrepreneurs and creative companies are eager to establish a business here. There are few shops or food service establishments, but there is a special spot called Weelde on Marconistraat, an artistic haven with a canteen for breakfast and lunch, a bar, cosy sitting areas and a lush garden full of art. Parties, events and performances are organised here often. Prefer to return to Witte de Withstraat? The nearby tram (or metro on Marconiplein) will quickly get you back to the centre.

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