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Rotterdam – Old Town Values in a City of Skyscrapers

(Last Updated On: 05/08/2020)

Rotterdam is the second largest city in The Netherlands and is often compared to Amsterdam, the larger of the two cities. However, Rotterdam has its own story to tell, having been completely destroyed during World War II. This post will give you insight into the old town values of the city that once was and show you what Rotterdam; a city of skyscrapers has to offer as a modern-day tourist destination.

Traditional Oude Haven Oldest Harbour in Rotterdam City

As the second largest city of The Netherlands, Rotterdam understandably has healthy competition with Amsterdam. But what visitors to Amsterdam may not know, is that Rotterdam is in a league of its own; it is a city of the future.

Unique architecture Rotterdam Holland

Modern twist Rotterdam Netherlands

Located only 40 minutes from Amsterdam by train, Rotterdam has a very different skyline to the more traditional architecture you would expect to see in Amsterdam.

Traditional Netherlands Architecture in new city of Rotterdam

Rotterdam boasts one of Europe’s best skylines and is known for having one of the world’s largest ports. In more recent years, the innovative architecture seen in Rotterdam has become symbolic of a modern day Netherlands.

Towering skyscrapers Rotterdam Holland

Often dubbed the ‘Manhattan at the Meuse’, due to the skyscrapers collectively lining the river Meuse, the city may boggle your mind, altering your original perception of a more traditional Netherlands.

This blog post is indeed about a tale of two cities, as the title suggests, but not comparing Rotterdam to Amsterdam. For Rotterdam has far too much intrigue on its own. This post is exploring Rotterdam, a city defiantly rebuilt following the devastating impact of World War II. A city who lost its heart but rose from the ashes in a modern cloud of dust.

sunlight reflection off the skyscraper Rotterdam

Whilst embracing traditional Dutch heritage, Rotterdam is a city reborn with a contemporary feel, where its old and new life have a dialogue.

Cyclist at Centraal Station Rotterdam

When visiting Rotterdam you really do get the sense of a tale of two cities.

Old Town Values in a City of Skyscrapers

World War II had a devastating impact on Rotterdam, with the heart of the city utterly destroyed almost 78 years ago to the day. Many citizens who tragically lost their homes had no choice but to flee on the boats departing to America to seek a new life in the Promiseland.

The boats left Rotterdam in droves from the old port, which still holds a remembrance for the city that once was. Hotel New York, the former head office of the Holland-America line, is now a national heritage site and a place where locals choose to eat, as well as newcomers staying in the city.

Hotel New York Rotterdam

Former port at Hotel New York

Whilst there is no doubt that Rotterdam is a modern city, echoes of the past can still be seen on streets where the traditional buildings remain. The City Hall and St Laurenskerk Church are some of the oldest buildings missed by the Nazis in the WWII air strikes.

St Laurenskerk Church in Contemporary Rotterdam

I was awestruck by Witte Huis (Rotterdam’s very own White House) another older building that still remains. Restored in the ’90s, it is hard to believe that Witte Huis was once the highest building in Europe at 43 metres high!

Witte Huis Rotterdam Oude Haven old harbour

I observed Witte Huis for some time, after all, it is located opposite the Citizen M Hotel where I was staying. It was only later I discovered the building had been built in 1900 as it blends in perfectly with the cafes and structures lining the river.

If you want to get a glimpse of old town Rotterdam and see what the city looked like before the war, head to Delfshaven, a borough of the city that wasn’t destroyed in WWII. In Delfshaven you will find a canal, traditional Dutch architecture, and a windmill!

Traditional building in Rotterdam Holland

Whilst there are most definitely echoes of the past, the city stands completely rebuilt with a newly found defiance in its heart.

Beauty in the building works Rotterdam Netherlands

Ossip Zadkine’s poignant statue of a man without a heart, entitled ‘The Destroyed City’ depicts the heartbreak and loss to the city after the WWII bombings.

Man without a heart Rotterdam Statue

One thing that struck me during my time in Rotterdam is that the city is anything but heartless. The old town Rotterdam values still live on in the modern city.

Love Rotterdam

Intrigued about The Netherlands – Read more facts about Holland.

#LoveRotterdam – The City with a Heart

With the historical architecture destroyed, all that remained were the traditional values of goodwill and an optimistic outlook on life; appealing Dutch traits that I myself have acknowledged on my trips to The Netherlands.

Animal street art Rotterdam Netherlands

Cyclist in contemporary Rotterdam

The city came together to reimagine and build a new Rotterdam, one that appealed to the food-centric city and, of course, a love of architecture.

Architecture & Food in Rotterdam

There are some amazing places to dine in Rotterdam, including some vegan-friendly cafes and restaurants. Keep reading for some of my favourites later in the post!

I can’t talk about amazing modern structures of Rotterdam without a nod at the Cube Houses, Centraal Station and Erasmus Bridge, but more details of these structures are included in my Best Things To See & Do as a Tourist in Rotterdam Netherlands post.

Centraal Station Rotterdam Netherlands

Innovative cube houses Rotterdam Holland

Intriguing Cube Houses Rotterdam

In the meantime, I introduce you to Markthal. This dome-shaped building, created by MVRDV, combines the Dutch love of architecture and food, containing various world cuisines and restaurants.

Colourful view of Het Pootlood Pencil Building from Markthal Rotterdam

Vibrant dining at Markthal Rotterdam

You can get everything from Portuguese pasteis de natas (I loved these in Lisbon) to pinchos and Dutch fries with, of course, mayonnaise!

Dutch fries with mayo Markthal Rotterdam

Pasta at Markthal Rotterdam

Pinchos Markthal Rotterdam

pretty turkish restaurant Markthal Rotterdam

I was also surprised to see Jamie’s Italian. It would seem the British Chef is rather popular in The Netherlands!

Don’t forget to look up to see the stunning artwork, Horn of Plenty, created by Arno Coenen using 4,000 colourful panels. As you admire the mural, you can see the windows of the 228 apartments also housed within Markthal.

Horn of Plenty ceiling art at Markthal by Arno Coenen Rotterdam

Stunning Art work Horn of Plenty Markthal Rotterdam

Located underground is a four-storey car park, which has the capacity to hold a staggering 1200 cars!

Dutch Love for Bikes

Though as with other cities in Holland, it’s the love of bikes that prevails; a Dutch heritage that is ever-present in the city of Rotterdam.

Dutch traditions meet modern centraal station Rotterdam

Colourful bikes in Rotterdam

You’ve only got to see all the bikes stacked up during the Rotterdam marathon to appreciate the importance of bikes in the city.

Bike stack at Rotterdam Marathon

It was my first experience of a marathon and I got to see the love for the city first hand as citizens gathered to provide support for the runners competing for their chosen charities.

Line up for Rotterdam Marathon

Love at Rotterdam Marathon

Shopping in Rotterdam

An appreciation for their heritage was one of the most poignant messages I took from the city of Rotterdam. Whilst Rotterdam boasts a huge number of shopping retailers, from International brands such as Topshop and Zara to independent boutiques and art combined retail spaces, it’s the inspiration behind the traditional Dutch brands that offer consumers much more than a place to buy products.

Concept clothing store in Rotterdam Holland

Groos is a store named after a forgotten Dutch word for pride. As the name suggests, the inspiration behind Groos is to share products of Rotterdam that the store is proud of, stocking only products made by designers living and working in Rotterdam. As well as a fantastic art space, Groos has a selection of literature, lifestyle and homeware products.

Groos shop front Rotterdam Holland

Groos Art Studio and Store Rotterdam

Keet is a concept store that helps start-up web businesses, enabling them to display their retail goods by renting a table or section of the store.

Smile There's Coffee at Keet Rotterdam

I have previously shared my love for Dutch concept stores on my posts about The Hague, Den Bosch and more recently, Eindhoven.

uncwardrobe Pop-up concept fashion store Holland

Unique concept store Rotterdam Holland

Eline Rosina Dutch Jewellery brand

At Keet, there is a unique range of items from jewellery to edible real wine gums! Did I mention the store also has the cutest little cafe? The cheesecake is to die for!

Real wine gum from Keet Rotterdam

Cool Drinks Bottles Keet Rotterdam

Cheescake at Keet Rotterdam

Coffee at Keet Rotterdam

I only wish I bought these pretty mugs.

Cute cups at Keet Rotterdam

Ethics are at the heart of the retailers in Rotterdam. Local designer Susan Bijl uses ripstop, a strong and durable nylon to create a range of minimalistic bags as a substitute for plastic.

Colourful bags from Susan Bijl 1975 Rotterdam

The material for her bold and brightly coloured bags is traditionally used to create kites. Susan’s environmentally friendly bright bags are even waterproof and are made even more distinctive with her signature ‘flash’ diagonal stripe. Check out her range of products at the 1975 store in Rotterdam.

Susan Bijl 1975 economical colourful reusable bags

There was one store, in particular, that had my heart; I was truly touched by the heartfelt concept of the brand Granny’s Finest. The brand’s purpose is to combat loneliness for the elderly, enabling them to create their own knitted designs in a social environment.

Warm Woolens handmade by Dutch Grannies

The idea for Granny’s Finest came about after the owner visited his Grandfather in a nursing home. During this visit he witnessed an elderly lady knitting; a hobby she had to keep herself busy as she had no one to knit for. This visit struck a chord and Granny’s Finest was born to give other Grannies in Holland a hobby and a means to share their creations, with the proceeds used to fund their days out.

Knitting at Grannies Finest

Knitted by grannies at Grannies Finest

Granny’s Finest has 48 hand-knitting location clubs in The Netherlands, with around 800 Grandmothers that come together on a weekly basis.

Granny's Finest Magazine

After creating their designs, the Grannies’ write a handwritten label, which not only lets the purchaser know which Granny created their design, it also asks the purchaser to share a picture of them wearing the product or send a postcard. These pictures and postcards are then shared with the Grannies who take pride in knowing their creations are loved and have gone to a good home.

Grannies Finest Woolen Hat made by Mimi Regelink

Grannies Finest knitted cushion

Retailers with a Heart Grannies Finest Rotterdam

Rotterdam Old Town Values in a City of Skyscrapers

Rotterdam is a city that holds on to its heritage, whilst embracing a contemporary way of life. A city of defiance and, one that certainly hasn’t lost its heart. 

Colourful Markthal Rotterdam

I hope this post has given you insight into the reasons why Rotterdam makes for an intriguing tourist destination on its own merits, giving you a reason to look beyond Amsterdam on your next visit to The Netherlands. Intrigued about attractions and where to eat in Rotterdam? Check out my post – Best Things to See & Do as a Tourist in Rotterdam 



Love The Netherlands? Why not check out my other posts:


Keukenhof Tulip Gardens/Haarlem

Shopping in The Hague 

The Best Things to Do in The Hague

Den Bosch

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  1. Emily
    26/05/2018 / 11:10 pm

    I absoloutely adore your travel posts Jasmine, you can tell you put so much heart and passion into them – I can’t imagine how long they take you to put together! Rotterdam looks wonderful – so much to see and do! I really love the idea of Granny’s Finest, it actually warms my heart! I wish we had something like that here!

    Musings & More

    • thelifeofasocialbutterfly
      13/06/2018 / 9:59 pm

      Thanks so much for your lovely comment, Emily. Huge apologies for the delay in coming back to you, I’ve been a bit snowed under recently. Granny’s Finest is such a touching concept and one that really moved me. It reminds me that of all the good things going on in the world. I wish they did it here too, so heartfelt 🙂 x

  2. 28/05/2018 / 11:05 am

    Oh what a great post! I’ve never seen so much of Rotterdam before but I think it looks beautiful! 🙂 Thank you so much for sharing, I loved all of the different architecture!

    Hope that you had a wonderful weekend! We spent a lot of time outside enjoying the warmer than expected weather!

    Away From The Blue Blog

    • thelifeofasocialbutterfly
      13/06/2018 / 10:21 pm

      Thanks so much Mica. Rotterdam sure is the place to go for fantastic architecture! I want to go again! xoxo

  3. 28/05/2018 / 7:04 pm

    The architecture is just amazing, because it’s not what I was expecting and it’s so varied! It’s amazing to see how the city literally re-built itself after the war, with those massive skyscrapers x

    Velvet Blush

    • thelifeofasocialbutterfly
      13/06/2018 / 10:26 pm

      Rotterdam is such an inspirational place to visit, a city of defiance and strength. Thanks so much for reading 🙂 x

    • thelifeofasocialbutterfly
      13/06/2018 / 10:28 pm

      I know! I was only there for a couple of days too! I need to go back! 🙂 x

  4. 01/06/2018 / 5:43 pm

    What an amazing post and it’s nice to see the city through your eyes, Jasmine. How many cities/countries have you visited so far?

    • thelifeofasocialbutterfly
      13/06/2018 / 10:30 pm

      Aww thanks Shireen, I really love putting together these city guides. I’ve visited around 5 cities in The Netherlands now and I still haven’t visited Amsterdam – I need to go! 🙂 x

  5. 03/06/2018 / 11:52 am

    Loving these travel post you are making at the moment!

    • thelifeofasocialbutterfly
      13/06/2018 / 10:31 pm

      Aww so glad you like them Beth. Thanks so much for reading 🙂 x

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