Rotterdam: Your Guide to the Vibrant Dutch Harbour City With a Big Heart

I was so glad this year’s Traverse 18 travel blogger conference took place in Rotterdam, as it gave me the perfect excuse to finally visit The Netherland’s largest harbour city. I had heard lots of good things from friends who have already been there and couldn’t wait to explore it for myself. The Traverse guys had lots of fun events lined up for us, such as a chocolate tasting at Chcocafe, a walking tour with Rotterdam Pages, a visit to both the Marriott Hotel (making the best of the great views from the top with a skyline photography class from Michael of London View Points) and the Hilton Hotel (where we had an Instagram workshop by local photographer Sabine Metz, got to see the Presidential Suite and a behind the scenes tour) and a barista master class with Ketel Binkie Coffee to name just a few.

Rotterdam Centraal.jpg

You don’t need to be a blogger to have a brilliant time in Rotterdam though. It’s a lively city full of positive energy known for its daring architecture and you can easily see all the sights on foot or by bike.

Join a Guided Walking Tour to Get an Overview

I went on a tour by Rotterdam Pages and it was fantastic! It was really fun and personal and our guides Hassan and Ferah seemed to have endless enthusiasm for their city, which was really contagious. They showed us all the main sights like the iconic Cube Houses, the harbour, the impressive Markthal market hall (see pic below, which also houses some apartments with amazing views) and some street art and it was a great introduction for doing some more exploring on our own.

Rotterdam Markthal.jpg

Explore the Inside of one of the Famous Cube Houses

I returned to the Cube Houses a few day afterwards as one is set up like a museum and it’s only €3 to visit. It’s not that spectacular, but for an interior design fan like myself, it was great to see the interior and how the shape of the building influences what kind of space you have available on the inside.

Rotterdam Cube Houses.jpg

Visit the Cat Café and Other Quirky Places

I also often enjoy checking out some more unusual places, like the local cat café. This one, Pebbles Kitty Cat Café is bright and spacious and when I arrived two Dutch bloggers were busy taking pictures and videos. There is a €2.50 ‘cat tax’ but the prices for coffee, cake and sandwiches are reasonable and it’s very clean, so no worries in terms of hygiene, plus the adorable kitties will leave you smiling for sure.

Rotterdam Pebbles Kitty Cafe.jpg

Another great spot was the ChcoCafe (see pic below) with one location in the Markthal and a sit-down café in Oude Binnenweg. Imagine choosing from over 60 types of chocolate on a stick to dissolve in hot milk, chocolates of all shapes and flavours and lots of other goodies too hard to resist. You won’t want to leave!

I also like picking interesting places for lunch or dinner and another blogger had recommended Burgertrut (‘Burger Bitch’), which serves vegan, vegetarian and organic burgers and whose profits support the local art project Roodkapje. One of their employees has a cute chihuaha, but I missed him unfortunately. I asked them whether customers are OK with a dog (I most definitely would be!) and they said, if they are not, they can go somewhere else. Rotterdam is a lot like that. Openminded and practical locals who get on with their lives and enjoy it a lot.

Rotterdam Chco Cafe.jpg

Have a Pubcrawl with an International Twist at Witte de Withstraat

As far as I could see, Rotterdamers are always out and about and there is a huge café and pub scene. Some of my favourite places for going out at night was (accidentally) the street I was staying in, Oude Binnenweg, with a handful of great bars (plus the chocolate café, see above, a cheese shop, bookshop and record shop), you can’t miss the street, it’s the pedestrian area right beside the ‘Santa Claus’ sculpture.

Rotterdam party.jpg

The other area and the main party street is Witte de Withestraat a few blocks further down. There are restaurants with food from around the world as well as lots of local dishes, such as ‘kapsalon’ (literally meaning ‘barber shop’, but now a popular local version of a layered kebab with fries on a plate, veggie options exist, too).

See the City from the Water

Watertaxis are a popular type of transport in Rotterdam and they are super fast, imagine crossing the river like James Bond, just in a slightly smaller boat! When you visit the Maritime Museum, the ticket includes access to various ships anchored right outside it, which will give you unusual viewpoints to photograph the skyline. Once you’re tired from all the sightseeing, rent a Hot Tog with some friends, it’s like a hot tub turned into a boat and apparently they are coming to London soon.

Rotterdam harbour boats.jpg

Have Breakfast on an Island in Katendrecht

For a bit of quiet time out, head to Kopi Soe Soe on the island of Katendrecht (easy to reach from the centre on foot, by bike or public transport) and start your day with coffee and cheesecake. This former fairly industrial area is now rapidly becoming popular and the Fenix Food Factory has many food stalls and other shops with creative things to browse.

Rotterdam Kopi Soe Soe Cafe.jpg

Spend a Morning in the Pretty Town of Delft

Lots of people recommended Delft to me and the return ticket was only €7.80, so I decided to go there for breakfast on Friday morning. I found a café online that came recommended due to its appeltaart, so Kuch Café was my first choice and it was lovely eating the still warm cake and sipping my latte watching the local square wake up. I then took a walk to the windmill, the two churches and along the small canals (nothing like Amsterdam or Bruges, but more chilled) before hopping on the train back to Rotterdam.

Rotterdam Delft Cheese.jpg

Stay in a Cosy Hostel

There are lots of nice options to stay in Rotterdam and anywhere central is pretty much walkable, so take your pick. I stayed at a boutique hotel above a restaurant (which was fairly noisy, but the room was so cosy and sunny I didn’t really mind). I also often like to get a single room in a nice hostels, so you get a good night’s sleep, but also have the advantage of friendly company. Ani & Haakien is such a place, including a garden with a hammock and a sweet fluffy cat. Room was a hostel I spent a lot of time in as there was live music one night and one of our workshops, a fun barista class from Ketelbinkie Coffee took place there, too. King Kong Hostel on Witte de Withstraat also looked pretty cool with wooden furnishings and a huge terrace, perfect for soaking up the sun.

Rotterdam Ani and Haakien.jpg

Explore the Street Art around Town

I also loved how much street art there is in Rotterdam, one piece is even climbable (the first couple of meters anyway!). You can start exploring the side streets around Witte de Withstraat, but you’ll soon notice colourful murals and quirky sculptures everywhere.

Rotterdam Street Art 2.jpg

Cultural Events and Festivals Galore

While I visited I managed to catch a brilliant contemporary dance show (Tinkling 1), which was part of the Opera Festival, and I just missed a very fun sounding festival called the Rooftop days where you get access to rooftops for the best views of the city. There was also Rotterdam’s first vegan festival on while we were in the city, but there just wasn’t enough time for everything.

Grab some brochures from the tourist office, hostels or cultural venues and, most importantly, quiz the locals about the best places to go. In the Netherlands pretty much everyone speaks English, so it’s easy to get talking to people, e.g. when I saw a guy looking at a plaque (In Dutch) on a building and asked him what it was all about, he gave me a mini lecture about the history of this part of the city, which made him a bit late for work and completely made my morning.

Rotteram harbour.jpg

Yes, I’m a little bit positively biased because I got to explore Rotterdam with a bunch of other enthusiastic intrepid travel bloggers, but seriously, now that there is a direct three-hour train link from London and good links to lots of other European cities, there really is no excuse not to visit. Whether you’re into architecture, culture, art (there is a whole museum quarter, which is already on my list for next time), are a foodie, a coffee or animal lover, this lively place has it all. Don’t be deceived by its modern, edgy exterior, Rotterdam has a big heart and will make you feel welcome from the moment you arrive.

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One response to “Rotterdam: Your Guide to the Vibrant Dutch Harbour City With a Big Heart

  1. Zoe | Together In Transit

    Lovely read and how sweet to see you used a photo with me in it too haha! It’s always a treat to read what others think of Rotterdam, since I am now living here and not as a traveller. I still need to check out the cat cafe btw!! I must take a visit this week!!

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