Rotterdam, Amsterdam’s Rival City

By Nomadic Matt | Published October 9th, 2009

Rotterdam, The NetherlandsThe fires were everywhere, destroying everything in its path as the bombs continued to fall overhead. When it was over, there was nothing left except empty craters and a people looking to rebuild.

Unlike many other Dutch cities, Rotterdam was completely destroyed during the WWII. But it turned the end of the war into a chance to rebuild itself into a modern city and shed its old 17th century look. Now, Rotterdam is filled with steel buildings, wide streets, high rises, and other signs of modernity that many of the other cities in Holland lack. If there was an urban city in the Netherlands, I believe Rotterdam would be it.

Unlike other Dutch cities that are built around a small center that still makes you feel like you are in Holland’s Golden Age, Rotterdam contains wide streets, no real “center,” few historic buildings, and many high-rises. Entering Rotterdam gives you an out of Holland experience. Over 40% of Rotterdam’s population is non-Dutch and you won’t see hordes of young stoners cruising coffeeshops and red lights.

the cubes in Rotterdam, The NetherlandsRotterdam is most famous for its architecture, with many of the tops firms in Europe headquartered here. The city boasts many architecture schools and even a funky architecture museum. Around the city, you see a lot of interesting buildings built in a modern style, Dutch style, and that weird 50s industrial style no one is quite sure why people thought looked good. Since the city is more spread out than it used to be, seeing all the interesting architecture can take awhile as you need to walk around quite a bit. My favorites were the Overblaak cubes, the industrial looking building next to it, and the architecture museum.

Whereas Amsterdam has canals, historic homes, Van Gogh, and Red lights, Rotterdam has art, festivals, multiculturalism, and architecture. It’s a much more eclectic/arty city than its bigger rival. Besides the many architecture schools, there is a big indie culture here and you’ll find many streets dedicated to appealing to those “arty” types. In that spirit, it makes perfect sense that Rotterdam frequently has (free) festivals throughout the year. While I was there, there was a jazz festival and the following week some art festival was coming.

the outdoor market in Rotterdam, The NetherlandsAmsterdam is an expensive place to travel but not Rotterdam. Many of the attractions in Rotterdam are only around 5 euros and the museums are free on Wednesday. On the weekends you can visit the large market near the Blaak metro stop. It’s a great way to get cheap food and mix with the locals. For a great view of Rotterdam, head down to the Euromast. This is the tallest structure in the city and provides a great view of the surrounding area. You can even see Den Haag from it! The tower has a great audio guide telling you the history of the city and, on some days, lets you even rappel down it.

One thing to skip- the Rotterdam Museum. I always visit historical museums. You can’t tell where the city is now if you don’t know its past. I’ve seen some bad ones but this one was awful. It’s a video tour that requires you to watch each video before you move on so you can’t go at your own pace. That wouldn’t be such a problem if the video had English subtitles. It doesn’t. It is all in Dutch. Rotterdam has some great museums. This was not one of them.

Only an hour away, Rotterdam is a good place to go to contrast Amsterdam. Most people only ever visit Amsterdam when in Holland but there is much more to the country. Amsterdam’s rival city is a good place to start. The city doesn’t strike me the way cities like Amsterdam or Utrecht strike me but overall, those with a few days, should check it out. Too often people sit in coffeeshops in Amsterdam and think that is the Netherlands. But there is much more to the country and Rotterdam proves that.

For more information, visit my page on backpacking Europe or my country and city guide to The Netherlands.

comments 7 Comments

We didn’t go to Rotterdam when we were just in Holland, but were in den Haag and Utrecht for 5 days and loved it. While Amsterdam is a great place to party, the other cities offer a much better view of the dutch people.


Totally agree! Did you like Utrecht? I love it there!


Now you have some where to go next time!

This sounds like a really good place to visit when we plan to go to Europe. I would really love to see the cool buildings there.


I love Rotterdam. My favourite place has to be the waterfront ( which has bands playing every night.


Nice article, thanks for giving ‘Roffa’ props! It is indeed not only smoking up and hooking up that we do here in the Netherlands. I live next to the Delfshaven area, so next time you’re around, let me know!

Brandon White

It is impossible to compare both cities. While Amsterdam embraces the visitors, in Rotterdam not at all. Rotterdam has a small center which doesn’t feel like a center. The vibes are completely different: Rotterdam has a working class vibe during the day, after 6PM the city feels dead. Amsterdam has a vibrant, international and very cosmopolitan vibe. If it was up to me I would never choose to visit a city like Rotterdam. But if you travel there anyway… have fun!

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