In terms of architecture and scale, Rotterdam feels almost surgically sewn together. This impression reflects the city’s experience of the twentieth century. Heavily bombed during the Second World War, Rotterdam is an architecturally new city, with boxy hypermodern buildings and expansive, well-designed public spaces. It is also a real port city, raw and enriched by immigrants.
To sample a trademark Dutch jolt of modernism, look no further than the Westersingel canal just south of the train station. One bank is sloping grass and the other is bricked, with tight edges. It’s not monumental exactly, but compared to the quaintness of Amsterdam’s central canals, or to the everyday utilitarianism of country canals, it leaves a strong impression.
Alright then, let’s start exploring the second largest city in the Netherlands. Here are five budget-minded Rotterdam tips: transportation, Witte de Withstraat, some nice places to walk, some cheap eats and a cheap bed.
Centraal Station is a dramatic place to start your visit to Rotterdam. Photo: Gerard Stolk
You’ll likely arrive by train from Amsterdam. Trains between Amsterdam Centraal and the astoundingly sharply-angled new Rotterdam Centraal train station take between 35 minutes and an hour and 15 minutes, give or take. A full-fare one-way ticket is around €14.50, and children between 4 and 11 years of age can travel under the Railrunner ticket for €2.50 apiece. Note that the Railrunner ticket is not good on Thalys trains. If you’re arriving from Rotterdam The Hague Airport, take the bus (number 33) to the center of Rotterdam for €3. This bus takes about 20 minutes.
Witte de Withstraat is a lively street to spend a few hours. Photo: Dietmut T.
Everyone will tell you to check out Witte de Withstraat, and you should. It’s lovely, with cute cafés, decorative neon signage and the Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art (50 Witte de Withstraat), which currently boasts a fascinating exhibit titled Dai Hanzhi: 5000 Artists. This exhibit is devoted to the life of Hans van Dijk, a Dutch curator and gallerist instrumental to the development of contemporary Chinese art.
Don’t miss a stroll down Oude Binnenweg. Photo: Alper C.
Westkruiskade, Oude Binnenweg, Pannekoekstraat and Nieuwmarkt should all be on your list. Venture down Westkruiskade in the morning before it gets really busy, while deliveries are coming in. The street is full of Chinese and Surinamese supermarkets, bakeries, butchers, restaurants and beauty supply stores, and offers a strong flavor of today’s Rotterdam.
For a quainter, more traditionally Dutch atmosphere, spend some time on Oude Binnenweg nearby. The Dutch fair trade chain WAAR has a shop at 144a Oude Binnenweg. WAAR is great for gifts and has a book exchange library. Close by is Boekhandel v/h Van Gennep (131b Oude Binnenweg), a beautiful independent bookstore with a decent English-language section.
Pannekoekstraat is good for midrange cafés, and Nieuwmarkt is full of antique/curio shops and the smart-looking Urban Espresso Bar.
Keep an eye out for Febo, an automat where you can pick up a snack for just a few euros. Photo: Salim V
A plethora of kebab and shawarma restaurants blanket much of Rotterdam; to these you can add a huge number of all-purpose takeaways selling items loosely based on Chinese, Indonesian and Surinamese cuisines—as well as Febo, the (in)famous coin-operated Dutch food automat chain, with its range of croquettes, frikadel and other fried things (from €1.60).
Alternately, there’s also Angie’s Fast Fresh Food (Karel Doormanstraat 368-370) for rather healthier fare, including a range of sandwiches (from €3.95) and tagines, salads and pastas (from €7.95).
Stayokay Hostel offers affordable private and shared rooms. Photo: moqub
Stayokay Rotterdam is where you want to sleep if you’re looking to save big. Located inside the city’s famous Cube Houses, a shared bed can be had for €16.70 including breakfast. Private double rooms begin at €50.40. The hostel epitomizes the cheap and cheerful vibe.
Special thanks to former Rotterdam resident Shaney Hudson for her super worthwhile Rotterdam tips.