Rotterdam was devastated during the Second World War, but the world’s third-largest port has some fascinating buildings and design as a result, says Felicity Cousins
1. White House and Cube Houses
Rotterdam is easy to navigate on foot or by tram, but a good way to see it is by bicycle. Holland looks after its cyclists, offering separate bike lanes and traffic lights, so it is not too daunting. You can hire bikes at Use-It (use-it.nl) or Fietspoint Rotterdam (czwaan.nl), for about €6 per day. Start at the 45-metre high White House (Witte Huis). Built in 1898, it was the first Dutch “skyscraper” and was one of the only buildings to survive the Second World War. Locals sip coffee or beer on the terraces of the quiet canal basin where it stands.
Just north are the inspired Cube Houses (Kubuswoningen). This strange construction was originally supposed to be a bridge across a busy road, but the architect, Piet Blom, wanted the walkway to have a feature, so he built a cluster of yellow houses on it. You can visit the tilting “show cube” for an idea of what it feels like to live in one. Open daily 11am-5pm, entry €2.50. Visit kubuswoning.nl
2. Studio Hergebruik
Go north into the city centre, past the cathedral and left along Meent. When you hit Coolsingel, cross over and head north again until you see the Studio Hergebruik design shop (studiohergebruik.nl). Everything in here is made out of recycled materials – there are bowls made out of melted records, crisp-packet lampshades, fork candlestick holders, bags made out of bicycle inner tubes, safety pin dresses, and slippers made from newspapers. Open Tue-Sat 11am-6pm.
3. Witte de Withstraat
Next, head south and then take a right on to Korte Lijnbaan. You’ll pass Schouwburgplein, a large open square flanked with a theatre and the huge Pathé cinema. Around the corner, go south along the canal and take in the artwork and sculptures, such as an uprooted dead tree supported by four other growing trees. You’ll soon hit Witte de Withstraat, with its design shops, cafés and restaurants – it’s a good place to stop. The funky Hotel Bazar serves North African fare and is so popular with locals that you may need to book if you want lunch or dinner. Tel +31 102 065 151; hotelbazar.nl
4. Euromast and SS Rotterdam
After turning left down Eendrachtsweg, go down Westzeedijk and then cycle through the park to the Euromast, one of the tallest buildings in the Netherlands. When it was built in 1960 it was 104 metres tall, but as Rotterdam grew upwards, so did the Euromast, adding platforms and a rotating viewing cabin – the Euroscoop – to make it 185 metres tall today. The Brasserie restaurant, about 100 metres up, serves beautiful food. You can even stay the night, as the tower has two hotel suites, the Heaven and the Stars. Open daily 9.30am-11pm (from 10am Oct-Mar.) Visit euromast.nl
Ride under the river through the art deco Maas tunnel for a closer look at the SS Rotterdam, the most prestigious ship of Holland America Line between 1959 and 2000. It is set to house the Cruise Hotel, scheduled to open in November. Visit cruisehotel.nl
5. Nederland Fotomuseum
Back under the tunnel, cycle along the riverbank around Veerhaven harbour and over the iconic Erasmus bridge. It’s the only “hill” in the city and requires some mild effort to get over the hump before rolling downhill on to the south bank. Turn right for the Fotomuseum. When I was there, I was intrigued by Sarah Engelhard’s “Still Wild” exhibition of photographs of road kill. Visit nederlandsfotomuseum.nl for current exhibitions. Open Tue-Fri 10-5pm, Sat-Sun 11-5pm. Entry €6. n
Rotterdam Welcome Card (€5) gives discounts on museums and attractions as well as travel. Visit rotterdam.info