Rotterdam’s rising tide

1 Apr 2024 by BusinessTraveller
Rotterdam (Credit JackF/iStock)

Whether it’s the game-changing improvements made to its port, the launch of the world’s first surfing canal or a flurry of new hotels, Rotterdam is the one to watch in 2024.

Rotterdam is a city that does things a little differently. One of its biggest (in every sense of the word) cultural institutions, for example, isn’t a museum or gallery but the Depot Boijmans Van Beuningen – the world’s first publicly accessible art storage facility, opened in 2021.

Inside are 154,000 artworks, which are housed in 14 storage facilities with five different climates. Guided tours showcase not only the masterpieces stored in the Depot, but the work of those tasked with their preservation. Its spaceship-like exterior is equally impressive: clad with mirrored panels that reflect the surrounding cityscape, at night moving images are projected onto its reflective shell.

You’re never far from an example of ground-breaking design in the Netherlands’ second largest city. This legacy began in 1898 with the 45-metre Witte Huis (White House), Europe’s first “skyscraper”. Miraculously, the magnificent Art Nouveau facade survived the bombing raids of the Second World War that flattened large swathes of the city. Down the road, you’ll find the 215-metre-tall De Zalmhaven tower, the tallest structure in the Benelux region (Belgium, Netherlands and Luxembourg), which opened in 2022.

Increasingly, the city’s passion for innovation is being applied to sustainability projects. Take the expansion of the Port of Rotterdam’s Prinses Amaliahaven terminal. The construction project – the largest in the port’s history and due for completion in 2025 – will include state-of-the-art quay walls with built-in sensors to measure the impact of waves, wind and other elements.

There’s also the Green Ports Partnership – launched in 2023, it’s a collaboration between the Port of Rotterdam and the Port of Pecém in Brazil. The aim of the scheme is to encourage knowledge-sharing relating to sustainable and innovative port development, port logistics and port-related energy projects, such as offshore wind and the production of green hydrogen. Visitors will be able to learn more when Portlantis opens later this year. Perched on the port’s westernmost point, this new exhibition space and visitor centre will provide a fascinating insight into Europe’s largest port, while a restaurant on the fourth floor will offer stunning views over the North Sea.

Meanwhile, in summer 2024, the city centre Steigersgracht canal will be transformed into an urban surf spot. RiF010 – the name combines the Dutch word rif (reef) and the local postcode – will use wind and solar energy to produce waves at seven-second intervals that can be adjusted according to a surfer’s skill level.

Depot Boijmans Van Beuningen, Credit Iris Van Den Broek

Museum musings

Touted as one of the world’s most significant upcoming cultural openings is the FENIX museum, which opens next year. It has been designed by world-renowned architectural firm MAD and is housed inside what was once the world’s largest transshipment warehouse.

The museum will address the topic of migration, exploring how it has shaped not only Rotterdam but the wider world.

There’s no better place for such a museum – Rotterdam (and this particular spot, on the banks of the River Maas) was the departure point for millions of Europeans in the early 1900s (including Albert Einstein and artist Willem de Kooning). Features include a maze made from 2,000 suitcases, each with a migration story. This includes the battered leather trunk donated by the granddaughter of a migrant who arrived here from Indonesia in the 1940s (after Indonesia gained independence from the Netherlands). There are also the cases carried by recent arrivals fleeing war-torn destinations such as Sudan. One highlight at the museum will be the Tornado – a double helix-shaped staircase, which twists from ground level to a rooftop observation deck where visitors can gaze out over Rotterdam’s cityscape, shaped by over 170 nationalities.

The museum will undoubtedly boost the reputation of Rotterdam’s redeveloped docklands as its hippest neighbourhood. Connected to the centre of the city by the swan-like Erasmus pedestrian and road bridge, this historic area, on the south bank of the Nieuwe Maas river, already has some of the city’s top museums. This of course includes the Maritime Museum, which pays homage to the city’s port maritime trading status. But don’t just stick to the exhibition galleries. Head outside and check out the Maritime Museum Harbour, where visitors can step inside metal-scented workshops with dedicated viewing areas and watch blacksmiths mould red-hot pieces of iron into tools and spare parts for the ships that sail out of the city’s port.

At the Nederlands Fotomuseum, in a building once owned by the Holland America Line, six million images provide fascinating insights into life in the 20th and 21st centuries. Check out the Gallery of Honour of Dutch Photography, with 99 photos depicting life in the Netherlands between 1842 and the present day. You’ll see everything from black-and-white photos taken by legendary Dutch snappers to portraits of famous visitors to the country (one being Snoop Dog puffing on a joint).

Other spots worth checking out include the Foodhallen Rotterdam, a food hall inside – yep, you guessed it – another former shipping warehouse. The interior has been transformed into an urban jungle courtesy of vast swathes of greenery, and it’s a magnet for local office workers as well as tourists, who come to feast on the street food-inspired cuisine in between rallies on the food hall’s ping pong tables. You’ll find cuisine from all over the world here, although some of the tastiest delicacies on offer are the Dutch ones – head to Bavette for upgraded twists on Dutch classics, including bitterballen (Dutch meatballs) made with wagyu beef.

Markthal, Credit Ossip van Duivenbode

At the nearby Markthal, an ultra-modern, horseshoe-shaped market hall comprising residential apartments draped over a central market hall, there’s a permanent exhibition showcasing the archaeological finds discovered during the building’s construction. Opened in 2014, the Markthal also lays claim to the Netherlands’ largest piece of art – Dutch artists Arno Coenen and Iris Roskam covered the 11,000 sqm arched ceiling with screens onto which supersized images of flowers, insects, fruits, grains and vegetables are projected.

Just as spectacular is the selection of food on offer. There are close to 100 restaurants, stalls and delis here, and there’s little you can’t buy. The busiest stalls include Cheese & More, for sunshine-yellow wheels of Edam infused with spices such as cumin, and Infinitea, which sells hundreds of tea varieties made with ingredients such as pumpkin and cherry blossom. Pull up a pew at one of the many cafes and snack on a stroopwafel (caramel sandwiched between waffle-like cookies) while you admire shifting images projected onto the cathedral-like ceiling.

Leave the Markthal via the eastern exit and you’ll see another of the city’s architectural gems – the so-called cube houses (pictured above and on the magazine’s cover). Designed in the 1970s by Piet Blom, these gravity-defying houses appear to be tipped on one side, and are now among the city’s most sought-after properties – one of them, the Kijk-Kubus Museum-house, is even a fascinating museum.

Yellow cubic houses (Credit kievith/iStock)

Ready for visitors

The city has become increasingly accessible in recent years. In March 2023, the extension of Rotterdam’s Line B metro opened, allowing passengers to travel from the Hook of Holland (the arrival point for ferries from the UK) to Rotterdam in just 37 minutes. There’s also new flight connections, including SWISS’ six-times-weekly Zurich to Rotterdam service, which launched in January, plus the new European Sleeper’s night train service from Brussels to Berlin (via Amsterdam and Rotterdam), which launched in early 2023.

Last year, Rotterdam was named the best connected city in Europe by fDi Intelligence in its ‘European Cities and Regions of the Future 2023’ report. Numbeo, the company behind the world’s largest database of user-contributed data about cities and countries worldwide, also awarded Rotterdam sixth place in its Quality of Life Index.

In response, a growing number of visitors are being lured to the city, whether as tourists or for business events – of which there are many. In 2024, events include April’s World Energy Congress, May’s World Hydrogen Summit and June’s Urban Future conference. Thankfully, there’s no shortage of places to stay. Openings this year include the Mainport Hotel Rotterdam, Curio Collection by Hilton, which will have 600 sqm of conference and events space and 215 rooms. The DoubleTree by Hilton Rotterdam Centre, near the Erasmus Bridge, will have 265 rooms and stunning views from its event spaces, located on the 15th and 16th floors. One of the hippest new hotels looks set to be the Àterre Rotterdam, owned by Sircle Collection hotels – the Dutch company behind Sir Hotels, Max Brown Hotels and Park Centraal Hotels. Sircle says its aim is to “create a luxury hotel which has the cosiness of a private home”.

But for a room with a view, it’s got to be one of the two suites in Rotterdam’s Euromast – an 185-metre tower designed by HA Maaskant and completed in 1960. In addition to the two suites, perched 100 metres above ground level, there’s an observation deck shaped like a crow’s nest and a fine-dining restaurant (we highly recommend the afternoon teas). Feeling adventurous? Skip the lift and opt for the abseil experience – it’s the highest in Europe.

With so much going on, Amsterdam might need to up its game in the very near future.

Words: Tamara Hinson

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The cover of the Business Traveller April 2024 edition
The cover of the Business Traveller April 2024 edition
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