Whatever you do, don’t deprive yourself the pleasure of a boat trip under the snobbish pretext that this kind of thing should be left to “Tourists.” It is in fact the best way to discover the port of Rotterdam (and even the town itself). You cannot help but feel fascinated or even afraid of this interminable, gigantic, inhuman industrial universe. Quite rapidly you pull away from the town’s last areas of housing to glimpse the sight of the first super tankers, these steel Leviathans with their bellies loaded full of mountains of containers. Then there are miles and miles of quays, hangars, cranes, warehouses and naval construction sites. A few ant-like figures can be seen bustling about this metallic jungle.
Did you know that 90% of concentrated orange juice consumed in Europe arrives directly from Brazil in a giant tanker from the port of Rotterdam? Did you know that the emergence of the container, which is capable of transporting solids, liquids and even frozen goods, represented a revolution in the history of 20th century transport? Every year the cargo ships unload nearly 420 million tonnes of merchandise including 90% of the refined hydrocarbons in Europe! Relying on a transport network that links train, roads, canals and pipelines, the port of Rotterdam can distribute goods in less than 48 hours to 160 million consumers throughout Western Europe!
Rotterdam by bicycle
This is an ideal complement to the boat trip. This town of contrasts sees huge office blocks, apartments and fast highways for cars alternating with cycle paths, canals, rivers, pedestrian streets and idyllic, quiet little areas. Thanks to the immense network of protected cycle ways, cycling is a pleasurable breeze.
The Wilheminaplein peninsula area which was already dominated by Francine Houben’s Montevideo tower, Sir Norman Foster’s World Port Centre and the Maastoren by the Dam & Partners architectural firm, houses some well frequented establishments such as the Nederlands Foto Instituut, Café Rotterdam (situated at the boat cruise terminal, an incredible example of 1970s architecture) or the popular Las Palmas restaurant. At the end of the peninsular, a sort of neo-gothic manor house has managed to survive between two modern towers. This is the office of the transatlantic Holland-America company which took hundreds of thousands of emigrants to the United States. The building has now become the Hotel Café Restaurant New York with a terrace that bathes in the sunlight and enjoys a superb view over the Maas and the dance of the barges ahead.
The charming places of Rotterdam
So you see the world’s fourth largest port is not just a place of immense skyscrapers and business districts. A few quiet spots have survived the bombs and also the functionalist architecture which was favoured during the post-war years (and to which we are progressively returning.) Built in 1325, the old port (Oude Haven) has kept some attractive remnants of the past, with its old canals, traditional barges and two fine merchant sailing ships which are part of the open air maritime museum. The café terraces allow you to take your time in these placid surroundings, in a place where you can see the White House (Witte Huis), the first skyscraper in Europe built at the end of the 19th century. Then, just behind you, modernity imposes itself once again with the famous cube houses by the architect Piet Blom: one of which can be visited.
Another tranquil spot is “The Park” (Het park is so-called because it is the only one in the centre of Rotterdam) which is like an immense green lung for the city. It is an English style park that is also a real haven of peace. In the summertime it is a place of festivals and where the locals have barbecues. At the bottom of the park is the Euromast one of Rotterdam’s emblems along with the Erasmus Bridge. This tower was built in 1960 to celebrate the first of the Floriades, a flower and garden festival which takes place every ten years in Holland. A panoramic lift allows you to take in a view where you can see as far as Delft. In the tower there is also a restaurant and even two suites.
Another of the city’s green lungs is the Museum Park where you’ll find several cultural institutions such as the Kunsthall, the Natural History Museum and the Boijmans Van Beuningen Museum. The latter is very much worth a visit for its exceptional collection of old art (The Tower of Babel by Brueghel the elder) but also for its numerous works of modern and contemporary art, not to mention the gardens with their canals, fountains and ducks where you can take lunch in the sun before taking a nap.