Rotterdam – Like Amsterdam but Cooler
When most people think of visiting the Netherlands, the first place on the list is normally Amsterdam. With visions of canals, “coffee” shops and other exciting possibilities, tourists flock to the country’s biggest city. After a recent trip to Rotterdam I realised that there’s something really cool about the country’s second city that many tourists are missing out on. So while the hoards are fighting their way along the canals of Amsterdam, do the smart thing and visit Rotterdam instead. The architecture is amazing and there’s loads of fun things to do as you’ll discover in a moment. If you ever wanted to sail the Rotterdam Hot Tub Boat around the city’s busy harbour and feel like a rock star then this is the place to be.
Vessel 11 – The Most Perfect Place in the World?
The world is a wonderful place. I love exploring new places and meeting new people. Being a fairly simple guy who’s fast approaching middle age I have some fairly simple needs. Give me a nice beer, some great food with a view over water and I am truly in heaven. Throw a hot tub into the mix and you have what could possibly be the most perfect place in the world. Light Vessel 11 is former British lightship that was first built in 1951. For most of its’ working life it served as a mobile lightship protecting ships from running aground on St Gowans Bank in the Irish Sea. Since 2014, it has sat in Rotterdam harbour and served as a wonderful bar, restaurant and a venue for awesome music. It also serves as the base for the Rotterdam Hot Tub Boat – an added bonus for sure.
Getting Half Naked in the The Rotterdam Hot Tub Boat
The main reason for our trip to Rotterdam was the result of a slightly boozy evening with some American friends back home in Cologne. We’d seen the Rotterdam Hot Tub Boat on a previous visit to watch the Scotland v Portugal game of Women’s European Football Championship. Before we knew it, our 2 hour trip on the Rotterdam Hot Tub Boat, “the Hot Tug” was booked and the countdown had started. As you can hopefully see from the picture, and as the name implies, this amazing idea consists of a hot tub with an electric motor that you can sail around the waterways of Rotterdam. As the trip got closer in the diary, the temperatures started dropping and we approached the day with a slight trepidation.
When it came to it, any worries we had about being cold while sitting in the Rotterdam Hot Tub Boat on a cold November afternoon were totally unfounded. The Hot Tug was really warm and at the front of the boat was a wood burning stove that made sure the water stayed hot all the way through. Whatever you do, don’t close the top of the stove completely or the lack of oxygen might put the fire out. Other than that, the only other thing to worry about was lowering the chimney stack to go under low bridges. Apart from our designated driver, the rest of us could enjoy some drinks from Vessel 11’s bar. It was the perfect way to spend an afternoon. We felt a bit like rock stars and I lost count of the number of times we had our photo taken.
Heaven is Beef Wellington on the Bow of a Ship
Having gone back to our hotel to freshen up after the Rotterdam Hot Tub Boat we headed back to Vessel 11 for dinner. We sat in the newly opened Bow Bar. On a previous visit we sat in the main bar but wherever you sit there is a great atmosphere and even in the cold of a November evening the boat was lovely and warm. In the summer, you can even sit on deck as well. The food is very British, which is perfect for us as Brit expats who live in Germany. Personally, my favourite dish on their menu is the beef wellington sharing platter for 2, it brought back great childhood memories as it was my dad’s signature dish on special occasions.
They also do a wonderful classic fish and chips as well as a Lancashire hot pot. The desserts are also amazing, my favourite was the apple crumble but the deep fried Mars bars was also a tasty bit of nostalgia. It’s also a great place to visit for breakfast. Take your choice between a full english, eggs benedict or even rum porridge. Whatever time of day you visit and whatever you choose to eat you won’t be disappointed at Vessel 11. Check out their menu online to make your mouth water and decide what you might have.
It Gets Even Better – Vessel 11 Beer
Not only does Vessel 11 have a amazing water view, a Hot Tub and beef wellington they also brew their own beer. Yes, it really is that wonderful and perfect a place. Out of my personal concern for readers of the From Real People blog, over the course of 2 visits to Vessel 11 I have managed to try them all. Should you have a little less time they serve all 5 beers in a taster tray. My personal favourite is their Classic Red Ale a pint of which you can see in the Brew with a View picture taken while I was in the Rotterdam Hot Tub Boat. Their other beers include a lovely light Golden Blond, a Weizen, an IPA and a wondefully velvety Session Stout. All of them taste very different from each other and they make the great food on the ship taste even better.
10 Other Great Things to do in Rotterdam
On our first visit to Rotterdam we didn’t really get chance to do much other than eat at Vessel 11 and watch the football. After a great time on the Rotterdam Hot Tub Boat, we spent the rest of the weekend exploring Rotterdam some more and checking out it’s truly fascinating architecture. The city is quite compact and it’s lovely to wander around on foot. Lying on the River Maas, waterways are a key part of both the city’s culture and heritage. Both on an off the water, Rotterdam is an exciting and vibrant city with loads to offer for a long weekend.
#1 – Get Back in Your Box at the Cube Houses
One of the most interesting places to visit in Rotterdam are the stunning Cube Houses. They are located on Overblaak Street right above the Blaak underground station. In total there are 38 small cube houses, as well as 2 super cubes which are now part of a Stayokay Hostel. These innovative houses are the brainchild of the architect Piet Bloom based on the concept of “living as an urban roof”: The design represents a village within a city, with each house representing a tree and all the houses together, a forest. Each house is designed to optimise the space inside and one of the houses is open as a museum so you can see the inside for yourself. It only costs 3 Euros entry and it’s well worth it to get to see inside one of these quirky buildings.
#2 – Get the Best View in the City at the Euromast Tower
If you want to get the best view over the rivers and amazing architecture of Rotterdam then the Euromast Tower is the place to visit. Built between 1958 and 1960 the Euromast was constructed for the 1960 Floriade Garden Festival. Euromast is 606 ft (185 m) high, which makes it the tallest building in Rotterdam. To provide the tower with the stability it needs the tower sits on a giant concrete block that weighs 1.9 Million kg. This means that it’s centre of gravity is actually below ground.
For 9,75 Euro you can take a ride to the Euroscoop at the top to get that amazing view. You can also eat dinner in the restaurant at 96 metres and even stay the night in their suites at the 100 metre mark. The hotel rooms are a little pricey at 375 Euro per night but if you are looking for something breathtaking for a special occasion this could be the answer.
#3 – Walk the Erasmus Bridge
The Erasmus Bridge is another of Rotterdam’s architectural wonders. It’s named after Desiderius Erasmus, the Erasmus of Rotterdam who was a famous 15th century Renaissance humanist, Catholic priest, social critic, teacher, and theologian. Spanning a distance of 802 metres it joins the North and South parts of the city across the Nieuwe Maas River. Designed by Ben van Berkel construction was completed in 1996.
Whenever you are near the water in Rotterdam its most stunning feature dominates the skyline. The 138 metre asymmetrical pylon has earned the bridge its nickname of the Swan. At the bridge’s southernmost end is an 89 metre drawbridge that enables ship to pass through it. It’s the largest bridge of this type in the whole of Europe. I really recommend a walk along the bridge so that you can marvel at the architecture and engineering close up.
#4 – Mess Around with Boats at the Maritime Museum
The Port of Rotterdam is the largest in Europe and until 2004 it was the largest in the world. The sea is at the very heart of life in this part of the Netherlands and the best place to learn more about it is at the Rotterdam Maritime Museum. Many of the exhibits lie in the adjacent Maritime Museum Harbour, which is right next door to the location of Vessel 11. The museum dates back as far as 1874 when it was founded by Prince Henry who was the third son of King William II.
In the museum is an amazing collection of Naval artefacts dating back over 6 centuries. One of the newest and most amazing exhibits is the Offshore Experience. By stimulating all the senses it transports you to an oil rig in the middle of the North Sea. The museum is also home to the Mataro, the oldest model ship anywhere in Europe. Don’t miss having a good wander around the ships in the harbour, which are really fascinating. The whole place is closed on Mondays. From Tuesday to Saturday it’s open between 10 am and 5 pm, from 11 am on Sundays. Entry costs 12.50 Euro for adults and 9 Euro for students and children aged 4 to 15.
#5 – Stuff Your Face and Buy Lovely Dutch Cheese at the Markthal
The theme of stunning architecture continues at the Markthal (Market Hall). We stumbled across this place by accident but given it’s size it’s pretty hard to miss. This stunning building was opened by Queen Maxima of the Netherlands in 2014. Around the edge of the building are both apartments and offices, whilst at it’s centre is the Market Hall itself. The inside of the building is adorned with a huge artwork by Arno Coenen. Named Hoorn des Overvloeds, or the Horn of Plenty it depicts giant fruits, vegetables, seeds, fish, flowers and insects.
The Hall is open between 10 am and 8 pm every day of the week. The range of stall is extremely diverse and you can find local produce as well as freshly made food and drink. As a tourist, it’s a great place to shop for Dutch cheese. There are lots of bars and restaurants so it’s a great place to stop for a bite to eat. During the construction of the Market Hall the excavations for the underground car park came across a 10th century farm building. It was part of Rotta village and you can see some of the artefacts that were found exhibited in the staircase in the middle of the hall.
#6 – Check out the Amazing Architecture of Rotterdam Central Station
You might have realised by now that the architecture theme is a strong part of Rotterdam’s attraction. Centraal Station is another great example of the amazing buildings you must visit when you come to this amazing city. Rotterdam only got it’s own main central station in the rebuilding after World War II. In 2007, the original central station building from the 1950s was totally demolished to make way for the stunning building in the picture below.
Between 2007 and 2014, commuters and tourists had to put up with a temporary Smurf blue building. Thankfully, the 7 year wait was worth the pain when it was finally unveiled on 13 March 2014 by King Willem-Alexander. It’s a stunning place to visit and an equally cool place to hang out. You really have to check out the Station Living Room, which has some really awesome old furniture. There are loads of shops to visit in this part of the city and if you are looking for a supermarket in the centre this is an easy place to find.
#7 – Have a Great Breakfast at Picknick
Between the Hot Tug Boat and exploring the different sights of Rotterdam we managed to pack loads into our first day in Rotterdam. Our second day was a Sunday and like pretty much every other mainland European city on the 7th day, the place was totally dead. Normally I think ahead and plan somewhere for breakfast. Typically on this occasion we wandered aimlessly around the city trying to find somewhere that wasn’t Macdonalds. Thanks to a lovely local man who sensed our pain, we were directed to the amazing Picknick Cafe. Like an oasis in the desert this funky independent cafe was just what the From Real People Blog was all about. We were not disappointed.
On a fairly cold and wet Sunday morning, the warmth of Picknick was like an Oasis in the desert. We hadn’t booked but we welcomed inside and got lucky when a table became free a couple of minutes later. The coffee was really lovely, I’m a bit of a coffee fanatic and this was a really good Caramel Latte. The selection of yummy but healthy food was perfect after a bit too much over indulgence the day before. I had a great breakfast of avocado, bacon, mushrooms and an egg. As well the breakfast food, there was also the opportunity to choose from the lunch menu. My friend Alex had the pulled pork sandwich and it looked totally gorgeous as well. Picknick is definitely a great place to check out for breakfast or lunch in Rotterdam, maybe book in advance though to avoid disappointment.
#8 – Live the High Life on SS Rotterdam
The SS Rotterdam is one of the most famous cruise ships in the world. For 41 years this grand ship sailed the world as the flagship of the Holland America Line. She was originally conceived in the 1930s as the sister ship to the Nieuw Amsterdam during the height of transatlantic shipping. Delayed by the outbreak of the Second World War she was launched on 13th September 1958 and spent her first 10 years sailing between the Netherlands and New York. As air travel became more common she was refitted as a cruise ship. By 1997 new ship safety regulations meant it was too costly to keep the Rotterdam in service and she was retired on on September 30, 1997. Nowadays she serves as a tourist attraction, restaurant and hotel. This majestic ship has a new lease of life and we all get to experience life in a bygone era.
#9 – Art Nouveau Style at the Witte Huis
Not only is Rotterdam a great place for modern architecture but it’s also home to Europe’s first high rise building. The Witte Huis (or White House in English) is a stunning Art Nouveau building that dates back to 1898. At the time it was designed, it’s 10 stories and 43 metre height was totally unprecedented in Europe. It’s one of the few buildings in the city that survived the Second World War. The Grand Cafe on the ground floor is a great place to chill out and enjoy the view across the Oude Haven port area. The streets of this part of the city are great for just wandering around and getting lost.
#10 – Feel the Serenity at Sint Laurenskerk Church
The final place on our Rotterdam agenda before heading home was the serene Sint Laurenskerk Church. This is the only building that remains for the great medieval city of Rotterdam. The church was originally built between 1449 and 1525 and despite being heavily damaged in the war, it was subsequently rebuilt to its former glory. In 1952, Queen Juliana of the Netherlands laid the foundation stone for the restoration, which took another 16 years to complete. It’s still used today as a functioning Protestant Church and is a wonderful place to visit and escape the hubbub of the city. It was a great way to end our trip to Rotterdam after a wonderful weekend.