A showcase for modern architecture and design, Holland’s vibrant (and slightly edgy) second city is one of Europe’s rising stars.
Housed in the iconic brick building that was once the head office of the HollandAmerica line, Hotel New York (1 Koninginnenhoofd; 3110/ 4390500;hotelnewyork.nl; doubles from $309) has 72 loftlike guest rooms and a lively waterfront oyster bar. Each floor at Hotel Bazar (16 Witte de Withstraat; 3110/2065151; hotelbazar.nl; doubles from $100, including breakfast) pays homage to a different part of the globe. (We prefer the colorful African rooms.) Hit the hotel’s restaurant for excellent North African and Middle Eastern fare. The floortoceiling windows and whiteonwhite interiors of Stroom (1 Lloydstraat; 3110/2214060; stroomrotterdam.nl; doubles from $195), set in the burgeoning Lloydkwartier neighborhood, are undeniably beautiful. Our one complaint: a few instances of designhotel folly, such as an unwieldy, highstyle bathtub. The 607-foot-high Euromast (20 Parkhaven; 3110/2411788;euromast.nl; doubles from $518, including breakfast) has a new attraction—two stunning suites nestled far above the city.
Destroyed by bombs in World War II, central Rotterdam was rebuilt in a daring, modern style. The architecture hit list: Ben van Berkel’s elegant Erasmus Bridge (the Swan, in local parlance); Piet Blom’s Cube Houses, which look like dice in midtoss (70 Overblaak; 3110/4142285;kubuswoning.nl); and the Kunsthal museum (341 Westzeedijk; 3110/4400301;kunsthal.nl), one of native son Rem Koolhaas’s first big commissions. Explore it all with a walking tour from Rotterdam ArchiGuides (3110/4332231;rotterdamarchiguides.nl; $175 for a private, two-hour tour). Witte de Withstraat, in the city center, is a street of pioneering galleries and worldclass museums. Don’t miss the fine arts museum, Boijmans van Beuningen (18-20 Museumpark; 3110/4419475; boijmans.nl), or the Netherlands Architecture Institute (25 Museumpark; 3110/4401200; nai.nl) and TENT and Witte de With (50 Witte de Withstraat;tentplaza.nl; wdw.nl), a pair of the city’s most groundbreaking contemporary art galleries.
With its mural of oversize roses at the entrance and a gigantic picture window looking onto the Nieuwe Maas river, the restaurant Blits (701 Boompjes; 3110/2829051; dinner for two $60) is full of eye candy. But chef Glyn Stoker’s imaginative Japanesemeets-North African menu (try the spiced tuna-andtabbouleh salad) keep diners’ attention where it belongs. Lulu (60 Van Vollenhovenstraat; 3110/ 2019394; dinner for two $63) is one of the city’s top restaurants, serving modern Asian food in a seductive room warmed by saffron and chilecolored walls and floortoceiling shoji screens. Welldressed diners, bathed in candlelight, sip sake at low Indonesian tables. For a dayintonight experience, set aside time to explore Westelijk Handelsterrein (15 Van Vollenhovenstraat), a covered warehouse complex dating from 1894 that has been transformed into a warren of galleries, restaurants, bars, and clubs. Watch the transition at Restaurant Rosso (3110/2250705; dinner for two $128), a chic brickwalled restaurant with a Mediterranean menu. After 10 p.m., the dining room turns into a sexy latenight lounge.
Skip the bigbrand shops on Lijnbaan (Europe’s first pedestrian mall) in favor of the smaller, more varied boutiques in the neighborhood around Meent and Pannekoekstraat. Don’t miss the sleek handmade jewelry and accessories at Galerie Puur (50A Botersloot; 3110/2136796). Then head to Delfshaven, an area of picturesque canals that emerged from the war relatively unscathed. Drop by the maritimethemed art and antiques store, known simply as Delfshaven (33 Voorhaven; 3110/4254565), for a selection of maps that date back to the Age of Exploration. After dark, Rotterdam is one of Europe’s hottest club destinations. Sample the scene at Thalia Lounge (31 Kruiskade; 3110/2142547; thaliarotterdam.nl), where a sophisticated crowd congregates at the bar above the dance floor. Cuttingedge DJ’s and multimedia art exhibitions draw a younger set to Off_Corso (22 Kruiskade; 3110/4113897; offcorso.nl). Cocktail hour, however, belongs to Soho (53A Pannekoekstraat; 3110/4118883). Furry white walls and futuristic curves make this bar look like the lair of a very stylish Abominable Snowman.
How to Get There Rotterdam is 50 miles southwest of Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport; trains connecting the two cities depart every 15 minutes.
Best Times to Visit May through September, for the best weather and backtoback festivals and beach parties along the Nieuwe Maas River (strandaandemaas.nl).
Insider Tip Central Rotterdam is compact and easily explored by metro, tram, bike, or foot—but the most thrilling way to do it is by water taxi (3110/4030303; watertaxirotterdam.nl).