This thoroughly modern city has a vibrant waterfront, a wealth of museums and cafés, and a film festival to rival Cannes. It's a Dutch treat for David Orkin



To catch the 32nd International Film Festival Rotterdam (00 31 10 890 9090, Around 350,000 people are expected to attend the world's second-largest film festival open to the public; it ends on Saturday night. Though the weather is more North Sea than Mediterranean, the festival is much more relaxed than the one in Cannes. Showings are spread over 18 screens around the Schouwburgplein, close to Central Station.


Choose between KLM (08705 074 074, from Heathrow, with fares for this weekend from £58.70, and VLM (020-7476 6677, from London City or Manchester from £90 return. Rotterdam airport is five miles north-west of the city centre; bus 33 takes 20 minutes and runs every 20 minutes between the airport and the Central Station from 6am (7am Saturdays, 9am Sundays) to midnight, for €2.40 (£1.60). Taxis cost around €20 (£13.50).


Don't go to Rotterdam expecting quaint medieval architecture: the centre of the city and the port were reduced to rubble by bombardment in May 1940. Straddling the river Maas, today's Rotterdam is one of the most modern cities in Europe; its port is the world's biggest. Most of the areas of interest lie between Central Station and the river. Visitors will find an excellent selection of bars and restaurants and a lively and growing club scene. The city is also home to Feyenoord, one of Holland's top football teams. Visit the main tourist office at 67 Coolsingel (00 31 10 414 0000,, located almost opposite the Post Office and Old Town Hall. It opens 9.30am-6pm daily except Sunday, though it closes at 5pm on Saturdays; while there, invest €1 (70p) for a map of central Rotterdam. Short hops on trams or buses cost €1.60 (£1.10), with longer trips at €2.40 (£1.60). Apart from two set routes to the Hotel New York, water taxis are pricey: €2.20 (£1.50) standing charge plus €1.65 (£1.10) per minute. Call 00 31 10 403 0303 or visit for more information.


Just across the road from the Central Station the Westin (Weena 686; 00 31 10 430 2000, occupies the first 14 floors of a designer tower block. The best rate for this weekend is €385 (£257) including breakfast; once the festival is over, weekend rates drop to €150 (£100). For a wonderfully old-fashioned experience, try the Hotel New York (Koninginnenhoofd 1; 00 31 10 439 0500). The hotel is housed in the building that was once the headquarters of the Holland-America Line. A room with a waterfront view costs €149.80 (£100). You can walk from the city centre over the Erasmus Bridge or take a water taxi from Veerhaven (€2.40/£1.60) or Leuvehaven (€3.10/£2). For something different, try the Hotel Bazar.


Wander past the shops on Hoogstraat and you'll pass the 15th-century church of Sint-Laurenskerk on Grotekerkplein, which was seriously damaged in the war. Continue on a short distance, past the futuristic Blaak metro station and you'll come to one of the most interesting of the city's many architectural projects, the Cube Houses: rows of angled cube-shape apartments, each balancing on one corner, resting on top of more conventional "stalks". One of the houses, the Kijk-Kubus, is open to the public, but only on Saturdays and Sundays from 11am-5pm, admission €1.75 (£1.20).

You can get a panorama of Rotterdam and its extensive port from a restaurant/ viewing area nearly 400 feet up the Euromast (Parkhaven 20; 00 31 10 436 4811). You can go even higher, on the Space Adventure, which simulates a rocket launch. It opens 10am-5pm on Saturdays and Sundays, and from March will open daily. It lifts you almost to the top of the Netherlands' tallest building. Admission to the Euromast is €7.50 (£5), whether or not you take the Space Adventure.

Amid the landscaped gardens of the Museumpark you'll find an artistic congregation: the Netherlands Architectural Institute (admission €5/£3.50), the Kunsthal Rotterdam (€7.50/£5) and, best of all, the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen (€6/£4). This collection includes works by Hieronymus Bosch, Bruegel the Elder, Rubens and Rembrandt. All three open 10am-5pm daily (Sunday from 11am).

Museums excepted, examples of history are few in Rotterdam, so be sure not to miss the Delfshaven area which dates from the 14th century. Besides galleries, cafés and restaurants, it has a windmill and the 15th-century church where pilgrims met before setting sail for the New World in 1620. The Pilgrim Fathers Church (Aelbrechtskolk 20, 00 31 10 477 4156) is open 1-4pm on Saturdays and sporadically on Sundays.

Closer to the centre, Veerhaven is pleasant, with many old wooden boats. Seeing the wharves, bridges (most impressive of which is the Erasmus Bridge, completed in 1996) and shipping from the water is a must. Spido Harbour Tours (00 31 10 275 9988; offers 75-minute boat tours. These depart from the waterfront beside the Erasmus Bridge daily from Thursday to Sunday between 11am and 2pm (Saturdays and Sundays until 3.30pm) for €8 (£5.50). The river looks even better after dark: as Spido trips only run in daylight, think about a trip on the commuter Fast Ferry (00 31 10 240 3267) from Willemskade across to Ridderkerk and back, for €3.75 (£2.50).


Most shops don't open until lunchtime on Sundays and Mondays. Hours on other days are usually 9am-6pm. Check out the pricey boutiques along Van Oldenbarneveldstraat, the hippie retro and secondhand stores and cafés on Nieuwe Binnenweg. The Binnenrotte market is held all day on Tuesdays and Saturdays, and Friday afternoons. Offering more than 250 varieties, the best cheese shop in central Rotterdam is Kasshoeve Fromagerie (Oude Binnenweg 95a; 00 31 10 413 8644). Coffee shops such as Cafe Sky High and Cafe Reefer sell certain substances not found in Starbucks.


Even if you don't stay at the Hotel New York, try to have a snack or meal in the café – particularly Sunday High Tea. For a quick, cheap and filling lunch, Rotterdam has plenty of sandwich shops. The best place to try a portion of Poffertjes – Dutch mini doughnuts served with a choice of accompaniments – is Bongers (open 10am-8pm daily) at the junction of Meent and Botersloot; €3 (£2). Dudok at Meent 294 is a popular grand café, good for people-watching. The service isn't the fastest, and like most places to eat in Rotterdam it's smoky when crowded.

Top choice for vegetarians is Bla Bla (Piet Heynsplein 35; 00 31 10 477 4448). The food is imaginative and the service friendly; reservations are strongly recommended. Expect to pay around €16 (£12) for two courses. It opens 5-10pm every day except Mondays. Henkes' Brasserie (Voorhaven 17; 00 31 10 425 5596) has a great location and food to match. There's a three-course set menu for €24 (£16). Kitchen hours are noon to 10pm daily. La Vilette (Westblaak 160; 00 31 10 414 8692) looks unimpressive from outside but the French-influenced cuisine does the talking. Main courses (such as turbot with asparagus) average €23 (£16) or there's a four-course set menu for €41.70 (£28). It opens noon-2pm and 6pm-9.30pm daily except Sundays (Saturday, evenings only).


If film isn't your thing, the city is home to the highly regarded Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra (00 31 10 217 1717, Dizzy ('S Gravendijkwal 127; 00 31 10 477 3014, is a jazz café open daily until late, with live music on Tuesday and Sunday nights. Rotown (Nieuwe Binnenweg 19; 00 31 10 436 2669, often has rock gigs. Rotterdam's club scene is revered (well, within Holland at least). Current hotspots include Nighttown and Off_corso. For information on these clubs and more, see