Filled with atypically Dutch high-rises, Rotterdam is internationally renowned for its striking architecture. Featuring both historical buildings and modern architecture, these selected iconic landmarks show why Rotterdam is the architecture capital of the Netherlands.
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What makes the architecture in Rotterdam so special?
Who would’ve thought I would ever celebrate Rotterdam and its architecture? Well, I certainly didn’t! Because growing up in the Netherlands, my main association with Rotterdam was that it was an incredibly ugly city.
This wasn’t entirely Rotterdam’s fault of course since pretty much of its city centre had been turned into rubble during WWII. Being the most important port in the Netherlands, Rotterdam obviously was a prime target for the German bombs.
So instead of Rotterdam, I preferred visiting its rival city Amsterdam, my place of birth. But as I grew older, I got a bit tired of the weed-blowing tourists filling up the streets of the Dutch capital.
Ultimately, I decided to give Rotterdam another chance and revisited after a few decades. And you know what? I was completely blown away by its revamped look!
Now home to innovative modern architecture, Rotterdam feels more vibrant and authentic than Amsterdam. Even its cultural scene has surpassed Amsterdam. Walking around Rotterdam, you can sense there’s so much happening culturewise and that feels pretty exciting!
But that might be a story for another day. For now, let me show you some of the famous buildings in Rotterdam that are exemplary of the internationally renowned Rotterdam architecture.
These iconic buildings in Rotterdam are must-see urban landmarks
Planning a trip to Rotterdam? Then look into purchasing the Rotterdam Welcome Card. It’s valid for 1, 2 or 3 days and offers up to 50% discount on the main museums and attractions. It also includes a travel pass for public transport and you can even use it in some bars and restaurants.
1. Rotterdam Central Station
Chances are that your Rotterdam architecture tour starts immediately upon arrival in the city. Reopened in 2014, the modern Rotterdam Central Station gives you a small taste of all the delightful architectural gems the city has in store for you.
Being one of the main Dutch national and international transport hubs, the old station underwent an intense 7-year redevelopment to ensure it could deal with the ever-growing number of daily commuters.
While a few of the original features, like its clock, have remained intact, the new station uses contemporary materials such as near-transparent solar panels. Clad in steel, the station has a cool international allure to it. Yet, at the same time its large surfaces covered in wood give it a warm and inviting atmosphere.
But its most dazzling feature awaits outside when you exit the station. There’s no chance of missing the large metal-clad canopy! Its angular shape doesn’t only make for an outstanding image, but is also very practical for first-time visitors. Because pointing towards the city centre, the roof’s V-shaped corner shows you exactly which way to go.
Who needs Google Maps when you have smart buildings like these, eh?
2. Hotel New York
I mostly know Hotel New York as a Rotterdam hotspot for a glamourous night out. Although I’ve never been inside, I know this gorgeous 4-star hotel with its popular rooftop terrace and subterranean cocktail bar play an important role in present-day Rotterdam. But what I find more interesting is that Hotel New York is actually a significant historical landmark.
You can find a clue to the hotel’s past in its name. Indeed, Hotel New York is based in the former head office of the Holland America Line. This exemplary 1901 Art Nouveau building was once the departure point of Dutch immigrants who set sail to America. I wonder how they felt boarding the boats towards an unknown future. I sure hope they all fulfilled their own American dream.
Want to create your own memorable memories at Hotel New York? Then book your historical Rotterdam accommodation here!
3. De Rotterdam
Designed by world-famous Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas, De Rotterdam (The Rotterdam) is an impressive landmark on the Rotterdam waterfront. Again, its name is a nod to the Holland America Line as the SS Rotterdam was the company’s flagship.
Designed as a so-called ‘vertical city’, De Rotterdam consists of three linked towers. These all house flats, offices, shops and restaurants, making them a mini city in the city. Not that ‘mini’ though. The towers are each nearly 150 metres tall and in total the buildings cover an area the size of a football field!
Want to spend the night at De Rotterdam? Then book your accommodation at the on-site 4-star hotel nhow Rotterdam here!
I can still vividly remember the moment they unveiled the Erasmusbrug (Erasmus Bridge) in the late 1990s. Well, considering I was a teenager back then, I obviously can’t remember the full details. But what struck me most was the controversy about its design. Because looking at it from the side, the bent pylon resembles a well-shaped female leg. Less sexist viewers however might recognise an elegant swam in the pylon which explains its nickname, the Swan.
Obviously, there’s much more to this captivating Rotterdam landmark than its shape and related associations. Named after the famous Rotterdam Renaissance humanist Desiderius Erasmus – yes, as in the Erasmus scholarships – the 802m long bascule bridge was built to connect the regenerated Kop van Zuid Rotterdam neighbourhood with the city centre.
For the best views of the bridge, come here at night when it’s beautifully lit.
5. Witte Huis
Built in 1898 by architect Willem Molenbroek, the 43m tall Witte Huis (White House) was Europe’s first ever skyscraper. It seems so small compared to De Rotterdam now. But can you just imagine how awe-inspiring the construction of the Witte Huis must have felt like at the time?
Looking at the building, it’s no surprise why they called it the White House. Based on American architecture at the time, this office block covered in white glazed brick was built in a remarkable Art Nouveau style. Thanks to its elegant features consisting of fairy-tale turrets, handsome mosaics and stone sculptures, Witte Huis is recognised as a National Heritage Site.
The rooftop viewing platform is occasionally open to the public, usually during summer time. Located on the river in Rotterdam’s Maritime District, you can catch great views from here of the nearby sights such as the Rotterdam Cube Houses which are next on this list of Rotterdam architecture.
6. Cube Houses
Imagine living in a 100m2 cube house. And now imagine the cube being tilted and anchored on its corner, resulting in oddly angled walls and impractical living spaces. I’m not sure if I’d want to live in the famous Rotterdam Cube Houses, but they definitely are a must-see Rotterdam landmark!
Built in the early 1980s by Piet Blom, the bright yellow Cube Houses make for a quirky architectural gem. Envisioning the Cube Houses as trees, he called the collection of buildings the Blaakse Bos. Blaak being the Rotterdam neighbourhood they’re located in and bos meaning forest. Home to creative and open-minded residents, the collection of Cube Houses consists of 38 homes and a hostel.
Want to spend the night in an authentic Rotterdam Cube House? Then book your stay at Stayokay Hostel Rotterdam here.
7. Markthal Rotterdam
Right next to the Cube Houses, you’ll find the massive food market Markthal Rotterdam. This sustainable building in the shape of an upside-down horseshoe is the first of its kind. Because it isn’t only the first covered food market in the Netherlands, but its arches also house homes and offices. And in the basement, you’ll find a supermarket and car park.
I was a bit disappointed to discover there aren’t that many fresh food stalls here. Instead, the majority of the stalls sell prepared food. And with a lack of public seating areas, it’s not very practical. Yet, I highly recommend visiting the Rotterdam Market Hall!
Don’t forget to look up at its high ceiling during your visit. Because to me, the impressive wall painting Horn of Plenty by Arno Coenen and Iris Roskam is the market’s most impressive feature. Covering an area of 11,000m2, it has been called the Dutch version of the Sistine Chapel. I’m not so sure about that comparison but you let me know what you think of it when you go!
Located in the Museum District, the Kunsthal is referred to the first ‘Art Hall’ of the Netherlands. Having no collection of their own, they’re technically no museum. Instead, Kunsthal hosts temporary exhibitions displaying artworks, installations and objects on loan.
The Kunsthal is the second building by Rem Koolhaas in this list of seminal Rotterdam architecture. He designed this collection-less contemporary art museum in partnership with Rotterdam architects OMA. The main architectural feature is a gently sloped ramp that leads you from the ground floor up to the top, visiting the seven gallery spaces along the way.
If not for the art on display, you should definitely visit Kunsthal just to see its incredible architecture. Using a variety of materials like marble, steel and corrugated plastic, every space has its own unique feel and appearance. But even from the outside, it looks like an entirely different building each time you look at it from a different angle.
Consisting of a large flat box and a tower, it may sound like an ill-matching mishmash of building blocks. Yet in reality it allows you to appreciate endless interesting viewpoints of an urban landmark. That in essence, confirms the success of the Kunsthal as a great piece of innovative architecture.
9. Depot Boijmans
Located right next to the world-famous Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, the ultra-modern Depot Boijmans is scheduled to open in 2021. It will store the museum’s entire collection of 151,000 (!) artworks. Considering only 8% of it can be displayed at the museum, I wonder how many of these pieces have never been seen in public before.
Unlike any other museum archive, Depot Boijmans will be open to the public who will be free to explore the previously hidden collection. Consisting of six floors, visitors could easily spend hours, if not days or even months here! It will even be possible to handle artworks and see how staff conserve and restore objects.
Depot Boijmans is a prime example of Dutch innovation and design. Using sustainable materials and technologies, the eye-catching building aims to be completely CO2-neutral.
I don’t know about you, but I for one am very excited to visit this building when it opens!
Housing municipal offices and residential flats, the Timmerhuis (Carpenter’s House) consists of stepped modular blocks. It is located on a spot that was completely erased during the war. You could therefore say that this unusual design by OMA is symbolic of Rotterdam’s post-war rebuild and transformation.
The photo shows you only a fraction of the Timmerhuis as it’s actually a much bigger building complex. And with its materials being entirely recyclable, it’s also one of the most sustainable mixed-use buildings in the Netherlands.
11. Van Nelle Fabriek
Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the former Van Nelle Fabriek (Van Nelle Factory) is a beautiful example of 1920s industrial architecture. It’s actually a large building complex that consists of several factories where they used to producing imported goods like tobacco, tea and coffee. And while this building isn’t in use anymore, Van Nelle coffee is still my favourite brand. I usually buy my supplies whenever I’m back in the Netherlands. My friends even sent me some emergency supplies during Covid lockdown, that’s how much I like their coffee!
Besides its excellent coffee, there’s of course another reason why I inserted this building in my list of iconic Rotterdam architecture. And that’s because of its unique approach towards creating a modern factory taking into account its employees.
Not only did it boast great open spaces with a healthy airflow but also large windows allowing daylight to pour in. There were even special landscaped gardens right outside of the factory where employees could retreat during their break. The building might have been built a hundred years ago now, but its humanist approach could still be used as a blueprint for so many 21st-century factories.
Related article: Discover all ten World Heritage Sites in the Netherlands
Would you guess this futuristic looking building was a church? It was built in 2013 to replace the original 1960s Pauluskerk (Church of Paul) that had to make way for an apartment complex. Characterised by its odd angles and curiously shaped windows, the building certainly stands out.
But what I mostly appreciate about the church is that it serves its community in ways that go beyond religious services. Being a nondenominational church, Pauluskerk famously helps all those in need including drug addicts, the homeless and immigrants.
The final Rotterdam landmark might not be the prettiest one in this architecture list, but is still noteworthy for several reasons. The notable reasons being because it’s a National Monument and it’s part of the World Federations of Great Towers. Other iconic towers in the list include the Eiffel Tower (Paris), The Shard (London) and Empire State Building (New York). Not bad company to have, eh?
Opened in 1960, the 185m tall Euromast is the tallest observation tower in the Netherlands. Supported by a concrete block, the observation deck is located 100 metres aboveground.
Still open to the public today, the Euromast offers panoramic views over Rotterdam. It’s interesting to think how dramatically its cityscape would have changed compared to when the tower just opened.
Want to see the glorious views from Euromast for yourself? Then book your tickets for the observation deck here.
Go on a Rotterdam architecture tour
Eager to go see the remarkable buildings in Rotterdam for yourself now? Join a professional Rotterdam architecture tour and get the most of your urban explorations. To help you choose the best that suits you, I’ve made a small selection for you here. Happy exploring!
- 2-hour Rotterdam walking tour with a local architect
- 2.5-hour Rotterdam architecture tour, including a water taxi ride and rooftop views
- Guided Rotterdam architecture tour visiting De Rotterdam, Cube Houses and Markthal
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Feature image by Nicole Baster / Unsplash