Windmills and tulips are thin on the ground in Rotterdam, one of the most relentlessly forward-looking cities in Europe.
Much of the centre, devastated during World War II, has a retro-futurist look with striking Sixties architecture.
Now Eurostar offers direct trains from London St Pancras — a journey of barely three hours — it’s high time to make the trip.
Explore: The above map pinpoints some of Rotterdam’s key tourist attractions
WHERE TO STAY
There’s unusual accommodation and then there’s the daftly named H2otel, actually five ‘lash barges’ once owned by the U.S. Army and towed to Wijnhaven harbour from the Mississippi River.
The 49 rooms on board are individually designed by local artists and the hotel’s five bright orange, circular ‘lounge boats’ depart for 90-minute long picnic cruises along the river every day. B&B doubles from £51 (h2otel.nl).
Sail away: A water taxi is the fastest and most fun way to get downtown
Formerly a power station, Stroom ticks all the boxes for Dutch post-industrial chic. It’s a little out of the centre (a five-minute water taxi is the fastest and most fun way to get downtown), and the spacious split-level rooms are in bold colours. There’s a friendly downstairs deli. B&B doubles from £85 (stroomrotterdam.nl).
Room Mate Bruno
Subtle? Demure? Look elsewhere . . . Bruno is a riot of primary colours in the lobby and rooms. There’s also an entirely blue patio area and a selection of astrological signs on the walls in public areas.
Enjoy a long lie-in: breakfast is served until noon. B&B doubles from £84 (roommatehotels.com).
This is a game changer. There’s no restaurant but rather a natty 24-hour self-service ‘food market’ where you can pick up everything from beer to bagels and boiled eggs; a wi-fi service allows you to make requests. There are electric scooters for hire and rooms are minimalist-chic. Doubles from £52 (thejames.nl).
WHERE TO EAT
Unlesss you fancy a particularly long trip to the depths of South America, Rotterdam offers your best chance to try the cuisine of Suriname, which was a Dutch colony until the Seventies.
A-Kong has been selling the nation’s fiery cuisine in Rotterdam for 40 years. If it’s your first time, try an immense broodje akong. This is a sandwich stuffed with spicy pork and chicken, for just £2.55. No website, Oude Binnenweg 138
Fenix Food Factory
Hungry? Fenix Food Factory is a funky, hugely popular food market – get the Korean tacos
This big old warehouse building down by the docks is now a funky, hugely popular food market that’s low on price and high on cool.
Try wood-fired Korean tacos (£4.30) from Kaapse Kitchen, or the selection platters of five different Dutch cheeses (£4.30) from Booij cheesemakers, and cheesecake brownies (£2:15) from Jordy’s Bakery (fenixfoodfactory.nl).
Formerly the home of a Dutch newspaper, the presses have been replaced by lunches, such as huge poke bowls (a Hawaiian dish that’s basically a deconstructed sushi salad) and sandwiches.
Try the tonijn (£12.30): tuna with white rice, avocado, cucumber, edamame, red cabbage and wasabi mayo. There’s a small club downstairs playing funk, soul and R&B (nieuwrotterdamscafe.nl).
In this light and airy cafe, full of wicker chandeliers and fashionably weathered wooden tables, people with learning difficulties prepare and serve surprisingly diverse dishes including a knock-out bobotie for £6.40. It’s a Dutch Afrikaans classic that’s similar to cottage pie but with curry paste and sultanas (frobel.online).
The Rotterdam Welcome card is a steal at £10.30 for one day and £15.50 for two days. With it comes discounts of between 25-50 per cent at more than 50 different museums, restaurants and attractions (en.rotterdam.info).
Go by train
Eurostar has returns from London St Pancras to Rotterdam from £103 (eurostar.com); outward journeys are direct, but the return leg is via Brussels. Further information: holland.com.
WHAT TO SEE AND DO
‘Much of the centre, devastated during World War II, has a retro-futurist look with striking Sixties architecture’, writes Rob Crossan. Pictured above are the quirky Cube Houses
The arch-modernist Cube Houses, built to resemble trees in a forest, look like a Hunter S. Thompson-meets-Lewis Carroll dreamscape of yellow houses tilted at 45-degree angles. It’s free to wander beneath these extraordinary buildings, and if you want to stay in one there’s a hostel with bunk beds. B&B from £69.50 (stayokay.com).
Take a bike tour
One Dutch tradition that Rotterdam has fully embraced is cycling. Bike and Bite is a superb way to see, and taste, the city in one four-hour tour (£50 pp). Guides will fill you till you burst with treats ranging from cheese and port at FoodHallen market to delicious banana bread and coffee at the rooftop allotment and cafée, Op Het Dak (bikeandbite.nl).
See the street art
Download the free Rewriters app for an audio guide route to the best street art in the city, which covers psychedelia by Ramon Martins and an amazing ‘Rotterdam 2115’ mural depicting a future city reclaimed by nature (rewriters010.nl).
Modernism at its best
Rotterdam was forward-thinking even before its post-war rebuild. Sonneveld House (entry £12) is a leading example of the Thirties Nieuwe Bouwen school of Modernism. Acres of tiles, rotary telephones and huge balconies are a Thirties domestic vision of the future (sonneveldhouse.com).