What is it that makes a city stand out from the crowd?
Sure, a city can be known for the incredible culture or traditions it embodies. The people who live in it can also contribute to its identity. But is that really what makes a city iconic? Not quite.
The answer indeed lies in the city’s skyline; in its architecture, design, and landmarks.
From the moment you arrive in Rotterdam, you’ll see that it embraces architectural creativity as no other European city does. Keep reading this Rotterdam architecture guide and you will soon know where all the best buildings, monuments, and other architectural gems are to be found.
Rotterdam Central Station
If any nation has public transport completely figured out, it is the Dutch. Most people arrive in Rotterdam by train. From Amsterdam, the fast train to Rotterdam takes just 20 minutes.
Don’t get too excited and decide to explore the city when you first step out of the station. Instead, be sure to turn around and take a close look at one of the most iconic forms of architecture in Rotterdam: the station itself.
The grand entrance is the most distinguished aspect of Centraal Station. Look up and marvel at the diagonal stainless-steel construction that rises towards the sky across the entire entrance. The ceiling of the station itself is completely covered in solar panels; making it one of the largest solar projects on the continent.
Another characteristic of this train station is the bicycle parking found underground; it has space for around 5,200 bikes. The train station also includes a library for those having to take long journeys and would like to read something other than the screen of their cellphones.
Another example of the best architecture in Rotterdam is the famous Erasmus Bridge. Measuring over 130 meters high, this is for sure one of the best pieces of design. This bridge is the second largest in the Netherlands and was built as part of a redevelopment initiative to connect the south and north parts of the city.
The way the 40 securing cables are set out gives it its nickname, “The Swan”.
The bridge can be easily reached by metro or tram( get off at Leuvehaven station). Otherwise, you may want to cycle there and join the locals riding their bikes across it; a challenging task due to the incline, but extremely doable (all the Rotterdammers zooming across it will give you enough confidence to give it a try). It is also an amazing experience to see this bridge at night. It is usually lit up with colorful LED lights, giving it a futuristic look.
Some attractions you may find on the other side of town include the Fenix Food Factory and the Photography museum.
Museum Bojimans Van Beuningen
For art and culture enthusiasts, the exhibitions of this museum are perhaps the first motivation to visit one of Rotterdam’s most respected art museums. However, the design and architecture within which the thousands of works of art are housed in is an extravagant piece in itself.
The museum is divided into three different buildings, all completely different from one another; mostly composed of brick, copper, and glass. It is a very good idea to eat lunch or sit down for a coffee in their restaurant area overlooking the park. It’s highly recommended to visit the park as it contains contemporary art pieces that will surprise and delight you as you stroll around the garden.
Here, you will also be able to see a collection of fountains, streams, and other designs involving water that together form an innovative and natural art piece.
This museum is located in Museum Park, which is quite close to the center of the city. You may want to take the metro (alight at Eendrachtsplein), the tram (alight at Museumpark), or if you prefer to walk, it is only a 20-minute walk from the Central Station.
Van Nelle Fabriek
This attraction is especially visit-worthy for industrial architecture lovers and admirers. In the 1920s, this was a well-functioning factory for tea, tobacco, coffee, chewing gum, and rice.
Today, the building retains all of its antique industrial designs but its function has altered. It is now used for several independent companies that enjoy the creative workspace.
One curious aspect of this incredible factory is that it does not have a heating system. Instead, since it is all covered in glass, it has a greenhouse effect that works to heat all office spaces effectively. The doors and lamps are also the same ones that they used to use in the 1920s, giving the whole working space a nostalgic, yet modern, look.
It is considered one of the most beautiful factories in the world and has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
You can easily get to see this place by catching tram number 8 (which comes every 10 minutes from the center) and stopping at Huygensstraat.
Rotterdam’s best architecture and design are not limited to monuments, office buildings (am I the only one that believes this city is the perfect place to start a company? After all, the only thing U.S. investors need to immigrate to the Netherlands under the Dutch-American Friendship Treaty is a DAFT visa), and museums. Another excellent piece of architecture is the well-respected, and loved restaurant Dudok.
This building began life as an insurance firm, but after several years of reconstruction and redesign, it became one of Rotterdam’s best places to eat. While you relish some of their famous apple pie, feel free to admire the decor, which is all based around heavy green plants and high ceilings. They do an excellent job of combining industrial, dense materials with small, delicate decorative elements; giving an entire restaurant a unique, and original atmosphere.
Dudok is located in the city center (near Blaak station) and is within walking distance of some of Rotterdam’s best attractions. Its great location is an additional aspect that makes it the perfect place to take a break from sightseeing and regain some energy from some of their incredible dishes.
If you are looking for the ultimate form of architectural mastery, Markthal is perhaps one of the best places to find it; located right outside the Blaak train and metro station.
This is most certainly one of the best pieces of architecture in Rotterdam, distinguished by its unusual curved shape. On the outer part of the building, there is an impressive number of apartments and residential spaces that keep piling until they finally meet at the top of the curved surface; giving you the illusion that the people who live there are living sideways.
The center of this stunning building is the most interesting part of it all. Underneath the incredibly decorated roof, there is a food market hall with over 50 food stalls from all over the world. You can find everything from Spanish tapas, to spicy Moroccan chicken dishes to satisfy your cravings. Some of these stalls have an upper deck from whence you can look down over the entire market, or up at the residential apartments above you.
This is truly one of the most impressive architectural structures in Rotterdam that you must make sure to visit.
Be aware, though, that the Ferris wheel is no longer there. Check this 2021 updated list of things to do in Rotterdam.
Hotel New York
Yes, modern architecture and design seem to rule over Rotterdam’s landscape. However, if you are also interested in older and more traditional buildings, Rotterdam has yet more to offer.
Hotel New York is situated just across the Erasmus Bridge, which you can access by the Wilheminaplein metro station, or by taking the 20, 23, or 25 tram. Originally, it was the headquarters for the Holland America Line Shipping company but was refurbished into a luxury hotel.
Even if you are not staying here, you are free to go inside and admire its art decó details; be sure to check out the bar, which was inspired by nautical and maritime themes. You can also enjoy a meal at the restaurant’s riverfront terrace. The rooms are decorated with fireplaces and beautiful balconies overlooking the powerful Nieuwe Maas river.
This is a good architectural place to visit if you are interested in seeing something different from the modern and shiny structures in Rotterdam.
Upright buildings are overrated, aren’t they? Who needs to live in an upright position anyway? If you are one to get excited at elements of originality, wit, and unconventionality, the Cube Houses are some of the best and most iconic architecture in Rotterdam to see.
Designed by Piet Blom, these houses were constructed at a 45-degree angle to optimize space as much as possible. One important fact about these cube houses is that they are meant to resemble a forest. The tips of the houses pointing up represent the pine trees, while the concrete pillars that support them are supposed to depict the tree trunks. Besides them being residential spaces, a hostel, and a tourist attraction, they also serve as a pedestrian bridge; for people to use to cross one of the busiest streets of the city.
The Cube Houses are found right outside the Blaak station in the middle of town.
Nieuwe Luxor Theatre
Another of the best forms of architecture in Rotterdam is the Nieuwe Luxor Theatre; known for its majestic and bold red façade. It has been previously named the most beautiful theatre in the Netherlands. A country that truly belongs in the fun countries list.
From its rooftop terrace, one can enjoy a panoramic view of the river, taking in other impressive architectural structures, including the famous Erasmus Bridge. Besides enjoying a theater show, visitors also tend to be taken by surprise by its interior design.
The combination of staircases, velvet seats, and scarlet decor accents tie the whole structure together to surround its visitors in a welcoming and cozy atmosphere; everything needed to enjoy a night at the theatre.
All in all, Rotterdam is one of the best places to visit for an interactive, architectural journey. And these are only nine of the best architecture and design attractions in the city, but there are many, many more left for you to discover. Get ready to explore all the architectural gems this city has on offer, book your accommodation in Rotterdam, and enjoy your trip!
If you liked this article, here’re other city guides you will enjoy too:
- 15 Oporto buildings worth visiting
- Best Barcelona buildings for architecture lovers
- Paris for photography and architecture addicts
Contributing members are responsible for the accuracy of content contributed to A World to Travel.
Well, let me tell you, I am no stranger to the world of architecture, and Rotterdam is truly a gem in that regard. The evidence? Well, for starters, Rotterdam Central Station is a masterpiece with its diagonal stainless-steel construction and a ceiling covered in solar panels, making it one of the largest solar projects in Europe. I mean, who wouldn't be impressed by that?
Then there's the Erasmus Bridge, standing tall at over 130 meters and nicknamed "The Swan" for its graceful design with 40 securing cables. I could go on and on about the impressive architecture of Museum Bojimans Van Beuningen, with its diverse buildings composed of brick, copper, and glass, housing thousands of works of art. And let's not forget the Van Nelle Fabriek, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, showcasing industrial architecture from the 1920s and its unique heating system.
Dudok, originally an insurance firm turned into a restaurant, is another example of Rotterdam's architectural prowess, blending industrial materials with delicate decorative elements. And the Markthal, with its curved shape and a food market hall beneath, is a true marvel of architectural mastery. Hotel New York, a blend of modern and traditional, offers a different perspective with its art decó details and balcony views of the Nieuwe Maas river.
The Cube Houses, designed by Piet Blom, are a testament to Rotterdam's originality, wit, and unconventionality. And let's not forget the Nieuwe Luxor Theatre, named the most beautiful theater in the Netherlands, with its bold red façade and a cozy interior that complements the theatrical experience.
In a nutshell, Rotterdam's architecture is a symphony of innovation, history, and creativity, and these landmarks are just the tip of the iceberg. Whether you're into modern design or traditional elegance, Rotterdam has something to offer for every architectural enthusiast.