Port of Rotterdam
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You can feel that sense of energy and industry as soon as your ship pulls into Rotterdam's vast deep-water harbor, which is almost a city unto itself. Little tugboats steam briskly past heavily laden river barges, while freighters unload cargo crates into stacks that stretch like buildings from the docks toward the sky. The north and south banks of the river, both lined with high-rises, are linked by the dramatic spans of two cable bridges -- including the asymmetrical Erasmus bridge, a city landmark.
Rotterdam was founded in 1340, but you'd never know it by looking at today's modern skyline. Centuries of history were wiped out by Nazi bombs in May 1940. Afterwards, the rebuilding of Rotterdam was embraced with a vengeance -- and continues to this day, with new buildings popping up every year. This constant buzz of energy and expansion makes Rotterdam one of the most dynamic places to visit on any European itinerary.
For the first-time visitor, it can be jarring to see steel and cement instead of canals and cobblestones. But what Rotterdam lacks in historic charm it makes up for in cutting-edge architecture, world-class museums and sunny sidewalk terraces perfect for enjoying a Dutch beer or two. And the past isn't entirely forgotten; look closely enough and you'll unearth a few remnants of the city's history, like a 1920s statehouse, a 15th-century church and a 400-year-old statue of Erasmus -- a ghost from the past who seems to smile benevolently upon Rotterdam's bright future.
Top Rotterdam Itineraries
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Where You're Docked
Most ships dock at the main cruise terminal on Wilhelminakade, across the Erasmus Bridge from the city center. Smaller ships dock closer to downtown along Boompjes, between the Erasmus and Willems bridges. However, with the larger number of riverboats plying the waterways, boats can often be moored further down the Maas past the Willems Bridge.
Besides a few vendors offering local handicrafts and souvenirs, there's not too much to see inside the main cruise terminal. However, the Nederlands Fotomuseum is within easy walking distance in the Las Palmas building on Wilhelminakade. You can also walk to the top of the Erasmus Bridge for a view of the Rotterdam skyline and the activities in the city's busy port. Major downtown attractions are about 30 minutes away on foot; alternatives include taxis, water taxis, buses and the Metro.
From the smaller dock at Boompjes, you're only about a 20-minute walk from downtown. There's not much near the dock besides a few waterfront restaurants.
Good to Know
Nearly all of Rotterdam's museums are closed on Mondays.
On Foot: It will take at least 30 minutes to get from the main cruise terminal to the city center, but once you're there, many of Rotterdam's attractions are within walking distance of each other.
By Taxi: Both regular taxis and water taxis are available just outside the cruise terminal. For those passengers disembarking at the smaller dock, ask someone at your ship's reception desk to call a cab for you. You'll find taxi stands in busy locations throughout the city, particularly near Metro stations. You can also call the Rotterdam Taxi Centre at +31 10-462-6060.
By Public Transportation: A regular shuttle bus service takes passengers from the main cruise terminal into downtown Rotterdam. The Wilhelminaplein Metro station is also within walking distance of the cruise terminal.
Trams, buses and subway trains operate throughout the city. An OV chip card is required to ride Rotterdam's public transport and can be purchased at sales booths, ticket machines, information kiosks in metro stations, post offices and a handful of other locations. Options include an unlimited one-day ticket, travel pass for one or two hours, and a travel pass for two for one hour. The same ticket is valid on buses, trams and trains.
By Bike: Rotterdam is a bike-friendly city, with special lanes for cyclists on most streets. As in all of the Netherlands you can rent a bike at the central train station; just look for the Fietsenstalling sign. By Car: We don't recommend renting a car; you can easily see the sights in town on foot or by using public transportation, and efficient train service is available to nearby towns like Delft and Ghent. However, if you do choose to rent a car, Avis, Budget and Europcar have downtown rental locations.
Note: If you're planning on parking on the street in Rotterdam, be aware that the meters don't take cash. Instead, you must pay with a prepaid "chip card," available in stores all over the city. Some ticket machines also take credit cards.
Currency & Best Way to Get Money
The local currency is the euro. There are banks and ATMs throughout Rotterdam, particularly in the downtown shopping districts. For current conversions, check www.xe.com or www.oanda.com.
Dutch is the official language, though many locals speak at least a little English.
Food and Drink
With so many ships docking in Rotterdam from all around the world, it's no surprise that there's such a diverse range of dining options here, from French to Indonesian. (For better or worse, this panoply also includes a surprisingly large number of McDonald's restaurants.) For a happy medium between fine dining and fast food, try one of the city's many pubs, where you can while away a sunny afternoon at an outdoor terrace, local brew in hand.
Rotterdam's best Indonesian cuisine is on the menu at the elegant Dewi Sri, located along the waterfront a few blocks from the Euromast. This is a great option for vegetarians, who can enjoy options like vegetable salad topped with a peanut sauce, and fried tofu and bean sprouts in a spicy sauce. There are also plenty of delicious beef- and pork-based dishes. (Westerkade 20; open Monday to Friday, noon to 10 p.m.; +31 10-436-0263)
Located a few blocks from Museum Park, where most of the city's main museums are located, is the Nieuw Rotterdam Cafe, or NR Cafe, a perfect spot to stop for lunch after touring the Boijmans van Beuningen Art Museum or Kunsthal. A large menu, both for lunch and dinner, is reasonably priced and features everything from pastries, soups and salads to sandwiches and pasta. (Witte de Withstraat 63, open from 10:00 a.m. daily except for Sundays from 11:00 a.m.; +31 10 414-4188)
The innovative French dishes at Parkheuvel have long made it one of Rotterdam's most celebrated restaurants. You can't beat its convenient location in Museum Park, or the scenic view of the Maas River from its outdoor terrace. (Heuvellaan 21; open Monday to Friday, noon to 2:30 p.m.; +31 10-436-0530)
For informal dining in Delfshaven, try Stadsbrouwerij de Pelgrim, a working brewery where you can toast your trip with a delicious local beer. The food is a little pricey for pub fare, but it's worth it for the lovely view of the Delfshaven canal from the outdoor terrace. (Aelbrechtskolk 12; open daily from noon; +31 10-477-1189)
The Netherlands is known for its Gouda cheese and wooden shoes. Either (or both) makes a great souvenir.