Mike Martin is an experienced travel journalist, who has written for Teletext and The Travel Editor for 10 years. He specializes in food and wine, culture and activities holidays, and his favorite country is France.
There is a statue in the middle of Rotterdam called The Destroyed City (1946), which has a human form stretching up to the sky with a huge hole where its chest should be. Some critics say that it represents Rotterdam as a city with no heart – but that is all changing.
Rotterdam is emerging from its reputation as Amsterdam’s less cultured, rougher neighbor, with a new series of monumental art instillations. With all of the fuss about the recently reopened museums in Amsterdam, Rotterdam has felt a little left out. However, thanks to its new spaces and ideas, Rotterdam has confirmed its status and is well worth a day trip from its more famous sister.
Actually, with so much to see spread out all over the city, Rotterdam is worth spending at least one night as well. A 10 minute walk from the central train station along an Amsterdam-esque canal takes you to the Museumpark, a lovely area where many of Rotterdam’s finest museums are housed. This is also a good place to be based, and the Bilderberg Parkhotel is a perfectly serviceable hotel.
The Museumpark has a great selection of museums, including a modernist classic, the Sonneveld House and the architecture museum, but the big draw is the Boijmans Museum. This large gallery, built mainly in the 1930s, has a fantastic permanent collection including a room dedicated to Dutch design, some very important surrealist paintings including Magritte, some Mondrians, a huge Rothko and of course lots of Dutch still lives.
This summer (June 8-September 1, 2013) The Boijmans also hosted a special exhibition celebrating 25 years of the Rotterdam City Collection. Housed in a new wing of the building, which is wonderfully bright and airy, the museum displayed 30 artworks and dozens of design works by local and international artists. There were some weird and wonderful chairs, lamps and furniture, eye-catching poster designs for the Rotterdam Film Festival and some truly gob-smacking sculptures.
Regardless of when you visit, the Boijmans is the ideal starting point for a journey into Rotterdam culture, but it’s also worth going further afield to discover some more art projects.
Rotterdam is very obviously a port – still the biggest in Europe – with kilometers of shoreline filled with warehouses, cranes and power stations. However some of these abandoned venues now house some great, fun art projects.
A 20-minute boat ride across the harbor on Line 2 takes you to the old Submarine Wharf, a huge, Tate Modern-style warehouse which was abandoned decades ago but which now houses a new exhibition, the appropriately-named XXXL Painting. Three artists – two American, one Dutch – have been let loose in the giant industrial space to create massive paintings to fill it.
Here Chris Martin’s huge, African-inspired, abstract paintings look great in their huge home, as do the works by the other artists Jim Shaw and Klaas Kloosterboer. Shaw’s paintings are based on old theatre paintings, and he has also created props like a piano that looks like a children’s character from a Brothers Grimm fairy tale.
Kloosterboer’s large, colorful pictures are attached to a rail on the ceiling which slowly rotates, changing the colors as they go from the sunlight into the shade.
The Submarine Wharf is a classic industrial waterside setting for artworks, and another fascinating exhibition is Territory, housed in an old factory by the waterside. Art group AVL-Mundo use their old factory to create muscular, metallic sculptures, and display them in the open air behind the factory. They have also filled in a waterfront, planted vegetables and flowers and used that space to display more of their sculptures. The ideas here are very clever. There is one ‘sculpture’ of statues of CEOs of dodgy worldwide giant companies which have been gleefully exploded and smashed to pieces. One is of a first world war mortar gun attended by strange looking, human-shaped creatures who have no eyes – a social comment?
Perhaps the most eye-catching is a metallic structure, built of pipes and exhausts, which looks forbidding and industrial but on closer inspection house tiny signs of human activity, such as little ovens and doors. It looks great, gleaming in the Rotterdam summer sun with factories in the background.
Rotterdam Public Art
Back in the centre of Rotterdam, if you still have some time to spare, you can wander around the city taking in the many shops, great cafes and cinemas, but you won’t be able to escape the public art. Mothership is an organization which cheers up the city by painting viaducts and walls, both to make the city look brighter and also to deter graffiti artists. There is also that fantastic sculpture, The Destroyed City by Ossip Zadkine, which actually represents the terrible punishment the city took during World War II.
With these innovative, exciting projects Rotterdam can never be accused of not having a heart, a soul and a real sense of fun. It makes Amsterdam look almost old-fashioned.
Featured Image: Rotterdam (Shutterstock.com)
Fly.com Expert Tips
How To Get There: The average airfare to Rotterdam from major U.S. cities are typically over $1,100 R/T. However, you can fly to Amsterdam for much cheaper, and then take a 40 to 60 minute train ride to Rotterdam for €10 to €20 one-way, depending on your day of travel and whether you go with FYRA, the high speed train, or the slower Intercity train. Both options have frequent service throughout the day. More info about the train and how to book are available at Nederlandse Spoorwegen.
Best Time To Visit: Rotterdam’s peak season is the summer time, where the average temperature from June to August is anywhere from 65 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Rotterdam’s winter is pretty mild, albeit wet, where temperatures average in the mid-40s. But airfares and hotels are generally cheaper during this time period, plus the Rotterdam International Film Festival is held every January.
Sample Fares: Fares displayed are the lowest roundtrip fares found in the last 48 hours to Amsterdam from:
Boston — $789 Travel Nov. 18-24
Chicago — $923 Travel Oct. 17-Nov. 14
Los Angeles — $774 Travel Dec. 2-11
New York City — $645 Travel Nov. 18-Dec. 3
Orlando — $901 Travel Dec. 14-31
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* All fares are roundtrip including all taxes and are accurate at time of publication. For updated pricing, conduct a new search on Fly.com.