How to plan a walking tour of Rotterdam's standout architecture

The Dutch city has long been pushing architectural boundaries. From a 1930s functionalist house to a futuristic art depot, these are the buildings to see on a walking tour.

By Chris Schalkx
Published 22 Aug 2021, 06:07 BST
Markthal is a striking, horseshoe-shaped residential and dining complex whose food court dishes up a multicultural ...

Markthal is a striking, horseshoe-shaped residential and dining complex whose food court dishes up a multicultural buffet.

Photograph by Alamy

1. Centraal Station

Even if you’re not arriving by train, start at the Centraal Station for a primer on Rotterdam’s architectural ambitions. Redesigned in 2014, this glass-walled giant heralded the renaissance of a once-dicey district. Thanks to the steel cladding of its soaring roof, locals dub it ‘Kapsalon Station’ — a nod to the aluminium takeaway trays Rotterdam’s poutine-like signature snack, kapsalon, is served in.

2. Markthal

Next, hop on a tram to Blaak Markt, the city’s biggest street market, for a bite to eat and a gander at the Markthal, a striking, horseshoe-shaped residential and dining complex designed by a local architecture firm. Under its arched ceiling, swathed in artwork by Dutch artists Arno Coenen and Iris Roskam, the food court dishes up a multicultural buffet that spans syrupy stroopwafels (waffles), baklava and nasi goreng.

Just across the square is Rotterdam’s most emblematic architectural marvel, Kijk-Kubus Museum-House. Designed in the late 1970s by Dutch architect Piet Blom, this housing estate comprises 38 apartments shaped like tilted Rubik’s Cubes, each perched on a hexagonal concrete column. One of the cubes doubles as a museum and an Airbnb, offering the chance to experience life between these geometric walls.

4. Sonneveld House

Head two Metro stops west for a Dutch take on the functionalist architecture movement that swept through Europe in the early 20th century. Commissioned by a local family in the 1930s, Sonneveld House was meticulously restored in 2001, down to the original furniture. It’s now a museum; tickets also allow entry to design hub Het Nieuwe Instituut, across the street. 

5. Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen

Even though this fine art museum is closed for renovations until 2026, just west of the museum entrance, you’ll find its giant, bowl-shaped depot, covered in 1,664 mirrors, which reflects the city’s skyline. When Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen reopens in November, you’ll be able to browse through almost all of the 151,000 artworks and artefacts in the museum collection.

6. De Rotterdam

Few designers defined 21stcentury architecture like Rem Koolhaas, the Rotterdam-born architect. In 2013, he added De Rotterdam to his portfolio: this gravity-defying behemoth is the Netherland’s largest building. End your day here with a drink next door at Gastrobar Elvy, whose seventh-floor rooftop bar looks out over Erasmus Bridge, another of the city’s architectural icons.

Published in the September 2021 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)

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