Now, we’ve been meaning to go back to Rotterdam for some time. It turns out we’ve not been there for a while, not since 2013 in fact, so we were definitely due another trip. Seeing Bicycle Dutch’s post on the improvements to Rotterdam’s Coolsingel definitely made me want to go back for another visit.
For anyone who doesn’t know, Rotterdam really isn’t your typical Dutch city. With it getting flattened during World War II, then rebuilt from the 1950s to 1970s, Rotterdam really doesn’t feel like anywhere else in The Netherlands. In addition to having some truly unique modern architecture, Rotterdam may also be a good example for other cities to follow, when it comes to accommodating safer cycling. It’s likely to resemble other cities more than your typical medieval Dutch city, with its wider, and largely more car-centric roads.
To get to Rotterdam, we decided on a multimodal trip, by cycle and train. We planned to cycle over to Voorburg ‘t Loo RandstadRail station, where we could get a Metro line E train to Rotterdam Centraal. There was just three of us today, as our youngest had gone with the others to Madurodam. While we think Madurodam is fantastic, we’ve probably been enough times now!
Riding to the station
We set off from Duinrell, taking the usual route out of Wassenaar, to get to the N44. This involved using the generally good and mostly protected cycle paths, though can be a little dated and bumpy at times. Now Wassenaar is really quite an affluent area, and you really see it on this route by some of the massive houses you pass.
Once on the N44, we carried on along the cycle route that runs parallel. As we went along, the route switches between a very wide two-way cycle path and a cycle street, to enable access to the neighbouring properties. Despite being parallel to a busy road, this route is pretty good. For long sections, the cycle route is isolated from the road, so you almost wouldn’t know it was there.
Once we reached the junction with the N14, we crossed over the junction and turned left, to carry on along the N14 for a short distance. The junction with the N14 is large, with many lanes of motor traffic, plus an underpass and a bridge. Cycling across the junction is typically safe, and while there’s a bit of a wait to cross, it’s still much better than the equivalent in the UK.
We soon turned off the N14, crossing and turning right at another large junction, and onto Bezuidenhoutseweg. We then turned left onto Hofzichtlaan as we headed for Voorburg. The good quality cycling infrastructure continued with nice wide cycle paths, with plenty of space to ride two abreast. There were a few junctions too, which were all safe and pleasant to use.
It wasn’t long before we reached Voorburg ‘t Loo station, where we planned to park up and get on a train. While there was a reasonable amount of cycle parking at the station, it looked like they could probably do with more, as it was quite busy. Looks like they should give over some of the space for car parking to cycle parking.
Getting the train to Rotterdam
Getting the train from Voorburg ‘t Loo was relatively straightforward, once we figured what train to get and how to buy an all day ticket. We hadn’t realised the station served both metro and light rail services along the same lines, so we had to double check what service to get and whether we needed to wait at the high or low platform.
Now I don’t know if it’s just me, but I’m easily confused when it comes to using public transport systems when I’m abroad. It always seems that signage, ticketing etc. assumes a certain level of knowledge, that a tourist may not have. Even reading up beforehand, I’m ususally still left wondering what to do!
After a short wait, a Metro line E train arrived to take us into Rotterdam. The train itself was modern and clean, and it was good to see cycles were allowed on there. The journey took about 30 minutes, for a distance of about 20 km.
Arriving at the fantastic Rotterdam Centraal, we headed outside and jumped on a tram, as we had day tickets and thought we may as well try them out. We weren’t going far though, just round to Coolsingel, featured in Bicycle Dutch’s post, so I could see the changes in person.
Now, I do remember what Coolsingel was like from our last visit, as we ate at one of the places along there in 2013. While it wasn’t bad from a cycling perspective, it was heavily dominated by motor traffic and not somewhere you’d want to spend a lot of time.
While at first, the changes might not seem that radical, Coolsingel is now far better than it used to be. The number of motor traffic lanes has been reduced from 4 to 2, the relatively narrow one-way cycle paths have been replaced with a nice wide two-way path and the amount of open space for walking has been significantly increased. It’s now somewhere you’d might want to spend time, rather than just pass through.
Rotterdam really does have some unique and distinctive architecture and the Markthal is a fine example of this. The massive horseshoe profile of the building is certainly unusual, as are the giant artwork on the ceiling and the apartments surrounding the main hall. It was somewhere I was keen to visit, since it opened, so it was our next stop on our day trip.
Approaching the Markthal from a distance, it’s easy to spot it above the nearby buildings. We arrived at the rear, where the entrance to the 4 storey underground car park is, so not the most attractive way to approach it. Once inside, the way the building and artwork envelopes you is pretty awe inspiring. While it’s a huge space, it doesn’t feel too daunting and impersonal, probably due to the stalls and layout at ground level, which does make you feel like you’re in a market. Just one with a very fancy roof.
We decided to grab something to eat in the Markthal and found a suitable stall to eat at. Lunch was great, especially having it in the bustling Markthal. Looking up at the apartments above, it makes you wonder what it must be like to live in one of them, looking down at the market below. For me, I’d imagine it’d be too much temptation!
After lunch, we grabbed an ice cream as it was a very hot day, and headed outside. The view from the front the building, in the Rotterdam Blaak station square, is much better than the rear, I must say.
Rotterdam’s Cube Houses, with their bright yellow exterior and unusual shapes, have long been a landmark of the city. We saw them on our last visit to Rotterdam, but we didn’t go inside at the time, probably as the kids were quite young. I’ve often thought of going back to see them and wondered what it’d be like to stay in one. Maybe one day booking an Airbnb there.
As we were at the Markthal nearby, we thought we’d carry on to the Cube Houses, for a wander. One of the houses was open for viewings, so we had to have a look in. Entering inside, the first thing you see are the typically Dutch staircase. Why do they have to be so steep?!
The space inside the Cube Houses is as awkward as you’d imagine, with all those angles. Though those angles do make even the most ordinary room, into something unusual and completely unfamiliar. The windows and their unusual shapes and angles frame the city views in a unique way. You feel detached and almost like you’re looking at the surroundings through a magnifying glass or tilt-shift lens.
After looking round the Cube House, we continued around the covered public space below the Cube Houses, which sits on top of the road Burgemeester van Walsumweg and continues to the harbour at Oude Haven. Along the route, there’s an oversized chess board and some bars.
After looking round the Cube Houses, we continued to Oude Haven and stopped at a bar for a drink. Looking out at the harbour, we saw these hire boats come and go and thought that looks like it might be fun. Finishing our drinks, we headed round to the boat hire and got ourselves a boat. This would turn out to be a running theme during our Netherlands trip of 2022, as we followed up with a boat ride in Amsterdam, and our Airbnb house in the second week, came with its own boat.
The boat we hired was electric, and we had it for an hour. They gave us a route to follow, which took us along the harbour to the east, then the west. They specifically said not to take the boat onto the Nieuwe Maas, as it was way too small and underpowered to mix with the big ships. It was definitely a bit underpowered, but as it was electric and not polluting, that was fine.
We set out on our boat, heading along the harbour to the east. This side is largely low-rise residential and commercial buildings, plus many houseboats and yachts. The harbour was pretty quiet, maybe one or two other boats moving about, including a boat taxi. It was much quieter than Amsterdam’s canals, that we went on the following week. Though that’s probably not much of a surprise.
We reached as far as we could, then turned around and carried on past where we started at Oude Haven. Once we got to the west side, things were quite different. The buildings were far more high rise, modern and bold, with what looked like a lot of high density housing. We carried on along, passing many of the buildings, bridges and houseboats.
Once we reached Leuvehaven, near the Maritime Museum harbour, we turned round and headed back to Oude Haven to return our boat. On such a hot, sunny day, the boat ride was the perfect thing to do. Seeing a city from the water, gives you a whole different perspective on things.
Riding back to Duinrell
The boat trip and all the sunshine (it was really hot) had tired us out, so we decided to jump on a train and head back home. We got on at the Leuvehaven Metro station, then changed at Rotterdam Centraal to get on an E line train. This was now peak time, so the trains were pretty busy and mostly standing room only.
Though it wasn’t long until we were back at Voorburg ‘t Loo station, where we found our bikes and started the ride back to Duinrell. We took the same route back that we went out on, only detouring a little to find somewhere selling cold drinks.
We were soon back at Duinrell, feeling a little warm and tired, after a fantastic multimodal trip to Rotterdam. We only saw a fraction of what we wanted to look at, so we’d love to return there some time, maybe staying in the city itself. While it’s probably down the list of Dutch cities to visit for some people, I find it a really fascinating place.