Rotterdam: cyclists' haven in Europe's largest port

Rotterdam: cyclists' haven in Europe's largest port

22nd August 2009, Comments 0 comments

Cyclists meander past majestic stacks of ship containers, towering cranes and docked oil tankers at one of the Netherlands' novel, and surprising, tourist havens: the Port of Rotterdam.

If Europe's largest—and the world's fourth largest—port seems an unlikely draw for a leisurely promenade, think again.

"Everything is larger than life here!" visitor Aat van Toor enthused on a stop while cycling through the vast complex of some 10,000 hectares (nearly 25,000 acres) that stretches for more than 40 kilometres (25 miles) along the Maas River to where it spills into the North Sea.

The 61-year-old Van Toor arrived by ferry from the opposite bank to criss-cross the sandy plains of this huge industrial paradise.

His bike ride took him past 38 massive tanks that can store enough oil to supply the entire world for 14 days, mountains of ore, an electric power station, windmills and the tangle of pipes of a huge chemical factory.

Off the port of Rotterdam, 20 May 2009

"I enjoy the hustle and bustle," said the pensioner. "There is always something happening; things are being loaded and off loaded; there is industry but also recreation. It is close to the sea, the beach and the dunes."

With a history that spans hundreds of years, the Port of Rotterdam was the world's busiest harbour until the last decade, when it was overtaken by Asian ports.

Today it employs some 1,200 people directly, generates another 70,000 jobs at port-based companies and has a major extension underway on land being reclaimed from the North Sea.

"The bond between the port and the city is very important," said port spokesman Tie Schellekens. But "the port is expanding out to sea, farther away from the city and out of the hearts of Rotterdammers."

"People nowadays associate the port with negative things like pollution and traffic jams; we want them to experience the positive things," he said.

'It is truly Dutch'

The solution? Bring Rotterdammers—and tourists—to the port.

"We have been working for years to make the port more accessible and open to the public," Henk de Bruijn, the port's corporate strategy head, told AFP.

In one of the world's leading cycling countries, biking forms a key part of the port's tourism strategy. Bike paths used by port workers and tourists stretch over a vast network of 250 kilometres (155 miles), zig-zagging past refineries, shipyards and depots where millions of containers are on and off loaded from trains and ships every year.

"One rarely has the opportunity to experience a port from this close," said Piet Bakker, a retired teacher in a multi-coloured cycling shirt who came for a day's visit with his wife.

The cycle paths will be expanded into the latest project, a gigantic extension called Maasvlakte 2 being erected on reclaimed land.

Ferry passengers disembark at the port of Rotterdam

Some 22,000 people have already visited an information centre called 'Futureland' set up in May to explain the project, which will take more than three decades to complete though some quays will be operational from 2013.

Maasvlakte 2 will take shape on vast amounts of sand pumped into the sea to enlarge the ports's overall surface by 20 percent—an extra 2,000 hectares or the equivalent of about 2,000 football fields which will include a new beach.

The port now has extensive beaches and dunes, many of them man-made, to which the Dutch flock in summer for unspoilt views of the 34,000 ships that go in and out the port every year.

And even more green and recreational areas as well as 'spectacular spots' for ecotourism are planned, according to a document on the port's development strategy.

"People like to see Dutch architectural ingenuity in action—and we can show it to them," De Bruijn said.

Typical was teacher Ruud Fortuyn, 38, visiting the port with his wife and three children.

"Everything that one sees here is man-made," he said. "It is truly Dutch, to reclaim land from the water like this.

"But you have to get on your bike to experience it for real."

Alix Rijckaert / AFP / Expatica

Head photo credit: Gastev (, Creative Commons license)

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